Label me ‘Not Surprised’

I should’ve stuck to my research agenda, but no, I just had to go look at business headlines. There’s a debate on at The Economist over Who benefits from financial innovation?” Nobel Prize winning Economist Joseph Stiglitz is arguing that financial innovation hasn’t been boosting economic growth but his position (which is mine) is currently in the minority.

The right kind of innovation obviously would help the financial sector fulfil its core functions; and if the financial sector fulfilled those functions better, and at lower cost, almost surely it would contribute to growth and societal well-being. But, for the most part, that is not the kind of innovation we have had.

In terms of that big question up there, the answer is found today on Bloomberg.com. If you answered “what is the vampire squid”,you’re absolutely right. The more relevant question appears to be what did that cost us? For that, I can only answer a lot and there’s more to come. Here’s the headline: Secret AIG Document Shows Goldman Sachs Minted Most Toxic CDOs.

Well, there’s your financial innovation for you.

So, the fun thing about the story is that the unlikely hero is Darrold Issa (Republican) member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform who “placed into the hearing record a five-page document itemizing the mortgage securities on which banks such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Societe Generale SA had bought $62.1 billion in credit-default swaps from AIG.” Oddly enough,it appears that Issa may have not really known exactly what he had just disclosed. It didn’t really attract any attention at the time. Luckily, some one who knew something eventually looked at it. This was essentially a list of the deals that made AIG insolvent. These were also the deals that the government basically bought when it rescued AIG.

The document Issa made public cuts to the heart of the controversy over the September 2008 AIG rescue by identifying specific securities, known as collateralized-debt obligations, that had been insured with the company. The banks holding the credit-default swaps, a type of derivative, collected collateral as the insurer was downgraded and the CDOs tumbled in value.

The public can now see for the first time how poorly the securities performed, with losses exceeding 75 percent of their notional value in some cases. Compounding this, the document and Bloomberg data demonstrate that the banks that bought the swaps from AIG are mostly the same firms that underwrote the CDOs in the first place.

Here’s an even more interesting analysis from a legal standpoint. I know the deal was shady, I just have never known exactly if shady=unethical=illegal. The devil is truly in the details placed into public record by Issa.

The identification of securities in the document, known as Schedule A, and data compiled by Bloomberg show that Goldman Sachs underwrote $17.2 billion of the $62.1 billion in CDOs that AIG insured — more than any other investment bank. Merrill Lynch & Co., now part of Bank of America Corp., created $13.2 billion of the CDOs, and Deutsche Bank AG underwrote $9.5 billion.

These tallies suggest a possible reason why the New York Fed kept so much under wraps, Professor James Cox of Duke University School of Law says: “They may have been trying to shield Goldman — for Goldman’s sake or out of macro concerns that another investment bank would be at risk.”

Okay, so we know who we’re speaking of when Cox says the New York Fed, right? That would be Treasury Secretary Timmy-really-in-the-well-this-time Geithner. Bloomberg is going as far as to label his actions a cover-up. I frankly think that looks like a mild charge. Interestingly enough, an earlier version of the information was released by AIG but the counterparty names were redacted at the time. Chris Dodd’s committee had requested the information. Without the names–or more truthfully the frequency of ONE name in particular–you can’t really see much of a conspiracy.

What this detailed list shows–because the names are now out there along with the deals–is that the very same folks that underwrote the original toxic securities were the same folks that went to AIG to bet against them. It doesn’t look like they were hedging or placing insurance on their risk which would be natural and understandable transactions. It appears they fully knew the securities were bad and were preparing to make money by placing offsetting bets. This activity could only be determined if you saw the names of the counterparties next to the deals themselves. So, the appropriate document to list the information on would be a Schedule A. AIG released a schedule A for several years during the crisis, but without some of the most relevant details. We know now that this was at the request of the NY Fed (aka Tim–I’ve got GS on speed dial–Geithner).

In late November 2008, the insurer was planning to include Schedule A in a regulatory filing — until a lawyer for the Fed said it wasn’t necessary, according to the e-mails. The document was an attachment to the agreement between AIG and Maiden Lane III, the fund that the Fed established in November 2008 to hold the CDOs after the swap contracts were settled.

AIG paid its counter­parties — the banks — the full value of the contracts, after accounting for any collateral that had been posted, and took the devalued CDOs in exchange. As requested by the New York Fed, AIG kept the bank names out of the Dec. 24 filing and edited out a sentence that said they got full payment.

The New York Fed’s January 2010 statement said the sentence was deleted because AIG technically paid slightly less than 100 cents on the dollar.

Before the New York Fed ordered AIG to pay the banks in full, the company was trying to negotiate to pay off the credit- default swaps at a discount or “haircut.”

Read that date. We’re talking November 2008. If you read further into the Bloomberg article you’ll see that the names were withheld also during 2009. Issa put the names out because he wanted to show U.S. taxpayers where their money went. It’s unclear to me if he understood then or maybe even now that by putting out the details of the deals, he’s basically provided information that let’s us know how deeply Goldman Sachs was in on the financial innovations that blew up the economy. Not only that, it appears they knowingly may have been loading some of those innovations with assets they knew would explode and that they were actively placing bets on that outcome at AIG. As of the end of January, 2010 meeting, Geithner and the NY Fed still didn’t want the details released. No fucking wonder!

Janet Tavakoli, founder of Tavakoli Structured Finance Inc., a Chicago-based consulting firm, says the New York Fed’s secrecy has helped hide who’s responsible for the worst of the disaster. “The suppression of the details in the list of counterparties was part of the coverup,” she says.

E-mails between Fed and AIG officials that Issa released in January show that the efforts to keep Schedule A under wraps came from the New York Fed. Revelation of the messages contributed to the heated atmosphere at the House hearing.

Tavakoli also says that the poor performance of the underlying securities (which are actually specific slices or tranches of CDOs) shows they were toxic in the first place and were probably replenished with bundles of mortgages that were particularly troubled. Managers who oversee CDOs after they are created have discretion in choosing the mortgage bonds used to replenish them.

“The original CDO deals were bad enough,” Tavakoli says. “For some that allow reinvesting or substitution, any reasonable professional would ask why these assets were being traded into the portfolio. The Schedule A shows that we should be investigating these deals.”

So, check this out.

Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, who delivered a report on the AIG bailout in November, says he’s not finished. He has begun a probe of why his office wasn’t provided all of the 250,000 pages of documents, including e-mails and phone logs, that Issa’s committee received from the New York Fed.

Okay, now, follow closely as I connect the dots to this one: U.S. Treasury loan plan may exclude TARP watchdog.

If you were Timothy Geithner, would you want Neil Barofsky poking around any more programs? Wouldn’t you be highly interested in controlling TARP oversight? No wonder Treasury officials and others have been after Barofsky for some time. (Here’s an outline of their actions and attempts to remove independency by Glenn Greenwald at Salon from last summer. )

Bottom line:

Geithner basically knew the vampire squid was a huge contributor to the fall of AIG. It looks like he may have actively encouraged covering-up that information. It also looks like GS actively securitized mortgages it knew would fail eventually and made huge counterbets based on that information using AIG as its personal bookie. Then, when AIG couldn’t cover the bets, GS refused to negotiate any deals (they must’ve known something like a bail out was forthcoming). Then knew exactly what was in those securities so they knew their real value. Geithner made AIG pay GS 100% of the value when it appears they were worth around 35%. When AIG tried to report the counterparties, the NY FED told them to withhold the information. (Yet, post Timmy, the NY FED appears to have released everything to Issa’s committee. During Timmy’s time, remember, everything was heavily edited and Barofsky appears not to have gotten the same information.) They also were told not to provide details on the mark downs. Timmy must’ve known that Goldman was betting against the toxic assets they had created. Not only that, it looks like Goldman was actually shorting themselves! AND these guys were Obama’s major contributors. Giethner must’ve been part of the packaged deal.

I got one thing to say now. A lot of folks should be doing a perp walk on this one. This looks like fraud. If this is the kind’ve financial innovation these folks voting on The Economist poll want, then they should just as well turn their life savings over to Bernie Madoff right now. I just wish they’d stop giving the likes of him mine too.

(I hope I’ve explained this adequately, cause this sure is one fucking twisted tale.)


Tales of the Vampire Squid

Great illustration of the classic movie The Sting by Francesco Francavilla

Matt Taibbi of the Rolling Stone spells out why Goldman Sachs is making all that money in a piece called “Wall Street’s Bailout Hustle”. The contents shouldn’t be new for any reader here because it basically spells out what we’ve been talking about for some time. Also, any avid reader of Yves over at Naked Capitalism or Karl Denninger at the Market Ticker will have also followed the heist of taxpayer monies. The good news is that the Rolling Stone has a much bigger audience. The bad news is that I don’t know at this point if what any of us say will really matter. The fix is in and has been in for some time.

We’ve talked about how by allowing the investment banks to become commercial banks,the FED opened the discount window to institutions that normally cannot borrow money there or for that matter borrow any where that cheaply. Having your marginal cost of capital suddenly go to close to zero lets you invest in a lot of projects whose net present value would not be positive otherwise. Unfortunately, these ‘projects’ weren’t things like inventory loans or loans for new equipment which are items that generally are funded by commercial banks. The proceeds of the Fed loans were used to buy up deep discounted (by the Treasury) financial assets from the remnants of a failing AIG.

So the scam–as we’ve talked about in several posts–was pretty easy. First, you borrow from the FED at close to zero per cent interest. Then you get inside information on what’s going to be stripped out of AIG by then NY Fed chairman Timothy Geithner (who sees to it that the price is discounted to Filene’s Basement-levels) and you buy. Then, the NY Fed pre announces a program to buy whatever bad investments you may have on your book (including those deeply discounted AIG assets that you just bought at giveaway prices) so that you and your competitors can shift the assets around several times from place to place and run the price up. Just when the price goes up to an unreasonable level, you sell it to the FED. Then you stand in line for your huge bonus check in a few months for being a Master of the Universe when just about any freshman who took an investments course at the local community college could’ve figured out the same thing. La voilà! Fait accompli!

It would’ve been much cheaper for all of us if they’d have just bought the AIG assets directly but for some reason a bunch of folks in Washington D.C. insisted that the ‘market’ set the price. So, instead of having a phony price set by the FED directly, we had a scammed price set by investment banks. Was all this so Obama could say he’s a good capitalist and not a socialist or was it just away to dance with them that brought you? As we’ve also talked about before, Goldman Sachs and the FIRE lobby invested heavily in the Obama campaign.

So, if you want it spelled out a little bit more completely–with some much better prose than I can come up with–you can visit the Taibbi article and weep for your hard earned tax dollars. Here’s a great example of that.

Fast becoming America’s pre-eminent Marvel Comics supervillain, the CEO used the call to deploy his secret weapon: a pair of giant, nuclear-powered testicles.

No really. It’s a quote from the first paragraph. I swear I didn’t make it up. Nor did I make this up.

The only reason such apathy exists, however, is because there’s still a widespread misunderstanding of how exactly Wall Street “earns” its money, with emphasis on the quotation marks around “earns.” The question everyone should be asking, as one bailout recipient after another posts massive profits — Goldman reported $13.4 billion in profits last year, after paying out that $16.2 billion in bonuses and compensation — is this: In an economy as horrible as ours, with every factory town between New York and Los Angeles looking like those hollowed-out ghost ships we see on History Channel documentaries like Shipwrecks of the Great Lakes, where in the hell did Wall Street’s eye-popping profits come from, exactly? Did Goldman go from bailout city to $13.4 billion in the black because, as Blankfein suggests, its “performance” was just that awesome? A year and a half after they were minutes away from bankruptcy, how are these assholes not only back on their feet again, but hauling in bonuses at the same rate they were during the bubble?

The answer to that question is basically twofold: They raped the taxpayer, and they raped their clients.

So, it explains pretty clearly how Wall Street made that money in a sort’ve pulp fictionish way which hopefully will bring some attention back to culprits like Timothy Geithner who basically was the “loan arranger” of the sting on taxpayers. If that’s what it takes to wake folks up to the scam behind the masters of the universe, then so be it. WAKE THE FUCK UP FOLKS!


Market Manipulation 101 or How to Rob Fort Knox in front of a Congressional Panel

Every day, as the AIG saga unfolds, I have to wonder if there is any vestige of a functional regulatory scheme left in this country. I’ve already decided that there is no shred of decency left in any one whose hand came close to unraveling the insurance giant and its deals. I know this is an area where eyes glaze over, but really, it’s like solving a crime that even Miss. Marple couldn’t fathom. Ladies and Gentlemen, we’ve been robbed.

It may be too complex for most journalists to report about, but the financial blog realm, full of individual investors, academics and pissed off Americans is keeping the story alive. The headline today from the Atlantic is there are $100 Million More in AIG bonuses. Don’t forget, we basically OWN this company so this is OUR money. Most voters are wise enough to know that this alone does not pass the threshold of decency. You don’t have to have a PHd with an emphasis on corporate governance to figure out that something is very wrong when people can bankrupt a company one year, and still collect bonuses the very next.

In the ongoing AIG bonus saga, the troubled insurer will distribute around $100 million in bonuses today, that’s likely much to the dismay of taxpayers who now own the firm. Despite the fact that AIG is technically under compensation restrictions, many so-called “guaranteed bonuses” that were in place before AIG’s collapse still must be honored by law. This is a regrettable situation, and speaks loudly to the messy problem that bailouts pose.

This is the headline today in many of the mainstream papers. This includes the NY Times that reports those bonuses may have been lowered by$20 million to lessen the blow. This is a mere trifling compared to what was pilfered from the dying AIG by Goldman Sachs as it was in the throes of death. Those Revenuers let Goldman Sachs pick clean the dead body of AIG before we got the bill for the funeral.

“A.I.G. has taxpayers over a barrel,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican, in a statement on Tuesday night. “The Obama administration has been outmaneuvered. And the closed-door negotiations just add to the skepticism that the taxpayers will ever get the upper hand.”

A.I.G. first promised the retention bonuses to keep people working at its financial products unit, which traded in the derivatives that imploded in September 2008, leading to the biggest government bailout in history.

The contracts, which were established in December 2007, were intended to keep people from leaving the company and called for the bonuses to be paid in regular installments to more than 400 employees in the unit. The final payment, which was for about $198 million, was due in mid-March, but was accelerated to Wednesday as part of the agreement to reduce its size.

Fearing a firestorm like the one last spring, A.I.G. had been working with the Treasury’s special master for compensation, Kenneth R. Feinberg, on a compromise that would allow it to keep its promise in part, without offending taxpayers.

So, the bonuses plays into the theme of the moment–Populist Outrage–which is driving everything from angry teabots to high ratings for media screamers like Glenn Beck. It hides a bigger problem. What is going on behind the schemes in the books and the deals as we attempt to bailout a group of bad gamblers is far worse. Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism lays out some of the issues on HuffPo as well as a series of thread at her own blog. While we rage at the bonuses, the real crime happened behind the curtains, where you’re not supposed to notice Timothy Geithner, pulling the strings and blowing the steam from the giant talking head of Glenn Beck.

Although the focus of press and public attention has been the decision to pay out “100%”, this issue has not been framed as crisply as it should be. Remember, the underlying transactions were crap CDOs that the banks (or bank customers, a subject we will turn to later) owned, and on which the banks had gotten credit default swaps from AIG. The Fed in fact paid out WELL MORE than 100% on the value of the AIG credit default swaps by virtue of also buying the CDOs.

That is one simple paragraph to describe the scheme behind the bailout of AIG. The facts are nearly beyond belief and as Congressman Dennis Kucinich put it, the testimony provided by Timmy-in-the-Well-again Geithner and among others doesn’t “pass the smell test.” I’m not sure how you miss the smells coming from an open, festering mass grave. But, the majority of Americans, and Congressio Critters, seem to think it could be just a few dead birds in the attic. The evil is the ledger accounts at the New York Fed.

Smith says the details show the FED as either captured regulator exhibiting ‘crony behavior’ or the behavior of Geithner was duplicitous and merits legal action. That is even mild. Her Huffpo article lays out the arguments for both scenarios. Either way, Giethner’s NY Fed comes off badly and Paulson and the Bush Treasury come off as co-conspirators to a heist.

Another article which demonstrates palpable anger at both the ineffective Fed and Congress is written in the financial/investment blog Money Morning by Shah Giliani who is a retired Hedge Manager. Again, the lack of knowledgeable staff could be the reason the pieces to the puzzle are being put together outside of the mainstream media. It could be the story is too complex to be glamorous and deemed beyond the reach of the average 5th grade reading level achieved at most major newspapers. It’s even possible no one wants to take on the financial industry. The deal is what happened as outlined in the testimony–had some one on that Congressional Panel actually had a background in something other than professional politics subsidized by the FIRE lobby and a plethora of worthless law degrees and knew finance–should’ve caused outrage around the country and sent subpoenas flying out of the justice department and the SEC. The central players in this are Goldman Sachs and the New York Fed whose people are so entrenched now in the Treasury and the West Wing that you have to wonder if there ever will be enough justice left in this country to counteract what should be the cries of lynch mobs. Following through with the legal obligations to pay out the bonuses–with the smallish $20 million concession–is just the sprinkles on the cake. Perhaps it’s easier to pay them than to have the AIG financiers talk about the details as the FED and Treasury unwound their deals.

The rationale for what is essentially the breaking of so many laws is the rescue of the U.S. and the world from another Great Depression. There are always ignoble deeds, however, done in the name of the most noble causes. This should go down in the press and in history as The Great U.S. Treasury and Financial Market Heist. The last two secretaries of Treasury-Paulson and Geithner–should be hauled before a government tribunal and stuck in Gitmo with the rest of the terrorists and enemies of the state. The dirty details follow the fold.

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Who Holds Wall Street Accountable?

If your answer included any of number regulators or congress with its oversight duties or the traditional media with its watchdog of the public duties sorta answer, that would be a wrong answer. There were so many articles today about past and present Wall Street tomfoolery that I almost forgot to check the Wall Street Journal or The Hill. Instead, I”m relying on my subscriptions to things I’m supposed to be reading in the bath tub with Chopin playing in the background and a glass of Pinot Grigio nearby. Today, the best read came from Vanity Fare and was written by Andrew Ross Sorkin. (My Vanity Fare showed up today along with my latest copy of The Economist with the cover shouting “After the Storm: How to make the best of the Recovery.” ) My bottom line is still that Wall Street caused this and they are not only NOT cleaning it up, they are not being cleaned up.

I’m also checking out Matt Taibbi and TaibBlog now that his infamous vampire squid article in July’s Rolling Stone defined the shadowy world of Goldman Sachs better than just about any thing I’ve recently read. Matt’s blog today takes on naked selling or ‘naked swindling’ in the succinct framing of the Wall Street Deal that I now consider better jargon than that of the derivatives blah blah blah that I was taught in any of my PhD level corporate finance or investment classes. I may be able to do the proof for the Black Scholes formula but I will never be able to prove its social usefulness.

Actually, this takes me back to the Grey Lady and my first read of the day about the now bankrupt Simmons Bedding company that was the cash cow purposely inflicted with mad cow disease. Now days, it’s still more about the arbitrage deal and the leveraged deal that produces dividends than it is about what a company produces and the lives of the workers and long time managers who produce valuable stuff. It’s no longer build it and they will come. It’s leverage it to the hilt, take your dividends now, and find the next sucker with the next model that can hyperactivate the milking machine. It’s another real life example of Gordan Gekko and the greed is good speech. Spend some time with the Simmons story before you hit Taibblog and definitely the Sorkin article in Vanity Fare. It’ll put you in the right frame of mind.

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Zombie Regulation

zombie-road-signPublic Policy chaos is hard to miss these days. One moment it’s which health plan will make its way through the blue dogs in the Senate and the liberals in the house. The next moment it’s escalation of military actions in Afghanistan; probably where the original quagmire reference was developed at the dawn of time. Look this way!!! No look that way!!! Then there’s the forgotten war against financial risk excess. I could create a pretty good argument that much of the chaos might be to distract us from the rumblings still coming from the Wall Street fault line. Good thing the Europeans are looking, because it seems that we’re certainly not. That means they’ll be at least one safe place to put your money, eventually. Unfortunately, it won’t be here.

The Chief Executive of the Vampire squid was in Germany this week telling the Europeans exactly what they wanted to hear (h/t to myiq2xu). This should’ve elicited the “D’oh” heard round the world. Problem is, no one in the U.S. is listening. We have yet to see any serious proposal to regulate and standardize the types of complex financial derivatives that nearly brought the world economy to it’s knees less than a year ago.

Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive of Goldman Sachs, on Wednesday admitted that banks lost control of the exotic products they sold in the run-up to the financial crisis, and said that some of the instruments lacked social or economic value.

In a speech to the Handelsblatt banking conference in Frankfurt, he also repeated an attack, first made in the spring, on Wall Street compensation practices, calling the furore over bankers’ pay “understandable and appropriate”.

The startling message from the head of the world’s most high-profile investment bank echoes comments by Lord Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, the UK regulator, who provoked controversy last month when he questioned the social value of much investment banking activity.

Mr Blankfein said: “The industry let the growth and complexity in new instruments outstrip their economic and social utility as well as the operational capacity to manage them.”

This is so true. When it takes an army of lawyers to work on one tranche and the contracts it involves, when it takes HDR-clusterfuckmath that requires physicists turned financiers to price the silly things, and when the resolution process is so whacked that it can take months to figure out who owns what, you’ve got control problems. Even more true is the fact that investments in these products doesn’t really create anything of value. It ties capital up in arbitrage and speculation rather than placing it the hands of entrepreneurs that actually create products and services. Top it off with cash out flows via bonuses from stock holders to what amounts to a professional gambling class and you’re bound to create a major clusterfuck eventually. So, given the clusterfuck last year, why aren’t we rewriting financial law?

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When Will They Ever Learn?

The Blogging Econ heads are still news makers today as we have more and more reports of record profits at Goldman pigs-playing-poker1Sachs and examples of blatant corportist propaganda at CNBC. I learned yesterday that many folks are listening, it just isn’t necessarily the ones shaping and setting policy. We also see a completely unsustainable budget coming down the pipe per the Director of the CBO. Why is it that policy makers seem to want us in dire straights? Are their sources of campaign funds so sacred that they’re willing to bring down the U.S. economy? Where does a Cassandra start?

Matt Taibbi and Paul Krugman focus in on the GS profits. So, I’m all for making a decent rate of return, that’s necessary to keep a company in business and it’s required to attract capital to grow a market. However, record setting, extraordinary profits are symptoms of a market out-of-whack. In the most simplest of analysis it could mean there are minimally too few providers of a service which can also lead to some form of market manipulation, information hiding, or information asymmetry allowing them to reap extraordinary profits. I basically think we’re seeing GS game the market based on raiding underpriced AIG assets with a free source of capital. This means the profits are straight from taxpayer funding. No wonder these guys don’t want to pony up any equity to us based on profitability and want to dump TARP funds (with their compensation restrictions) as quickly as possible. How can Washington miss that they’re back at their same old games?

This is from Taibbi who basically lays it out. They’re taking our tax dollars and buying assets with tax dollar in government-selected subsidized fire sales, creating arbitrage profits (some through their own huge market shares now that much of their competition is gone) and churning themselves some nice bonuses. In music, that’s called riding the gravy train. It’s a no risk, no brainer, no lose situation. Why would that require bonuses? [You can mark my words on this. They looted (with government enabling) AIG and the next one up will be CIT.]

So what’s wrong with Goldman posting $3.44 billion in second-quarter profits, what’s wrong with the company so far earmarking $11.4 billion in compensation for its employees? What’s wrong is that this is not free-market earnings but an almost pure state subsidy.

Krugman, a microeconomist with specializations in trade theory, sees it too.

The American economy remains in dire straits, with one worker in six unemployed or underemployed. Yet Goldman Sachs just reported record quarterly profits — and it’s preparing to hand out huge bonuses, comparable to what it was paying before the crisis. What does this contrast tell us?

First, it tells us that Goldman is very good at what it does. Unfortunately, what it does is bad for America.

Second, it shows that Wall Street’s bad habits — above all, the system of compensation that helped cause the financial crisis — have not gone away.

Third, it shows that by rescuing the financial system without reforming it, Washington has done nothing to protect us from a new crisis, and, in fact, has made another crisis more likely.

Meanwhile, back in the Main Stream Media, also known as the Wall Street and K Street propaganda factory, CNBC has tired to rosy up Dr. Doom’s forecasts to enable its masters arbitrage profits. Roubini made it clear that his views on the economy have remained unchanged despite the attempts to make it look otherwise.

Nouriel Roubini, the economist whose dire forecasts earned him the nickname “Doctor Doom,” said after markets closed Thursday that earlier reports claiming he sees an end to the recession this year were “taken out of context.”

“It has been widely reported today that I have stated that the recession will be over ‘this year’ and that I have ‘improved’ my economic outlook,” Roubini said in a prepared statement. “Despite those reports … my views expressed today are no different than the views I have expressed previously. If anything my views were taken out of context.”

Several business news outlets, picking up on a report initially from Reuters, earlier Thursday cited Roubini as saying that the worst of the economic financial crisis may be over.

The New York University professor was quoted by Reuters as saying that the economy would emerge from the recession toward the end of 2009.

Reports of his comments helped trigger a late rally in the stock market.

Did you read that bit about triggering a late rally in the stock market? Pity the poor suckers that believed CNBC and of course, watch the deposits grow of the folks that placed the offsetting market transactions. And, let’s see, which market insiders would probably know that was BS? I don’t think you have to be Ms. Marple or an SEC investigator to figure that one out. It was just a simple mistake, wasn’t it?

Factors Explaining Future Federal Spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security (Percentage of GDP)
Factors Explaining Future Federal Spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security (Percentage of GDP)

Another thing that really has sugared my cookies is this report coming out of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) one of the few bastions of economic thought in the beltway that tries to look out for the real constituents of Washington D.C.. The Director of the CBO,Doug Elmendorf, had this to say to a Senate Committee followed by a post to his blog.

The current recession and policy responses have little effect on long-term projections of noninterest spending and revenues. But CBO estimates that in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, the federal government will record its largest budget deficits as a share of GDP since shortly after World War II. As a result of those deficits, federal debt held by the public will soar from 41 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2008 to 60 percent at the end of fiscal year 2010. This higher debt results in permanently higher spending to pay interest on that debt. Federal interest payments already amount to more than 1 percent of GDP; unless current law changes, that share would rise to 2.5 percent by 2020.

There’s also his bottom line.

Under current law, the federal budget is on an unsustainable path, because federal debt will continue to grow much faster than the economy over the long run. Although great uncertainty surrounds long-term fiscal projections, rising costs for health care and the aging of the population will cause federal spending to increase rapidly under any plausible scenario for current law. Unless revenues increase just as rapidly, the rise in spending will produce growing budget deficits. Large budget deficits would reduce national saving, leading to more borrowing from abroad and less domestic investment, which in turn would depress economic growth in the United States. Over time, accumulating debt would cause substantial harm to the economy.

Okay, am I just being a little too wonky here or are these three things perfectly clear to any one who has the audacity to be informed?

Norway, anyone?
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