Tuesday Reads: Philippines Disaster, Economics News, and the Concern Troll Media

November snow1

Good Morning!!

Boy did I ever get a shock when I looked out my window this morning and saw a mix of snow and rain coming down outside. Noooooo! It’s way too early for winter weather. I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come.

Now that I’ve looked at this morning’s news from the Philippines, I’m ashamed to be complaining about a little bit of freezing rain. The disaster following Typhoon Haiyan is beyond belief. ABC News talked to a 19-year-old American woman who who survived the massive storm.

Rebecca Ruth Guy, 19, was living in the city of Tacloban, which bore the full force of the winds and the tsunami-like storm surges Friday. Most of the city is in ruins, a tangled mess of destroyed houses, cars and trees.

“When the storm hit, our apartment was flooding so we tried opening the door but the flooding was already rising up to our chest,” Guy told ABC News.

Faced with a life-and-death situation, Guy’s friend smashed the window so they could climb to the roof and escape the storm surge, which is being blamed for a large part of the destruction and death.

“We got out to the roof,” she said. “The rain was coming, the winds were crazy and it was getting cold. So we ended up sandwiching together and holding onto one another for warmth, praying for protection of the people.

“The most harrowing was when I saw women and children piled under tarpaulin, and when I saw dogs skewered on gates, cars thrown into buildings, people trying to find something to eat, water to drink,” she added.

According to the article, the U.S. sent planes to evacuate Americans living in the Philippines; other residents aren’t so fortunate.

CNN is reporting that 1,774 people are dead; but that number will continue to rise.

Cebu, Philippines (CNN) — Typhoon Haiyan has killed too many people to count so far and pushed to the brink of survival thousands more who have lost everything, have no food or medical care and are drinking filthy water to stay alive.

By Tuesday, officials had counted 1,774 of the bodies, but say that number may just be scratching the surface. They fear Haiyan may have taken as many as 10,000 lives.

The storm has injured 2,487 more since it made landfall six times last Friday, the government said. It has displaced at least 800,000 people, the U.N. said Tuesday.

Unfortunately a new storm and an earthquake have hindered rescue efforts.

As authorities rush to save the lives of survivors four days after Haiyan ripped the Philippines apart, a new tropical low, Zoraida, blew in Tuesday delivering more rain, the Philippine national weather agency PAGASA reported.

Zoraida is not a strong storm, but has dumped just under four inches of rain in some places, CNN meteorologists say….

An earthquake also rattled part of the affected area. The 4.8 magnitude temblor shook San Isidro Tuesday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

Here are a few more links about the storm and its aftereffects:

An aerial view of a coastal town in Samar province on Monday, Nov. 11. (REUTERS/Erik De Castro)

An aerial view of a coastal town in Samar province on Monday, Nov. 11. (REUTERS/Erik De Castro)

The Week: The terrible destruction of Typhoon Haiyan. This one has a number of shocking photos like the one to the left.

CNN: How it happened: Tracing Typhoon Haiyan’s havoc in the Philippines (lots more photos at this link)

NPR: WHO Rates Typhoon’s Medical Challenges ‘Monumental’

NPR: ‘It Looks Like A 50-Mile Wide Tornado’ Hit The Philippines

CTC News: Typhoon Haiyan: Before and after photos of storm’s damage

In other news, here’s one that will interest Dakinikat: Obama to Tap Treasury Official as Top Derivatives Regulator. From The New York Times Dealbook blog:

President Obama will nominate Timothy G. Massad as the new chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission on Tuesday, a White House aide said, choosing the senior Treasury Department official to run an agency that polices some of Wall Street’s riskiest activity.

If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Massad will succeed Gary Gensler, a former Goldman Sachs banker who overhauled the agency in the wake of the financial crisis. Mr. Gensler, credited with turning one of Wall Street’s laxest regulators into one of its most aggressive, must leave office at the end of the year when his term officially expires.

Mr. Massad, an assistant secretary of the Treasury who oversaw the unwinding of the government’s bailout program stemming from the financial crisis, would join the agency as it undergoes a makeover.

Bart Chilton, the agency’s most liberal commissioner, announced last week that he would soon depart. David Meister, the enforcement director who led actions against some of the world’s biggest banks, departed the agency last month. And Jill E. Sommers, a Republican commissioner, left months ago.

The vacancies have raised the stakes for Mr. Massad’s nomination. If Mr. Chilton and Mr. Gensler depart before their successors are confirmed, the five-member commission will be down to just two members: one Republican, Scott D. O’Malia, and one Democrat, Mark Wetjen.

That would not be good. I know Dakinikat is busy today, but here’s another article for her to weigh in on if she has time: Confessions of a Quantitative Easer. From Andrew Huszar at the Wall Street Journal:

I can only say: I’m sorry, America. As a former Federal Reserve official, I was responsible for executing the centerpiece program of the Fed’s first plunge into the bond-buying experiment known as quantitative easing. The central bank continues to spin QE as a tool for helping Main Street. But I’ve come to recognize the program for what it really is: the greatest backdoor Wall Street bailout of all time.

Five years ago this month, on Black Friday, the Fed launched an unprecedented shopping spree. By that point in the financial crisis, Congress had already passed legislation, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, to halt the U.S. banking system’s free fall. Beyond Wall Street, though, the economic pain was still soaring. In the last three months of 2008 alone, almost two million Americans would lose their jobs.

The Fed said it wanted to help—through a new program of massive bond purchases. There were secondary goals, but Chairman Ben Bernanke made clear that the Fed’s central motivation was to “affect credit conditions for households and businesses”: to drive down the cost of credit so that more Americans hurting from the tanking economy could use it to weather the downturn. For this reason, he originally called the initiative “credit easing.”

Huzar claims that Janet Yellen will likely continue Bernanke’s policies.

Even when acknowledging QE’s shortcomings, Chairman Bernanke argues that some action by the Fed is better than none (a position that his likely successor, Fed Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen, also embraces). The implication is that the Fed is dutifully compensating for the rest of Washington’s dysfunction. But the Fed is at the center of that dysfunction. Case in point: It has allowed QE to become Wall Street’s new “too big to fail” policy.

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More pundits are joining the anti-Hillary ranks. According to The Hill’s Alex Bolton:

Liberal leaders want Hillary Clinton to face a primary challenge in 2016 if she decides to run for president.

The goal of such a challenge wouldn’t necessarily be to defeat Clinton. It would be to prevent her from moving to the middle during the Democratic primary.

“I do think the country would be well served if we had somebody who would force a real debate about the policies of the Democratic Party and force the party to debate positions and avoid a coronation,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, an influential progressive group….

Clinton raised concern among the Democratic Party’s populist base when she recently accepted an estimated $400,000 from Goldman Sachs for two speeches.

Influential progressives wonder whether someone who accepted such a large sum from one of Wall Street’s biggest investment firms could be expected to hold corporate executives accountable if elected president.

They also wonder how aggressively she’d call for addressing income inequality, which many see as one of the biggest economic problems facing the nation.

That’s odd, since Obama ran to Hillary’s right in 2008 and received more contributions from Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms than either Hillary or John McCain. But let’s not get caught up in facts…

Politico has taken up the suggestion from Noam Scheiber at The New Republic that Dakinikat wrote about yesterday that Elizabeth Warren should run against Hillary. Concern trolls Ben White and Maggie Haberman write:

There are three words that strike terror in the hearts of Wall Street bankers and corporate executives across the land: President Elizabeth Warren.

The anxiety over Warren grew Monday after a magazine report suggested the bank-bashing Democratic senator from Massachusetts could mount a presidential bid in 2016 and would not necessarily defer to Hillary Clinton — who is viewed as far more business-friendly — for the party’s nomination.

And the fear is not only that Warren, who channels an increasingly popular strain of Occupy Wall Street-style anti-corporatism, might win. That is viewed by many political analysts as a slim possibility. It is also that a Warren candidacy, and even the threat of one, would push Clinton to the left in the primaries and revive arguments about breaking up the nation’s largest banks, raising taxes on the wealthy and otherwise stoking populist anger that is likely to also play a big role in the Republican primaries.

So what does Warren think about all this?

A spokesperson for Warren declined to comment on whether she would consider a presidential bid against Clinton, though Warren has previously said she has no plans to run. People close to Warren note that she signed a letter from female Democratic senators urging Clinton to run in 2016. And Warren associates, mindful of any appearance of creating the narrative of a Warren-for-president campaign, have corresponded with Clinton associates to stress that they didn’t fuel the New Republic story by Noam Scheiber.

Assholes. Hey, I have an idea–why not get Kirstin Gillibrand to run against Hillary too? Of course Chris Cillizza is also rooting for Warren and Clinton to destroy each other’s chances to do anything positive about the economy:

Quick, name someone who would have a realistic chance of beating out Hillary Clinton for the 2016 presidential nomination. Martin O’Malley? Nope. Joe Biden? Maybe but probably not. Howard Dean. No way. There’s only answer to that question that makes even a little sense. And that answer is Elizabeth Warren.

And so on… bla bla bla… Don’t these idiots have anything important to write about? Like maybe jobs, children without food or health care, or the upcoming battle over the debt limit?

Thank goodness for TBogg at Raw Story: What if Elizabeth Warren went back in time and smothered Baby Hitler in his crib?

If you have been  perambulating about the internet these past few days, the above is exactly the kind of linkbait bullshit narratives that are being peddled by people who have wearied talking about President of New Jerseymerica Chris Christie or whether Rand Paul was the real life inspiration for the J.L. Borges short story, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote. It seems that frustrated  writers lacking hobbies have turned their lonely eyes to the Democratic side of the 2016 presidential election which is just around the corner, if by corner, you mean: three years from now. But with Hilary “Killary” Clinton pretty much chillaxing with the nomination ripe for the taking (providing she doesn’t rehire Mark Penn, aka The Man Who Could Fuck Up A Baked Potato) there isn’t a whole lot of  tension the likes of which you can find on a daily basis on the Republican Wingnut Flavor of the Week side.

So naturally, Noam Scheiber felt obligated to create some Democratic conflict. T-Bogg responds:

I love Elizabeth Warren. I would totally have her baby if she would have me. You love Elizabeth Warren. We all love Elizabeth Warren. Someday Elizabeth Warren t-shirts may very well become as ubiquitous as Che T’s. But, outside of the hazy crazy patchouli-scented fever palaces that are the comment sections of the manic progressive websites, nobody really thinks that Warren could, would, or should run an insurgent primary campaign against Clinton. And, to be quite frank, those who think Warren should run to in order to “start a conversation” are the  kind of people who have attempted this kind of thing in the past and , as my grandmother used to put it, “don’t have dick to show for it”.

Read his replies to Politico and Cillizza at the link. BTW, I wrote comment before I discovered T-Bogg’s piece. Great minds think alike, but T-Bogg expressed my reactions so much better than I could.

That should be enough to get us started on the day’s news. What stories are you following? Please post your links in the comment thread and have a terrific Tuesday!

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Derivatives – The Dark Market

[Dakinikat here:  We at Sky Dancing would like welcome fiscalliberal to the Front page!!!]

The major objective of this article is to begin the process of understanding the financial market to enable intelligent discussion on the blog.

One of the major pillars of financial collapse was Derivatives. They are very complex financial instruments with a wide diversity. They are described by a gaggle of terminology used by the high priests of finance. Because of complexity most of the books on the collapse skirt the detail of the Derivative Market. After we get through some basic definitions, we will focus on Credit Default Swaps (CDS); a subset of the Derivatives offerings. We will see how the government created a non regulated environment where fraud, compromised regulators and incompetent people ran the Investment Financial community in a very high risk mode.

Derivatives Defined

A Derivative is a financial instrument whose value is dependent on the value of another entity at a future time. Its primary function is to mitigate risk. A simple analogy would be your Home insurance. These policies guarantee that you will be remunerated if the value of your home falls due to fire, wind, or accident.  A relatively small premium of money can mitigate a large potential financial catastrophe. State regulators are in charge of most regular Insurance products and solvency is less of an issue as adequate capital reserves are defined.

We need to think of Derivatives as a “risk tool” meant to stabilize the financial businesses (markets). The wide variety of Derivatives creates confusion, so we are going to restrict our discussion to Credit Default Swaps (CDS).   Anticipating problems with Sub Prime mortgages, Securities were insured by investors. It was the Credit Default Swaps inability to perform that was a party to the financial collapse after the Lehman bankruptcy. They did not have the financial reserves to back up the policies they wrote How did that happen?

Deregulation

For our discussion today, three government deregulation actions are relevant.

  • 1999 Graham Leach Bliley Act repealed the 1933 Glass Steagall act. The Glass-Steagall Act prohibited any one institution from acting as any combination of an investment bank, a commercial bank, and an insurance company.
  • April 28, 2004 SEC drastically relaxed leverage standards for the Big Five Investment Banks: Goldman, Merrill, Bear, Lehman and Morgan Stanly. This created a very high risk environment.  The session can be viewed here.

Financial self regulation brought the system down in 8 years. Bush de-funded Federal regulation. Greed, incompetence and corruption reigned supreme. Enron people went to jail. As of 2010, under Obama only bit players have been jailed. Civil fines are a joke.

Securitization Market

We need to understand the environment created by the above regulation changes  to understand the role of CDS Derivative failure. We will concentrate on the Real Estate Industry

Traditionally, according to HBSwiss, the real estate industry was handled by local banks who retained the loans. Their exposure to losses resulted in more careful origination of loans. For a long time, Fannie, Freddie and FHA were packaging (securitizing) mortgages and selling them to Investors. They enjoyed a good reputation because they had good loan origination standards. These were categorized as Prime mortgages. Generally these securities obtained a AAA rating which rarely changed. Good consistent returns were recorded with these products.

Early in the 2000 decade the Investment banks adopted the securitization model called Private Label Securities. They purchased their mortgages from unregulated brokers (Country Wide, Ameriquest etc) who had little or no standards regarding underwriting of loans. The private label market latched on to the fact that high risk “Sub Prime”  loans carried higher interest rates, hence higher profits. They had no exposure to the failure of the loan as risk was passed on to the Investors. They simply collected the lucrative fee’s.

Investment Banks packaged the loans (millions and billion level). They paid the rating agencies (S&P. Moody and Fitch) for ratings structuring the packages to get AAA ratings. It is clear the rating agencies did not do their job as traditionally solid AAA ratings were changed as the packages started to fail. These packages were sold to the domestic and world markets. Trillions of dollars were involved. The banks simply passed the risk on to the investors and collected the origination and servicing fee’s

CDS Market

Risk could be mitigated by purchasing a CDS against the failure of the security. So if the security failed the investor was held harmless. Remember that as of 2000 the CDS  market was unregulated. AIG – London Financial Services is the poster child of the CDS industry. AIG wrote most of the CDS contracts cheaply as they held inadequate reserves (in the event of a default) and had a good company rating based on the parent insurance company whose operations were regulated. Office of Thrift Supervision was the responsible regulator, but their presence was effectively non existent, Goldman Sachs (Hank Paulson as CEO) was one of their major clients.

However, late 2006 / 2007 AIG FP realized they were over exposed and got out of the market retaining the previous contracts. Recall in the unregulated market anyone could write CDS and the big banks did. As the Mortgage Backed Securities began to fail, the banks started writing CDS between the banks to mitigate risk always falsely believing the market would recover. This was necessary because When Bear and Lehman started to fail the banks were joined at the hip, guaranteeing each others toxic securities. Based on the 2004 SEC relaxing reserve requirements, that banks were leveraged up and things were starting to fail. In a leveraged market things get serious to critical in a matter of hours.

The daily, weekly and monthly credit markets froze up because nobody trusted anybody. Even GE was having trouble borrowing for daily operations. Andrew Ross Sorkin’s book‘Too Big to Fail’— gives a good account of the scenario in 2008. Fannie and Freddie were in conservator ship, near bankruptcy Bear was bought on a fire sale by JP Morgan, Lehman was bankrupt, Merrill near bankruptcy was bought by Bank Of America and AIG had to be rescued by the Federal Government. Morgan Stanly and Goldman were within days of bankruptcy, but got bailed out by Warren Buffet and a Korean financial entity.

The AIG story is discussed in this newspaper article ‘Behind Insurer’s Crisis, Blind Eye to a Web of Risk’.

It is interesting to know that just before the 2008 collapse, the rating agencies down graded AIG forcing them to hold more reserves. They were forced to raise cash in a collapsing market.  In a high leverage industry, when it rains it pours.

Naked CDS

Investors can buy CDS on securities even though they do not own the security. This is equivalent to a neighbor buying insurance on your house. So if you know that a Mortgage Backed Security has a lot of high risk loans in it and is headed to failure, you buy a CDS anticipating the default. Michael Lewis’ book‘The Big Short’–is all about the people who anticipated the failures and bought CDS products. A Bloomberg video interviews Lewis and it provides a lot of insight into the mess that evolved.

I look to Dakinkat, Gillian Tett, Yves Smith, and Janet Tavakoli on technical issues of Derivatives. Lewis’ forte is being able to write to the general public. His book gives a lot of insight to the CDS market nuances. It is interesting that Smith and Tavakoli consider Lewis to be a light weight. Yet, his book sales exceed theirs.

To get a notion of the size of the CDS market we need to look at these numbers. The size of our national economy this year is roughly $15 trillion. The whole world GDP is about $56 trillion. At the time of the 2008 failure, the size of the Credit Default Swaps (CDS) market was $64 trillion. The exposure at the time of the collapse was huge. The magnitude of the Naked CDS is not known, but is understood to be huge.

Given that the unregulated CDS underwriters were prone to not provide adequate capital reserves for defaults, there was a massive liquidity problem, hence the government had to step in and bail out the likes of AIG and banks who wrote these products.

The whole CDS market is described as being part of the Casino Gambling image in the financial markets

Current Status

The Dodd Frank Bill has a moderate approach for Derivatives Regulation. However it is up to the regulators for implementation and the banks are attempting to minimize the impact of regulation. This is documented by two recent NYT articles.

It’s Not Over Until It’s in the Rules

A Secretive Banking Elite Rules Trading in Derivatives

A short summary of the above articles is that the big banks are attempting to save their Oligopoly through the Risk Committees of the Clearing Houses. This is being done by imposing high capital reserve requirements for participants. This has the effect of limiting competition which limits price competition and transparency. The elephant in the room is the risk committee’s saying certain derivatives are to complex to be cleared. This gets us right back to where we were in the financial crisis. Over the Counter non clearing house products are the most profitable and open to risk.

In the spirit of Brooksly Born regulation, It has been proposed that Derivatives be run using a Clearing House or a Exchange Trading Requirement.

From The Economist:

Clearing House: A clearing requirement is a requirement that all eligible derivatives be cleared on a central clearinghouse (also known as a central counterparty, or CCP). A clearinghouse provides critical counterparty risk mitigation by mutualizing the losses from a clearing member’s failure, netting clearing members’ trades out every day, and requiring that parties post collateral every day. Clearinghouses also centralize trade reporting, and can provide any level of post-trade transparency to the OTC derivatives markets that your heart desires — same-day trade reporting, including prices, aggregate and counterparty-level position data, etc. Virtually all of the harmful opacity and murkiness of the current OTC derivatives markets can be ended with just a clearing requirement — that is, a clearing requirement is a prerequisite for getting rid of the harmful opacity in OTC derivatives

Exchange Trading: An exchange-trading requirement, on the other hand, is simply a requirement that all eligible derivatives use a particular type of trade execution venue: exchanges (also known as “boards of trade”)..The exchange is just the trade execution venue (think NYSE vs. Nasdaq). The only thing that an exchange-trading requirement adds to the clearing requirement is “pre-trade price transparency.”

The clearing house is obviously the better because it brings a degree of financial integrity and transparency. It certainly is the more expensive of the options, but its cost  is minuscule when we think of the financial collapse.

However based on the articles above, it is clear that the big bankers are attempting to preserve their oligopoly in terms of the CDS market. They also want to preserve the option to take the market back to the opaque high risk environment because of profit opportunities.  The Opaque Over the Counter market is the biggest threat to the stability of the market

In Dodd – Frank, the CFTC and SEC have co-jurisdiction The CFTC commission seems to be moving to the bankers view. SEC has been relatively quiet on this subject

We need to remember that Mary Schapiro (SEC)  and Gary Gensler (CFTC) were part of the problem before the 2008 Financial Crisis. It remains to be seen how well they address the problem. Will they do the right thing or are they financial industry moles?