Jul 13

IN A modern financial system nothing is more frightening than a run on the bank. The US has now suffered a series of them, and they are escalating in size and scope, posing a serious threat to an already reeling economy.

Rumours swamped financial markets on Friday that the US Government would be forced to step in to aid the mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which together own or guarantee $US5 trillion ($5.16 trillion) in US home loans.

In Wall Street’s version of a run on the bank, investors drove Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shares to 17-year lows, signalling a gnawing lack of faith in the companies’ ability to survive rising mortgage defaults without the Government’s help.

Later on Friday regulators took over IndyMac Bank of Pasadena, saying the $US32 billion lender had collapsed under the weight of bad home loans and withdrawals by spooked depositors. It was the second-largest bank to fail in US history.

Friday’s events were felt around the world, knocking the battered US dollar lower and driving up interest rates.

“This is a flare-up in the financial forest fire that is far beyond anything we’ve seen before,” said Christopher Low, chief economist at the investment firm FTN Financial in New York.

It is triggering worries that would have been unthinkable even a year ago, including that the US Treasury’s debt might lose its AAA credit grade because of heavy blows to the nation’s fiscal health from the housing mess.

Four months ago many on Wall Street believed they had seen the worst of the credit crisis rooted in the housing market’s woes. The collapse in March of the brokerage Bear Stearns, a central player in the business of packaging dicey mortgages for sale to investors, was the kind of prominent calamity that has historically marked the end of financial crises.

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May 25

The credit crunch has hit home for thousands of New Zealanders as debt collection agencies report up to a 500 per cent increase in workload over the past few months.

Debt collectors who have been in the industry for more than 15 years say they have never been busier, with small-time borrowers and businesses “across the board” defaulting on loans and payment for services.

Meanwhile, budgeting advisory services are swamped with people needing help as debts spiral out of control. One service says its waiting time to see new clients is up to five weeks.

Graeme Byers, owner of debt collector Guardian Credit Services, told the Herald on Sunday his business had increased by between 400 and 500 per cent this year.

“There’s just more debt out there. Poorer people are getting hammered.”

Byers said the collapse of numerous finance companies had put many people into positions where they could not pay everyday debts. “One feeds off the other. It snowballs,” he said. Continue reading »

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Apr 23
While most investors are focused on the latest stock market rally, hidden from view is a monumental change that few recognize and fewer understand: Unprecedented amounts of old debts are coming due in America, and many are not getting refinanced.

Even worse, borrowers are going into default, lenders are taking huge losses, and outstanding loans are turning to dust.

The numbers are large; the government’s response is equally massive. So before you look at one more stock quote or any other news item, I think it behooves you to understand what this means and what to do about it …

New Evidence of A Credit Crack-Up

Until recently, economists have had only anecdotal evidence of credit troubles.

They knew that individual banks were taking losses. They knew that many banks were tightening their lending standards. And they realized that there were hiccups in the credit markets.

So they called it the “credit crunch” — essentially a slowdown in the pace of new credit growth.

But we didn’t buy that. Earlier this year, we warned that America’s credit woes involved much more than just a slowdown. We wrote that it was actually a credit crack-up — an outright contraction of credit the likes of which had never been witnessed in our lifetime.

Wall Street scoffed. No one had seen anything like this happen before, and almost everyone assumed that it would not happen now.

They were wrong.

Indeed, three new official reports are now telling us, point blank, that the credit crack-up is already beginning! Continue reading »

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Apr 04

WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday a recession is possible and policymakers are “fighting against the wind” in trying to steady a shaky economy. He would not say if further interest rate cuts are planned.

Bernanke’s testimony before the Joint Economic Committee of Congress was a more pessimistic assessment of the economy’s immediate prospects than a report he delivered earlier this year. His appearance on Capitol Hill came amid a trio of economic slumps in the housing, credit and financial areas.

“It now appears likely that gross domestic product (GDP) will not grow much, if at all, over the first half of 2008 and could even contract slightly,” Bernanke told lawmakers. GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced within the United States and is the best barometer of the United States’ economic health. Under one rule, six straight months of declining GDP, would constitute a recession.


Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington,
Wednesday, April 2, 2008, before the Joint Economic Committee.
(AP Photos/Susan Walsh)

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Mar 14

Buffett and Gross warn: $516 trillion bubble is a disaster waiting to happen

ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. – “Charlie and I believe Berkshire should be a fortress of financial strength” wrote Warren Buffett. That was five years before the subprime-credit meltdown.

“We try to be alert to any sort of mega-catastrophe risk, and that posture may make us unduly appreciative about the burgeoning quantities of long-term derivatives contracts and the massive amount of uncollateralized receivables that are growing alongside. In our view, however, derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal.” Continue reading »

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