Apr 16

Well well well…. ( The origins of the next crisis – William White, the former chief economist at the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) gave an important speech at George Soros’ Inaugural Institute of New Economic Thinking (INET) conference in Cambridge.):

In essence, White was saying: “it’s the debt, stupid.”  When aggregate debt levels build up across business cycles, economists focused on managing within business cycles miss the key ingredient that leads to systemic crisis. It should be expected that politicians or private sector participants worried about the day-to-day exhibit short-termism. But White says it is particularly troubling that economists and their models exhibit the same tendency because it means there is no long-term oriented systemic counterweight guiding the economy.

This short-termism that White refers to is what I call the asset-based economic model. And, quite frankly, it works – especially when interest rates are declining as they have over the past quarter century. The problem, however, is that you reach a critical state when the accumulation of debt and the misallocation of resources is so large that the same old policies just don’t work anymore. And that’s when the next crisis occurs.

It seems that Mr. Harrison has it figured out.  He goes on to spend a lot of digital ink on the periphery of the bottom line, which is that we continue to think of debt in terms of service costs (indeed, you’ll hear Bernanke talk about it, but never about the actual gross financial system debt outstanding.)

When you boil all this down, however, you get to the following chart (trendline added by moi):


You can see what’s going on here – each “crisis” leads to lower lows and lower highs.

This presents two problems: Continue reading »

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Dec 02

Reporting from New York — JPMorgan Chase & Co. said Monday that it would cut 9,200 jobs at Washington Mutual Bank, which it acquired Sept. 25 after WaMu became the nation’s largest bank to fail amid the continuing credit crisis.

The most cuts will come at Washington Mutual’s Seattle headquarters, where 3,400 pink slips are going out, and at the bank’s San Francisco center, where 1,600 jobs are being eliminated, JPMorgan spokesmen said.

The other 4,200 firings will be spread throughout the United States, with fewer than 300 in Southern California, they said.

No branch closures are planned in California as JPMorgan integrates Washington Mutual, so retail customers in the state will continue to see the same faces as always, the spokesmen said.

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Nov 25

On Friday November 21, the world came within a hair’s breadth of the most colossal financial collapse in history according to bankers on the inside of events with whom we have contact. The trigger was the bank which only two years ago was America’s largest, Citigroup. The size of the US Government de facto nationalization of the $2 trillion banking institution is an indication of shocks yet to come in other major US and perhaps European banks thought to be ‘too big to fail.’

The clumsy way in which US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, himself not a banker but a Wall Street ‘investment banker’, whose experience has been in the quite different world of buying and selling stocks or bonds or underwriting and selling same, has handled the unfolding crisis has been worse than incompetent. It has made a grave situation into a globally alarming one.

‘Spitting into the wind’

A case in point is the secretive manner in which Paulson has used the $700 billion in taxpayer funds voted him by a labile Congress in September. Early on, Paulson put $125 billion in the nine largest banks, including $10 billion for his old firm, Goldman Sachs. However, if we compare the value of the equity share that $125 billion bought with the market price of those banks’ stock, US taxpayers have paid $125 billion for bank stock that a private investor could have bought for $62.5 billion, according to a detailed analysis from Ron W. Bloom, economist with the US United Steelworkers union, whose members as well as pension fund face devastating losses were GM to fail.

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Nov 21

This Is Not A Normal Recession

Moving on to Plan B

“The Winter of 2008-2009 will prove to be the winter of global economic discontent that marks the rejection of the flawed ideology that unregulated global financial markets promote financial innovation, market efficiency, unhampered growth and endless prosperity while mitigating risk by spreading it system wide.” Economists Paul Davidson and Henry C.K. Liu “Open Letter to World Leaders attending the November 15 White House Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy”

The global economy is being sucked into a black hole and most Americans have no idea why. The whole problem can be narrowed down to two words; “structured finance”.

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Oct 25

Oct. 25 (Bloomberg) — Alpha Bank & Trust in Alpharetta, Georgia, with $346 million in deposits, was seized by regulators and closed as the collapse of the housing market and loan defaults claimed a 16th U.S. bank this year.

Alpha, with $354 million in assets, was shut by the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. sold the deposits to Stearns Bank N.A., of St. Cloud, Minnesota. Alpha’s two offices north of Atlanta will open on Oct. 27 as branches of Stearns Bank, the FDIC said yesterday.

Regulators have closed the most banks in 15 years, and the collapses of Washington Mutual Inc. and IndyMac Bancorp Inc. were among the biggest in history. About 4.4 percent of Alpha’s assets were defaulted real-estate loans it took back on its balance sheet, quadruple the total for most U.S. banks, based on data compiled by Charlottesville, Virginia-based SNL Financial.

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Oct 22

Oct. 22 (Bloomberg) — Investors are taking losses of up to 90 percent in the $1.2 trillion market for collateralized debt obligations tied to corporate credit as the failures of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and Icelandic banks send shockwaves through the global financial system.

The losses among banks, insurers and money managers may spark the next round of writedowns on CDOs after $660 billion in subprime-related losses. They may force lenders to post more reserves against losses after governments worldwide announced $3 trillion in financial-industry rescue packages since last month, according to Barclays Capital.

“We’ll see the same problems we’ve seen in subprime,” said Alistair Milne, a professor in banking and finance at Cass Business School in London and a former U.K. Treasury economist. “Banks will take substantial markdowns.”

The collapse of Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual Inc. and the three banks in Iceland prompted Susquehanna Bancshares Inc., a Lititz, Pennsylvania-based lender, to lower the value of $20 million in so-called synthetic CDOs by almost 88 percent last week.

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Oct 15

A sign at a Washington Mutual Bank (WaMu) branch is shown in San Francisco, California September 26, 2008. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Federal investigators have opened an investigation into the collapse of Washington Mutual Inc, the largest U.S. banking failure.

Jeffrey Sullivan, U.S. attorney for the western district of Washington, said in a statement on Wednesday that he has set up a task force that includes investigators from the FBI, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp and the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigations unit.

“Given the significant losses to investors, employees and our community, it is fully appropriate that we scrutinize the activities of the bank, its leaders and others to determine if any federal laws were violated,” Sullivan said in a statement. He said the probe comes on the heels of “intense public interest in the failure of Washington Mutual.”

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Oct 15

Oct. 15 (Bloomberg) — JPMorgan Chase & Co., the largest U.S. bank by market value, said third-quarter profit fell 84 percent on about $5.8 billion of writedowns, losses and credit provisions.

Net income dropped to $527 million, or 11 cents a share, from $3.4 billion, or 97 cents, a year earlier, the New York- based bank said today in a statement. Shares of the company rose as earnings beat the 18-cent loss analysts predicted on average in a survey by Bloomberg.

JPMorgan took $18.8 billion of writedowns and credit costs before today, less than a third of what Wachovia Corp. and Citigroup Inc. reported. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon has capitalized on the market crisis by taking over Bear Stearns Cos. and Washington Mutual Inc. as they collapsed earlier this year. JPMorgan will get $25 billion from the U.S. government under a bank rescue plan announced yesterday.

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Oct 02

Fearing a loss of funding over the weekend, the FDIC forced the sale.

10/02/08 Downtown Charlotte skyline showing the Wachovia First Street Campus headquarters project under construction. DAVIE HINSHAW of the Observer from WCNC’s AirStar36

On Friday, with its stock plunging 27 percent, Wachovia experienced a “silent run” on deposits, but the bigger worry for regulators was that other banks wouldn’t provide the Charlotte bank with necessary short-term funding when it opened for business Monday, sources familiar with the situation told the Observer.

With Wachovia already looking for a merger partner, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., in consultation with other regulators, required the bank to reach a sale to Citigroup on Monday morning.

The FDIC, for the first time, used legislative authority created in 1991 to help it deal with a “very large complex bank failure” on short notice. It requires approval from heavy hitters – two-thirds of FDIC board members, two-thirds of Federal Reserve board members as well as the Treasury secretary, who must consult with the president.

“When Wachovia opened Monday it would not have had a source of liquidity,” a source familiar with the situation said. “It really could not have opened under those circumstances. That’s why (the FDIC) put together the assistance package.”

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Oct 02

Studies show that people often fear the wrong things. We are terrified of things which probably won’t hurt us, but blissfully unconcerned with things that might really kill us (see this, this and this). So we put a tremendous amount of energy into solving non-problems, and get blindsided by things that we don’t know about or which we are too afraid to even think about.

The same applies to the economic crisis.

For example, the market for credit default swaps is larger than the entire world economy.

Credit default swaps – which were largely responsible for bringing down Bear Stearns, AIG, WaMu and other mammoth corporations – are now being taken out against the U.S. government.

So you’d think that politicians trying to prop up the teetering U.S. economy would want to cancel credit default swaps, or at least declare their value is somewhere near zero.

Nope . . . not even on their discussion list, even though it is the real economic crisis.

Instead, they are proposing things which most experts say will actually harm the economy.

Call congress and tell them to stop their political posturing, stop ignoring the derivatives elephant in the room, and either do something useful or nothing at all.

Posted by George Washington at 1:08 PM
Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Source: George Washington’s Blog

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Sep 26

JPMorgan Buys WaMu Bank Business as Thrift Seized

Sept. 25 (Bloomberg) — JPMorgan Chase & Co., the third- biggest U.S. bank by assets, agreed to acquire Washington Mutual Inc.’s deposits and branches for $1.9 billion after regulators seized the thrift in the biggest bank failure in U.S. history.

Customers withdrew $16.7 billion from WaMu accounts since Sept. 16, leaving the Seattle-based bank “unsound,” the Office of Thrift Supervision said today. WaMu’s branches will open tomorrow and customers will have full access to all their accounts, Sheila Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., said on a conference call.

WaMu’s fate played out as Congress debated an accord to end the global credit crunch that drove Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and IndyMac Bancorp out of business and led to the hastily arranged rescues of Merrill Lynch & Co. and Bear Stearns Cos., which was itself absorbed by JPMorgan. WaMu in March rebuffed a takeover offer from JPMorgan Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon that WaMu valued at $4 a share.

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Sep 25

WaMu Said to Approach Blackstone as Bailout Debated

Sept. 25 (Bloomberg) — Washington Mutual Inc.’s options may be dwindling as potential bidders shy away from making an offer because it’s not clear how much the proposed $700 billion U.S. bank rescue package will benefit the Seattle-based lender.

Five banks that were considering bids, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., have failed to make an offer in the week since WaMu put itself up for sale. WaMu next approached Carlyle Group and Blackstone Group LP, two people briefed on the matter said. Those talks are preliminary, and hinge on the government’s role in helping WaMu, which faces an estimated $19 billion in bad loans, the people said, speaking anonymously because the discussions are private.

“A WaMu deal is likely frozen until the bailout gets worked out,” said Steven Kaplan, a finance professor at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. “People aren’t in a hurry to make any decision until they know what’s coming out of Washington.”

WaMu is under increasing pressure to strike a deal as its stock sags and ratings companies pummel its debt. Standard & Poor’s yesterday cut WaMu’s rating for the second time in nine days, dropping it to CCC from BB-. WaMu’s regulator, the Office of Thrift Supervision, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which guarantees customer deposits, have declined to comment.

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Sep 25

Sept. 25 (Bloomberg) — Deborah Horn tugs on the handle of the glass-paned entrance of the IndyMac Bancorp Inc. branch in Manhattan Beach, California. The door won’t budge. The weekend is approaching, and Horn, 44, the sole breadwinner in a family of three, needs cash.

A small notice taped to the window on this Friday afternoon in mid-July tells her why she’s been locked out. IndyMac has failed, the single-spaced, letter-sized paper says; the bank is now in the hands of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

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Sep 17

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Manic and increasingly desperate dealmaking gripped Wall Street on Wednesday as U.S. stocks plummeted to three-year lows amid new signs of distress in the global financial industry.

Morgan Stanley was discussing a merger with regional banking powerhouse Wachovia, the New York Times reported. CEO John Mack got a phone call from Wachovia on Wednesday but is also pursuing other options, the paper said.

“In this market, anything’s possible. It seems like the market wants the investment banking model to disappear,” said Danielle Schembri, bond analyst covering brokers at BNP Paribas in New York.

Washington Mutual , the country’s largest savings bank, put itself up for sale, sources said, confirming a New York Times report. Potential suitors include Citigroup, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo and HSBC, they added.

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Sep 17

Federal bank insurance fund dwindling, regulators consider options for replenishing it

WASHINGTON (AP) — Banks are not the only ones struggling in the growing financial crisis. The fund established to insure their deposits is also feeling the pinch, and the taxpayer may be the lender of last resort.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., whose insurance fund has slipped below the minimum target level set by Congress, could be forced to tap tax dollars through a Treasury Department loan if Washington Mutual Inc., the nation’s largest thrift, or another struggling rival fails, economists and industry analysts said Tuesday.

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Sep 15

Already battered, Washington Mutual shares fall as potential capital sources’ attention is diverted.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Don’t forget about Washington Mutual.

Concerned that Wall Street has done just that, the nation’s largest savings-and-loan plummeted 22% in mid-day trading. Investors are concerned that potential sources of capital have disappeared in the upheaval this weekend on Wall Street that saw Lehman Brothers (LEH, Fortune 500) file the nation’s largest bankruptcy and Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) scoop up Merrill Lynch (MER, Fortune 500).

Washington Mutual (WM, Fortune 500) shares were battered last week, losing 36% of their value as investors grew increasingly nervous that the bank didn’t have enough capital to see it through the tsunami sweeping Wall Street.

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Sep 14

Attention has focused on the danger presented by the failure of Lehman Brothers. But the failure of a commercial bank such as Washington Mutual can have systemic consequences if it threatens a run on other weak banks.

Washington Mutual – the sixth largest bank in the US – has lost more than a third of its market value recently as investors fear it lacks liquidity and capital to survive the credit crisis.

The failure of a bank its size would test the strength of the US deposit insurance system and its ability to maintain the confidence of the nation’s savers.

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Sep 11

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Washington Mutual Inc (WM.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) shares sank below $2 for the first time since 1990 as anxiety grew about the largest U.S. savings and loan’s mortgage losses, capital needs and survival prospects.

Its shares were down 17 cents, or 7.3 percent, at $2.15 on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange, but fell to $1.75 earlier in the session. The stock has plunged 44 percent in the previous two days.

Wall Street is worried that Washington Mutual, like Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc (LEH.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), may not have time to right itself, and that new the chief executive, Alan Fishman, will not find a buyer or raise enough capital for the Seattle-based thrift.

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Aug 06

Aug. 6 (Bloomberg) — Morgan Stanley, the second-biggest U.S. securities firm, told thousands of clients this week that they won’t be allowed to withdraw money on their home-equity credit lines, said a person familiar with the situation.

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Jul 31

WaMu’s Bloated Asset Values Don’t Fool Investors

July 30 (Bloomberg) — With goodwill like Washington Mutual Inc.’s, it’s no wonder investors are getting such bad feelings about the company’s finances. Shares of the Seattle-based savings and loan have fallen 89 percent the past year to $4.43, leaving the company with a $7.6 billion stock-market value. The stock’s plunge must be a horrible mistake if we are to believe the values WaMu attributes to the assets on its balance sheet.

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Jul 29

Its name somewhat anachronistically means “assembly of old men.” George Washington famously – and, it must now be admitted, with excessive optimism – characterized it as an institutional saucer intended to cool legislation passed in the intemperate heat of the moment. Its members demand, with entirely unwarranted self-approval, to be called, collectively, the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.

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Jul 25

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Washington Mutual Inc, the largest U.S. savings and loan, posted a $3.33 billion second-quarter loss on Tuesday as souring mortgages forced it to set aside more money for loan losses.

The thrift’s deteriorating health prompted Moody’s Investors Service to say it may downgrade Washington Mutual to “junk” status. Shares of Washington Mutual fell in after-hours electronic trading.

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