Posts Tagged ‘Wall Street’
by Tyler Durden
January 1, 2012
When it comes to the fabled President’s Working Group on Capital Markets, also known as the Plunge Protection Team, the myths about the subject are certainly far greater than any underlying reality. To be sure, vast amounts of popular folkflore has been expounded into the public arena, with most of it being shot down simply due to it assuming conspiracy theories of such vast scale that the human mind is unable to grasp the complexity, and ultimately the inverse Gordian Knot makes an appearance with the claim that vast conspiracies are largely untenable simply because it is impossible to keep a secret from so many people for so long. Yet what if the secret is not a secret at all but is fully out in the open, and is only a matter of interpretation, and contextualizing? Why just 3 years ago it would appear preposterous to allege the capital markets are a ponzi and that the Fed does everything in its power to keep stocks higher. Well, what a difference three years make: now the Chairman himself in a Washington Post OpEd has admitted that the sole gauge of Fed success is the loftiness of the Russell 2000, neither unemployment nor inflation really matter now that the Fed’s third mandate has been fully whipped out. Furthermore, Keynesian economics, and the entire top echelon of the educational system have also been represented as a paradigm which merely perpetuates the status quo as the alternative is the realization that the whole system is a house of cards. As for the global capital markets being nothing short of a ponzi, we merely point you to the general direction of Europe, the ECB and its bank, where the monetary interplay is nothing short of the world’s biggest pyramid scheme. Yet the PPT, or whatever it is informally called, does not exist? Consider further that only recently did it become known that the former SecTres Hank Paulson himself was exposed as presenting material non-public information to a bevy of Goldman arb desk diaspora hedge funds, headed by with none other than the head of the President’s Working Group on Capital Markets Asset Managers committee David Mindich. So, if contrary to all the evidence that there is some vast underlying pattern, if not a conspiracy per se, one were to take the leap of faith and take the next step, where would one end up? Well, most likely looking at the Exchange Stabilization Fund, or ESF, which Eric deCarbonnel has spent so much time trying to unmask. Is it possible that the ESF, located conveniently at the nexus between US monetary policy, foreign policy and last but not least, a promoter of the interests of the US military-industrial complex, is precisely the organization that so many have been trying to expose for years? Watch and decide for yourself.
As a reminder deCarbonnel is not some tinfoil hat clad sub-basement dweller – it was his input that led us to the realization that in attempting to control the Treasury curve, the Fed will, and already has, experiment with selling puts on various Treasury maturities in an attempt to generate reflexivity whereby the synthetic determines the value of the underlying (something ETFs are now doing oh so well), the value naturally always being higher, higher, higher irrelevant of what underlying demand there is (and as we showed last week, with a record amount of international outflows in the past month, the demand, at least from abroad, is just not there). So what does Eric assert?
After months of work, the video series on the Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund is finally finished!
Why you should watch these five videos:
It is impossible to understand the world today without knowing what the ESF is and what it has been doing. Officially in charge of defending the dollar, the ESF is the government agency which controls the New York Fed, runs the CIA’s black budget, and is the architect of the world’s monetary system (IMF, World Bank, etc). ESF financing (through the OSS and then the CIA) built up the worldwide propaganda network which has so badly distorted history today (including erasing awareness of its existence from popular consciousness). It has been directly involved in virtually every major US fraud/scandal since its creation in 1934: the London gold pool, the Kennedy assassinations, Iran-Contra, CIA drug trafficking, HIV, and worse…
So while nursing that New Year’s Day hangover, take some time and watch this series of videos. If nothing else, they even if merely the extended ramblings of some person that one can quickly dismiss as merely the latest lunatic, they do present an alterantive reality to what so many may be accustomed to. After all at the end of the day imagination, the ability to think outside the box, and to see patterns where previously there were none, is the greatest threat to the ending status quo by far.
Read the entire article HERE.
$707,568,901,000,000: How (And Why) Banks Increased Total Outstanding Derivatives By A Record $107 Trillion In 6 Months
by Tyler Durden
While everyone was focused on the impending European collapse, the latest soon to be refuted rumors of a quick fix from the Welt am Sonntag notwithstanding, the Bank of International Settlements reported a number that quietly slipped through the cracks of the broader media. Which is paradoxical because it is the biggest everreported in the financial world: the number in question is $707,568,901,000,000 and represents the latest total amount of all notional Over The Counter (read unregulated) outstanding derivatives reported by the world’s financial institutions to the BIS for its semi-annual OTC derivatives report titled “OTC derivatives market activity in the first half of 2011.” Indicatively, global GDP is about $63 trillion if one can trust any numbers released by modern governments. Said otherwise, for the six month period ended June 30, 2011, the total number of outstanding derivatives surged past the previous all time high of $673 trillion from June 2008, and is now firmly in 7-handle territory: the synthetic credit bubble has now been blown to a new all time high. Another way of looking at the data is that one of the key contributors to global growth and prosperity in the past 10 years was an increase in total derivatives from just under $100 trillion to $708 trillion in exactly one decade. And soon we have to pay the mean reversion price.
What is probably just as disturbing is that in the first 6 months of 2011, the total outstanding notional of all derivatives rose from $601 trillion at December 31, 2010 to $708 trillion at June 30, 2011. A $107 trillion increase in notional in half a year. Needless to say this is the biggest increase in history. So why did the notional increase by such an incomprehensible amount? Simple: based on some widely accepted (and very much wrong) definitions of gross market value (not to be confused with gross notional), the value of outstanding derivatives actually declined in the first half of the year from $21.3 trillion to $19.5 trillion (a number still 33% greater than US GDP). Which means that in order to satisfy what likely threatened to become a self-feeding margin call as the (previously) $600 trillion derivatives market collapsed on itself, banks had to sell more, more, more derivatives in order to collect recurring and/or upfront premia and to pad their books with GAAP-endorsed delusions of future derivative based cash flows. Because derivatives in addition to a core source of trading desk P&L courtesy of wide bid/ask spreads (there is a reason banks want to keep them OTC and thus off standardization and margin-destroying exchanges) are also terrific annuities for the status quo. Just ask Buffett why he sold a multi-billion index put on the US stock market. The answer is simple – if he ever has to make good on it, it is too late.
Which brings us to the the chart showing total outstanding notional derivatives by 6 month period below. The shaded area is what that the BIS, the bank regulators, and the OCC urgently hope that the general public promptly forgets about and brushes under the carpet.
Try not to laugh. Or cry. Or gloss over, because when it comes to visualizing $708 trillion most really are incapable of doing so.
Total outstanding gross market value by 6 month period:
There is much more than can be said on this topic, and has to be said, because an increase of that magnitude is simply impossible to perceive without alarm bells going off everywhere, especially when one considers the pervasive deleveraging occurring at every sector but the government. All else equal, this move may well explain the massive surge in bank profitability in the first half of the year. It also means that with banks suffering massive losses, and rumors of bank runs and collateral calls, not to mention the aftermath of the MF Global insolvency, the world financial syndicate will have no choice but to increase gross notional even more, even as the market value continues to get ever lower, thus sparking the risk of the mother of all margin calls: a veritable credit fission reaction.
But no matter what: the important thing to remember is that “they are all hedged” – or so they say, a claim we made a completely mockery of a few weeks back. So ex-sarcasm, the now parabolic increase in derivatives means that when the bilateral netting chain is once again broken, and it will be (because AIG was not a one off event), there will simply be trillions more in derivatives that no longer generate a booked cash flow stream for the remaining counterparty, until at the very end, the whole inverted credit0money pyramid collapses in on itself.
And for those wondering what the distinction is between notional and
Notional amounts outstanding: Nominal or notional amounts outstanding are defined as the gross nominal or notional value of all deals concluded and not yet settled on the reporting date. For contracts with variable nominal or notional principal amounts, the basis for reporting is the nominal or notional principal amounts at the time of reporting.
Nominal or notional amounts outstanding provide a measure of market size and a reference from which contractual payments are determined in derivatives markets. However, such amounts are generally not those truly at risk. The amounts at risk in derivatives contracts are a function of the price level and/or volatility of the financial reference index used in the determination of contract payments, the duration and liquidity of contracts, and the creditworthiness of counterparties. They are also a function of whether an exchange of notional principal takes place between counterparties. Gross market values provide a more accurate measure of the scale of financial risk transfer taking place in derivatives markets.
Well, no. It is logical that the BIS will advise everyone to ignore the bigger number and focus on the small one: just like everyone was told to ignore gross exposure and focus on net… until Jefferies had to dump all of its gross PIIGS exposure or stare bankruptcy in the face; so no – the correct thing to say is “gross market values provide a more accurate measure of the scale of financial risk transfer” if one assumes there is no counterparty risk. Because once the whole bilateral netting chain is broken, net becomes gross. And gross market value becomes total notional outstanding. And, to quote Hudson, it’s game over.
As for the largely irrelevant gross market value, which is only relevant in as much as it will be the catalyst which will precipitate margin calls on the underlying notionals, all $700+ trillion of them:
Gross positive and negative market values: Gross market values are defined as the sums of the absolute values of all open contracts with either positive or negative replacement values evaluated at market prices prevailing on the reporting date. Thus, the gross positive market value of a dealer’s outstanding contracts is the sum of the replacement values of all contracts that are in a current gain position to the reporter at current market prices (and therefore, if they were settled immediately, would represent claims on counterparties). The gross negative market value is the sum of the values of all contracts that have a negative value on the reporting date (ie those that are in a current loss position and therefore, if they were settled immediately, would represent liabilities of the dealer to its counterparties).
The term “gross” indicates that contracts with positive and negative replacement values with the same counterparty are not netted. Nor are the sums of positive and negative contract values within a market risk category such as foreign exchange contracts, interest rate contracts, equities and commodities set off against one another.
As stated above, gross market values supply information about the potential scale of market risk in derivatives transactions. Furthermore, gross market value at current market prices provides a measure of economic significance that is readily comparable across markets and products.
And here again, what they ignore to add is that the measure of economic significance is only relevant in as much as the world’s banks don’t begin a Lehman-MF Global tango of mutual margin call annihilation. In that case, no. They are not measures of anything except for what some banks plug into some models to spit out a favorable EPS treatment at the end of the quarter.
Expect to see gross market value declines persisting even as the now parabolic increase in total notional persists. At this rate we would not be surprised to see one quadrillion in OTC derivatives by the middle of next year.
And, once again for those confused, the fact that notional had to increase so epically as market value tumbled most likely means that the global derivative pyramid scheme (no pun intended) is almost over.
Read the entire article HERE.
An audit of the Federal Reserve has revealed that the privately owned Federal Reserve secretly doled out more than $16 trillion in zero interest loans to some of the largest financial institutions and corporations in the United States and throughout the world. The non-partisan, investigative arm of Congress also determined that the Federal Reserve acted illegally. In fact, according to the report, the Federal Reserve knew their financial transactions were illegal and provided conflict of interest waivers to its employees and private contractors so they could keep investments in the same financial institutions and corporations that were given emergency loans. The report is evidence that reveals major securities fraud in the embezzlement of $16 trillion by the Federal Reserve. Securities fraud and embezzlement are both felony criminal offenses.
Embezzlement is the act of dishonestly appropriating or secreting assets by one or more individuals to whom such assets have been entrusted. Embezzlement is performed in a manner that is premeditated, systematic and/or methodical, with the explicit intent to conceal the activities from other individuals, usually because it is being done without their knowledge or consent. U.S. Code TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 31 – EMBEZZLEMENT AND THEFT § 644. Banker receiving unauthorized deposit of public money
Whoever, not being an authorized depositary of public moneys, knowingly receives from any disbursing officer, or collector of internal revenue, or other agent of the United States, any public money on deposit, or by way of loan or accommodation, with or without interest, or otherwise than in payment of a debt against the United States, or uses, transfers, converts, appropriates, or applies any portion of the public money for any purpose not prescribed by law is guilty of embezzlement and shall be fined under this title or not more than the amount so embezzled, whichever is greater, or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; but if the amount embezzled does not exceed $1,000, he shall be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
$16 trillion is 10 times more than what the U.S. Congress authorized and Bush ($700 billion) and Obama ( $787 billion) signed off on. The Federal Reserve was only authorized by Congress to disburse $1.487 trillion in federal tax dollars in bailouts. The Federal Reserve embezzled another $14.5 trillion.
The Congressional report determined that the Fed secretly hide most of the embezzled money into their own banks. The rest the Fed unilaterally transfered trillions of dollars to foreign banks and corporations from South Korea to Scotland. Foreign banks and corporations which the Federal Reserve bankers had a personal financial interest or stake in.
The report reveals that the CEO of JP Morgan Chase served on the New York Fed’s board of directors at the same time that his bank received more than $390 billion in federal money from the Fed – conflict of interest. Moreover, JP Morgan Chase served as one of the clearing banks (money laundering banks) for the Fed’s emergency loans programs (aka – embezzlement schemes).
In another disturbing finding, the Government Accountability Office said that on Sept. 19, 2008, William Dudley, who is now the New York Fed president, was granted a waiver to let him keep investments in AIG and General Electric at the same time AIG and GE were given federal funds. One reason the Fed did not make Dudley sell his holdings, according to the audit, was that it would have exposed the Fed’s conflict of interest and major securities fraud in the embezzlement of $16 trillion.
The investigation also revealed that the Fed outsourced most of its embezzling to private contractors, many of which were rewarded with extremely low-interest and then-secret loans.
The Fed outsourced virtually all of the operations of their $16 trillion embezzlement scheme to private contractors like JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo. For their part the same firms also received trillions of dollars in Fed loans at near-zero interest rates. Morgan Stanley helped the Federal Reserve banker launder embezzled $trillions into AIG.
A more detailed Government Accountability Office investigation into corruption charges, securities fraud, embezzlement, money-laundering and conflicts of interest at the Fed was due on Oct. 18. The Sanders Report on the GAO Audit on Major Conflicts of Interest at the Federal Reserve
Did you know that the $14.5 trillion the Federal Reserve embezzled (US Congress only authorized $1.487 trillion) could pay the entire U.S. national debt – $14.346 trillion. To avert default the U.S. government need only to seize the assets of the Federal Reserve banks (the big six U.S. banks collectively hold about $9.399 trillion in assets) and get back the $trillions that the Federal Reserve illegally embezzled and money laundered to their foreign banks and corporations.
The U.S. government can recover $trillions from the Federal Reserve and their banks through asset forfeiture. Asset forfeiture is confiscation, by the State, of assets which are either (a) the alleged proceeds of crime or (b) the alleged instrumentalities of crime, and more recently, alleged terrorism. Proceeds of crime means any economic advantage derived from or obtained directly or indirectly from a criminal offense or criminal offenses. Crimes committed by the Federal Reserve banks against the United States and its people include; conflict of interest, securities fraud, embezzlement, fraud, money laundering, hoarding, profiteering, larceny, racketeering . . .
In 1982, a criminal forfeiture provision was enacted as part of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18 U.S.C. § 1961, which provided for the forfeiture of all property over which the RICO organization exercised an influence.
The Money Laundering Control Act of 1986 added new felony provisions at 18 U.S.C. § 1956 for the laundering of the proceeds of certain defined “specified unlawful activity,” as well as prohibiting structuring transactions under 31 U.S.C. § 5324 (with the intent to evade certain reporting requirements). The law also added civil and criminal forfeiture provisions at 18 U.S.C. §§ 981 and 982 for confiscating the property involved in money laundering.
According to the Legislative Guide to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols Thereto, “Criminalizing the conduct from which substantial illicit profits are made does not adequately punish or deter organized criminal groups. Even if arrested and convicted, some of these offenders will be able to enjoy their illegal gains for their personal use and for maintaining the operations of their criminal enterprises. Despite some sanctions, the perception would still remain that crime pays. . . . Practical measures to keep offenders from profiting from their crimes are necessary. One of the most important ways to do this is to ensure that States have strong confiscation regimes”
Top 10 Banks in the United States
As of Mar. 31, 2010.
Source: Federal Reserve System, National Information Center.
According to United States Code, TITLE 12 CHAPTER 3 SUBCHAPTER IX § 341. Second. states that the U.S. Federal Reserve Banks can be dissolved today by “forfeiture of franchise for violation of law.” Securities fraud and embezzlement by the Federal Reserve Bank is cause for immediate forfeiture and imprisonment of the Federal Reserve and its bankers.
List of banks involved in the $16 trillion + securities fraud and embezzlement
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York provides an up to date list of “Primary Dealers” obligated to implement the Federal Reserve fraud and embezzlement scheme. http://www.newyorkfed.org/markets/pridealers_current.html
“Primary dealers serve as trading counterparties of the New York Fed in its implementation of (Fed) monetary policy. This role includes the obligations to: (i) participate consistently in open market operations to carry out U.S. monetary policy pursuant to the direction of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC); and (ii) provide the New York Fed‘s trading desk with market information and analysis (non-public stock market information – aka insider trading) helpful in the formulation and implementation of monetary policy (so that the Fed can profit from this insider information). Primary dealers are also required to participate in all auctions of U.S. government debt (acquiring wealth generated from the transactions of the illicit funds – aka money laundering for the Fed) and to make reasonable markets for the New York Fed when it transacts on behalf of its foreign official account-holders. (the New York Fed is stating who they are working for – on behalf of its foreign official account- holders)”
List of Primary Dealers (Fed’s money laundering banks. Listed in alphabetical order only.)
Bank of Nova Scotia, New York Agency (the third largest bank in Canada. Opened New York Agency in 1907)
BMO Capital Markets Corp. (the fourth largest Canadian bank)
BNP Paribas Securities Corp. (Paris, France)
Barclays Capital Inc. (London, United Kingdom)
Cantor Fitzgerald & Co. (United States)
Citigroup Global Markets Inc. (CIA drug money laundering bank, United States)
Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC (Zurich, Switzerland)
Daiwa Capital Markets America Inc. (Tokyo, Japan)
Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. (Frankfurt, Germany.)
Goldman, Sachs & Co. (United States)
HSBC Securities (USA) Inc. (founded in Hong Kong, headquarters London, United Kingdom)
Jefferies & Company, Inc. (United States)
J.P. Morgan Securities LLC (United States)
Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated (United States)
Mizuho Securities USA Inc. (Tokyo, Japan)
Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC (United States)
Nomura Securities International, Inc. (Tokyo, Japan)
RBC Capital Markets, LLC (a Canadian investment bank, part of Royal Bank of Canada)
RBS Securities Inc. (Royal Bank of Scotland Group)
SG Americas Securities, LLC (United States)
UBS Securities LLC. (Zürich & Basel, Switzerland. Rothschild controlled. The Rothschild family hold the popes purse strings from this bank – the keys of the Vatican is a predominate part of their logo.)
All of the above named banks (includes both U.S. and foreign banks) money launder the over $16 trillion (U.S) that the Federal Reserve embezzled. These banks money launder the Fed embezzled U.S. Tax Dollars in three steps:
1) the illicit funds are introduced into the financial system by “placement”,
2) the “Primary Dealers” carrying out complex financial transactions in order to camouflage the illicit funds (“layering”), and
3) they acquire wealth generated from the transactions (loans, mortgages, stock market trading) of the illicit funds (“integration”).
All listed banks are controlled by the European Central Bank (Rothschild family) which controls it all for the Vatican, which is headed by the Nazi German Pope. All are working to enslave the World under a New World Order, aka Fourth Reich, aka Fourth unHoly Roman Empire.
Read the entire article HERE.
by Bernie Sanders
U.S. Senator of Vermont
October 19, 2011
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 – A new audit of the Federal Reserve released today detailed widespread conflicts of interest involving directors of its regional banks.
“The most powerful entity in the United States is riddled with conflicts of interest,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said after reviewing the Government Accountability Office report. The study required by a Sanders Amendment to last year’s Wall Street reform law examined Fed practices never before subjected to such independent, expert scrutiny.
The GAO detailed instance after instance of top executives of corporations and financial institutions using their influence as Federal Reserve directors to financially benefit their firms, and, in at least one instance, themselves. “Clearly it is unacceptable for so few people to wield so much unchecked power,” Sanders said. “Not only do they run the banks, they run the institutions that regulate the banks.”
Sanders said he will work with leading economists to develop legislation to restructure the Fed and bar the banking industry from picking Fed directors. ”This is exactly the kind of outrageous behavior by the big banks and Wall Street that is infuriating so many Americans,” Sanders said.
The corporate affiliations of Fed directors from such banking and industry giants as General Electric, JP Morgan Chase, and Lehman Brothers pose “reputational risks” to the Federal Reserve System, the report said. Giving the banking industry the power to both elect and serve as Fed directors creates “an appearance of a conflict of interest,” the report added.
The 108-page report found that at least 18 specific current and former Fed board members were affiliated with banks and companies that received emergency loans from the Federal Reserve during the financial crisis.
In the dry and understated language of auditors, the report noted that there are no restrictions in Fed rules on directors communicating concerns about their respective banks to the staff of the Federal Reserve. It also said many directors own stock or work directly for banks that are supervised and regulated by the Federal Reserve. The rules, which the Fed has kept secret, let directors tied to banks participate in decisions involving how much interest to charge financial institutions and how much credit to provide healthy banks and institutions in “hazardous” condition. Even when situations arise that run afoul of Fed’s conflict rules and waivers are granted, the GAO said the waivers are kept hidden from the public.
The report by the non-partisan research arm of Congress did not name but unambiguously described several individual cases involving Fed directors that created the appearance of a conflict of interest, including:
- Stephen Friedman In 2008, the New York Fed approved an application from Goldman Sachs to become a bank holding company giving it access to cheap Fed loans. During the same period, Friedman, chairman of the New York Fed, sat on the Goldman Sachs board of directors and owned Goldman stock, something the Fed’s rules prohibited. He received a waiver in late 2008 that was not made public. After Friedman received the waiver, he continued to purchase stock in Goldman from November 2008 through January of 2009 unbeknownst to the Fed, according to the GAO.
- Jeffrey Immelt The Federal Reserve Bank of New York consulted with General Electric on the creation of the Commercial Paper Funding Facility. The Fed later provided $16 billion in financing for GE under the emergency lending program while Immelt, GE’s CEO, served as a director on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
- Jamie Dimon The CEO of JP Morgan Chase served on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York at the same time that his bank received emergency loans from the Fed and was used by the Fed as a clearing bank for the Fed’s emergency lending programs. In 2008, the Fed provided JP Morgan Chase with $29 billion in financing to acquire Bear Stearns.At the time, Dimon persuaded the Fed to provide JP Morgan Chase with an 18-month exemption from risk-based leverage and capital requirements. He also convinced the Fed to take risky mortgage-related assets off of Bear Stearns balance sheet before JP Morgan Chase acquired this troubled investment bank.
To read a more detailed analysis of the GAO report prepared for Sen. Sanders, click here.
To read the full GAO report, click here.
Read the entire article HERE.
This is an old piece, but I thought it has powerful information that pertains to the current economic climate.
By Ryan Grim
The Federal Reserve, through its extensive network of consultants, visiting scholars, alumni and staff economists, so thoroughly dominates the field of economics that real criticism of the central bank has become a career liability for members of the profession, an investigation by the Huffington Post has found.
This dominance helps explain how, even after the Fed failed to foresee the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression, the central bank has largely escaped criticism from academic economists. In the Fed’s thrall, the economists missed it, too.
“The Fed has a lock on the economics world,” says Joshua Rosner, a Wall Street analyst who correctly called the meltdown. “There is no room for other views, which I guess is why economists got it so wrong.”
One critical way the Fed exerts control on academic economists is through its relationships with the field’s gatekeepers. For instance, at the Journal of Monetary Economics, a must-publish venue for rising economists, more than half of the editorial board members are currently on the Fed payroll — and the rest have been in the past.
The Fed failed to see the housing bubble as it happened, insisting that the rise in housing prices was normal. In 2004, after “flipping” had become a term cops and janitors were using to describe the way to get rich in real estate, then-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said that “a national severe price distortion [is] most unlikely.” A year later, current Chairman Ben Bernanke said that the boom “largely reflect strong economic fundamentals.”
The Fed also failed to sufficiently regulate major financial institutions, with Greenspan — and the dominant economists — believing that the banks would regulate themselves in their own self-interest.
Despite all this, Bernanke has been nominated for a second term by President Obama.
In the field of economics, the chairman remains a much-heralded figure, lauded for reaction to a crisis generated, in the first place, by the Fed itself. Congress is even considering legislation to greatly expand the powers of the Fed to systemically regulate the financial industry.
Paul Krugman, in Sunday’s New York Times magazine, did his own autopsy of economics, asking “How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?” Krugman concludes that “[e]conomics, as a field, got in trouble because economists were seduced by the vision of a perfect, frictionless market system.”
So who seduced them?
The Fed did it.
Three Decades of Domination
The Fed has been dominating the profession for about three decades. “For the economics profession that came out of the [second world] war, the Federal Reserve was not a very important place as far as they were concerned, and their views on monetary policy were not framed by a working relationship with the Federal Reserve. So I would date it to maybe the mid-1970s,” says University of Texas economics professor — and Fed critic — James Galbraith. “The generation that I grew up under, which included both Milton Friedman on the right and Jim Tobin on the left, were independent of the Fed. They sent students to the Fed and they influenced the Fed, but there wasn’t a culture of consulting, and it wasn’t the same vast network of professional economists working there.”
But by 1993, when former Fed Chairman Greenspan provided the House banking committee with a breakdown of the number of economists on contract or employed by the Fed, he reported that 189 worked for the board itself and another 171 for the various regional banks. Adding in statisticians, support staff and “officers” — who are generally also economists — the total number came to 730. And then there were the contracts. Over a three-year period ending in October 1994, the Fed awarded 305 contracts to 209 professors worth a total of $3 million.
Just how dominant is the Fed today?
The Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors employs 220 PhD economists and a host of researchers and support staff, according to a Fed spokeswoman. The 12 regional banks employ scores more. (HuffPost placed calls to them but was unable to get exact numbers.) The Fed also doles out millions of dollars in contracts to economists for consulting assignments, papers, presentations, workshops, and that plum gig known as a “visiting scholarship.” A Fed spokeswoman says that exact figures for the number of economists contracted with weren’t available. But, she says, the Federal Reserve spent $389.2 million in 2008 on “monetary and economic policy,” money spent on analysis, research, data gathering, and studies on market structure; $433 million is budgeted for 2009.
That’s a lot of money for a relatively small number of economists. According to the American Economic Association, a total of only 487 economists list “monetary policy, central banking, and the supply of money and credit,” as either their primary or secondary specialty; 310 list “money and interest rates”; and 244 list “macroeconomic policy formation [and] aspects of public finance and general policy.” The National Association of Business Economists tells HuffPost that 611 of its roughly 2,400 members are part of their “Financial Roundtable,” the closest way they can approximate a focus on monetary policy and central banking.
Robert Auerbach, a former investigator with the House banking committee, spent years looking into the workings of the Fed and published much of what he found in the 2008 book, “Deception
and Abuse at the Fed”. A chapter in that book, excerpted here, provided the impetus for this investigation.
Auerbach found that in 1992, roughly 968 members of the AEA designated “domestic monetary and financial theory and institutions” as their primary field, and 717 designated it as their secondary field. Combining his numbers with the current ones from the AEA and NABE, it’s fair to conclude that there are something like 1,000 to 1,500 monetary economists working across the country. Add up the 220 economist jobs at the Board of Governors along with regional bank hires and contracted economists, and the Fed employs or contracts with easily 500 economists at any given time. Add in those who have previously worked for the Fed — or who hope to one day soon — and you’ve accounted for a very significant majority of the field.
Auerbach concludes that the “problems associated with the Fed’s employing or contracting with large numbers of economists” arise “when these economists testify as witnesses at legislative hearings or as experts at judicial proceedings, and when they publish their research and views on Fed policies, including in Fed publications.”
Gatekeepers On The Payroll
The Fed keeps many of the influential editors of prominent academic journals on its payroll. It is common for a journal editor to review submissions dealing with Fed policy while also taking the bank’s money. A HuffPost review of seven top journals found that 84 of the 190 editorial board members were affiliated with the Federal Reserve in one way or another.
“Try to publish an article critical of the Fed with an editor who works for the Fed,” says Galbraith. And the journals, in turn, determine which economists get tenure and what ideas are considered respectable.
The pharmaceutical industry has similarly worked to control key medical journals, but that involves several companies. In the field of economics, it’s just the Fed.
Being on the Fed payroll isn’t just about the money, either. A relationship with the Fed carries prestige; invitations to Fed conferences and offers of visiting scholarships with the bank signal a rising star or an economist who has arrived.
Affiliations with the Fed have become the oxygen of academic life for monetary economists. “It’s very important, if you are tenure track and don’t have tenure, to show that you are valued by the Federal Reserve,” says Jane D’Arista, a Fed critic and an economist with the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Robert King, editor in chief of the Journal of Monetary Economics and a visiting scholar at the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank, dismisses the notion that his journal was influenced by its Fed connections. “I think that the suggestion is a silly one, based on my own experience at least,” he wrote in an e-mail. (His full response is at the bottom.)
Galbraith, a Fed critic, has seen the Fed’s influence on academia first hand. He and co-authors Olivier Giovannoni and Ann Russo found that in the year before a presidential election, there is a significantly tighter monetary policy coming from the Fed if a Democrat is in office and a significantly looser policy if a Republican is in office. The effects are both statistically significant, allowing for controls, and economically important.
They submitted a paper with their findings to the Review of Economics and Statistics in 2008, but the paper was rejected. “The editor assigned to it turned out to be a fellow at the Fed and that was after I requested that it not be assigned to someone affiliated with the Fed,” Galbraith says.
Publishing in top journals is, like in any discipline, the key to getting tenure. Indeed, pursuing tenure ironically requires a kind of fealty to the dominant economic ideology that is the precise opposite of the purpose of tenure, which is to protect academics who present oppositional perspectives.
And while most academic disciplines and top-tier journals are controlled by some defining paradigm, in an academic field like poetry, that situation can do no harm other than to, perhaps, a forest of trees. Economics, unfortunately, collides with reality — as it did with the Fed’s incorrect reading of the housing bubble and failure to regulate financial institutions. Neither was a matter of incompetence, but both resulted from the Fed’s unchallenged assumptions about the way the market worked.
Even the late Milton Friedman, whose monetary economic theories heavily influenced Greenspan, was concerned about the stifled nature of the debate. Friedman, in a 1993 letter to Auerbach that the author quotes in his book, argued that the Fed practice was harming objectivity: “I cannot disagree with you that having something like 500 economists is extremely unhealthy. As you say, it is not conducive to independent, objective research. You and I know there has been censorship of the material published. Equally important, the location of the economists in the Federal Reserve has had a significant influence on the kind of research they do, biasing that research toward noncontroversial technical papers on method as opposed to substantive papers on policy and results,” Friedman wrote.
Greenspan told Congress in October 2008 that he was in a state of “shocked disbelief” and that the “whole intellectual edifice” had “collapsed.” House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) followed up: “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working.”
“Absolutely, precisely,” Greenspan replied. “You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”
But, if the intellectual edifice has collapsed, the intellectual infrastructure remains in place. The same economists who provided Greenspan his “very considerable evidence” are still running the journals and still analyzing the world using the same models that were incapable of seeing the credit boom and the coming collapse.
Rosner, the Wall Street analyst who foresaw the crash, says that the Fed’s ideological dominance of the journals hampered his attempt to warn his colleagues about what was to come. Rosner wrote a strikingly prescient paper in 2001 arguing that relaxed lending standards and other factors would lead to a boom in housing prices over the next several years, but that the growth would be highly susceptible to an economic disruption because it was fundamentally unsound.
He expanded on those ideas over the next few years, connecting the dots and concluding that the coming housing collapse would wreak havoc on the collateralized debt obligation (CDO) and mortgage backed securities (MBS) markets, which would have a ripple effect on the rest of the economy. That, of course, is exactly what happened and it took the Fed and the economics field completely by surprise.
“What you’re doing is, actually, in order to get published, having to whittle down or narrow what might otherwise be oppositional or expansionary views,” says Rosner. “The only way you can actually get in a journal is by subscribing to the views of one of the journals.”
When Rosner was casting his paper on CDOs and MBSs about, he knew he needed an academic economist to co-author the paper for a journal to consider it. Seven economists turned him down.
“You don’t believe that markets are efficient?” he says they asked, telling him the paper was “outside the bounds” of what could be published. “I would say ‘Markets are efficient when there’s equal access to information, but that doesn’t exist,’” he recalls.
The CDO and MBS markets froze because, as the housing market crashed, buyers didn’t trust that they had reliable information about them — precisely the case Rosner had been making.
He eventually found a co-author, Joseph Mason, an associate Professor of Finance at Drexel University LeBow College of Business, a senior fellow at the Wharton School, and a visiting scholar at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. But the pair could only land their papers with the conservative Hudson Institute. In February 2007, they published a paper called “How Resilient Are Mortgage Backed Securities to Collateralized Debt Obligation Market Disruptions?” and in May posted another, “How Misapplied Bond Ratings Cause Mortgage Backed Securities and Collateralized Debt Obligation Market Disruptions.”
Together, the two papers offer a better analysis of what led to the crash than the economic journals have managed to put together – and they were published by a non-PhD before the crisis.
Not As Simple As A Pay-Off
Economist Rob Johnson serves on the UN Commission of Experts on Finance and International Monetary Reform and was a top economist on the Senate banking committee under both a Democratic and Republican chairman. He says that the consulting gigs shouldn’t be looked at “like it’s a payoff, like money. I think it’s more being one of, part of, a club — being respected, invited to the conferences, have a hearing with the chairman, having all the prestige dimensions, as much as a paycheck.”
The Fed’s hiring of so many economists can be looked at in several ways, Johnson says, because the institution does, of course, need talented analysts. “You can look at it from a telescope, either direction. One, you can say well they’re reaching out, they’ve got a big budget and what they’re doing, I’d say, is canvassing as broad a range of talent,” he says. “You might call that the ‘healthy hypothesis.’”
The other hypothesis, he says, “is that they’re essentially using taxpayer money to wrap their arms around everybody that’s a critic and therefore muffle or silence the debate. And I would say that probably both dimensions are operative, in reality.”
To get a mainstream take, HuffPost called monetary economists at random from the list as members of the AEA. “I think there is a pretty good number of professors of economics who want a very limited use of monetary policy and I don’t think that that necessarily has a negative impact on their careers,” said Ahmed Ehsan, reached at the economics department at James Madison University. “It’s quite possible that if they have some new ideas, that might be attractive to the Federal Reserve.”
Ehsan, reflecting on his own career and those of his students, allowed that there is, in fact, something to what the Fed critics are saying. “I don’t think [the Fed has too much influence], but then my area is monetary economics and I know my own professors, who were really well known when I was at Michigan State, my adviser, he ended up at the St. Louis Fed,” he recalls. “He did lots of work. He was a product of the time…so there is some evidence, but it’s not an overwhelming thing.”
There’s definitely prestige in spending a few years at the Fed that can give a boost to an academic career, he added. “It’s one of the better career moves for lots of undergraduate students. It’s very competitive.”
Press officers for the Federal Reserve’s board of governors provided some background information for this article, but declined to make anyone available to comment on its substance.
The Fed’s Intolerance For Dissent
When dissent has arisen, the Fed has dealt with it like any other institution that cherishes homogeneity.
Take the case of Alan Blinder. Though he’s squarely within the mainstream and considered one of the great economic minds of his generation, he lasted a mere year and a half as vice chairman of the Fed, leaving in January 1996.
Rob Johnson, who watched the Blinder ordeal, says Blinder made the mistake of behaving as if the Fed was a place where competing ideas and assumptions were debated. “Sociologically, what was happening was the Fed staff was really afraid of Blinder. At some level, as an applied empirical economist, Alan Blinder is really brilliant,” says Johnson.
In closed-door meetings, Blinder did what so few do: challenged assumptions. “The Fed staff would come out and their ritual is: Greenspan has kind of told them what to conclude and they produce studies in which they conclude this. And Blinder treated it more like an open academic debate when he first got there and he’d come out and say, ‘Well, that’s not true. If you change this assumption and change this assumption and use this kind of assumption you get a completely different result.’ And it just created a stir inside–it was sort of like the whole pipeline of Greenspan-arriving-at-decisions was
It didn’t sit well with Greenspan or his staff. “A lot of senior staff…were pissed off about Blinder — how should we say? — not playing by the customs that they were accustomed to,” Johnson says.
And celebrity is no shield against Fed excommunication. Paul Krugman, in fact, has gotten rough treatment. “I’ve been blackballed from the Fed summer conference at Jackson Hole, which I used to be a regular at, ever since I criticized him,” Krugman said of Greenspan in a 2007 interview with Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! “Nobody really wants to cross him.”
An invitation to the annual conference, or some other blessing from the Fed, is a signal to the economic profession that you’re a certified member of the club. Even Krugman seems a bit burned by the slight. “And two years ago,” he said in 2007, “the conference was devoted to a field, new economic geography, that I invented, and I wasn’t invited.”
Three years after the conference, Krugman won a Nobel Prize in 2008 for his work in economic geography.
One Journal, In Detail
The Huffington Post reviewed the mastheads of the American Journal of Economics, the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Journal of Economic Literature, the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, the Journal of Political Economy and the Journal of Monetary Economics.
HuffPost interns Googled around looking for resumes and otherwise searched for Fed connections for the 190 people on those mastheads. Of the 84 that were affiliated with the Federal Reserve at one point in their careers, 21 were on the Fed payroll even as they served as gatekeepers at prominent journals.
At the Journal of Monetary Economics, every single member of the editorial board is or has been affiliated with the Fed and 14 of the 26 board members are presently on the Fed payroll.
After the top editor, King, comes senior associate editor Marianne Baxter, who has written papers for the Chicago and Minneapolis banks and was a visiting scholar at the Minneapolis bank in ’84, ’85, at the Richmond bank in ’97, and at the board itself in ’87. She was an advisor to the president of the New York bank from ’02-’05. Tim Geithner, now the Treasury Secretary, became president of the New York bank in ’03.
The senior associate editors: Janice C Eberly was a Fed visiting-scholar at Philadelphia (’94), Minneapolis (’97) and the board (’97). Martin Eichenbaum has written several papers for the Fed and is a consultant to the Chicago and Atlanta banks. Sergio Rebelo has written for and was previously a consultant to the board. Stephen Williamson has written for the Cleveland, Minneapolis and Richmond banks, he worked in the Minneapolis bank’s research department from ’85-’87, he’s on the editorial board of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review, is the co-organizer of the ’09 St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank annual economic policy conference and the co-organizer of the same bank’s ’08 conference on Money, Credit, and Policy, and has been a visiting scholar at the Richmond bank ever since ’98.
And then there are the associate editors. Klaus Adam is a visiting scholar at the San Francisco bank. Yongsung Chang is a research associate at the Cleveland bank and has been working with the Fed in one position or another since ’01. Mario Crucini was a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in ’08 and has been a senior fellow at the Dallas bank since that year. Huberto Ennis is a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, a position he’s held since ’00. Jonathan Heathcote is a senior economist at the Minneapolis bank and has been a visiting scholar three times dating back to ’01.
Ricardo Lagos is a visiting scholar at the New York bank, a former senior economist for the Minneapolis bank and a visiting scholar at that bank and Cleveland’s. In fact, he was a visiting scholar at both the Cleveland and New York banks in ’07 and ’08. Edward Nelson was the assistant vice president of the St Louis bank from ’03-’09.
Esteban Rossi-Hansberg was a visiting scholar at the Philadelphia bank from ’05-’09 and similarly served at the Richmond, Minneapolis and New York banks.
Pierre-Daniel Sarte is a senior economist at the Richmond bank, a position he’s held since ’96. Frank Schorfheide has been a visiting scholar at the Philadelphia bank since ’03 and at the New York bank since ’07. He’s done four such stints at the Atlanta bank and scholared for the board in ’03. Alexander Wolman has been a senior economist at the Richmond bank since 1989.
Here is the complete response from King, the journal’s editor in chief: “I think that the suggestion is a silly one, based on my own experience at least. In a 1988 article for AEI later republished in the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Review, Marvin Goodfriend (then at FRB Richmond and now at Carnegie Mellon) and I argued that it was very important for the Fed to separate monetary policy decisions (setting of interest rates) and banking policy decisions (loans to banks, via the discount window and otherwise). We argued further that there was little positive case for the Fed to be involved in the latter: broadbased liquidity could always be provided by the former. We also argued that moral hazard was a cost of banking intervention.
“Ben Bernanke understands this distinction well: he and other members of the FOMC have read my perspective and sometimes use exactly this distinction between monetary and banking policies. In difficult times, Bernanke and his fellow FOMC members have chosen to involve the Fed in major financial market interventions, well beyond the traditional banking area, a position that attracts plenty of criticism and support. JME and other economics major journals would certainly publish exciting articles that fell between these two distinct perspectives: no intervention and extensive intervention. An upcoming Carnegie-Rochester conference, with its proceeding published in JME, will host a debate on ‘The Future of Central Banking’.
“You may use only the entire quotation above or no quotation at all.”
Auerbach, shown King’s e-mail, says it’s just this simple: “If you’re on the Fed payroll there’s a conflict of interest.”
UPDATE: Economists have written in weighing in on both sides of the debate. Here are two of them.
Stephen Williamson, the Robert S. Brookings Distinguished Professor in Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis:
Since you mentioned me in your piece on the Federal Reserve System, I thought I would drop you a note, as you clearly don’t understand the relationship between the Fed and some of the economists on its payroll. I have had a long relationship with the Fed, and with other central banks in the world, including the Bank of Canada. Currently I have an academic position at Washington University in St. Louis, but I am also paid as a consultant to the Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond and St. Louis. In the past, I was a full-time economist at the Bank of Canada and at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
As has perhaps become clearer in the last year, economics and the science of monetary policy is a complicated business, and the Fed needs all the help it can get. The Fed is perhaps surprisingly open to new ideas, and ideas that are sometimes in conflict with the views of its top people. One of the strengths of the Federal Reserve System is that the regional Federal Reserve Banks have a good deal of independence from the Board of Governors in Washington, and this creates a healthy competition in economic ideas within the system. Indeed, some very revolutionary ideas in macroeconomics came out of the intellectual environment at the Federal
Reserve Bank of Minneapolis in the 1970s and 1980s. That intellectual environment included economists who worked full-time for the Fed, and others who were paid consultants to the Fed, but with full-time academic positions. Those economists were often sharply critical of accepted Fed policy, and they certainly never seemed to suffer for it; indeed they were
I have never felt constrained in my interactions with Fed economists (including some Presidents of Federal Reserve Banks). They are curious, and willing to think about new ideas. I am quite willing to bite the hand that feeds me, and have often chewed away quite happily. They keep paying me, so they must be happy about the interaction too.
A former Fed economist disagreed. “I was an economist at the Fed for more than ten years and kept getting in trouble for things I’m proud of. I hear you, loud and clear,” he said, asking not to be quoted by name for, well, the reasons laid out above.
Read the entire article HERE.
by Tyler Durden
08/03/2011 14:50 -0400
The Treasury’s Borrowing Advisory Committee, chaired by such luminaries as JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, which according to some (and by some we mean anyone who cares about such things) is the brains behind the decision-making process of US debt issuance has released its quarterly minutes, in which it has issued one of the most stark warnings about the fate of the US Dollar to date. While it is now a daily occurrence for China and Russia to bash the dollar, for the most part still powerless to provide an alternative (but rapidly gaining), the same warning coming from Jamie and Lloyd has to be taken far, far more seriously. Which is precisely what happened today. As Bloomberg reports, “The Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee… said the outperformance of haven currencies and those from emerging nations has aided in the debasement of the dollar’s reserve status, according to comments included in discussion charts presented ahead of the quarterly refunding. The Treasury published the documents today. “The idea of a reserve currency is that it is built on strength, not typically that it is ‘best among poor choices’,” page 35 of the presentation made by one committee member said. “The fact that there are not currently viable alternatives to the U.S. dollar is a hollow victory and perhaps portends a deteriorating fate.””
But, wait a second… Isn’t Ben Bernanke debasing the dollar precisely for the benefit of the members of the TBAC? And considering that he has done such a tremendous job, is it a little hypocritical to be taking the USD devaluation in one hand, and complaining about it with another? Perhaps someone less jaded than us can answer. As for another important question looming over the US, namely the so called imminent US downgrade, the TBAC has spoken: “None of the members thought that a downgrade was imminent.” Which means that both S&P and Fitch have now been bribed with enough peas to keep their mouths shut. The status quo wins again.
Some other interesting observations:
- Primary Dealers expect a much smaller fiscal deficit in 2011 than either the CBP or OMB, at $1358BN compared to $1480BN and $1645BN respectively. Which means, if wrong, that Dealers will be on the hook to purchase up to $300 billion more debt than currently modelled. Will they be able to handle this extra load?
- PDs expect 2011 Marketable Borrowing to be between $980 and $2055 Billion. A rather wide range
- Bills as a percentage of the portfolio have plunged to decade lows, while coupons are at decade highs
- From the previous bullet point, the PDs expect the average maturity of debt to continue to increase. We disagree considering the hundreds of billions in Bills that will have to be reissued to make up for the 2 month non-rolling fiasco
- There is $1.8 trillion in debt refinancing needs in 2011; Just over $1.4 trillion in 2012, and just under $1.1 trillion in 2013. Good luck rolling all of this debt.
The TBAC’s conclusion is actually rather spot on:
- The benefits of extension do not come for free. Historical analysis suggests that shorter term funding has at many times been both cheaper and the volatility costs have not been high
- Recent cycles of rising rates have not lasted long enough for maturity extension to pay off
- It is possible, however, that “this time is different” because
- Nominal rates are much closer to the zero bound than previous periods
- Deficits are very high historically and rising interest expense less acceptable
- Concentrated foreign ownership creates less reliable demand
- The benefits of funding attributable to being the reserve currency may be fading
- While this presentation has focused exclusively on average maturity, a topic for future study is the impact of the distribution of maturities on total interest expense
That indeed would be an interesting analysis
Full must read presentation:
Read the entire article HERE.
by Agustino Fontevecchia
Jul. 13 2011 – 11:26 am
Chairman Ben Bernanke faced-off with Fed-hating Representative Ron Paul during his monetary policy report to Congress on Wednesday. The head of the Fed was forced to respond to accusations of enriching already rich corporations while failing to help Main Street, while he was pushed on his views on gold. When asked whether gold is money, Bernanke flatly responded “No.” (See video below).
While most of Bernanke’s reports to Congress serve politicians to pursue their own agendas by gearing the Chairman towards their issues, with Republican Rep. Bacchus talking of the unsustainability of Medicaid and Rep. Frank (D, Mass.) asking about the need to raise the debt limit without cutting spending, it was a stand-off between Bernanke and Ron Paul that took all the attention. (Read Apocalyptic Bernanke: Raise The Debt Ceiling Or Else).
Rep. Ron Paul, Republican for Texas, asked Bernanke why a capital injection of more than $5 trillion “hasn’t done much” to help the consumer, who makes up about two-thirds of GDP in the U.S., and prop up the economy, while it helped boost corporate profits. “You could’ve given $17,000 to each citizen,” Ron Paul claimed.
Bernanke, clearly on the defensive, told Rep. Ron Paul that his institution hadn’t spent a single dollar, rather, the Fed has been a “profit center” according to the Chairman, returning profits to the federal government. As Bernanke began to sermon Rep. Paul on the history of the Fed (“we are here to provide liquidity [in abnormal situations],” the Chairman said), he was interrupted.
“When you wake up in the morning, do you think about the price of gold,” Rep. Paul asked. After pausing for a second, Bernanke responded, clearly uncomfortable. that he paid much attention to the price of gold, only to be interrupted once again.
“Gold’s at about $1,580 [an ounce] this morning, what do you think of the price of gold?” asked Rep. Paul. A stern-faced Bernanke responded people bought it for protection and was once again cut-off, with Ron Paul once again on the offensive.
“Is gold money?” he asked. Clearly bothered, Bernanke told the representative, “No. It’s a precious metal.”
After Paul interrupted him to note the long history of gold being used as money, Bernanke continued,”It’s an asset. Would you say Treasury bills are money? I don’t think they’re money either but they’re a financial asset.”
“Is gold money?” he asked. Clearly bothered, Bernanke told the representative “no, gold is not money, it’s an asset. Treasuries are an asset, people hold them, but I don’t think of them as money,” said Bernanke.
Rep. Ron Paul again jumped in, noting the long history of gold being used as money, and then asked Bernanke why people didn’t hold diamonds, clearly hinting at his fiat money criticism of the U.S. monetary system. The Fed Chairman told Rep. Paul it was nothing more than tradition, and, as he was attempting to develop his argument, Rep. Ron Paul quickly asked the acting authority of the House of Representative’s Committee on Financial Services, Rep. Bacchus, to excuse him for exceeding his time, as he returned the floor to the Committee. (Read Bernanke To Rep. Paul Ryan: QE2 Created 600,000 Jobs).
The interesting exchange served as one of the few times Bernanke has been publicly pushed off his comfort zone by an elected official. Rep. Ron Paul brought up the issues that he’s famous for, namely, a sort of allegiance between the Fed and the nation’s most powerful institutions, the illusion of fiat money, and the gold standard. Bernanke, angered and bothered, had no option but to respond. (Read Bernanke’s Contradiction: Minutes Reveal QE3 Talk And Exit Strategy).
Read the entire article HERE.
By Greg Robb
June 20, 2011, 10:19 a.m. EDT
The Federal Open Market Committee, which on Tuesday starts a two-day meeting, is widely expected to make the formal decision to end the current program of buying $600 billion of Treasury securities on June 30. It is also expected to maintain its existing policy to reinvest principal payments from maturing securities to not let its balance sheet shrink, and to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at between 0% and 0.25%.
That decision, due at 12:30 p.m., should hold few surprises, though the accompanying statement will be eyed. But the fireworks will start at 2:15 p.m., when Bernanke holds his second post-rate-decision press conference.
Bernanke’s challenge this week will be to calm financial markets, Corporate America and Main Street, all jittery about what’s in store for the U.S. economy.
A recent soft patch of economic data has only added to existing concerns about the fate of the U.S. once the Fed’s Treasury bond purchase program, frequently called QE2, comes to an end.
A stock market that has slumped for six weeks out of seven, a sky-high unemployment rate of 9.1% and the biggest 12-month inflation rise since Oct. 2008 has provided ammunition of all sorts for the Fed’s many critics.
“What Bernanke needs to do is build confidence in the economy. He has got to be able to step up there and say things are going to get better,” said Robert Brusca, chief economist at FAO Economics.
Bernard Baumohl, managing director of The Economic Outlook Group, said that Bernanke will need solid arguments to convince investors.
“I don’t think he is going to be a cheerleader. I think he’s going to have to be practical and realistic,” Baumohl said.
“He’s got to be straight,” agreed Scott Anderson, senior economist at Wells Fargo.
Baumohl said Bernanke will try to soothe markets by saying there is not going to be any fundamental change to policy in either direction for the foreseeable future.
While the hurdles to a third round of bond purchases are high, the same is true for an exit from the current ultra-low policy stance, Baumohl said.
“He will convey the message that the Fed is going to take a wait-and-see approach, Baumohl said.
But Bernanke will stress that the end of the QE2 program is not the equivalent of pulling the plug on the economy, said Michael Moran, chief economist at Daiwa Securities in New York.
In another step to build confidence, Bernanke will pledge to very closely monitor conditions to see if any of the threats facing the U.S. economy materialize such as a financial crisis in Europe, Baumohl said.
On inflation, Bernanke is likely to be a bit more hawkish than previous meetings, said Maury Harris, chief economist at UBS Securities, in a comment echoed by a number of analysts.
Core consumer price inflation, excluding food and energy prices, rose 0.3% in May, the biggest gain since June 2008. Many see core inflation rising near 2% year-over-year by the end of the year.
“Bernanke will have to acknowledge that,” Harris said.
Mike Englund. chief economist at Action Economics, said the public is so upset about higher energy prices that Bernanke is not likely to “pop the cork” about the recent small drop in gas prices.
“It is hard to be optimistic about $98 per barrel price of oil,” he said.
Ray Stone, economist at the forecasting firm Stone & McCarthy Research Associates, said he was intrigued by some news reports that the Fed might adopt a formal inflation target. Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart this month backed an inflation target, and Bloomberg News reported that Fed officials were seriously discussing it. The Wall Street Journal said action isn’t likely at this meeting.
At the moment, the Fed has an implicit target of roughly 2% inflation.
But with inflation moving higher while Fed policy is accommodative, an inflation target might be one way for the Fed to stress it remains vigilant, said economists at Barclays Capital Research.
Stone said the odds are “less than 50-50” that the Fed would adopt a formal target “but I wouldn’t be knocked out of my chair if they did it,” he said.
The Fed also is expected to cut its economic growth forecast, which currently calls for growth between 3.1% and 3.3% this year.
Read the entire article HERE.
by Mark Mobius
Investment Adventures In Emerging Markets
Jun. 15, 2011, 5:37 AM
I recently spoke at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo, where we covered a number of interesting topics. Following that event, you may have recently read headlines where the media has quoted me as predicting a second financial crisis. In this post, I’d like to give a little more context to that comment and also cover something I am particularly worried about: the problem of derivatives.
Market volatility is a reality of today and goes in two directions, up and down. One of the reasons we have (and are likely to continue to see) this level of volatility is because of the occasional misuse of derivatives. Of course, not all derivatives are bad. If understood and used appropriately they can be used by funds as tools to hedge or mitigate risk. For example, currency forwards or interest rate swaps are typically used to hedge out a fund’s risk related to a specific currency or interest rate exposure.
What I am most concerned about is the use of derivatives as speculative tools or derivatives that involve high levels of leverage where the investor did not adequately control the implied leverage and resulting market exposures and liabilities, such as companies that may use derivatives to “game” commodity exposures—a practice that generally makes it more difficult to accurately assess the value of a company’s stock. For example, an airline may start out using oil futures contracts to hedge the risk of a rise in the price of jet fuel, but may drift from this understandable hedging use into speculating on the price of oil—a potentially risky activity that is somewhat removed from its core business of air transport. Misusing these financial instruments contributed significantly to the global financial crisis in 2008, and they continue to be used today. The total value of derivatives in the world at the end of 2010 was more than $600 trillion. That’s 10 times the world’s total GDP.
When we have many derivative instruments betting in different directions with a lack of understanding and regulation, we are likely to have more volatility. Add to that the unforeseen and unpredictable events that occur across the world, together with an even more interconnected global marketplace, and we are likely to have more sharp and sudden moves in the market as knee-jerk reactions become more common among many investors. Such heightened volatility can scare people away from equity investments, which is a pity, since study after study has shown that in the long term, equities have outperformed.
We cannot exactly predict when the next market correction will hit us, nor know how great or small it will be, but we do realize that market volatility is here to stay. Few of the problems that caused the 2008 financial crisis have been resolved—banks are bigger than ever, and the derivatives market continues to grow and remains largely unregulated. It is heartening to see that international policymakers are trying to work toward a global regulatory standard, but until we find a true, long-term solution to these problems, we cannot ignore the possibility of another financial crisis.
But, as a long-standing English proverb tells us, we can “hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” With every crisis comes great opportunity. Therefore, we continue to invest with a long-term horizon in companies that we believe are undervalued, fundamentally strong and growing, and those that we think can weather through difficult times. Our long-term, ground-up, disciplined investing approach has kept us in good stead through the volatility so far and, I believe, could see us through potential crises or corrections that may loom around the corner.
Read the entire article HERE.
By MICHAEL POWELL and GRETCHEN MORGENSON
New York Times
Published: March 5, 2011
FOR more than a decade, the American real estate market resembled an overstuffed novel, which is to say, it was an engrossing piece of fiction.
Mortgage brokers hip deep in profits handed out no-doc mortgages to people with fictional incomes. Wall Street shopped bundles of those loans to investors, no matter how unappetizing the details. And federal regulators gave sleepy nods.
That world largely collapsed under the weight of its improbabilities in 2008.
But a piece of that world survives on Library Street in Reston, Va., where an obscure business, the MERS Corporation, claims to hold title to roughly half of all the home mortgages in the nation — an astonishing 60 million loans.
Never heard of MERS? That’s fine with the mortgage banking industry—as MERS is starting to overheat and sputter. If its many detractors are correct, this private corporation, with a full-time staff of fewer than 50 employees, could turn out to be a very public problem for the mortgage industry.
Judges, lawmakers, lawyers and housing experts are raising piercing questions about MERS, which stands for Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, whose private mortgage registry has all but replaced the nation’s public land ownership records. Most questions boil down to this:
How can MERS claim title to those mortgages, and foreclose on homeowners, when it has not invested a dollar in a single loan?
And, more fundamentally: Given the evidence that many banks have cut corners and made colossal foreclosure mistakes, does anyone know who owns what or owes what to whom anymore?
The answers have implications for all American homeowners, but particularly the millions struggling to save their homes from foreclosure. How the MERS story plays out could deal another blow to an ailing real estate market, even as the spring buying season gets under way.
MERS has distanced itself from the dubious behavior of some of its members, and the company itself has not been accused of wrongdoing. But the legal challenges to MERS, its practices and its records are mounting.
The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled last year that MERS could no longer file foreclosure proceedings there, because it does not actually make or service any loans. Last month in Utah, a local judge made the no-less-striking decision to let a homeowner rip up his mortgage and walk away debt-free. MERS had claimed ownership of the mortgage, but the judge did not recognize its legal standing.
“The state court is attracted like a moth to the flame to the legal owner, and that isn’t MERS,” says Walter T. Keane, the Salt Lake City lawyer who represented the homeowner in that case.
And, on Long Island, a federal bankruptcy judge ruled in February that MERS could no longer act as an “agent” for the owners of mortgage notes. He acknowledged that his decision could erode the foundation of the mortgage business.
But this, Judge Robert E Grossman said, was not his fault.
“This court does not accept the argument that because MERS may be involved with 50 percent of all residential mortgages in the country,” he wrote, “that is reason enough for this court to turn a blind eye to the fact that this process does not comply with the law.”
With MERS under scrutiny, its chief executive, R. K. Arnold, who had been with the company since its founding in 1995, resigned earlier this year.
A BIRTH certificate, a marriage license, a death certificate: these public documents note many life milestones.
For generations of Americans, public mortgage documents, often logged in longhand down at the county records office, provided a clear indication of homeownership.
But by the 1990s, the centuries-old system of land records was showing its age. Many county clerk’s offices looked like something out of Dickens, with mortgage papers stacked high. Some clerks had fallen two years behind in recording mortgages.
For a mortgage banking industry in a hurry, this represented money lost. Most banks no longer hold onto mortgages until loans are paid off. Instead, they sell the loans to Wall Street, which bundles them into investments through a process known as securitization.
MERS, industry executives hoped, would pull record-keeping into the Internet age, even as it privatized it. Streamlining record-keeping, the banks argued, would make mortgages more affordable.
But for the mortgage industry, MERS was mostly about speed — and profits. MERS, founded 16 years ago by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and big banks like Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, cut out the county clerks and became the owner of record, no matter how many times loans were transferred. MERS appears to sell loans to MERS ad infinitum.
This high-speed system made securitization easier and cheaper. But critics say the MERS system made it far more difficult for homeowners to contest foreclosures, as ownership was harder to ascertain.
MERS was flawed at conception, those critics say. The bankers who midwifed its birth hired Covington & Burling, a prominent Washington law firm, to research their proposal. Covington produced a memo that offered assurances that MERS could operate legally nationwide. No one, however, conducted a state-by-state study of real estate laws.
“They didn’t do the deep homework,” said an official involved in those discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity because he has clients involved with MERS. “So as far as anyone can tell their real theory was: ‘If we can get everyone on board, no judge will want to upend something that is reasonable and sensible and would screw up 70 percent of loans.’ ”
County officials appealed to Congress, arguing that MERS was of dubious legality. But this was the 1990s, an era of deregulation, and the mortgage industry won.
“We lost our revenue stream, and Americans lost the ability to immediately know who owned a piece of property,” said Mark Monacelli, the St. Louis County recorder in Duluth, Minn.
And so MERS took off. Its board gave its senior vice president, William Hultman, the rather extraordinary power to deputize an unlimited number of “vice presidents” and “assistant secretaries” drawn from the ranks of the mortgage industry.
The “nomination” process was near instantaneous. A bank entered a name into MERS’s Web site, and, in a blink, MERS produced a “certifying resolution,” signed by Mr. Hultman. The corporate seal was available to those deputies for $25.
As personnel policies go, this was a touch loose. Precisely how loose became clear when a lawyer questioned Mr. Hultman in April 2010 in a lawsuit related to its foreclosure against an Atlantic City cab driver.
How many vice presidents and assistant secretaries have you appointed? the lawyer asked.
“I don’t know that number,” Mr. Hultman replied.
“I wouldn’t even be able to tell you, right now.”
In the thousands?
Each of those deputies could file loan transfers and foreclosures in MERS’s name. The goal, as with almost everything about the mortgage business at that time, was speed. Speed meant money.
ALAN GRAYSON has seen MERS’s record-keeping up close. From 2009 until this year, he served as the United States representative for Florida’s Eighth Congressional District — in the Orlando area, which was ravaged by foreclosures. Thousands of constituents poured through his office, hoping to fend off foreclosures. Almost all had papers bearing the MERS name.
“In many foreclosures, the MERS paperwork was squirrelly,” Mr. Grayson said. With no real legal authority, he says, Fannie and the banks eliminated the old system and replaced it with a privatized one that was unreliable.
A spokeswoman for MERS declined interview requests. In an e-mail, she noted that several state courts have ruled in MERS’s favor of late. She expressed confidence that MERS’s policies complied with state laws, even if MERS’s members occasionally strayed.
“At times, some MERS members have failed to follow those procedures and/or established state foreclosure rules,” the spokeswoman, Karmela Lejarde, wrote, “or to properly explain MERS and document MERS relationships in legal pleadings.”
Such cases, she said, “are outliers, reflecting case-specific problems in process, and did not repudiate the MERS business model.
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