Friday, November 28, 2008

Controversial Political Toy

Online shopping for Christmas has its hazards.

Aside from the easy persuasion to overspend (as credit card sits temptingly next to computer console) one can expose themselves to lots of things they might rather not know exist.

Take for instance, this dumba%$* toy, which is a fine example of a collosal waste of energy spent toward its production. The Path CRA 911 Super Fun Childs Toy appears to be made in China, with French (don't speak French; not positive on this one) instructions, and according to the internets, is sold in Morocco. It is a near unrecognizable plastic President Bush figure, sitting atop a tank, chasing Osama Bin Laden on a circular train track.

Someone in the world is making mucho dinero by reducing an historic and tragic event to a plasticized, oil-based prop. Sad. It might be that time of year to reflect, yet again, on the stupid crap we buy all around the world.

- photo credits to

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Here in America it's Turkey Day. Nearly everyone will either be playing or watching football and fighting the sleepy effects of the tryptophan naturally found in their every bite of gobbler. Since laziness will rule the day it's appropriate to share thoughts of thanks prior to partaking in these gluttonously fulfilling festivities.

What a year it's been. Volatile? Yes. But that's what happens when a massive shift is underway in the world. Global power is being traded, our financial systems are in complete overhaul under the weight of a collapse fueled by greed, and governments are being challenged in ways they didn't quite expect just ten years ago. In Thailand the people are protesting (hope none of you were trying to get in or out of Bankock today as airports are closed). In India an organized terror attack was carried out yesterday. And in the US so many people are going broke, food banks were having trouble filling turkey orders (some serving chicken).

Although events like these are worrisome, there is still so much to be thankful for. Shifting and progression are natural. Life is nothing more than change. All structures are temporary.

It's certain some of what we will go through in order to come out on the other side of these challenges will suck. Yes, even we have lost money in various markets this year. But we'll pull it together. In fact, we'll all just have to pull it together. The good thing about challenge, whether it's a family issue or a global restructurization, is that it causes people to think deeper; think bigger. Deeper reflection will help guide the way. For this, there is a great deal of thanks to be given. Have a wonderful thanksgiving, everybody.

Friday, November 14, 2008

More Experts Waking Up to U.S. Default

We all know what happens if we don't pay our bills. At best you wind up with late fees, possibly even a higher interest rate as dictated by the angry creditor you have eluded. At worst, you experience bankruptcy and carry a marred credit score limiting purchases and personal leveragability for years to come.

Here at The Cosmopolitan Charlestonian, we've been squawking for some time about default. But we're not too worried about our own balance sheets. We're talking about the default of Uncle Sam. A national default.

Although a national default is not imminent, there's no reason to avoid the facts - that it's looking a lot like that's where the U.S. is headed. Simply being open to the idea that the current bailout mania chops away at the US' triple A sovereign credit rating with each billion added can begin to leave the average citizen feeling jumpy. It's starting to seem like at any moment a burly guy named Lou, is going to jump out from behind the bushes, crowbar in hand, to repossess the car. Only in the case of a US default, Lou is China.

More and more experts are beginning to openly discuss a US default. This alone can be perceived as good and bad. On the one hand, open discussion is what we need to find solutions to our economic woes (it's the derivatives, stupid!). On the other hand, the rising cacophony of default whistle blowers means more are seeing a US default as a possibility.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The economy faces a slump deeper than the Great Depression and a growing deficit threatens the credit of the United States itself, former Goldman Sachs chairman John Whitehead, said at the Reuters Global Finance Summit on Wednesday.
Hat tip to Financial Armageddon blog for pointing to Reuters and offering their own excellent commentary in, Not as Bad as Before, Worse.

As if confirmation from an old player at Goldman Sachs isn't enough (Goldman is so in the know with Whitehead still well connected), Satyajit Das, an expert on derivative financial products, also deduces default is an option in, We Interrupt Regular Programming to Announce that the United States of America has Defaulted. Thanks to Nouriel Roubini's blog for putting that one out there. It is true that Mr. Das correctly predicted to fall of the financial system over the last several years as we've followed his work closely. The author of Traders, Guns and Money, he is an accurate, relevant and entertaining writer. Das is also known for writing some of the key reference works in the Swaps/Financial Derivatives Library. Das was, after all, a creator of some of the derivatives himself.

The US' ability to maintain its sovereign credit rating of AAA will surely be a topic discussed in G20, which begins tomorrow. It is yet to be known if our creditors have structured a payback plan for us. One thing is guaranteed - the US will have little wiggle room.

It's evident at this point that our creditors have been gracious enough to continue extending credit (as long as things were going well). The problem now is that things aren't going so well and it's time to pay the bill. At this point, the US is pretty much broke, so do we need to revisit what happens when we don't pay our bills?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Gov't Won't Buy Bad Mortgage Debt

An interesting endeavor it has been to watch the slow disintegration of the US economy. Trouble in the housing markets was just the beginning; the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, if you will. This giant mess has been accumulating for thirty-some odd years. The turmoil has now bubbled over from housing to credit crisis to credit collapse. Lack of access to credit is exposing weakness in the markets, and in a big way.

The Big 3 of the Auto Industry are now asking the government for money - threatening they will each fail otherwise. This is a result of, and on top of, the perfect storm that has hit consumers and businesses driving up the overall cost of credit.

Meanwhile, the Fed’s been throwing money around trying to keep the economy chugging along. But in their haste, the Fed & Treasury haven't been very open about where the money is going. This has resulted in Bloomberg News filing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in recent days against the Fed. This action was meant to force the Fed (Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve Chairman), and the Treasury, to disclose which troubled assets the government has already purchased with the $700 billion in taxpayer money they are currently partially controlling (Congress hasn’t released the other portion yet). Perhaps moved forward by the lawsuit, today Treasury Secretary, Hank Paulson held a news conference to present the US with a market update.

Just a few short weeks ago, the Treasury Secretary, Federal Reserve Chairman and the President (Bush) told us (the American public) that the government would be using seven hundred billion of our hard earned tax dollars for the purpose of buying up “troubled” assets to fix the financial markets as they were near collapse. They told us we would eventually get our money back over time via their program. Then they developed the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) to purchase the assets.

Despite the plan outlined to Congress, what Hank really did was take a portion of the $700 billion of “Troubled Asset Relief Program” money and handed it over to banks for recapitalization. The Treasury hasn't bothered to tell us if they’ve received assets in return (securities) from the banks they’ve funded. According to Hank, after he gave the banks some moola, he "encouraged" lending. The banks didn’t lend. The banks are simply keeping the money. They’re still having problems with those bad investments (that the government has not purchased) and are hanging onto the cash in the coffers incase they might need it later. So now Mr. Paulson tells us the whole plan to buy assets is not going to work.

As mentioned earlier, the government has used some of the money, therefore Bloomberg filed suite to find out which assets the government is now holding. We suspect the news conference was a direct result of Bloomberg's pressure. Of course, Paulson was asked about this minor point. His answer - astounding. Mr. Paulson basically said the plan would become transparent just as soon as he got done writing it! Bwahahahahahahaha! Surely Bloomberg, along with the rest of the leveraged financial community is pretty serious about gaining access to the special pricing formulas the Big Boyz’ are using to price illiquid assets, considering the assets in question are not being priced on the open markets (because, uh, nobody is buying them).

After announcing that taxpayer money will not be used to purchase troubled asset securities as the acronym TARP suggests, the Treasury Secretary outlined his plan B. Rather than purchasing "toxic debt," money will be redirected toward bank recapitalization efforts, which has already begun at Mr. Paulson’s choice.

Paulson boldly asserted he would make no apology for shifting plans when asked why the structure drifted so far from the design presented to Congress. He simply answered that the financial landscape had changed over the last several weeks, and stressed matters would have been worse had he not shifted as the markets dictated.

Somewhat glossed over early on, Mr. Paulson mentioned that banks continue to hold a “significant” amount of illiquid assets.

The bailout is truly a giant mess. Yet this is exactly what a nation that puts the fox in charge of the henhouse should come to expect. Between his job with President Nixon to the boardrooms of Goldman Sachs, Mr. Paulson is well versed in confusion creation and its self-serving mitigation.

The man just told the American public and Congress to shove it. He is taking the reigns as he sees best fit. So, this week TARP is dead. Bait. Switch. Officially, per Mr. Paulson we are now moving to a bank and non-bank (whomever is vital for providing credit) recapitalization plan.

The markets screamed displeasure with Paulson's new direction. Since Paulson's gone rogue, we are now playing a "wait and see" game. What will the Masters of the Universe come up with next??? At any rate, within a few more weeks all this will probably have changed again. Interesting developments may come from the G-20 which begins in a few short days.

Update: Angry Bear has an Excellent Article, Paulson Reverses Course.