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And, yes, I DO take it personally: Jerome a Paris 'splains what we taxpayers just won in the latest Bush flim-flam
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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Jerome a Paris 'splains what we taxpayers just won in the latest Bush flim-flam

as good an explanation as i've seen...

As expected, as the government takes over, the normal shareholders are wiped out, something that will allow the Bush administration to claim that they are being tough and not bailing out investors, but we'll see that this claim is fundamentally false.

This whole side of the package will allow the government to claim that the bailout has a minimal cost: $1 billion only for now, a highly disingenuous claim (the warrants will most likely need to be exercised - but only next year, and there is the rest...)

The plan, outlined jointly by the Treasury Department and Federal Housing Finance Agency, also includes a plan for the Treasury to purchase mortgage-backed securities from the firms in the open market, and a lending facility through the Treasury from its general fund held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

This is huge. This is the federal government taking over the "toxic waste" in a way that will have an impact not just on Freddie and Fannie, but on the whole market. By "buying" mortgage-backed securities instrad of taking them as collateral, the Treasury does two things at the same time:

  • it takes off the assets and liabilities off the balance sheet of the two companies in a definitive way (rather than temporarily) and assumes, for sure, the associated risk;

  • it sets a price on these securities. This has been the biggest problem to solve the credit crisis: nobody has been willing to set a price on these assets, because of the uncertainty on the real value of the underlying assets (or because everybody could see that they were falling by the day). By setting such a price, thegovernment creates a highly significant precedent - and, in all likelihood, provides a floor to these prices, ie an implicit commitment (or at least the expectation of a commitment) to buy more such securities.

In doing this, the government is boldly trying to call the end of the financial crisis, set a total price to it, and agree to pay the difference if the cost is higher in the end. This, to me, looks like a full governmental guarantee to the whole banking sector. Of course, a lot will depend on where the price is set to purchase these mortgage-backed assets, but this is still a take-over of the toxic waste by taxpayers, at aprice that may or may not (and, frankly, is highly unlikely to) be right.

But it's even worse than that: by providing an additional lending facility on top of that, the government is saying: we're putting our money (well, yours) where our mouth is - providing further liquidity to the companies and, I presume, expecting them, once the toxic waste has been cleared from their books (which can happen now that there is a floor price), to lend to the mortagage markets again.

It's the usual solution of the Greenspan bubble: as soon as one bursts, we blow another one to cover it up and keep the party going a little longer.

Of course, the goal here is simply to create a boost that lasts until November, and given the kind of weaons used, it's likely to succeed in that short term goal. Saving the US economy is another thing, given that its fundamental problem is spending beyond incomes - more debt does not cure that, rather the opposite. The twin movements of growing spending and stagnant incomes have to be brought back together. Boosting spending via debt cannot work this time; incomes have to be raised - and for the right people.

This plan is not about this, it's about bailing out the financiers that played and lost with other people's money, and give them a chance to try again. Par for the course, of course.

well, she-e-e-e-e-it, vern, we KNEW this deal wasn't crafted to benefit us, the poor slobs who have our pockets picked on a daily basis to keep the stretch limos and private jets of the bigshots topped off with ever-more-expensive fossil fuel... but it's always nice when someone who has just a bit of a CLUE explains it to those like me who can very quickly recognize the smell of fresh manure even if we don't know its chemical composition...

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