Conversations With the Clueless; (a discouraging look at where the Fed is taking us)

The Washington Post headline is Stocks Surge as Fed Offers A Boost and it’s written by T. M. Tse and Neil Irwin, who are staff writers and may be forgiven their sins. Certainly they are not Steven Pearstein (probably one of the finest business-writers extant today) even though he too is beginning to waver on Fed actions that ‘may prevent a serious meltdown.’

Serious meltdown is what we need, Steve. It may in fact be our only hope.

Unfortunately, no politician likes to see SM (sado-masochism or serious meltdown, take your pick) on his or her watch, and so we’ve had a half century of transgressions patched over and forwarded to the next bunch coming in. Getting down to the nitty and the gritty;

NEW YORK, March 11 — The Federal Reserve took bold action Tuesday to revive the economy’s ossified credit markets by offering to take over the risk of spurned mortgage securities, igniting a rally on Wall Street that sent stocks to their best performance in five years.

It annoys me when a national newspaper, ostensibly of some repute, characterizes an inflationary printing of money as bold action. It’s not. Bold action would be letting the fraudulently inflated markets take their well-deserved bath, while still preserving the value of the dollar. That’s the job of the Fed, defending against inflation and supporting the dollar.

Ben Bernanke has failed miserably at both. I don’t damned doubt a rally was ignited, as Wall Street dodged another bullet and went out to celebrate.

When your securities stink so badly that no one will touch them, it’s a relief to have the Fed come along and haul your ashes. Ossified indeed. The credit market is road-kill, lying there with all four legs in the air, body swelling with the rot of gigantic fraud.

Setting aside earlier reservations, the Fed essentially made itself the lender of last resort to investment banks squeezed for cash by offering them up to $200 billion in new credit against their holdings of highly rated mortgage securities that no one else is eager to buy. This move, coordinated with four other central banks, was the most aggressive step the Fed has taken to address the spreading credit crisis.

Nice try, Tse and Irwin, but no home run there either. The Fed has not made itself lender of last resort, it has made the American taxpayer lender of last resort, without ever checking in to see if it was OK. The Revolutionary War was begun over just such an issue. Christ, that argument was over tea.

The Federal Reserve doesn’t have $200 billion, nor does it have the additional $100 billion it has promised each and every month until the cows come home (or don’t, in which case they become someone else’s cows) The Fed is

  • watering your currency,
  • destroying what little credibility the dollar has left,
  • making every single thing you own worth less,
  • shooing off any foreign interest in financing our astounding national debt
  • and getting the Washington Post to present it to you as an aggressive step to address the crisis.

Does anyone ask any questions, or do Tse and Irwin just jot it all down in their notebooks?

Bernanke and Co. are doing this treasonous damage to the American economy in order to keep the Dow Jones Industrial Average up in the vicinity of 12,000. Their reasons have nothing at all to do with the integrity of markets. That went down the drain decades ago.

They are doing it to protect the assets of the CEOs on top, keep the hedge-fund shenanigans in play and let President Bush flee his office with the myth intact that he is not actually President Hoover reincarnated.

The Dow Jones industrial average of 30 blue-chip stocks responded to the morning announcement by jumping 250 points within the first moments of trading and ended the day up 416.66 points, or 3.5 percent, to 12,156.81. 

Another rabbit will have to be dragged out from yet another hat. At $100 billion a month, rabbits are easily come by.

But while the Dow’s percentage gain was its steepest since 2003, the rebound in trading still left markets below where they’d been just a week ago. Nor did the move by the central bank address the underlying weakness of the economy triggered by widespread exposure to failing subprime mortgage loans, though the initiative did blunt the immediate threat: a run from even the safest high-grade bonds.

Underlying weakness. There you have it, you intrepid reporters. Even a blind pig occasionally finds a peanut and Tse and Irwin have found theirs, but misnamed it. Failing sub-prime mortgage loans should more properly and accurately read ‘fraudulently packaged and mis-represented hedge-fund derivatives.’ These bonds have already been declared AAA. The so-called (by crooked bond rating companies) safest have failed.

Now it gets complicated, but only slightly. In the rest of the world—that strange and romantic, dangerous and chaotic place outside America—the value of the dollar has dropped by half during this administration. Your
house, car, savings and hopes are all worth half what they were six years ago . . . and no one told you.

The Cliff Notes are that galloping federal debt ($3 trillion increased to $9 trillion), a savings rate that is less than zero, a huge buildup of personal debt, tax giveaways to the rich, an unfunded war and oil prices goosed by that war ($31 suddenly up to $104 a barrel) have made us a bad bet for the loaning of money.

Unfortunately, our thirst for debt is $1.5 billion a day. Uncle Sam has become a profligate uncle. Somebody has to come up with the dough or else the world is going to make us turn in our credit card.

Mostly, it’s been the Chinese. But understand this. A $100 Chinese investment in ten-year U.S. Debt, paid into our Treasury in 2000, is now only worth $50 and there are still two years to go on the loan. Foreign investors are less and less willing to fund us at that kind of loss, especially when they can buy us up at bargain-basement prices—as the Chinese and Dubai princes have been doing.

So much for blind pigs and peanuts, at least for the moment.

Until Tuesday, the central bank had been unable to reverse the downward slide of the U.S. economy despite a series of interest rate cuts and other steps to introduce liquidity into the system. The series of cuts to the federal funds rate had threatened to stoke inflation and, by driving down the value of the dollar, contributed to price rises in oil and other imported commodities. But these moves had done little to restore the confidence of banks, which have increasingly tightened the credit they offer to businesses and home buyers, even those with excellent credit.

Bingo. What might have restored confidence would be federal indictments, lengthy trials into the lending conspiracy and prison terms for some $100 million executives. Unfortunately for them, the prison terms would have been fairly evenly distributed among the CEOs of mortgage banks, investment banks, bond rating firms and hedge funds. Thanks to Bernanke, those are the very co-conspirators who are celebrating having just dodged the bullet of accountability.

The peanut again. This time under a shell in an economic shell-game (noun; A swindling sleight-of-hand game; victim guesses which of three shells a peanut is under).

All this was choking off already anemic economic activity. The government reported last week that the economy shed jobs for the second consecutive month. Consumer spending has softened, corporate profits have flagged, and both residential and commercial real estate have displayed new signs of stress.

In the past week, the vicious cycle accelerated. Bankers demanded that hedge funds and other investors holding troubled securities put up more cash to back them, prompting a sell-off of high-grade securities such as those issued by the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to raise the money. Some investment funds, like one run by Carlyle Group of the District, could not meet these margin calls, and they defaulted. Rumors of trouble at one of the largest Wall Street banks, Bear Stearns, and speculation that other banks would soon disclose new, staggering losses, added to the mounting panic.

Some call it a vicious cycle, others characterize it as chickens home to roost or the horse gone after the barn door is closed. We have destroyed American agriculture by abandoning it to corporate interests, but the metaphor of the barnyard has not yet left us.

So the Fed moved Tuesday to auction up to $200 billion in Treasury securities, which will be available to large financial institutions if they put up collateral including highly rated mortgage-backed securities. The aim was to make Wall Street firms more confident about buying and holding these mortgage investments and provide an outlet for them. This could free up money for banks to lend.

Choke that one down, if you are able. Here you are (pretending to be an investor), holding junk bonds that were presented to you as AAA bonds. It said so right on the investment documents (a fraud by the bond raters) and here they are today, not worth a fart in a whirlwind (a compounded fraud, perpetrated across state boundaries, making it a RICO offense).

The Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, is going to take them off your hands–as collateral–for billions of dollars. You laugh hysterically and put the money under the mattress. This is supposed to make you more confident about buying and holding these mortgage investments, but you’re not fool enough for that, thank you very much. As for freeing up money, that’s safely under your mattress until your heart rate slows down and you venture forth yet again.

Helping liquidity? Forget about it, this shell game is about helping greedy investors who have done exactly as greedy investors are supposed to do—lost their investment.

After the announcement, the market for these highly rated mortgage securities showed signs of improvement.

I’ll just bet it did.

Economists and analysts largely praised the move, saying it goes further in directly addressing current problems than simply cutting a short-term interest rate, which adds to inflationary fears.

"They may have hit the right spot in the marketplace where the help was needed," said Bill Tedford, fixed-income strategist at Stephens Capital Management.

Cutting short-term interest rates is inflationary, but somehow printing $1 trillion a year is not. And Bill is right. They hit Bear Stearns exactly in the right spot, that spot that keeps them from going bankrupt as they deserve to do.

"The mortgage market has just been locked up," said Craig Elder, fixed-income senior analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co. "I’m not sure if it solves all of the problems, but I think it should free up a considerable amount of liquidity."

What we have (thus far) failed to lock up is the crooks and liars who created this mortgage market.

In announcing the program, the Fed also extended agreements with central banks in Switzerland and the European Union that allow them to borrow billions of more dollars from the Fed and inject this money into their financial systems.

What, me worry?
Hey–it’s party time. Does the NATO Alliance extend to bailing out millionaires and billionaires? Unfortunately, Tse and Irwin had only analysts and strategists available for interview. Their analysis was understandably a little on the ‘wasn’t our fault’ side and their strategy leaned heavily on the ‘money under the mattress solution’ before the pension trusts find out their money is under that other shell.

Do not leave this Conversation With the Clueless without watchingThe Last Laugh–George Parr—Subprime on YouTube. It is not to be missed and explains the whole sorry mess in a mere nine minutes.



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