Saturday, September 27, 2008

Debate 1: Some thoughts

Obama: Look, over the last eight years, this administration, along with Senator McCain, have been solely focused on Iraq. That has been their priority. That has been where all our resources have gone.

In the meantime, bin Laden is still out there. He is not captured. He is not killed. Al Qaida is resurgent.

In the meantime, we've got challenges, for example, with China, where we are borrowing billions of dollars. They now hold a trillion dollars' worth of our debt. And they are active in countries like -- in regions like Latin America, and Asia, and Africa. They are -- the conspicuousness of their presence is only matched by our absence, because we've been focused on Iraq.

We have weakened our capacity to project power around the world because we have viewed everything through this single lens, not to mention, look at our economy. We are now spending $10 billion or more every month.

And that means we can't provide health care to people who need it. We can't invest in science and technology, which will determine whether or not we are going to be competitive in the long term.

There has never been a country on Earth that saw its economy decline and yet maintained its military superiority. So this is a national security issue.

We haven't adequately funded veterans' care. I sit on the Veterans Affairs Committee, and we've got -- I meet veterans all across the country who are trying to figure out, "How can I get disability payments? I've got post-traumatic stress disorder, and yet I can't get treatment."
So we have put all chips in, right there, and nobody is talking about losing this war. What we are talking about is recognizing that the next president has to have a broader strategic vision about all the challenges that we face.

That's been missing over the last eight years. That sense is something that I want to restore.

MCCAIN: I've been involved, as I mentioned to you before, in virtually every major national security challenge we've faced in the last 20-some years. There are some advantages to experience, and knowledge, and judgment.

And I -- and I honestly don't believe that Senator Obama has the knowledge or experience and has made the wrong judgments in a number of areas, including his initial reaction to Russian invasion -- aggression in Georgia, to his -- you know, we've seen this stubbornness before in this administration to cling to a belief that somehow the surge has not succeeded and failing to acknowledge that he was wrong about the surge is -- shows to me that we -- that -- that we need more flexibility in a president of the United States than that.

As far as our other issues that he brought up are concerned, I know the veterans. I know them well. And I know that they know that I'll take care of them. And I've been proud of their support and their recognition of my service to the veterans.

And I love them. And I'll take care of them. And they know that I'll take care of them. And that's going to be my job. But, also, I have the ability, and the knowledge, and the background to make the right judgments, to keep this country safe and secure.

Reform, prosperity, and peace, these are major challenges to the United States of America. I don't think I need any on-the-job training. I'm ready to go at it right now.

OBAMA: Well, let me just make a closing point. You know, my father came from Kenya. That's where I get my name.

And in the '60s, he wrote letter after letter to come to college here in the United States because the notion was that there was no other country on Earth where you could make it if you tried. The ideals and the values of the United States inspired the entire world.

I don't think any of us can say that our standing in the world now, the way children around the world look at the United States, is the same.

And part of what we need to do, what the next president has to do -- and this is part of our judgment, this is part of how we're going to keep America safe -- is to -- to send a message to the world that we are going to invest in issues like education, we are going to invest in issues that -- that relate to how ordinary people are able to live out their dreams.

And that is something that I'm going to be committed to as president of the United States.

I cant emphasize Obama's last statement enough. I came to America, like Obama's father, by applying to several colleges here. I was accepted at a couple of Ivy Leagues but wasnt eligible for any grants and couldnt afford to attend them. America in 1991 was still the shining city on a hill to a kid from India. It was a place where you could make it when you worked hard and tried enough. The name America itself held magic. Waking up to my first American dawn I felt an exhilaration about my future that is hard to describe. America's soft power was as tangible, if not more so, as our military power. That soft power has eroded to an extent that I find umimaginable when I visit overseas and to India. This last statement resonated with me like nothing else that was said in the debate. Obama is a unique man, a unique politician, a unique leader with a innate understanding of the world. He understands that America's strongest weapon is not nuclear but it is our soft power - which is where true American exceptionalism lies. I cannot imagine anything worse for our soft power projection than a President Palin for example. 8 years of W's presidency has wreaked unimaginable destruction and its only a show of how strong America actually is when we end up surving W's 8 years with what we still have. A President Obama will have a lot of hard work ahead of him in his first year but it would be hard to overestimate the exhilaration of waking up to a new America in November this year if he were to be elected. I hope he is.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

How the Swedes Did It

September 23, 2008
Stopping a Financial Crisis, the Swedish Way

A banking system in crisis after the collapse of a housing bubble. An economy hemorrhaging jobs. A market-oriented government struggling to stem the panic. Sound familiar?
It does to Sweden. The country was so far in the hole in 1992 — after years of imprudent regulation, short-sighted economic policy and the end of its property boom — that its banking system was, for all practical purposes, insolvent.

But Sweden took a different course than the one now being proposed by the United States Treasury. And Swedish officials say there are lessons from their own nightmare that Washington may be missing.

Sweden did not just bail out its financial institutions by having the government take over the bad debts. It extracted pounds of flesh from bank shareholders before writing checks. Banks had to write down losses and issue warrants to the government.

That strategy held banks responsible and turned the government into an owner. When distressed assets were sold, the profits flowed to taxpayers, and the government was able to recoup more money later by selling its shares in the companies as well.

“If I go into a bank,” said Bo Lundgren, who was Sweden’s finance minister at the time, “I’d rather get equity so that there is some upside for the taxpayer.”

Sweden spent 4 percent of its gross domestic product, or 65 billion kronor, the equivalent of $11.7 billion at the time, or $18.3 billion in today’s dollars, to rescue ailing banks. That is slightly less, proportionate to the national economy, than the $700 billion, or roughly 5 percent of gross domestic product, that the Bush administration estimates its own move will cost in the United States.

But the final cost to Sweden ended up being less than 2 percent of its G.D.P. Some officials say they believe it was closer to zero, depending on how certain rates of return are calculated.
The tumultuous events of the last few weeks have produced a lot of tight-lipped nods in Stockholm. Mr. Lundgren even made the rounds in New York in early September, explaining what the country did in the early 1990s.

A few American commentators have proposed that the United States government extract equity from banks as a price for their rescue. But it does not seem to be under serious consideration yet in the Bush administration or Congress.

The reason is not quite clear. The government has already swapped its sovereign guarantee for equity in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance institutions, and the American International Group, the global insurance giant.

Putting taxpayers on the hook without anything in return could be a mistake, said Urban Backstrom, a senior Swedish finance ministry official at the time. “The public will not support a plan if you leave the former shareholders with anything,” he said.

The Swedish crisis had strikingly similar origins to the American one, and its neighbors, Norway and Finland, were hobbled to the point of needing a government bailout to escape the morass as well.

Financial deregulation in the 1980s fed a frenzy of real estate lending by Sweden’s banks, which did not worry enough about whether the value of their collateral might evaporate in tougher times.

Property prices imploded. The bubble deflated fast in 1991 and 1992. A vain effort to defend Sweden’s currency, the krona, caused overnight interest rates to spike at one point to 500 percent. The Swedish economy contracted for two consecutive years after a long expansion, and unemployment, at 3 percent in 1990, quadrupled in three years.

After a series of bank failures and ad hoc solutions, the moment of truth arrived in September 1992, when the government of Prime Minister Carl Bildt decided it was time to clear the decks.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the opposition center-left, Mr. Bildt’s conservative government announced that the Swedish state would guarantee all bank deposits and creditors of the nation’s 114 banks. Sweden formed a new agency to supervise institutions that needed recapitalization, and another that sold off the assets, mainly real estate, that the banks held as collateral.

Sweden told its banks to write down their losses promptly before coming to the state for recapitalization. Facing its own problem later in the decade, Japan made the mistake of dragging this process out, delaying a solution for years.

Then came the imperative to bleed shareholders first. Mr. Lundgren recalls a conversation with Peter Wallenberg, at the time chairman of SEB, Sweden’s largest bank. Mr. Wallenberg, the scion of the country’s most famous family and steward of large chunks of its economy, heard that there would be no sacred cows.

The Wallenbergs turned around and arranged a recapitalization on their own, obviating the need for a bailout. SEB turned a profit the following year, 1993.

“For every krona we put into the bank, we wanted the same influence,” Mr. Lundgren said. “That ensured that we did not have to go into certain banks at all.”

By the end of the crisis, the Swedish government had seized a vast portion of the banking sector, and the agency had mostly fulfilled its hard-nosed mandate to drain share capital before injecting cash. When markets stabilized, the Swedish state then reaped the benefits by taking the banks public again.

More money may yet come into official coffers. The government still owns 19.9 percent of Nordea, a Stockholm bank that was fully nationalized and is now a highly regarded giant in Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea region.

The politics of Sweden’s crisis management were similarly tough-minded, though much quieter.
Soon after the plan was announced, the Swedish government found that international confidence returned more quickly than expected, easing pressure on its currency and bringing money back into the country. The center-left opposition, while wary that the government might yet let the banks off the hook, made its points about penalizing shareholders privately.

“The only thing that held back an avalanche was the hope that the system was holding,” said Leif Pagrotzky, a senior member of the opposition at the time. “In public we stuck together 100 percent, but we fought behind the scenes.”

How the rich keep their money FDIC insured

Exploiting FDIC Loopholes Enriches Former U.S. Bank Regulators
By David Evans

Sept. 25 (Bloomberg) -- As chief of staff of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from 1999 to 2002, Mark Jacobsen was responsible for a safety net that protects U.S. savers. He now runs a company that critics say is designed to stretch that net to its breaking point.

Jacobsen, 42, is president and co-founder of Arlington, Virginia-based Promontory Interfinancial Network, a company that makes it easy for a wealthy depositor to keep FDIC-insured cash in separate accounts at multiple banks. It offers customers up to $50 million of FDIC insurance, 500 times the single-account limit approved by Congress.

``When I first saw Promontory, I was amazed that the regulators would let it fly,'' says Sherrill Shaffer, a former chief economist at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. ``It undermines a lot of the safeguards around the FDIC deposit fund. I'm astounded that the FDIC has not picked up on that and tried to shut down that loophole.''

The loophole Promontory exploits is the FDIC rule that allows an individual to open up federally insured accounts of up to $100,000 at an unlimited number of banks.

Promontory has contracts with 2,350 banks. It advertises to wealthy investors who want to insure more than $100,000 in certificates of deposit. Customers tap into Promontory's network through their home banks.

Promontory arranges for the customer's money to be divided among banks, with each receiving less than $100,000 so all of the cash is FDIC insured. The receiving banks pay Promontory a fee, and in return, Promontory directs deposits to them.
Working the System

Promontory is peopled by former federal banking officials. Jacobsen started the company with Alan Blinder, who was vice chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1994 to 1996, and Eugene Ludwig, who was Comptroller of the Currency from 1993 to 1998.
William Seidman, the FDIC's chairman from 1985 to 1991, is a board member. William Isaac, who chaired the FDIC from 1981 to 1985, is chairman of the company's bank advisory board.

``These guys know how to work the system,'' says Shaffer, who's now a professor of banking at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. ``They saw a good buck in it for themselves.''
Seidman says he knows Promontory has critics. ``The question can be raised, `Is this what the government wanted when they put in deposit insurance?''' he says. ``One man's loophole is another man's God-given right.''

Does the Legwork
Jacobsen says the company provides a service for investors and does nothing improper. Individuals could open accounts on their own or through brokers at hundreds of banks. Promontory does the legwork at no cost to depositors and helps community banks compete for deposits with large money-center banks, he says.
The firm calls its system CDARS, an acronym for certificate of deposit account registry service.

``What we're doing is no different from what others have been doing for many decades,'' Jacobsen says. ``We just make it a little bit easier. Instead of having to knock on the doors of 20 banks to deposit $2 million, or going to a broker to do the same on your behalf and collect a big fee, we allow banks to offer the service directly.''

Isaac says he's not sure what role he plays at the company. ``I think I'm some kind of an adviser or director,'' he says. ``I'm not really involved. The board of advisers has never met. I allowed them to make me the chairman of a bank advisory board that has no members.''

`Significant Amounts'
Blinder, Promontory's vice chairman, says the company has eliminated any need to increase the $100,000-per-account ceiling on what the FDIC covers.

``It's not so important anymore, because any depositor who's worried about that can, through CDARS, get very significant amounts of deposit insurance,'' he says.

Edward Kane, senior fellow of the FDIC's Center for Financial Research, says CDARS intercepts FDIC premiums.

``It's portrayed as a public-spirited way to help customers as opposed to a way to game the system,'' he says. ``They've decided there's a loophole that they're in charge of.''
More than 50 banks joined Promontory after IndyMac Bancorp Inc. collapsed in July.

Promontory placed more than $10 billion in August. That's up from $1 billion a week in January, says spokesman Phil Battey, who worked in public relations for the FDIC from 1994 to 2003.
Promontory charges banks more in fees, about $12.50 per a $10,000 one-year CD to get access to federally insured funds, than the FDIC itself charges in insurance premiums, typically $5-$7 per $10,000 deposited.

`Tiniest Nibble'
``We take the tiniest nibble,'' says Ludwig, now Promontory's chief executive officer.
FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair says she's surprised that Promontory gets a higher fee than her agency. ``That's an interesting question,'' she says. ``I'll have to look into that.''

To contact the reporter on this story: David Evans in Los Angeles at Last Updated: September 25, 2008 00:42 EDT
September 25, 2008
Plan’s Mystery: What’s All This Stuff Worth?

What would you pay, sight unseen, for a house that nobody wants, on a hard-luck street where no houses are selling?

That question is easy compared to the one confronting the Treasury Department as Washington works toward a vast bailout of financial institutions. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. is proposing to spend up to $700 billion to buy troubled investments that even Wall Street is struggling to put a price on.

A big concern in Washington — and among many ordinary Americans — is that the difficulty in valuing these assets could result in the government’s buying them for more than they will ever be worth, a step that would benefit financial institutions at taxpayers’ expense.

Anyone who has tried to buy or sell a house when the market is falling, as it is now, knows how difficult it can be to agree on a price. But valuing the securities that the Treasury aims to buy will be far more difficult. Each one of these investments is tied to thousands of individual mortgages, and many of those loans are going bad as the housing market worsens.

“The reality is that we are not going to know what the right price is for years,” said Andrew Feltus, a bond portfolio manager at Pioneer Investments, a mutual fund firm based in Boston.

“It might be 20 cents on the dollar or 60 cents on the dollar, but we won’t know for years.”
While prices of most stocks are no mystery — they flicker across PCs and televisions all day — the troubled investments are not traded on any exchange. The market for them is opaque: traders do business over the telephone, and days can go by without a single trade.

Not only that, many of these instruments are extremely complex. Consider the Bear Stearns Alt-A Trust 2006-7, a $1.3 billion drop in the sea of risky loans. Here’s how it worked:

As the credit bubble grew in 2006, Bear Stearns, then one of the leading mortgage traders on Wall Street, bought 2,871 mortgages from lenders like the Countrywide Financial Corporation.

The mortgages, with an average size of about $450,000, were Alt-A loans — the kind often referred to as liar loans, because lenders made them without the usual documentation to verify borrowers’ incomes or savings. Nearly 60 percent of the loans were made in California, Florida and Arizona, where home prices rose — and subsequently fell — faster than almost anywhere else in the country.

Bear Stearns bundled the loans into 37 different kinds of bonds, ranked by varying levels of risk, for sale to investment banks, hedge funds and insurance companies.

If any of the mortgages went bad — and, it turned out, many did — the bonds at the bottom of the pecking order would suffer losses first, followed by the next lowest, and so on up the chain.

By one measure, the Bear Stearns Alt-A Trust 2006-7 has performed well: It has suffered losses of about 1.6 percent. Of those loans, 778 have been paid off or moved through the foreclosure process.

But by many other measures, it’s a toxic portfolio. Of the 2,093 loans that remain, 23 percent are delinquent or in foreclosure, according to Bloomberg News data. Initially rated triple-A, the most senior of the securities were downgraded to near junk bond status last week. Valuing mortgage bonds, even the safest variety, requires guesstimates: How many homeowners will fall behind on their mortgages? If the bank forecloses, what will the homes sell for? Investments like the Bear Stearns securities are almost certain to lose value as long as home prices keep falling.

“Under the current circumstances it’s likely that you are going to take a loss on these loans,” said Chandrajit Bhattacharya, a mortgage strategist at Credit Suisse, the investment bank.

The Bear Stearns bonds are just one example of the kind of assets the government could buy, and they are by no means the most complicated of the lot. Wall Street took bonds like those of Bear Stearns and bundled and rebundled them into even trickier investments known as collateralized debt obligations, or C.D.O.’s

“No two pieces of paper are the same,” said Mr. Feltus of Pioneer Investments.

On Wall Street, many of these C.D.O.’s have been selling for pennies on the dollar, if they are selling at all. In July, Merrill Lynch, struggling to bolster its finances, sold $31 billion of tricky mortgage-linked investments for 22 cents on the dollar. Last November, Citadel, a large hedge fund in Chicago, bought $3 billion of mortgage securities and other investments for 27 cents on the dollar.

But Citigroup, the financial giant, values similar investments on its books at 61 cents on the dollar. Citigroup says its C.D.O.’s are relatively high quality because they were created before lending standards weakened in 2006.

A big challenge for Treasury officials will be deciding whether to buy the troubled investments near the values at which the banks hold them on their books. That would help minimize losses for financial institutions. Driving a hard bargain, however, would protect taxpayers.

“Many are tempted by a strategy of trying to do both things at once,” said Lawrence H. Summers, a former Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration. As a hypothetical example, Mr. Summers suggested that an institution could have securities on its books at $60, but the current market price might only be $30. In that case, the government might be tempted to come in at about $55.

Many financial institutions are so weak that they must sell their troubled assets at prices near the value on their books, Carlos Mendez, a senior managing director at ICP Capital, an investment firm that specializes in credit markets. Anything less would eat into their capital.

“Depending on your perspective on the economy, foreclosure rates and home prices, the market may eventually reflect that price. But most buyers are not willing to make that bet right now,” he said. “And that’s why we have these low prices.”

Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, told Congress on Tuesday that the government should avoid paying a fire-sale price, and pay what he called the “hold-to-maturity price,” or the price that investors would bid if they expected to keep the bond till it was paid off.

The government would buy the troubled investments with the intention of eventually selling them back to the market when prices recover.

The Treasury has suggested it might conduct reverse auctions to determine the price for securities that are not trading in the market.

Unlike in a traditional auction in which would-be buyers submit bids to the seller, in a reverse auction the buyer solicits bids from would-be sellers. Often, the buyer agrees to pay the second-highest bid submitted to encourage sellers to compete by lowering their bids for all the assets submitted. The buyer often also sets a reserve price and refuses to pay any more than that price.

But Mr. Paulson told Congress on Tuesday that the government would use many other means in addition to auctions, suggesting that it would exercise wide discretion over the final prices to be paid.

Financial institutions will have an incentive to sell their worst assets to the government, a risk that the Treasury will have to guard against, said Robert G. Hansen, senior associate dean at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

“I am worried that the people who are going to offer the securities to the government will be the ones that have the absolute worst toxic waste,” Professor Hansen said. Even so, he added, the government could actually make a profit on its purchases — provided the Treasury buys at the right prices. Richard C. Breeden, a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, said the auctions could thaw parts of the markets that have been frozen since late last year.

“One of the problems that many institutions are having is finding any bid for some of these assets, even though they are not without value,” said Mr. Breeden, who is chairman and chief executive of Breeden Capital Management, an investment firm in Greenwich, Conn.

“What are these assets worth?” asked Mr. Breeden. “Sometimes, because of fear or extreme uncertainty in the markets, you get in a situation in which there are no bids at all, or at least no realistic bids.”
Edmund L. Andrews contributed reporting.

Bush: BOO! Entire economy is in Danger!


September 25, 2008
Bush and Candidates to Meet on Bailout

WASHINGTON — President Bush appealed to the nation Wednesday night to support a $700 billion plan to avert a widespread financial meltdown, and signaled that he is willing to accept tougher controls over how the money is spent.

As Democrats and the administration negotiated details of the package late into the night, the presidential candidates of both major parties planned to meet Mr. Bush at the White House on Thursday, along with leaders of Congress. The president said he hoped the session would “speed our discussions toward a bipartisan bill.”

Mr. Bush used a prime-time address to warn Americans that “a long and painful recession” could occur if Congress does not act quickly.

“Our entire economy is in danger,” he said.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats said that progress toward a deal had come after the White House had offered two major concessions: a plan to limit pay of executives whose firms seek government assistance, and a provision that would give taxpayers an equity stake in some of the firms so that the government can profit if the companies prosper in the future. Details of those provisions, and many others, were still under discussion.

Mr. Bush’s televised address, and his extraordinary offer to bring together Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, and Senator John McCain, the Republican, just weeks before the election underscored a growing sense of urgency on the part of the administration that Congress must act to avert an economic collapse.

It was the first time in Mr. Bush’s presidency that he delivered a prime-time speech devoted exclusively to the economy. It came at a time when deep public unease about shaky financial markets and the demise of Wall Street icons such as Lehman Brothers has been coupled with skepticism and anger directed at a government bailout that could become the most expensive in American history.

The administration’s plan seeks to restore liquidity to the market and restore the economy by buying up distressed securities, many of them tied to mortgages, from struggling financial firms.
The address capped a fast-moving and chaotic day, in Washington, on the presidential campaign trail and on Wall Street.

On Capitol Hill, delicate negotiations between Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Congressional leaders were complicated by resistance from rank-and-file lawmakers, who were fielding torrents of complaints from constituents furious that their tax money was going to be spent to clean up a mess created by high-paid financial executives.

On Wall Street, financial markets continued to struggle. The cost of borrowing for banks, businesses and consumers shot up and investors rushed to safe havens like Treasury bills — a reminder that credit markets, which had recovered somewhat after Mr. Paulson announced the broad outlines of the bailout plan last week, remain under severe stress, with many investors still skittish.

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the banking committee, said a deal could come together as early as Thursday. “Working in a bipartisan manner, we have made progress,” the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and Representative John A. Boehner, the Republican leader, said in a joint statement.

“We agree that key changes should be made to the administration’s proposal. It must include basic good-government principles, including rigorous and independent oversight, strong executive compensation standards and protections for taxpayers.”

Mr. Bush used his speech to signal that he was willing to address lawmakers’ concerns, including fears that tax dollars will be used to pay Wall Street executives and that the plan would put too much authority in the hands of the Treasury secretary without sufficient oversight.

“Any rescue plan should also be designed to ensure that taxpayers are protected,” Mr. Bush said. “It should welcome the participation of financial institutions, large and small. It should make certain that failed executives do not receive a windfall from your tax dollars. It should establish a bipartisan board to oversee the plan’s implementation. And it should be enacted as soon as possible.”

The speech came after the White House, under pressure from Republican lawmakers, opened an aggressive effort to portray the financial rescue package as crucial not just to stabilize Wall Street but to protect the livelihoods of all Americans.

But the White House gave careful thought to the timing; aides to Mr. Bush said they did not want to appear to have the president forcing a solution on Congress.

On Capitol Hill, Mr. Paulson, facing a second day of questioning by lawmakers, this time before the House Financial Services Committee, tried to focus as much on Main Street as Wall Street.
“This entire proposal is about benefiting the American people because today’s fragile financial system puts their economic well being at risk,” Mr. Paulson said. Without action, he added: “Americans’ personal savings and the ability of consumers and business to finance spending, investment and job creation are threatened.”

But it was the comments of Mr. Paulson, a former chief of Goldman Sachs, about limiting the pay of executives that signaled the biggest shift in the White House position and the urgency that the administration has placed in winning Congressional approval as quickly as possible.
“The American people are angry about executive compensation, and rightly so,” he said. “No one understands pay for failure.”

Officials said the legislation would almost certainly include a ban on so-called golden parachutes, the generous severance packages that many executives receive on their way out the door, for firms that seek government help. The measure also is likely to include a mechanism for firms to recover any bonus or incentive pay based on corporate earnings or other results that later turn out to have been overstated.

Democrats were also working to include tax provisions that would cap the amount of an executive’s salary that a company could deduct to $400,000 — the amount earned by the president.

At the same time, Congressional Democrats said they were prepared to drop one of their most contentious demands: new authority for bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of first mortgages. That provision was heavily opposed by Senate Republicans.

In addition, Democrats also are leaning toward authorizing the entire $700 billion that Mr. Paulson is seeking but disbursing a smaller amount, perhaps only $150 billion, to start the program, with future funds dependent on how well it is working.

Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the lead negotiator for Congressional Democrats, said they also planned to insert a tax break to aid community banks that have suffered steep losses on preferred stock that they own in the mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

That change is in addition to others that already have been accepted by Mr. Paulson that would create an independent oversight board and require the government to do more to prevent foreclosures.
Mark Landler and Carl Hulse contributed reporting.

China Banks say NO! to US Banks

China banks told to halt lending to US banks-SCMP
Wed Sep 24, 2008 9:52pm EDT

BEIJING, Sept 25 (Reuters) - Chinese regulators have told domestic banks to stop interbank lending to U.S. financial institutions to prevent possible losses during the financial crisis, the South China Morning Post reported on Thursday.

The Hong Kong newspaper cited unidentified industry sources as saying the instruction from the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) applied to interbank lending of all currencies to U.S. banks but not to banks from other countries.

"The decree appears to be Beijing's first attempt to erect defences against the deepening U.S. financial meltdown after the mainland's major lenders reported billions of U.S. dollars in exposure to the credit crisis," the SCMP said.
A spokesman for the CBRC had no immediate comment. (Reporting by Alan Wheatley and Langi Chiang; editing by Ken Wills)

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Failed Bank Specialist JC Flowers starts moving in

Flowers, LBO Investor, Approved to Buy Missouri Bank (Update1)
By Jonathan Keehner and Jason Kelly

Sept. 23 (Bloomberg) -- J. Christopher Flowers, founder of private-equity firm J.C. Flowers & Co., was approved by U.S. regulators to acquire the First National Bank of Cainesville in Missouri, a move that may allow him to buy other lenders.

The U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency cleared the purchase by Flowers personally on Aug. 27, according to a public filing by the regulator. He may use the bank, which has assets of about $14 million, as a platform to buy failed institutions, according to a person close to Flowers, who asked not to be identified because the plans are private.

Flowers's deal comes as private-equity investors press the Federal Reserve to loosen regulations that limit their ability to invest in and influence management of banks. The Fed yesterday released revised guidelines for minority investments in banks, and New York-based J.C. Flowers & Co. is among the firms seeking controlling stakes to profit from the U.S. financial crisis.

``Their competitive advantage is to team up with experts in the industry and really make changes in the business,'' said Robert Kennedy, a partner with the law firm Jones Day in New York. ``That's the piece of financial-institution investing that's been unavailable.''

While buyout firms want the flexibility to buy controlling investments in banks, they are wary of becoming a bank holding company. That status would trigger restrictions on non-banking activities and the amount of debt they can take on. To avoid that classification, some individuals from private-equity firms have considered acquiring banks.

Small Bank
Such was the case with Flowers's Missouri deal, which may be a template for other transactions. First National Bank of Cainesville was the 17th smallest bank in Missouri, by deposits, of the 397 listed on the Web site of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. as of June 2007.

``An individual cannot be a bank holding company,'' said Mark Tenhundfeld, director of regulatory policy at the American Bankers Association, a Washington-based trade association, who was unaware of any other major private-equity firm head having bought a bank. ``If the OCC approves a change in bank control proposal by an individual, then that person may avoid bank holding-company regulations.''

An individual may also be able to co-invest with private- equity funds and still avoid bank holding-company classification if those funds take a noncontrolling stake in the bank, according to Tenhundfeld.

Model Deal
The revised Fed guidelines raised the threshold for such stakes to 33 percent from 25 percent.
Flowers, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. investment banker, may expand the First National Bank of Cainesville ``by means of internal growth or through the acquisition of troubled or failed depository institutions,'' according to the OCC's filing. Other businesses in Cainsville, a community of 400 in northern Missouri near the Iowa border, include A Thyme to Sow Herb Farm and the Wing Tip Hunting Preserve, according to the town's Web site.

``I don't see why this move by Flowers couldn't be repeated,'' said the ABA's Tenhundfeld. ``This could be a model for private-equity firms looking to acquire banks.''

J.C. Flowers & Co. spokesman Edward Grebow declined to comment. The private-equity firm has led minority investments in banks including buying a 23 percent stake in Japan's Shinsei Bank Ltd. and a 24 percent stake in Hypo Real Estate Holding AG, Germany's second-biggest commercial property lender.

Silo Approach
J.C. Flowers & Co. has also invested in non-banking companies, such as derivatives broker MF Global Ltd.

Making controlling investments plays more directly into private-equity firms' main business model -- using cash and borrowed money to buy troubled companies, fix them and sell them for a profit. Minority investments by buyout firms in Washington Mutual Inc. and National City Corp. have plummeted in value amid the ongoing U.S. financial crisis.

The Fed has explored ways for private-equity to take control of struggling U.S. banks, in addition to yesterday's guidance that loosens some restrictions on non-controlling stakes.
Such minority stakes don't ``allow them to do the things they like to do, which is to take over improve operations,'' said Jones Day's Kennedy. ``They're not typically passive investors.''

With the turbulent state of the banking industry, private- equity firms are more likely interested in controlling banks, such as through a ``silo'' structure that would be walled off from other investments in an attempt to keep Federal oversight of banking companies from their other holdings.

In the silo concept, a fund is specifically designated to own a bank and nothing else. That isolates the investment from other funds, and other companies, under the private-equity firm's control.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Keehner in New York; Jason Kelly in New York at Last Updated: September 23, 2008 18:03 EDT

Monday, September 22, 2008

New era on Wall Street

September 23, 2008
Starting a New Era at Goldman and Morgan

The transformation of Wall Street picked up pace on Monday as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the last big independent investment banks, moved to restructure into larger, less risk-taking organizations that will be subject to far greater regulation by the Federal Reserve.

The changes came after Goldman and Morgan Stanley on Sunday night received permission from the Federal Reserve to become bank holding companies. The change means they will be able finance their activities with insured deposits but in return must reduce the amount they can borrow to make the kind of big trading bets that drove huge profits, and massive bonuses for executives, over the last several years of Wall Street’s latest Gilded Age.

Morgan Stanley moved quickly into the new era on Monday, announcing that it planned to sell up to a 20 percent stake in itself to Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Japan’s largest commercial bank, for about $8 billion. Mitsubishi has $1.1 trillion in bank deposits, which will help bolster Morgan’s stability of financing. Goldman Sachs is also expected to move to increase its deposit base and add more capital to its balance sheet.

The changes by Morgan Stanley and Goldman essentially bring to an end the era of the big, independent Wall Street investment bank and a return to the model that dominated before the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 forbade commercial banks from also owning securities firms.
Both banks said they requested the change in their status. But the changes also closely follow comments from executives at both investment houses saying their business model was not broken and that transforming into deposit-funded commercial banks would not necessarily help them perform better. This raised the question of whether the change was really voluntary, which both banks insist it was, or was mandated by a Federal Reserve eager not to have to come to the rescue of another flailing financial institution.

The changes, which came as Congress and the Bush administration rushed to pass a $700 billion rescue of financial firms, amount to a blunt acknowledgment that their model of finance and investing had become too risky and that they needed the cushion of bank deposits that had kept big commercial banks like Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase relatively safe amid the recent turmoil.

It also is a turning point for the high-rolling culture of Wall Street, with its seven-figure bonuses and lavish perks for even midlevel executives.

Commercial banks tend to produce both more modest profits and payouts to top executives.
“The kind of bonuses you saw on Wall Street over the last five years are not something you are likely to ever see again, not in our lifetime,” said Charles Geisst, a Wall Street historian and professor at Manhattan College.

By becoming bank holding companies, Morgan Stanley and Goldman are agreeing to significantly tighter regulations and much closer supervision by bank examiners from several government agencies rather than only the Securities and Exchange Commission. Now, the firms will look more like commercial banks, with more disclosure, higher capital reserves and less risk-taking.
For decades, firms like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs thrived by taking bold bets with their own money, often using enormous amounts of debt to increase their profits, with little outside oversight.

They were the envy of Wall Street, dominating the industry’s most lucrative businesses, landing headline-grabbing deals and advising companies and governments on mergers, stock offerings and restructurings.

But that brash model was torn apart over the last several weeks as investors lost confidence in the way they made those bets during the recent credit boom, when investment banks expanded with aplomb into esoteric securities, the risks of which were not easily understood.

Over several harrowing days, clients started pulling their money, share prices plunged and these banks’ entire enterprises were brought to the brink.

In exchange for subjecting themselves to more regulation, the companies will have access to the full array of the Federal Reserve’s lending facilities.

It should help them avoid the fate of Lehman Brothers, which filed for bankruptcy last week, and Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch — both of which agreed to be acquired by big bank holding companies.

The decision by the banks to become a holding company also raises questions about whether the Federal Reserve will seek to regulate hedge funds, many of the largest of which closely resemble investment banks like Goldman.

Just a year ago investment banks, the titans of global finance, considered bank regulation a millstone to be avoided at all costs. Commercial banks have to subject themselves to restrictions on how much money they can borrow and what kinds of businesses they can be in. Lobbyists for firms like Goldman spent years fending off closer supervision of their business.
As bank holding companies, the two banks, whose shares have lost about half their value this year, will have to reduce the amount of money they can borrow relative to their capital.
That will make them more financially sound but will also significantly limit their profits. Today, both Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have $1 of capital for every $22 of assets. By contrast, Bank of America’s has less than $11 for every $1 of capital.

JPMorgan Chase acquired Bear Stearns this spring in a fire sale brokered by the federal government, while Bank of America has agreed to buy Merrill Lynch for $50 billion.
As bank holding companies, Morgan and Goldman will have greater access to the discount window of the Federal Reserve, which banks can use to borrow money from the central bank. While they were allowed to draw on temporary Fed lending facilities in recent months, they could not borrow against the same wide array of collateral that commercial banks could. The discount window access for investment banks is expected to be phased out in January.

It will take time for Goldman and Morgan to transform into fully regulated banks because they cannot quickly reduce how much money they borrow relative to their assets. Both banks are likely to seek waivers from the Federal Reserve to give them time to comply with the capital requirements imposed on deposit-funded commercial banks.

The Fed and the Securities and Exchange Commission have had examiners at investment banks since March, giving regulators huge insight into their operations.

Both banks already have limited retail deposit-taking businesses, which they plan to expand over time. Morgan Stanley had $36 billion in retail deposits as of Aug. 31 and Goldman Sachs had $20 billion in deposits.

“We believe that Goldman Sachs, under Federal Reserve supervision, will be regarded as an even more secure institution with an exceptionally clean balance sheet and a greater diversity of funding sources,” Lloyd C.Blankfein, the chairman and chief executive of Goldman, said in a statement on Sunday night.

John J. Mack, the chairman and chief executive of Morgan Stanley, said: “This new bank holding structure will ensure that Morgan Stanley is in the strongest possible position — with the stability and flexibility to seize opportunities in the rapidly changing financial marketplace.”

In recent days, Morgan Stanley had sought other ways to bolster its capital and had been in advanced talks with China’s sovereign wealth fund and others about raising billions of dollars, people briefed on the matter said Sunday night. It had also been talking about a merger with Wachovia, a large commercial bank based in Charlotte, N.C.

With their transition to operating as bank holding companies, those talks are likely to take a different form, because now Morgan Stanley can buy a commercial bank.

How the mighty have fallen. This ends the era of Investment Banks and 30:1 leverage and brings us into a European model with a merging of deposit and investment banking where fractal banking ratios allow leverage of about 9:1. I still feel thats very high but its "manageable." About time.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Congress Stunned by Warnings

September 20, 2008
Congressional Leaders Were Stunned by Warnings

WASHINGTON — It was a room full of people who rarely hold their tongues. But as the Fed chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, laid out the potentially devastating ramifications of the financial crisis before congressional leaders on Thursday night, there was a stunned silence at first.

Mr. Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. had made an urgent and unusual evening visit to Capitol Hill, and they were gathered around a conference table in the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“When you listened to him describe it you gulped," said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York.

As Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, put it Friday morning on the ABC program “Good Morning America,” the congressional leaders were told “that we’re literally maybe days away from a complete meltdown of our financial system, with all the implications here at home and globally.”
Mr. Schumer added, “History was sort of hanging over it, like this was a moment.”

When Mr. Schumer described the meeting as “somber,” Mr. Dodd cut in. “Somber doesn’t begin to justify the words,” he said. “We have never heard language like this.”

“What you heard last evening,” he added, “is one of those rare moments, certainly rare in my experience here, is Democrats and Republicans deciding we need to work together quickly.”
Although Mr. Schumer, Mr. Dodd and other participants declined to repeat precisely what they were told by Mr. Bernanke and Mr. Paulson, they said the two men described the financial system as effectively bound in a knot that was being pulled tighter and tighter by the day.

“You have the credit lines in America, which are the lifeblood of the economy, frozen.” Mr. Schumer said. “That hasn’t happened before. It’s a brave new world. You are in uncharted territory, but the one thing you do know is you can’t leave them frozen or the economy will just head south at a rapid rate.”

As he spoke, Mr. Schumer swooped his hand, to make the gesture of a plummeting bird. “You know we’d be lucky ...” he said as his voice trailed off. “Well, I’ll leave it at that.”

As officials at the Treasury Department raced on Friday to draft legislative language for an ambitious plan for the government to buy billions of dollars of illiquid debt from ailing American financial institutions, legislators on Capitol Hill said they planned to work through the weekend reviewing the proposal and making efforts to bring a package of measures to the floor of the House and Senate by the end of next week.

Lawmakers in both parties described the meeting in Ms. Pelosi’s office on Thursday night with Mr. Paulson and Mr. Bernanke as collaborative, and that they were prepared to put politics aside to address the needs of the American people.

While Democrats initially said after the meeting that they planned to use the administration’s proposal of a huge rescue effort to win support for an economic stimulus package, they pulled back slightly on Friday morning, saying that their top priority was to help put together the bailout package and stabilize the economy.

But it was clear they continued to examine ways to make clear that the government was stepping up not just to help the major financial firms but also to protect the interests of American taxpayers and families by safeguarding their pensions and college savings, and by preventing any further drying up of consumer credit.

In addition to potential stimulus measures, which could include an extension of unemployment benefits and spending on public infrastructure projects, Democrats said they intended to consider measures to help stem home foreclosures and stabilize real estate values.

Among the potential steps Congress can take include approving legislation to allow bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of primary mortgages — authority that the bankruptcy laws do not currently allow and that the banking industry has strenuously opposed.

But the Democrats said it was too soon to discuss such details, and that they were awaiting a draft of the proposal from the Treasury Department.

“We have got to deal with the foreclosure issue,” Mr. Dodd said. “You have got to stop that hemorrhaging..If you don’t, the problem doesn’t go away. Ben Bernanke has said it over and over again. Hank Paulson recognizes it. This problem began with bad lending practices. Those are his words, not mine, and so this plan must address that or I’ll be back here in front of a bank of microphones at some point explaining the next failure.”

Even before the drafting of the plan was complete, the Bush administration and the Fed began efforts to sell the idea of a huge rescue to potentially skeptical rank-and-file members of Congress. Mr. Paulson and Mr. Bernanke held a conference call with House Republicans to explain their thinking.

Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Senate banking committee, said in a television interview that cost to the government of purchasing bad debt could run to $1 trillion — a potential warning sign since Mr. Shelby is a longtime skeptic of government intervention in the private market.

Until Mr. Shelby was interviewed on Friday morning, officials on Capitol Hill had been careful not to discuss specific figures, though the rescue envisioned by the Treasury Department clearly entails a government appropriation of hundreds of billions of dollars.

Holy cow!!!!

Calculated Risk on the Bailout


Friday, September 19, 2008
The Price of the Bailout
by CalculatedRisk

Secretary Paulson said: "We're talking hundreds of billions."The NY Times DealBook has other estimates: Putting a Price Tag on a Government Bailout

“It’s probably $500 [billion] to a trillion dollars, and that’s going to visit the taxpayers sooner or later,” [Sen. Richard Shelby] said. “It’s either going to be a debt charged to all of us or to all our children.”...Bloomberg News ... reported that the government is considering establishing an $800 billion fund to purchase so-called failed assets and a separate $400 billion pool at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to insure investors in money-market funds.

However buying the assets isn't enough. These asset sales will lead to substantial write-downs, and that will reduce the regulatory capital at the banks. So how do the banks recapitalize?The hope is that by making the assets transparent, and selling off the toxic waste, that will rebuild confidence with investors. Maybe.

But the U.S. Government might also have to help recapitalize the banks to keep them lending (like the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) did during the Depression). Either way, it appears the current shareholders face massive dilution.

Also - as an aside - when the banks make their assets transparent (should be a requirement for participation), we will discover if any executives misrepresented their assets and filed false reports with the SEC. That could be prosecuted under Sarbanes-Oxley, and perhaps a few executives spending time in jail might help with the moral hazard issues.

I am not sure I would want to be a long term shareholder of some Financial firms with large Tier 3 assets.

Ballpark: 1-2 Trillion and counting....

from (Financial Times)

America will need a $1,000bn bail-out
ByKenneth Rogoff
Published: September 17 2008 19:06 Last updated: September 17 2008 19:06

One of the most extraordinary features of the past month is the extent to which the dollar has remained immune to a once-in-a-lifetime financial crisis. If the US were an emerging market country, its exchange rate would be plummeting and interest rates on government debt would be soaring. Instead, the dollar has actually strengthened modestly, while interest rates on three- month US Treasury Bills have now reached 54-year lows. It is almost as if the more the US messes up, the more the world loves it.

But can this extraordinary vote of confidence in the dollar last? Perhaps, but as investors step back and look at the deep wounds of America’s flagship financial sector, the public and private sector’s massive borrowing needs, and the looming uncertainty of the November presidential elections, it is hard to believe that the dollar will continue to stand its ground as the crisis continues to deepen and unfold.

It is true that the US government has very deep pockets. Privately held US government debt was under $4,400bn at the end of 2007, representing less than 32 per cent of gross domestic product. This is roughly half the debt burden carried by most European countries, and an even smaller fraction of Japan’s debt levels. It is also true that despite the increasingly tough stance of US regulators, the financial crisis has probably already added at most $200bn-$300bn to net debt, taking into account the likely losses on nationalising the mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the costs of the $29bn March bail-out of investment bank Bear Stearns, the potential fallout from the various junk collateral the Federal Reserve has taken on to its balance sheet in the last few months, and finally, Wednesday’s $85bn bail-out of the insurance giant AIG.

Were the financial crisis to end today, the costs would be painful but manageable, roughly equivalent to the cost of another year in Iraq. Unfortunately, however, the financial crisis is far from over, and it is hard to imagine how the US government is going to succeed in creating a firewall against further contagion without spending five to 10 times more than it has already, that is, an amount closer to $1,000bn to $2,000bn.

True, the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve have done an admirable job over the past week in forcing the private sector to bear a share of the burden. By forcing the fourth largest investment bank, Lehman Brothers, into bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch into a distressed sale to Bank of America, they helped to facilitate a badly needed consolidation in the financial services sector. However, at this juncture, there is every possibility that the credit crisis will radiate out into corporate, consumer and municipal debt. Regardless of the Fed and Treasury’s most determined efforts, the political pressures for a much larger bail-out, and pressures from the continued volatility in financial markets, are going to be irresistible.

It is hard to predict exactly how and when the mega-bail-out will evolve. At some point, we are likely to see a broadening and deepening of deposit insurance, much as the UK did in the case of Northern Rock. Probably, at some point, the government will aim to have a better established algorithm for making bridge loans and for triggering the effective liquidation of troubled firms and assets, although the task is far more difficult than was the case in the 1980s, when the Resolution Trust Corporation was formed to help clean up the saving and loan mess.

Of course, there also needs to be better regulation. It is incredible that the transparency-challenged credit default swap market was allowed to swell to a notional value of $6,200bn during 2008 even as it became obvious that any collapse of this market could lead to an even bigger mess than the fallout from subprime mortgage debt.

It may prove to be possible to fix the system for far less than $1,000bn- $2,000bn. The tough stance taken by regulators this past weekend with the investment banks Lehman and Merrill Lynch certainly helps.

Yet I fear that the American political system will ultimately drive the cost of saving the financial system well up into that higher territory.

A large expansion in debt will impose enormous fiscal costs on the US, ultimately hitting growth through a combination of higher taxes and lower spending. It will certainly make it harder for the US to maintain its military dominance, which has been one of the linchpins of the dollar.
The shrinking financial system will also undermine another central foundation of the strength of the US economy. And it is hard to see how the central bank will be able to resist a period of allowing elevated levels of inflation, as this offers a convenient way for the US to deflate the mounting cost of its private and public debts.

It is a very good thing that the rest of the world retains such confidence in America’s ability to manage its problems, otherwise the financial crisis would be far worse.

Let us hope the US political and regulatory response continues to inspire this optimism. Otherwise, sharply rising interest rates and a rapidly declining dollar could put the US in a bind that many emerging markets are all too familiar with.

The writer is professor of economics at Harvard University and former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund

Several important points are raised. First - we are going to reflate (read inflate) - read the Fed statement from a couple of days ago again. They're concerned (wink, wink) about inflation. What they're actually saying is: we'll do anything to avoid zero bound on interest rates. Anything to avoid Japan 2.0 and deflation. Second - the cost is 1 - 2 Trillion dollars. I think 1 Trillion is the LOWER bound. The ultimate costs of Nationalization, Backstopping, creating a TARP / Bad Bank whatever you call this will include costs of: Fannie and Freddie, Nationalization Insolvent Banks, AIG and the cost of TARP that Hank Paulson discussed today. It means that inflation is certain as money (debt) is created. Dollar will likely fall and Gold and Commodities will rise. Again.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

This is how you squeeze an Investment Bank

Bank of America Said to Cut Off Merrill Before Deal (Update1)
By Bradley Keoun and David Mildenberg

Sept. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Merrill Lynch & Co. Chief Executive Officer John Thain told employees that Bank of America Corp. ``cut our trading lines'' in the days before it bought the firm, signaling a loss of confidence in the brokerage's ability to pay.

Thain made the comments while explaining his decision to sell Merrill, according to five employees who attended the event at the company's New York headquarters. The Sept. 15 remarks were rebroadcast on an internal system to all 60,000 employees.

``Before the trade was done Bank of America cut our trading lines,'' Thain said at the meeting, according to the people, who declined to be named because they weren't authorized to discuss the internal meeting. ``We did get them to put it back.''

The disclosure shows how close at least one of Merrill's trading partners was to reducing its credit after a 36 percent decline in the firm's stock price last week. The shares tumbled on speculation Merrill might be the next securities firm to collapse following Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., which filed for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 15 after investors and trading partners lost confidence in the New York-based company.

Since the Bank of America agreement was announced on Sept. 14, Merrill has gained 17 percent in New York trading. The second-biggest U.S. securities firm by market value rose 55 cents, or 2.8 percent, to $19.91 in composite trading today as of 11:14 a.m.

Merrill spokeswoman Jessica Oppenheim declined to elaborate on the Bank of America moves or say whether other firms had pulled back their trading lines. Scott Silvestri, a spokesman for Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America, declined to comment, citing a policy of not discussing client matters.

Trading Lines
Trading lines include credit or liquidity sources that securities firms use to facilitate transactions or to meet cash needs.

Merrill began its talks with Bank of America on Sept. 13, even as the bank was considering a bid for Lehman, and struck a deal by nightfall the next day.

Since then, Merrill's stock was one of only two gainers -- the other is Jefferies Group Inc. -- in the 10-company Amex Securities Broker-Dealer Index. Morgan Stanley, the third-biggest firm, is down 46 percent this week, while No. 1 Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has tumbled 31 percent.

To contact the reporters on this story: Bradley Keoun in New York at; David Mildenberg in Charlotte at Last Updated: September 18, 2008 11:21 EDT

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fed dances with AIG


Press Release

Release Date: September 16, 2008
For release at 9:00 p.m. EDT

The Federal Reserve Board on Tuesday, with the full support of the Treasury Department, authorized the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to lend up to $85 billion to the American International Group (AIG) under section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act. The secured loan has terms and conditions designed to protect the interests of the U.S. government and taxpayers.
The Board determined that, in current circumstances, a disorderly failure of AIG could add to already significant levels of financial market fragility and lead to substantially higher borrowing costs, reduced household wealth, and materially weaker economic performance.

The purpose of this liquidity facility is to assist AIG in meeting its obligations as they come due. This loan will facilitate a process under which AIG will sell certain of its businesses in an orderly manner, with the least possible disruption to the overall economy.

The AIG facility has a 24-month term. Interest will accrue on the outstanding balance at a rate of three-month Libor plus 850 basis points. AIG will be permitted to draw up to $85 billion under the facility.

The interests of taxpayers are protected by key terms of the loan. The loan is collateralized by all the assets of AIG, and of its primary non-regulated subsidiaries. These assets include the stock of substantially all of the regulated subsidiaries. The loan is expected to be repaid from the proceeds of the sale of the firm’s assets. The U.S. government will receive a 79.9 percent equity interest in AIG and has the right to veto the payment of dividends to common and preferred shareholders.

2008 Other Announcements

Ok so they backstopped AIG at a very high interest rate .. LIBOR + 8.5% .. AIG should be able to borrow... should be... from the open market knowing that the Fed/Treasury have 85B line of credit to AIG. If AIG takes the loan - Fed/T expects to be repaid by selling AIG assets. All in all its an OK move... I am still concerned about what happens if AIG's liabilities exceed their assets. I would HOPE that the Fed/T loan would be considered most senior. Also worrying is the Fed is using up a substantial amount of its 800B balance sheet quickly. The Treasury is backstopping the Fed. Eventually we'll be asking questions about the Treasury's balance sheet. Long way from that yet... Now back to your regular programming... WaMu, Wachovia ... Is the MER transaction gonna happen? What will happen to the two remaining Investment Banks - Goldman and Morgan? Also the market cap of the largest US bank by "assets" - Citigroup has fallen dramatically - its now 3rd or 4th I think in terms of its market value... Ouch.. So what happens to Citi? These are all questions that seem to be playing out with surpising speed right here, right now in these historic days. I will never forget Sept 15 yesterday - the day when LEH and MER both got taken out.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hurricane Lehman


September 15, 2008
In Frantic Day, Wall Street Banks Teeter

In one the most extraordinary days in Wall Street’s history, Merrill Lynch is near an 11th-hour deal with Bank of America to avert a deepening financial crisis while another storied securities firm, Lehman Brothers, hurtled toward liquidation, according to people briefed on the deal.
The dramatic turn of events was prompted by the cataclysm of losses that has shaken the American financial industry over the last 14 months.

The moves came after a weekend of frantic negotiations between federal officials and Wall Street executives over how to avert a downward spiral in the markets. Questions still remain about how the market will react and whether other firms may still falter like A.I.G., the large insurer, and Washington Mutual, both of whose stocks fell precipitously last week.

Coming just a week after the government took control of mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the magnitude of the industry’s reshaping is staggering: two of the most powerful firms on Wall Street, Merrill Lynch and Lehman, will disappear.

The weekend’s once unthinkable outcome came after a series of emergency meetings at the Federal Reserve building in downtown Manhattan in which the fate of Lehman hung in the balance. In the meeting Federal Reserve officials and the leaders of major financial institutions were trying to complete a plan to rescue the stricken investment bank.

But as the weekend unfolded, Barclays and Bank of America, which had both considered buying all or part of Lehman, decided that they could not reach a deal without financial support from the federal government or other banks.

As a result, people briefed on the matter said late Sunday that Lehman Brothers would file for bankruptcy protection, in the largest failure of an investment bank since the collapse of Drexel Burnham Lambert 18 years ago.

Lehman will seek to place its parent company, Lehman Brothers Holdings, into bankruptcy protection, as its subsidiaries remain solvent while the parent firm liquidates, these people said. A consortium of banks will provide a financial backstop to help provide an orderly winding down of the 158-year-old investment bank. And the Federal Reserve has agreed to accept lower-quality assets in return for loans from the government.

Lehman has retained the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges. The firm’s restructuring head, Harvey Miller, also spearheaded Drexel’s bankruptcy filing in February 1990.

As efforts to acquire Lehman faltered, Bank of America turned to Merrill Lynch and offered at least $38.25 billion in stock for that investment bank, people briefed on the negotiations said. The deal, valued at $25 to $30 a share, could be announced as soon as Sunday night, these people said. Merrill shares closed at $17.05 on Friday.

Merrill’s chief executive, John A. Thain, and Kenneth D. Lewis, Bank of America’s chief executive, initiated talks on Saturday, prompted by the reality that a Lehman bankruptcy would ripple through Wall Street and further cripple Merrill Lynch, people briefed on the negotiations said.

Merrill’s 15,000 brokers will be combined with Bank of America’s smaller group of wealth advisers. The entity will be run by Robert McCann, the head of Merrill’s global wealth management business.

Mr. Fleming, Merrill’s president, will be president of the combined bank’s corporate and investment bank while Thomas Montag, a former Goldman executive who started at Merrill in August, will head all the merged company’s all risk, trading and institutional sales.
The leading proposal to rescue Lehman had been to divide the bank into two entities, a “good bank” and a “bad bank.” Under that last scenario, Barclays would have bought the parts of Lehman that have been performing well, while a group of 10 to 15 Wall Street companies would agree to absorb losses from the bank’s troubled assets, according to two people briefed on the proposal. Taxpayer money would not be included in such a deal, they said.

But that plan fell apart on Sunday, all but assuring that Lehman would be forced to liquidate.
The overarching goal of the weekend talks had been prevent a quick liquidation of Lehman, a bank that is so big and so interconnected with others that its abrupt failure would send shock waves through the financial world. Of deep concern is what impact a Lehman failure would have on other securities firms, insurance companies and banks, which have come under mounting pressure in the markets.

Even as Lehman and Merrill played out, the insurance company, the American International Group, was planning a major reorganization and a sale of its aircraft leasing business and other units to stabilize its finances, a person briefed on the company’s strategy said on Sunday.
A.I.G. became one of the focuses at an emergency gathering of Wall Street executives over the weekend, and was trying to arrange a capital infusion in the face of possible credit downgrades.
It was unclear whether A.I.G. would succeed in its capital search, but a person briefed on the discussions said it was seeking more than $40 billion even as it tried to sell assets to shore up its financial footing.

Among the businesses likely to be sold is A.I.G.’s aircraft leasing business, the International Lease Finance Corporation. Founded in 1973, the business has nearly 1,000 planes in its fleet.
Investors, afraid that A.I.G. would have to absorb further write-downs in its already damaged mortgage securities and collateralized debt obligations, have driven down the company’s shares in recent days. The stock closed Friday at $12.14 a share, a decline of 46 percent for the week.
Eric Dash, Louise Story and Michael de la Merced contributed reporting.

Hurricane Lehman is about to become a Category 5. Look out..... Hurricane Merrill might be downgraded to a tropical storm if BoA steps in. Historic days... Once in a century says Jester Gspan.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

7 years after....its about damn time!!!!!!!

September 11, 2008
Bush Said to Give Orders Allowing Raids in Pakistan

WASHINGTON — President Bush secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials.
The classified orders signal a watershed for the Bush administration after nearly seven years of trying to work with Pakistan to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and after months of high-level stalemate about how to challenge the militants’ increasingly secure base in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

American officials say that they will notify Pakistan when they conduct limited ground attacks like the Special Operations raid last Wednesday in a Pakistani village near the Afghanistan border, but that they will not ask for its permission.

“The situation in the tribal areas is not tolerable,” said a senior American official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the missions. “We have to be more assertive. Orders have been issued.”

The new orders reflect concern about safe havens for Al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan, as well as an American view that Pakistan lacks the will and ability to combat militants. They also illustrate lingering distrust of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies and a belief that some American operations had been compromised once Pakistanis were advised of the details.

The Central Intelligence Agency has for several years fired missiles at militants inside Pakistan from remotely piloted Predator aircraft. But the new orders for the military’s Special Operations forces relax firm restrictions on conducting raids on the soil of an important ally without its permission.

Pakistan’s top army officer said Wednesday that his forces would not tolerate American incursions like the one that took place last week and that the army would defend the country’s sovereignty “at all costs.”

It is unclear precisely what legal authorities the United States has invoked to conduct even limited ground raids in a friendly country. A second senior American official said that the Pakistani government had privately assented to the general concept of limited ground assaults by Special Operations forces against significant militant targets, but that it did not approve each mission.

The official did not say which members of the government gave their approval.
Any new ground operations in Pakistan raise the prospect of American forces being killed or captured in the restive tribal areas — and a propaganda coup for Al Qaeda. Last week’s raid also presents a major test for Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, who supports more aggressive action by his army against the militants but cannot risk being viewed as an American lap dog, as was his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf.

The new orders were issued after months of debate inside the Bush administration about whether to authorize a ground campaign inside Pakistan. The debate, first reported by The New York Times in late June, at times pitted some officials at the State Department against parts of the Pentagon that advocated aggressive action against Qaeda and Taliban targets inside the tribal areas.

Details about last week’s commando operation have emerged that indicate the mission was more intrusive than had previously been known.

According to two American officials briefed on the raid, it involved more than two dozen members of the Navy Seals who spent several hours on the ground and killed about two dozen suspected Qaeda fighters in what now appeared to have been a planned attack against militants who had been conducting attacks against an American forward operating base across the border in Afghanistan.

Supported by an AC-130 gunship, the Special Operations forces were whisked away by helicopters after completing the mission.

Although the senior American official who provided the most detailed description of the new presidential order would discuss it only on condition of anonymity, his account was corroborated by three other senior American officials from several government agencies, all of whom made clear that they supported the more aggressive approach.

Pakistan’s government has asserted that last week’s raid achieved little except killing civilians and stoking anti-Americanism in the tribal areas.

“Unilateral action by the American forces does not help the war against terror because it only enrages public opinion,” said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, during a speech on Friday. “In this particular incident, nothing was gained by the action of the troops.”
As an alternative to American ground operations, some Pakistani officials have made clear that they prefer the C.I.A.’s Predator aircraft, operating from the skies, as a method of killing Qaeda operatives. The C.I.A. for the most part has coordinated with Pakistan’s government before and after it has launched missiles from the drone. On Monday, a Predator strike in North Waziristan killed several Arab Qaeda operatives.

A new American command structure was put in place this year to better coordinate missions by the C.I.A. and members of the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, made up of the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy Seals.

The move was intended to address frustration on the ground about different agencies operating under different marching orders. Under the arrangement, a senior C.I.A. official based at Bagram air base in Afghanistan was put in charge of coordinating C.I.A. and military activities in the border region.

Spokesmen for the White House, the Defense Department and the C.I.A. declined to comment on Wednesday about the new orders. Some senior Congressional officials have received briefings on the new authorities. A spokeswoman for Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who leads the Armed Services Committee, declined to comment.

American commanders in Afghanistan have complained bitterly that militants use sanctuaries in Pakistan to attack American troops in Afghanistan.

“I’m not convinced we’re winning it in Afghanistan,” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. “I am convinced we can.”

Toward that goal, Admiral Mullen said he had ordered a comprehensive military strategy to address the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The commando raid last week and an increasing number of recent missile strikes are part of a more aggressive overall American campaign in the border region aimed at intensifying attacks on Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the waning months of the Bush administration, with less than two months to go before November elections.

State Department officials, as well as some within the National Security Council, have expressed concern about any Special Operations missions that could be carried out without the approval of the American ambassador in Islamabad.

The months-long delay in approving ground missions created intense frustration inside the military’s Special Operations community, which believed that the Bush administration was holding back as the Qaeda safe haven inside Pakistan became more secure for militants.
The stepped-up campaign inside Pakistan comes at a time when American-Pakistani relations have been fraying, and when anger is increasing within American intelligence agencies about ties between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, known as the ISI, and militants in the tribal areas.

Analysts at the C.I.A. and other American spy and security agencies believe not only that the bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July by militants was aided by ISI operatives, but also that the highest levels of Pakistan’s security apparatus — including the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani — had knowledge of the plot.

“It’s very difficult to imagine he was not aware,” a senior American official said of General Kayani.

American intelligence agencies have said that senior Pakistani national security officials favor the use of militant groups to preserve Pakistan’s influence in the region, as a hedge against India and Afghanistan.

In fact, some American intelligence analysts believe that ISI operatives did not mind when their role in the July bombing in Kabul became known. “They didn’t cover their tracks very well,” a senior Defense Department official said, “and I think the embassy bombing was the ISI drawing a line in the sand.”

Instead of getting bogged down in Iraq...this strategy or squeezing Pakistan between Indian and US special ops operating from Afghanistan is 7 years too late....Better late than never! Pakistan's ISI is a government sanctioned pro-terrorism intelligence organization and one of the most deadly and destabilizing entities in the world. They're one of the pillars behind the Taliban and Al Qaeda. They originally helped Americans with managing the Afghani "freedom fighters" during the Russian invasion and now they're working against us. The question, I am everyone has is where are Pakistan's nukes? Hopefully are either being watched by us (US) or have been "secured" by us as has been previously reported.