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Corner of Main and Wall Streets

by Cat Fri Mar 28th, 2008 at 11:05:35 AM EST

So ends another weekly tournament of candidate jousting in the corporate media. For the period 17 - 27 March, heralded by the preposterous merger of JPMorgan and Bear Stearns, the candidates' rhetorical ground was bounded by their determination to vanquish America's "housing crisis." At the moment, journalists are flogging candidates' contempt for the other's proposal as delivered recently to economically depressed voters in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Mrs Clinton had bolted from her gate 24 March, and Mr Obama followed suit 27 March. As we shall see both evinced diametrically opposed perspectives on the "contagion," or panic, enveloping the domestic economy and thus appropriate remedies available to the president-elect. Their differences are apparent from the outset, from the historical platforms each chooses to establish his and her programs.

BHO: The great task before our Founders that day was putting into practice the ideal that government could simultaneously serve liberty and advance the common good. For Alexander Hamilton, the young Secretary of the Treasury, that task was bound to the vigor of the American economy. Hamilton had a strong belief in the power of the market. But he balanced that belief with the conviction that human enterprise "may be beneficially stimulated by prudent aids and encouragements on the part of the government." Government, he believed, had an important role to play in advancing our common prosperity. So he nationalized the state Revolutionary War debts, weaving together the economies of the states and creating an American system of credit and capital markets. ...

I think all of us here today would acknowledge that we've lost that sense of shared prosperity.

HRC: As the headlines of the past months have made clear, we are experiencing a crisis of confidence in our country. We have a crisis of confidence in our leadership with respect to Iraq and we have a crisis of confidence in our economy. What started out as a subprime mortgage crisis has now become a national credit crisis, rippling out from banks and boardrooms to businesses and living rooms across America. We've had three straight months of private sector job losses. Consumer confidence is down and falling. The dollar has hit record lows and gas prices, record highs. And last week the Federal Reserve took unprecedented measures to rescue Wall Street, the likes of which we haven't seen since the Great Depression. ...

We need a president who is ready on day one to be Commander-in-Chief of our economy.

True to type-cast, Mr Obama went on, ruefully, to ponder the inadequacies of central banking as that old reprobate Hamilton had envisioned. Stepping from the old Federalist's shadow and with a nod to Mr Bloomberg, he urged all Americans "to adapt to keep markets competitive and fair." Government should neither stand in the way of innovation nor turn back the clock to an older era of regulation but "rebuild trust between investors and lenders."  The prudent path to this end therefore is regulatory reform that discourages industry lobbying and encourages "internal risk management" among market participants to the extent each insures the Fed's exposure to "dislocations in our economy." Mr Obama was careful to balance his enthusiasm for modernization with immediate fiscal relief for Main Street households.

While Mrs Clinton, dear Hillary, trembled, so overcome by indignation and predjudice was she. Her esteem for Mr Rendell's ingenious plans to contain foreclosures and to defend homeowners is palpable even in print. Mrs Clinton made several startling claims to emphasize her dread of the crisis and her sympathy for America's hardest working citizens. "I called for immediate action and laid out concrete proposals to prevent foreclosures and help states hard hit by this crisis," she like an old Democrat reminded. "I put forward an aggressive plan for a 90-day moratorium on all subprime foreclosures and a voluntary five-year freeze on interest rates for all subprime mortgages." Indeed Mrs Clinton made no effort to conceal her intention to restore decrepit powers of New Deal institutions.

Happily for the American electorate the outcome of the presidential election is unlikely to thwart Congress. Nearly all the relief the candidates propose has already been passed between the chambers in the forms of the FHA Modernization Act of 2007, the Expanding American Homeownership Act of 2007, and the Home Ownership Preservation and Protection Act of 2007. The HOPE for Homeowners Act of 2008, engineered by Mssrs Frank 'n' Dodd, then completes a set of crisis management theories worthy of Hoover. Just as Mssrs Bush, Paulson, and Bernanke had planned.

Q: Sir, what about the hedge funds and banks that are overexposed on the sub-prime market? That's a bigger problem. Have you got a plan?

Into The PitchBarryHillary
Fed MBS AuctionsFrank (Waters)-Dodd bill, H.R. EH 1852, S.2338, S.2452Frank (Waters)-Dodd bill
GSE MarketingTurnkey provisions: "FHA Housing Security Program" [sic*] lender incentives

"streamline a framework of overlapping and competing regulatory agencies" (restructure OCC, FDIC, SEC, OTS, OFHEO, and HUD)

Turnkey provisions: "FHA Housing Security Program" a/k/a "HOPE for Homeowners Act of 2008" (Dodd)

Create a Carbon Reduction Mortgage Association ("Connie Mae" GSE, Gore, 09.18.06)

Forclosure Protection$10B "Foreclosure Prevention Fund"

"Financial market oversight commission" -- monitors and advises on "systemic risks" and "threats to the financial system" (EO 12631)

"Emergency Working Group on Foreclosures" ("like Alan Greenspan")
Housing Stimulus Package($10B aid to state and municipal governments, ex. $6B "Affordable Housing Trust Fund")

($10B Mortgage Revenue Bond issue)

10% mortgage interest tax credit for HH < $50K income

$30B aid to state and municipal governments to
  • Purchase foreclosed and distressed properties
  • Rehabilitate and develop public housing
  • Fund crime prevention
  • Fund personal finance counseling
  • Fund mortgage assistance
  • Create FRB supervisory authority of its borrowers capital requirements and "liquidity risk"
  • Regulate rating agencies
  • Establish "transparency requirements" apart from public SEC filings
  • Regulate non-bank financial services firm mortgage marketing (S.1222)
  • Extend SEC investigation of (insider) trading
  • Amend "Bankruptcy Bill"
  • Deploy "HOME Score" standardizing APR
Indemnify mortgage originators

Amend "Bankruptcy Bill" *to permit courts to modify mortgage terms

("Community Choice in RE Act")

("21st Century Housing Act")

("Neighborhood Reclamation and Revitalization")

("American Home Ownership Preservation Act")

NOTES. Parenthetical citations to speech texts. Frank (Waters)-Dodd: Maxine Waters introduced a bill to modernize and update the National Housing Act and enable the Federal Housing Administration to use risk-based pricing; Frank is one of 19 co-sponsors. Dodd introduced the House bill as enrolled and S.2452, a bill to amend the Truth in Lending Act. S.1926 is Dodd's bill to establish the National Infrastructure (Reinvestment) Bank. BHO last promoted the concept as his own at Janesville, WI "stimulus speech," 13 Feb. Kerry introduced the "National Affordable Housing Trust Fund," S.2523, 19 Dec as introduced by Frank and passed by H.R. EH 2895 last October. To date, BHO has introduced two VA-related housing bills, S.2330 and S.1084, and a bill to stop mortgage transactions which operate to promote fraud, S.1222. Last year HRC introduced S.413 to amend the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956 to prohibit financial holding companies and national banks from engaging, directly or indirectly, in real estate brokerage or real estate management activities; S.947 to modernize FHA; S.2054 to make HUD grants assisting cities with a vacant housing; and S.2114 to amend the Truth in Lending Act, to provide for enhanced disclosures to consumers and enhanced regulation of mortgage brokers. All bills were referred to senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs chaired by Dodd. The "HOPE for Homeowners Act" is not yet entered to the public record.

Announced 19 March by the pair of legislator-stenographers, the HOPE for Homeowners Act creates a new program within FHA to formalize revisions to mortgage guidance of OFHEO conforming jumbo loans. New FHA-insured mortgages offered to qualifying, distressed homeowners by FHA-approved lenders will refinance "abusive loans" at a discount, whereby the mortgage principal is adjusted to fair market value and the difference in values is securitized. The debt securities are to be auctioned at open market. Programming and auctions will be administered by a Board comprising the secretaries of HUD (Jackson) and Treasury (Paulson) and the chair of the FDIC (Bair). The official role of the Federal Reserve Board and its "Primary Dealers" is not yet disclosed, doubtless to Mr Obama's dismay. Furthermore, participating homeowners are required to share equity with FHA and vested only after 5 years.

That cornerstone marks the unexpected face of "taxpayers' contingent liability." Even as the Bush administration and legislators insist they won't risk public funds in a bailout, the business media is much exercised in calculating billions of revenue the FRB and Treasury are lending in treasuries. Bloomberg consulted Vincent Reinhart, a former head of Fed's Division of Monetary Affairs, and Joe Mason, a former economist of OCC. Both are hostile to FRB intervention in the MBS markets. Reinhart, now with AEI, argues that "Federal Reserve Bank of New York seems to have an equity interest" in the collateral it will accept for the $29B line of credit extended to BS. However, nothing in public documentation of the deal thus far substantiate that claim, absent borrower default by 2018.

Only yesterday did Mr Obama disclose his plan (pdf) to issue, subsidize, or buy $10B of Mortgage Revenue Bonds (MRBs). State and local governments sell these tax-exempt bonds. There is no federal MRB Authority.

Mason who teaches at Drexel takes a slightly more twisted view of the FRB's proper purview. He argues to the downside of "risk mitigation" assured by congressinal legislation: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mandates to purchase mortgage bonds reduces the capital in reserves at a time when all borrowers' defaults are increasing. Defaults underlying a significant number FRB debt assets hurt taxpayers, because losses reduce the "dividends" the Fed pays to the Treasury from earnings on its portfolio. More important than impaired earnings, Mason like many other observers expects the "nationalizing" consequence to be endemic investors' expectation of federal reimbursement of any capital losses.

The more elliptical interpretation of "moral hazard" though is this: By appointing BlackRock Financial executor of JPM-BS assets --trustee of Fed collateral-- the central bank "is taking a step back in time to a system of direct credit" where the government decides "who gets funding and who doesn't," he said. Indeed, contrary to pervasive comparisons to the Resolution Trust Corp. S&L bailout of the '80s --FDIC insured deposits and service fees-- Bernanke's toolkit more closely resembles the Reconstruction Finance  Corp. (RFC) activities during the Great Depression. Who knew? Bernanke is widely regarded an expert on the '29 Crash and will have recognized, without publicly acknowledging, an opportunity to resurrect that government sponsored enterprise.

The RFC operated 1932 - 1957 and was funded through the US Treasury. Over the period the RFC established eight new corporations and purchased one existing corporation. For example, the Commodity Credit Corp. was incorporated in Delaware in 1933 and operated by the RFC until 1939; control of the corporation was then removed to the Department of Agriculture, where it remains today. And just before the US entered WWII, Roosevelt deliberately instructed the RFC directors to hedge gold in order to stimulate US export markets; the dollar's devaluation reached 54% within months.

The Treasury provided $500 million of capital to the RFC, and the RFC was authorized to borrow an additional $1.5 billion from the Treasury.  The Treasury, in turn, sold bonds to the public to fund the RFC. Subsequently, the RFC was authorized to sell securities directly to the public to obtain funds. RFC borrowed $51.3 billion from the Treasury, and $3.1 billion from the public. While the original objective of the RFC was to help banks, railroads were assisted because many banks owned railroad bonds, which had declined in value, because the railroads themselves had suffered from a decline in their business.  If railroads recovered, their bonds would increase in value.  This increase, or appreciation, of bond prices would improve the financial condition of banks holding these bonds. RFC lending did not count toward budgetary expenditures, so the expansion of the role and influence of the government through the RFC was not reflected in the federal budget.

There are many more parallels in execution and circumstance to be mined from RFC history. And it is surely no coincidence that the Fed appointed a trustee twice blessed --inventor of CMOs and master of vulture funds. So it is with some certain trepidation that we look forward to the next week and reflect on the closing remarks of these Democratic Party leaders.

BHO: Now it falls to us. We have as our inheritance the greatest economy the world has ever known. We have the responsibility to continue the work that began on that spring day over two centuries ago right here in Manhattan - to renew our common purpose for a new century, and to write the next chapter in the story of America's success. We can do this. And we can begin this work today.

HRC: Through it all, as President Franklin Roosevelt once said, 'We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.' But we have to translate that hope into reality. We have to translate that conviction into solutions, and if we do, we will meet the current challenges with confidence and optimism.

in Lagos, I hear, is an exciting spot.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Fri Mar 28th, 2008 at 11:09:07 AM EST
I haven't had a chance to digest the two plans, but Obama clearly believes in a different Hamilton than the one I was taught about.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Mar 28th, 2008 at 12:10:43 PM EST
Having a look at the actual proposals, these seem to be an okay start.  (Not great, but okay.)  Except the Greenspan/Rubin blue-ribbon commission, which is psychotic.  I probably have a higher opinion of Rubin than many people (although not terribly high), but bringing Bubbles back is just nuts.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Mar 28th, 2008 at 12:15:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They both are nuts to judge by their prepared remarks. The EO link is to Reagan's plunge protection team --starring Bubbles. The order is still in force as no one since rescinded it, although the members changed.

Sure, I find Shillary's incessant historicism as fascinating as Barry's cluelessness. Not only did he drag Hamilton along with Reagan into a dubious reverie on "free" markets but he repeatedly fails to demonstrate knowledgability of current events, what bills circulate the chambers!

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Fri Mar 28th, 2008 at 12:36:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My point about Hamilton in my first comment wasn't that Hamilton supported free markets (he didn't), but that my understanding was that the Revolutionary War debts were nationalized to the benefit of Hamilton and his banker-buddies.  (That's not to say that Hamilton was necessarily corrupt, but where there's smoke....)  As always with the Founders, the myth silences the reality because of the country's collective hard-on for our special dead white guys.  We don't talk about Hamilton's corruption much, just as we don't tend to talk about Jefferson banging his slaves much.

I know the point he was trying to make in bringing up Hamilton, and it was actually the opposite of what you're saying.  In Obama's story, Jefferson is the free-marketeer, Hamilton is the interventionist.  The problem with that story is that Hamilton and Jefferson weren't debating the relative merits of laissez-faire vs interventionism.  If you had to divide the two into those camps, then, yes, Obama would probably be more right than wrong, but that's beside the point.  Hamilton and Jefferson were debating industrialization vs agrarianism.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Mar 28th, 2008 at 01:30:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
LOL. I didn't intend to suggest Hamilton approved of free markets for all people. I've not read much of the Federalist Papers, but I have read Burr by Gore Vidal -- an immensely entertaining book as compared to, say, American Scripture which of course doesn't mention Hamilton at all!! -- and bits of biography here and there sufficient to impress upon me his singular intelligence, calculating ambition, and callous temperament. I certainly meant to impugn Hamilton's character with respect to post-colonial rebellion, Jefferson's libertarian philosophies, and the opposition of oligarchic and populists impulses in the current era. Here's how Zinn exemplifies Hamilton (and you know how Zinn is):

Hamilton, believing that government must ally itself with the richest elements of society to make itself strong, proposed to Congress a series of laws, which it enacted, expressing this philosophy. A Bank of the United States was set up as a partnership between the government and certain banking interestss. A tariff was passed to help the manufacturers. It was agreed to pay bondholders --most of the war bonds were now concentrated in a small group of wealthy people-- the full value of their bonds. Tax laws were passed to raise money for this bond redemption.
   One of these tax laws was the Whiskey Tax, which especially hurt small farmers who raised grain that they converted to whiskey and then sold. In 1794 the farmers of western Pennsylvania took up arms and rebelled against the collection of this tax. Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton led the troops to put them down. [1980:101]

I have know idea what Obama is on about juxtaposing these characters in the context of The Economic Crisis except to romanticize US monetary hegemony while disparaging "the outmoded structures of the New Deal that both individuals and institutions began pushing for changes to this regulatory structure." He slides so easily into Reagan-Thatcher era one would hardly notice.

Anyway, the point of the essay is Bernanke and Congress are exploiting those "outmoded structures" now as well they should, because the capital market is in the crapper.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Fri Mar 28th, 2008 at 02:59:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This was the most substantial discussion on the ideas of Barack Obama I have read in ET. Yet, still not enough.
by findmeaDoorIntoSummer on Sat Mar 29th, 2008 at 02:12:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
More BS, if you can stand it, and the 24 March repayment terms agreed by FRB of NY. It's brief and to the point on creditors.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Fri Mar 28th, 2008 at 01:06:25 PM EST
H/T CalculatedRisk

Bloomberg Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac must raise the money before OFHEO approves any further reduction in the capital they need to guard against losses on their combined $5 trillion of mortgage investments, [James] Lockhart said. OFHEO agreed last week to lower their capital threshold to 20 percent from 30 percent, enabling the companies to buy as much as $200 billion in securities backed by home loans and help prop up the housing market.

The capital surcharge is one of the last remaining restrictions imposed on the companies after $11.3 billion of accounting misstatements. OFHEO had required the companies to increase their capital cushion to 30 percent more than normally required to ensure they were protected against losses.
Fannie Mae, based in Washington, raised $7 billion in December by selling preferred stock. McLean, Virginia-based Freddie Mac sold $6 billion a month earlier. The companies will need to raise the capital "sooner rather than later," Lockhart said.

The companies didn't say last week how or when they would raise the additional capital. Fannie Mae spokesman Brian Faith didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.
"The two enterprises have effectively become the mortgage market at this point," Lockhart said. "Effectively they have become the lender of first, last and every resort."

Pray they don't buy drones.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Fri Mar 28th, 2008 at 04:57:43 PM EST
This morning comes news from the president's 22-page executive summary to restructure federal regulatory authority. Mr Paulson is expected to speak Monday. The proposal effectively removes to the Federal Reserve Board, a quasi-federal agency, from Congress certain rule making and investigatory powers over commerce and disolves the independence of two historically significant examining commissions. Points of the new "market stability regulator" --classified short-term, intermediate, and optimal-- disclosed by AP are listed below.

  • Deployment of FRB examiner/auditors of "of any institution deemed to represent a potential threat to the proper functioning of the overall financial system."

  • Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) "merged" Office of the Comptroller (OCC)

  • SEC "merged" with  Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC)

  • Creation of federal insurance commission

  • Creation of federal Mortgage Origination Commission

  • Creation of a "business conduct regulator" of consumer protection issues.

  • Purview: all financial services firms, e.g. commercial banks, investment banks, insurers, securities traders, commodity traders, thrifts, S&L associations (and presumably their consumer credit franchisees)

Sen. Schumer is quoted, "He [Paulson] is on the money when he calls for a more unified regulatory structure, although we would prefer a single regulator to the three he proposes." But Mr Paulson is quoted, "I am not suggesting that more regulation is the answer, or even that more effective regulation can prevent the periods of financial market stress that seem to occur every five to 10 years." Separately, several provisions in House bills cited in this ET article substantially increase monetary penalties of fraud. There are no guarantees of timely prosecution in any case which is the fundamental problem of deregulated and regulated schemes. Non-enforcement, followed by insufficient funding of "rigorous advocacy" (as attys are wont to say), is an operating principle of "free" trade and profit maximization, and it is a defining characteristic of the Bush administration's execution of US Code.

The fact that business classifications have multiplied exponentially during the the past 40 years should indicate the necessity of specialization in enforcement. But here we are, contemplating reinforcement of executive unitary theory as if three totalizing, central authorities appointed by a president could, actually, provide requisite regulatory relief to the market consumers whose purchasing "power" constitutes the GNP.

Oh, yeah, let us rest assured. Mr Obama is well-connected.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Sat Mar 29th, 2008 at 11:00:50 AM EST
The Ruling Class are moving to institutionalize their dominance under an authoritarian regime.  They've already succeeded in establishing their political control through the Patriot and Homeland Security Acts.  Now they are moving on economic front.

Fighting this is hopeless.  No national organization exists that can become the, or even a, center of resistance.  

(Anybody out there willing to host a couple of political refugees and their 120 cartons of books?  ;-) --> but only kinda)

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Mar 29th, 2008 at 12:22:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Time to start ETopia?

It'd be nice if the battle were only against the right wingers, not half of the left on top of that — François in Paris
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Mar 29th, 2008 at 12:53:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ETopia, resource (not securities) trading platform?

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Sat Mar 29th, 2008 at 01:43:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, a commune :-)

It'd be nice if the battle were only against the right wingers, not half of the left on top of that — François in Paris
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Mar 29th, 2008 at 01:51:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bwah! My unsolicited advice: Do strike that nomenclature from the Brussel's script.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Sat Mar 29th, 2008 at 02:34:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I disagree strongly. Disintermediation of totalizing intellectual, therefore economic, political determination  of ownership begins with the one. One can in deed choose to believe one's own impotence. Or one can act autonomously.

The legal constraints pronounced by the so-called Ruling Class are entirely dependent on individual compliance with its hypothetical resource limitations, a "bounded rationality" of exchange. At the same time, a totalitarian regime cannot function either to enforce or capitalize --by nominal or real currency metrics-- the totality of "business" activity --detected or undetected-- without assuring the functional collapse of "capitalist" precepts. The "oligarchs" are in an organizational bind, as always, solved perversely only by physical coercion of identifiable market participants.

One way or another, as Chris has predicted, the prudent one will seek alternative resources to hegemonic dictates of what activity constitutes a "livelihood." Get to know your neighbors, real people, intimately.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Sat Mar 29th, 2008 at 01:41:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed. A sustainable socio-economic system requires the consent of individuals.

And if individuals prefer to consensually intereact economically with each other then there is nothing a hegemon can do to stop them in a directly connected society.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat Mar 29th, 2008 at 03:27:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Sat Mar 29th, 2008 at 03:46:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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