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Posts Tagged ‘Ben Bernanke’

Spectacular TED Talk on The US Financial Crisis: How it Happened + How to Prevent

May 31, 2014 | 4:59 pm | Favorites |

Wlliam Black, a former bank regulator, made a TED Talk last fall that I wish I had made (but I couldn’t be as eloquent although I have a cooler tie). It should be required viewing by anyone who is connected with the housing industry.

Black’s presentation lays out the financial crisis in the proper context. He provides the recipe for disaster for all to see and it is NOT complicated to understand. Change the perverse incentives and a lot of this goes away. So many opportunities to avoid this crisis were missed.

And this is the first time I’ve heard someone talk about the unrelenting pressure that banks (and mortgage brokers) placed on appraisers, essentially forcing our industry to either make the number of get out of town. By 2007, 90% of appraisers said they were coerced by banks to make the number. That seems low to me. It had to be 100% or else those 10% of appraisers were living in a cave.

I’ll be returning to this video periodically for the foreseeable future as a reminder.

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[In The Media] Bloomberg Surveillance 9-18-12 QE3, Low Rates and Housing

September 18, 2012 | 9:14 am | fedny | Public |

Very much enjoyed my conversation with Tom Keene and Scarlet Fu on Bloomberg Television’s Surveillance.

Scratch notes before my appearance:

Some thoughts about the Fed’s QE3 as it relates to housing (Einstein defines insanity as doing something for a 3rd time hoping it works).

-Focus of QE3 seems to be housing, but it shows how little Fed understands housing since this seems to be an effort to press borrowing costs lower.
-Falling rates until now have increased affordability 15% this year but reaction in sales is less. A diminishing return for this action. Yes it temporarily helps but is more akin to the 2010 tax credit – remove it and consumers stop buying.
-Fed must believe recent “happy housing news” isn’t sustainable. Prices and sale generally showing improvement.

-Banks prob won’t drop rates all that much-could even see a slight increase in short term: admin backlog from existing business, guarantee fees by Fannie Mae to kick in a few months and spreads already low. This action provides little traction.

-QE3 doesn’t address THE REAL PROBLEM – mortgage underwriting remains irrationally tight. Smaller universe qualifies for mortgaged and a large number of contracts fall through – approx 15%.
-Telegraphing low rates through 2015 eliminates any urgency for consumers to take action. National volume up YOY but 2011 was the aftermath of 2010 tax credit so comparing against low.



Bernanke’s Speech on QE3 [MarketPlace.org]
Benanke Statement on QE3 [Federal Reserve]
QE3: What is quantitative easing? And will it help the economy? [WaPo Wonk Blog]
Fed’s Evans Says QE3 Will Make Economy More Resilient [Bloomberg]
Low Rates Not Improving Housing Market, Miller Says [Bloomberg Surveillance TV]

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Regulators Are Human. That’s Precisely Why Bubbles Are Not Preventable

January 7, 2010 | 11:47 pm | nytlogo |

David Leonhardt had a fantastic front pager in the New York Times yesterday that was such a compelling read, I re-read it to try and absorb anything I missed the first time. The article Fed Missed This Bubble. Will It See a New One? looked at the case made by the Fed to enhance its regulatory power.

David asks the question for the Fed:

If only we’d had more power, we could have kept the financial crisis from getting so bad.

But power and authority had nothing to do with whether they could see a bubble.

In 2004, Alan Greenspan, then the chairman, said the rise in home values was “not enough in our judgment to raise major concerns.” In 2005, Mr. Bernanke — then a Bush administration official — said a housing bubble was “a pretty unlikely possibility.” As late as May 2007, he said that Fed officials “do not expect significant spillovers from the subprime market to the rest of the economy.”

I maintain that because of human nature, mob mentality, or whatever you want to call it, all regulators drank the kool-aid just like consumers, rating agencies, lenders, investors and anyone remotely connected with housing. Regulators are not imune from being human.

Once the crisis was upon us, the Fed and the regulatory alphabet soup woke up and began drinking a lot of coffee.

David concludes:

Which is why it is likely to happen again.

What’s missing from the debate over financial re-regulation is a serious discussion of how to reduce the odds that the Fed — however much authority it has — will listen to the echo chamber when the next bubble comes along.

Exactly.

I think this whole thing started with the repeal of Glass-Steagal where the boundaries between commercial and investment banks which were set during the Great Depression, were removed. Commercial banks had cheap capital (deposits) and could compete in the Investment Banking world. But Investment banks could not act like commercial banks. Their access to capital was more expense motivating them to get their allowable leverage ratios raised significantly. One blip and they go under.

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[Housing Bubble Golden Rule -> 3 R’s] Regulating, Rates and Recession

January 6, 2010 | 12:24 am | nytlogo |

In Bernanke’s speech to the American Economic Association on Sunday he suggested that it was regulatory failure, not keeping rates too low for too long, which caused the housing bubble.

Stronger regulation and supervision aimed at problems with underwriting practices and lenders’ risk management would have been a more effective and surgical approach to constraining the housing bubble than a general increase in interest rates.

This seems to be splitting hairs, doesn’t it?

Low rates triggered the housing bubble as money became cheap and easy to get. If the Fed hadn’t kept rates too low for too long, the bubble would not have happened. The regulatory system was ill prepared for the insanity that followed. House prices rose so fast that underwriting had to evaporate to keep the mortgage pipeline full. Regulators hadn’t seen this before and with the removal of Glass-Steagal and Laissez-Faire mindset, everyone in DC, including Congress and regulators, drank the Kool-aid.

Actions Taken Too late

Mr. Bernanke has pointed to the Fed’s extraordinary efforts to stem the crisis, including the creation of new lending vehicles to banks and a reduction of bank-to-bank interest rates to virtually zero, as evidence that the Fed has a firm grasp of what the economy needs. The Fed’s handling of the crisis has been widely praised by economists.

The Treasury and other government agencies already have supervisory power over parts of the financial system, but so, too, does the Federal Reserve.

In his talk on Sunday, Mr. Bernanke acknowledged as much, rattling off a list of regulatory efforts the bank made to address nontraditional mortgages and poor underwriting practices.

But, he said, “these efforts came too late or were insufficient to stop the decline in underwriting standards and effectively constrain the housing bubble.”

All regulators are human and subject to mob mentality just like politicians and consumers were. Everyone is awake now. That’s why I think a “bubble czar” type position is silly. I’m not blaming the Fed or Bernanke. Now about Greenspan….

In fact I think the Fed has done an excellent job keeping our financial system from the brink. Lets recognize Bernanke’s comments for what they are – dodging the minefield of Congressional approval. God help us if Congress is able to audit the Fed. Its not the audit I object to – its the politicalization of it. We need to keep the Fed neutral (in theory).


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[Over Coffee] Morning Quote From The Home Front

July 29, 2009 | 6:00 am | nytlogo |

From Caroline Baum’s excellent column: Conan’s Couch, ‘Daily Show’ Ready for Bernanke:

Alan Greenspan prided himself on being opaque. The former Federal Reserve chairman used to joke that if the audience thought he was being clear, they probably misunderstood what he was saying.

Bernanke believes in transparency. With everyone hanging on every word of every report, every pundit, every TV show, every government official release etc., I’m not quite sure this doesn’t create a lot of more volatility. But if we could have the Fed Chairman on the Daily Show?

My life would be complete.

Aside: The IRS is more popular than the Fed.


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[Matrix: Worth Reading] Sunday July 26, 2009

July 26, 2009 | 10:14 pm | nytlogo |

Here are a few things worth reading.


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[Geithner Stress] SNL Calls Out The Low-ball Exercise of Ignorant Bliss

May 13, 2009 | 10:08 am |

Kudos to SNL for being able to carry this off – it’s as good as an earlier Geithner skit.

Robert Kuttner, in his piece in the Huffington Post called Collateral Damage and Double Standards writes about a recent Fed conference on the stress test:

At one point in his remarks, Bernanke, recounting just how rigorous the stress tests were, explained that “More than 150 examiners, supervisors, and economists” had conducted several weeks of examinations of the banks. That kind of let the cat out of the bag. If you do the arithmetic, that is about seven supervisors per bank, and all of the stress-tested 19 banks were hundred-billion and up outfits. When an ordinary commercial bank, say a $10 billion outfit, undergoes a far less complex routine examination of its commercial loan portfolio, it involves dozens of examiners.

So the stress test was not a set of rigorous examinations at all, but a modeling exercise using the banks’ own valuations of their assets.

It’s kind of like trying to help the economy by providing aid to large corporations who are most visible, yet represent only a small portion of the economy. On second thought big banks don’t represent a small part of the economy so I guess I am referring to the absence of help to a large portion of the banking system – lenders with less than $10B in assets.

A slow leak of information, talk of green shoots and glimmer fill the headlines when it comes to banking. It’s $75B rather than $3.6T we should probably be talking about.

Why does this matter to real estate? Cause it’s linear.

Banks => Credit => Housing

Actually I am not sure I disagree with the Geithner/Bernanke mindfreak that we are seeing since it seems to be helping restore some confidence in the future of the economy. I guess I get irritated when I know am being managed or perhaps, (my) ignorance would be bliss (ful).


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A Lot Of Professionals Are Crackpots

April 13, 2009 | 12:01 am | nytlogo | Podcasts |

crackpots

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Play

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[Bracket This] Optimism Gains A Foothold Against Skepticism, But Not Against Madness

March 19, 2009 | 2:52 pm | nytlogo |

One of the most useless housing metrics ever debated has been new home sales released by the Commerce Department. The data doesn’t consider contract recisions and has a wildly high margin of error.

Privately-owned housing starts in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 583,000. This is 22.2 percent (±13.8%) above the revised January estimate of 477,000, but is 47.3 percent (±5.3%) below the revised February 2008 rate of 1,107,000.

Housing starts were up 22% over the prior month plus or minus 13%. Crazy. Yet it’s widely covered.

Every year at this time the metric is always discussed in the context of its prior month change rather than the prior year result. It’s March and this metric is based on February data. Housing starts nearly always rise starting at the beginning of the year. In all the press coverage, little or no attention was placed on the fact that starts are 47% below last year at this time, providing an illusion to the uninformed that construction is booming.

So my initial takeaway from this announcement and the ensuing buzz was, predictably, skeptical.

Last week the Dow jumped, and even though it has no direct correlation with the housing market, people were noticeably upbeat about the improvement in the stock market. This week – more of the same.

My initial takeaway was again, predictably, skeptical.

Madoff pleads guilty and goes to jail.

This provided some closure (not to the victims) on this horrendous financial situation. Nothing to be skeptical about.

The AIG $165M bonus debacle became the next event to focus on. It certainly appears that these bonus payments were enabled by Congress and Treasury from the beginning and feeble attempts were made to say “gee, contracts were signed and therefore we need to honor them.”

The public isn’t that stupid and responded in outrage and now suddenly every government servant from the president on down now suffers from a case of righteous indignation. The AIG audacity of paying these bonuses, along with Thain’s bathroom renovation, is clearly the symptom of a larger reality distortion and one of the reasons we are in this mess. Yet if this is a crisis of confidence and the $165M represents peanuts relative to the trillions at play, its symbolism is far more important – at least for now. Merrill Lynch bonuses are next on the radar.

Bernanke announces that he sees the recession over by the end of this year and recovery beginning in 2010. By now, skepticism reigns with the Fed chief’s intentions since the Fed was so slow in reacting to the crises in 2007 and 2008, chimed in with Paulson’s panic message last summer and Ben has clearly radiated optimism in between bleak assessments.

It seems to me that the majority of economist do not believe the recovery will begin in 2010 so I’m skeptical.

The Federal Reserve is directing $1T at credit to alleviate the log jam which is met with euphoria (financially speaking of course). Now there are signs that liquidity is starting to return to the credit markets.

But I must say I am skeptical of the President with the confidence in his decisions on the Madness. I am picking UConn to beat North Carolina in the final and he is going with the Tar Heels.

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Too Big to Fail Meets Too Failed to be Saved

March 12, 2009 | 11:27 pm | nytlogo |

It’s becoming apparent that several of the large institutions that are in the vortex of bailoutdom are teetering: namely AIG and Citi. They were deemed too big to fail, bit now we are wondering if they are too far beyond saving.

I am struggling with this concept and am rambling here, but now is the time to fix things for the long term benefit. I am sick of quick fixes.

The Too Big to Fail policy is the idea that in American banking regulation the largest and most powerful banks are “too big to (let) fail.” This means that it might encourage recklessness since the government would pick up the pieces in the event it was about to go out of business. The phrase has also been more broadly applied to refer to a government’s policy to bail out any corporation. It raises the issue of moral hazard in business operations.

The top 5 banks are showing significant signs of weakness.

Citibank, Bank of America, HSBC Bank USA, Wells Fargo Bank and J.P. Morgan Chase reported that their “current” net loss risks from derivatives — insurance-like bets tied to a loan or other underlying asset — surged to $587 billion as of Dec. 31. Buried in end-of-the-year regulatory reports that McClatchy has reviewed, the figures reflect a jump of 49 percent in just 90 days.

The industry never thought macro enough to consider systemic risk – as in “What happens if it all goes wrong?” Seems pretty basic.

The Federal Reserve appears to be trying to reform its ways and perhaps even the concept of too big to fail. Fed Chairman Bernanke just spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations

Until we stabilize the financial system, a sustainable economic recovery will remain out of reach. In particular, the continued viability of systemically important financial institutions is vital to this effort. In that regard, the Federal Reserve, other federal regulators, and the Treasury Department have stated that they will take any necessary and appropriate steps to ensure that our banking institutions have the capital and liquidity necessary to function well in even a severe economic downturn. Moreover, we have reiterated the U.S. government’s determination to ensure that systemically important financial institutions continue to be able to meet their commitments.

…while former Fed Chairman Greenspan has been attempting to re-write history.

David Leonhardt, in his piece “The Looting of America’s Coffers” said:

The investors had borrowed huge amounts of money, made big profits when times were good and then left the government holding the bag for their eventual (and predictable) losses.

In a word, the investors looted. Someone trying to make an honest profit, Professors Akerlof and Romer said, would have operated in a completely different manner. The investors displayed a “total disregard for even the most basic principles of lending,” failing to verify standard information about their borrowers or, in some cases, even to ask for that information.

The investors “acted as if future losses were somebody else’s problem,” the economists wrote. “They were right.”

Last week, Sheila Bair of FDIC told 60 Minutes she would like to see Congress attempt to set boundaries for banks to remain as banks. In other words, they grow beyond a certain level, they become some other entity but can’t be bailed out if something goes wrong. Perhaps this implies a higher risk which is understood by investors, forcing the institution to decide whether it can afford to be bigger.

Let’s get our act together real quick or we also too big to fail?


Aside: Why make billions, when you can make millions? – Austin Powers


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[Cultural Regulation Noodling] Be Careful What You Wish For

October 15, 2008 | 12:10 am | nytlogo |

Click here for full sized graphic.

Regulation grew faster in the current administration as measured by annual increases, than in any since administration since the 1960s. That seems to be counter to the mantra:

Less government enables the free market to do its thing – self-regulation via market forces weeds out the weak?

One of the key issues of election campaign and the credit crunch was the lack of relevant regulatory oversight during the mortgage boom. Certain members of the public (ahem) complained, blogged, cajoled, and even…gasp…resorted to rolling their eyes and sighing.

But no one was listening. The administration told us everything was fundamentally sound. This commentary has been occurring since at least 2004 when all the lending snafus began to gain momentum. Frank, Dodd, Bush, Greenspan, Bernanke, Syron, Mudd, Paulson et al have told us things were fine until as recently as a few months ago.

I suspect most of them actually believed “the fundamentals were sound” and the real problem was that they were not fully informed or had an understanding of systemic nature of the crisis.

Be careful what you wish for. The sleeping giant in Washington has been awakened and it’s ready to eat. This weekend I took my family to DC for my high school reunion and a few days of rampant tourism whose highlight (for me) was going through an airport-like security screening process to eat mac & cheese at the Department of Agriculture’s employee cafeteria (ok, so offbeat cafeterias are my thing). I was struck by the enormity of the facility and the wildly inefficient service and presentation.

I shudder to think that this energy will now be channeled into regulatory oversight (hopefully not at the expense of good mac ‘n cheese for USDA employees).

We are now going to see a cultural shift toward more regulation, no matter who is elected in November. You can see it in the press releases and “on top of it” like responses from all the agencies – FDIC, OTS, FRB, FHFA et al. Once that stops, it’ll take years to reign in.

Why can’t there be a middle ground rather than extremes? Do we only feel comfortable at the margins, on the edge?

We don’t need more regulation – we need smarter and ultimately less regulation. A reasonably level playing field where regulations set the boundaries, rather than direct specific actions is what allows free markets to work.

Case in point: The tennis courts at our town’s new high school have a 6 inch slope from end to end to promote drainage. The slope is so exaggerated you can clearly see it. Good for drainage, sucks for tennis.

Next thing you know, mac ‘n cheese won’t be as yellow as it used to be at the USDA cafeteria but at least their cups will be biodegradeable.


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[Banking On Recovery] Did The Glass-Steagall Repeal Cause Our Insecuritization?

September 29, 2008 | 12:15 am | nytlogo |

There has been a lot of debate on whether the repeal of Glass-Steagall on November 13, 1999 via the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Services Modernization Act was the beginning of the end of the separation of financial church and state. The Glass-Steagall Act, also known as the Banking Act of 1933 was created to prevent commercial banks from entering the investment bank business.

If you’ve been abducted by aliens for the past three weeks, here’s a great way to catch up on the bailout.

And when you are caught up (assuming the alien thing was accurate), here’s a once in a while requirement from Matrix. A required reading assignment: What’s Free About Free Enterprise?

The first is the risk of moral hazard within the bailout itself. That is, if government is going to make good so many losses throughout the system, why would anyone set limits on future risk-taking? The situation could turn into a free-for-all that makes the recent disregard of risk look like child’s play.

The second problem is more philosophical, involving what the bailout plan reveals about the functioning of the free enterprise system. This raises disturbing questions. Although I agree with President Bush’s observation that “the risk of not acting would be far higher,” we should be aware of the secondary effects of what we are getting into.

Analysis of an IMF study on bank failures shows that the average recovery rate in a banking crisis averaged just 18 percent of the gross costs. Barrons seems to think the taxpayer will come out ahead.

Not everyone thinks the bailout is a great idea.

I should add, though, that I don’t think the people spearheading the bailout have a clear idea about what they’re doing either. They remind me of the old saying: “Something must be done. This is something. Therefore this must be done.” I’m a former student of Chairman Ben Bernanke and his behavior during this mess has been a big disappointment.

Robert Shiller writes an opinion piece in the Washington Post this weekend telling everyone to calm down – government intervention is not unusual and not a bad thing. Everybody Calm Down. A Government Hand In the Economy Is as Old as the Republic. He makes the argument that capitalism evolves and is not etched in stone. He makes a compelling argument.

Megan McArdle in The Atlantic says its not about the Glass-Steagall repeal at all because securitization has been around for a while and Gramm Leach didn’t impact lending standards at commercial banks, among other items.

But Dan Gross at Slate and Newsweek says that the repeal is the end of an era and perhaps infers, that it caused the situation we are in today.

The policy response was to erect a wall between investment banking and commercial banking. It outlasted the Berlin Wall by a few decades. In the 1990s, as another bull market took hold, momentum built to overturn Glass-Steagall. Commercial banks were eager to get into high-margin businesses like underwriting hot tech stocks. Brokerage firms saw commercial banks, with their massive customer bases, as great distribution channels for stocks, mutual funds, and other financial products that they created. Generally speaking, the investment banks were the aggressors.

While I don’t blame the credit carnage all on the repeal of Glass-Steagall, it sure is a compelling milestone and played a role. Banks and investment banks had blurred lines of distinction and regulators were no match for the investment banks. Of course, JPMorgan Chase, who seems to be coming up roses with recent mopup efforts, was the merger of an investment bank and a commercial bank.

The mindset was free markets need to be free because market forces were self-regulating. Of course, that purist view may very well have caused one of the most constraining regulatory environments in the modern era going forward.


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