Posts tagged ‘Bailout / Financial Crisis’

Saddlebags

| Peter Klein |

All this talk about bad loans reminds me of the famous “workout” scene from Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full, better known as the “saddlebags” scene. It must be the most brilliant, accurate, and entertaining account of a bank calling a loan ever written. You can read most of the scene (from chapter 2) here; if you haven’t read it before, you’re in for a treat. (Unfortunately the excerpt ends before the climax of the scene in which Harry Zales, the bank’s workout specialist, ends his speech that reduces the hapless borrower, Atlanta real-estate mogul Charlie Croker, to a nervous, sweating wretch with his arm raised triumphantly, middle finger pointed to the skies.)

If that scene were to be written today, however, the ending would be different. Just before the workout is over the heroic central banker or Treasury secretary would bound into the room, explaining that the bank should restructure Croker’s loan after all (in the story, Croker has defaulted on a $515 million loan — a mere trifle), and that he will write the bank a check on the spot to cover Croker’s obligation. Gotta maintain adequate liquidity in the system, after all! Upon leaving the room, the central banker or Treasury secretary also extends his middle finger — this time in the direction of the taxpayer.

15 October 2008 at 12:13 am Leave a comment

No Analysis, No Data

| Peter Klein |

Earlier I complained that public discussions of the current financial situation are largely devoid of analysis. A recent example: virtually no one has explained why the commercial-paper market is “frozen.” We’re told that even firms with good commercial prospects can’t turn over their short-term notes, leaving them desperately short on working capital. In other words, there is real economic value to be created by extending short-term credit to these firms, but no one is willing to lend. $20 bills on the sidewalk, indeed! Presumably there is some kind of Stiglitz and Weiss (1981) story underlying these claims — banks cannot distinguish good from bad borrowers, so they refuse to lend to anyone — but nobody has bothered to spell it out, or to explain how indiscriminate Fed purchases of commercial paper solves the problem. Ah, well, perhaps to ask for analysis makes one a stuffy and unrealistic fundamentalist.

Bob Higgs notes that not only is the analysis largely absent, the data are wildly inconsistent with the kinds of claims being made.

The Federal Reserve System publishes comprehensive data on commercial paper issuance, commercial paper outstanding, and interest rates on commercial paper. I presume that these data give us a clearer picture of what’s going on in the markets than a covey of hyperventilating Wall Street commentators. (more…)

9 October 2008 at 4:22 pm 5 comments

Revenge of the Aggregates

| Peter Klein |

I first studied macroeconomics back in the dark days before the microfoundations revolution had filtered down into the undergraduate curriculum. We learned Y = C + I + G and that was about it. Fluctuations in aggregate demand cause fluctuations in aggregate output, Hayek be damned. Relative price changes — between markets at the same place in the time-structure of production, or between higher- and lower-order sectors — were completely ignored.

Supposedly mainstream macroeconomics has moved beyond this crude level of aggregation. But you’d never know if from the discussions of the last few weeks. “Banks” aren’t “lending” enough. “Businesses” and “consumers” can’t get “loans.” “Firms” have too many “bad assets” on their books. The key question, though, is which ones? Which banks aren’t lending to which customers? Which firms have made poor investments? Newsflash: a loan isn’t a loan isn’t a loan. I hate to break it to the Chattering Class, but not every borrower should get a loan. The relevant question, in analyzing the current mess, is which loans aren’t being made, to whom, and why? The critical issues revolve around the composition of lending, not the aggregate amount. Focusing on total lending, total liquidity, average equity prices, and the like merely obscures the key questions about how resources are being allocated across sectors, firms, and individuals, whether bad investments are being liquidated, and so on. (more…)

7 October 2008 at 2:59 pm 2 comments

More Bailout Humor

| Peter Klein |

In dark times, sometimes all you can do is laugh.

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3 October 2008 at 9:09 am 8 comments

Strange Bedfellows

| Peter Klein |

One of the interesting aspects of this week’s House vote on the Paulson plan was the coalitions it generated. The Treasury Secretary, the Fed Chair, and leaders of both the Democratic and Republican sides stood hand-in-hand to urge lawmakers to support the bailout. Conservative Republican and liberal Democratic members joined forces to defeat it. What gives? Larry White points to ideology: “Republicans who voted no didn’t like the fact that $700 billion would be taken from taxpayers. . . . Democrats who voted no didn’t like the fact that it would be going to Wall Street.” Maybe, but I prefer Gordon Smith’s suggestion:

Anthony Ha uses the data at MapLight.org (a website dedicated to “illuminating the connection” between money and politics) to tell another familiar political story. Looking at this page, Anthony observes:

Overall, bailout supporters received an average of 54 percent more in campaign contributions from banks and securities than bailout opponents over the last five years. The disparity also held true if you look at individual parties. In fact, the 140 Democrats who voted for the bailout received almost twice as much money from banks and securities as the 95 Democrats who voted against it. (The difference was closer to 50 percent for Republicans.)

Does anybody have data that would permit some quick-and-dirty analysis, say a logistic regression of the House votes as a function of legislator and district characteristics, contributions from the commercial and investment banking industries, and other interest-group variables?

2 October 2008 at 2:09 pm 1 comment

Karl’s Revenge

| Peter Klein |

I closed my first post on the bailout mess with “Capitalism, requiescat in pace.” Here’s Martin Masse with the details. (Thanks to Mark Thornton.)

1 October 2008 at 9:49 am Leave a comment

Paulson, Bernanke, Congress: We Need Your Help!

| Peter Klein |

With our economy in crisis, the US Government is scrambling to rescue our banks by purchasing their “distressed assets”, i.e., assets that no one else wants to buy from them. We figured that instead of protesting this plan, we’d give regular Americans the same opportunity to sell their bad assets to the government. We need your help and you need the Government’s help!

Use the form below to submit bad assets you’d like the government to take off your hands. And remember, when estimating the value of your 1997 limited edition Hanson single CD “MMMbop”, it’s not what you can sell these items for that matters, it’s what you think they are worth. The fact that you think they are worth more than anyone will buy them for is what makes them bad assets.

Here’s the link (via Sean Corrigan, and please excuse the language). Remember, if people can’t get rid of their bad assets, they will have to cut back their spending, hurting local businesses, which will then be unable to spend, hurting other businesses, and so on, generating a “consumption crunch” that will cause the next Great Depression. Please, somebody, break some windows!

30 September 2008 at 11:26 am 1 comment

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