Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Wow. Check this out. Banks around the world will have to roll over (refinance) debt amounts between $5 trillion and $15 trillion over the next two years. That's a chunk of change. The primary problem is that banks could find it harder and harder to find the money to roll over debt as asset prices continue to slide downward. The banks will need some real magic. This is where friends from my youth, Rocky & Bullwinkle, come in.

The real trick comes in the form of some real regulatory stupidity (courtesy of the Financial Accounting Standards Board, or FASB) that allows America’s financial institutions to revalue the price of their toxic assets. I’ll leave it to market sociopaths to explain "the market" rationale, which you can find here. The end result is to create a world where Alice in Wonderland math governs our market environment, but how it works is really pretty simple.

Regulating Market Prices Out of the Market
Imagine you own a home before 2008. You likely watched a slow bleed process as it's market price tumbled over the past two years. Your $500,000 home is now worth $250,000 (or something like that). Because you have powerful neighbors who don't want to see their homes lose value if you walk away and leave an empty house (called a strategic default) they get the banks to legally allow you to reinflate the value of your home on their books.

The best part of getting another shot at reassessing the value of your home is that you can maintain previous debt levels, or borrow against the home, as if little happened to your houses market price. To be sure, it's really not that simple. But the concept applies (I've written in greater detail about the process here, here, and here). The end result, though, is that we effectively regulate market prices right out of the market. Same hat trick, different result.

The problem with this regulatory maneuver is that this is not being done for your home. You don't get to use the regulatory tools that the banks have access to. Like handicap parking it’s only available to a certain class of banks. In this case it's (FASB, Statement 157) only available to the incompetent sociopaths who run America’s biggest financial institutions.

Taking the Market Prices Out of the Market
By allowing America's financial institutions to re-price their toxic assets two things happen. Both will help solve our bankster's trillion dollar problem above.

ASSETS ROLLED OVER/GAME CONTINUES: It allows banks and governments, who had to rollover loans in 2009, to pretend the assets they underwrote are worth more than they actually are.

FINANCIAL AND LEGAL BAILOUT: It shields private equity firms in our shadow banking system (private investors) who “invested“ in toxic assets. They escape culpability and investor lawsuits. 

On one level this explains why the recovery we're experiencing is superficial, at best. First we got $1.5 trillion in bailout money from the Bush and Obama administrations to save our nation's financial institutions and their incredibly self-absorbed executives. Then we got trillions more for America’s financial institutions in the form of government guarantees and credits.

And, just like that, our nation’s financial institutions are able to go to the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department and say, "Let us use these repriced (toxic) assets as collateral for a new loan. You can go ahead and keep the asset if I stop paying (wink, wink)."

Flush with bailout cash, new credits, new guarantees, and government approved unicorn methods to revalue their assets, and it should come as no surprise that America's financial institutions have continued to live in a make believe world drenched in irresponsibility and never ending

How Banksters Will Stick Us With the Bill
In 2008 only 2.7% of BofA’s failing loans were backstopped by the American taxpayer. In 2009 that number jumped 20.5%! Take a look at the numbers. But wait, it gets worse. These bad assets - which the Federal Reserve and the financial industry like to call "legacy assets" - are being dumped on the American taxpayer. This is how it's being done.

In order to put America's toxic, or legacy, assets on life-support (while putting more money into the banking system) we created something called a Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF). In real simple terms TALFs are government-backed loans. They can be accessed by those who hold financial crap, or non-performing securities. To better understand the concept let's use our home example from above.

If TALFs were available to America's home owners they would be able to use their homes to get a loan from the bank, even if they're upside down on the loan. Unfortunately, TALF loans are only made available to America's largest and most powerful financial players through the Federal Reserve of New York (and, no, President Obama's Making Home Affordable Program doesn't even come close to TALF).

Here's the real good part.

The big financial players don't need to put up any good collateral for the loans they get. They can use their poorly performing toxic assets as collateral. Best of all, they can revalue these assets upward, courtesy of the federal government. If the collateral doesn't pay off you and I are stuck with the bill.

How much will this add up to? We don't know just yet. But we do know that the Federal Reserve has made at least $1 trillion available for these TALF products, and another $1.45 trillion for non-performing assets in the housing market.

Put another way, don’t worry about the banks. They’ll get their money to rollover their loans. The American taxpayer, however, will be stuck with the toxic assets and the affects of an austerity program that’s just beginning to take shape.
- Mark

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