Now that we let banks mark their books to their own devices, due to political pressure on the national accounting board, all it took was that one accounting change and a negotiated stress test [May 9, 2009: WSJ - Banks Won Concessions on Tests] and the US banks have gone from systematic default to all clear. Who knew it would be that easy? I'll admit, I completely underestimated how beneficial lying about what is on your balance sheet, with government backstop would be to the US financial system. But now that we live in an Alice in Wonderland system - unicorns and singing mermaids are just around the corner. As Japan has showed us the past 2 decades...
Both Bank of America (BAC) and now Citigroup (C) are in a race to pay back their TARP funds (yes, Citi and Bank of America - they of $300B bailouts just a few quarters ago)... because
they are healthy want to pay excessive compensation so they don't lose talent... to say the United Kingdom. Since mark to market was killed in March 2009 and we are going to pretend banks assets are real, rather than marked to a number they choose, I am not sure if we're going to have another banking crisis in the years to come. But I'd love it just for the drama of Geithner having to go to Congress and ask for a new bailout. It truly is amazing what changing 1 accounting rule did for the entire American banking system... make believe is a wonderful thing; worked for Enron for many years.
Harvard professor Ken Rogoff, one of those souls who has detached from the Matrix, weighs in in these 2 videos from Yahoo Tech Ticker. At the bottom of this piece Minyanville's Todd Harrison talks about the smoke and mirrors financial system and how the financial oligarchy continues to play the US taxpayer for the tool... or fool. But as Todd says... we'll worry about all these things someday... for now, party on Garth.
The Obama Administration is going to extend the TARP program into 2010, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told Congress Wednesday. But the focus is going to be on aiding consumers vs. financial institutions, amid a sense the banking system is back on its feet after its near-death experience in 2008.
We didn't have a [second] Great Depression, we could have. You have to give them a lot of points for averting that, says Harvard professor Kenneth Rogoff, co-author of This Time Is Different.
But that doesn't mean the danger is over.
The system is a long way from healthy, Rogoff says, noting the banks have only profited this year thanks to various and sundry government programs and the Fed's easy money policies. If I told you, you could borrow almost 30 times what your house is worth at almost zero percent and lend around to anyone you wanted, I'd bet you'd make money too, he says.
The big reason banks aren't lending aggressively is they're bracing for a lot more write-downs in the years ahead, as defaults in consumer loans and commercial real estate mount, Rogoff says. In that regard the banks are acting rationally.
But Rogoff fears onerous regulations will be the ultimate payment for the massive taxpayer subsidized bailouts the banks received in 2008 - and the moral hazard they engendered.
If bondholders think they can lend to financial institutions at no risk we're going to get into trouble in another 10 years or less if we don't do something, he says.
Unfortunately, that something probably means tighter regulations, which could contribute to slower growth going forward, he says.
Standard & Poor’s lowered its outlook for Spain's debt grade as the country's finances worsened. A day earlier, Fitch cut Greece's long-term debt to BBB+ from A minus, marking the first time in a decade the country has seen its rating pushed below an A grade. (Click here for the full story.)
Bank of America raised over $19 billion last week and Citigroup is seeking to raise a similar amount, according to published reports.
Citi shares were up Thursday in part on anticipation the bank will be able to raise the funds and reach an agreement with Treasury to escape the harsh restrictions of its government overlords.
As with Bank of America, the widespread view is that Citigroup wants to exit TARP so it can avoid any onerous restrictions on compensation.
Obviously they're doing this to be able to retain their talent, says Todd Harrison, CEO of Minyanville.com.
Set aside, for a moment, the questions of what constitutes excessive pay and whether it makes sense to pay anything to the same group of people who put the industry, and the global economy, on the precipice of disaster a little more than a year ago.
Instead, consider the state of mind on Wall Street (and in Washington) that very little consideration is seemingly being given to whether the banks are healthy enough and the system stable enough that exiting TARP makes practical sense.
From Harvard's Ken Rogoff to bank industry veteran (and Minyanville contributor) Peter Atwater and Mike Mish Shedlock, a series of recent guests have argued the banking system isn't as healthy as the rebound in their share prices would indicate.
On this point, Harrison agrees:
Banks are the proxy for all the smoke and mirrors that are going on with government policies, Harrison says. That doesn't mean they can't rally but the conditional elements for trouble are still there, most notably the DNA in the global financial machinations of $500 trillion of derivatives and counterparty risk.
So what happens if the banks exit TARP and then find themselves in trouble in another year, or two? Where there be the political will for another bailout, or will populist resentment really boil over and trigger the socio-economic unrest Harrison often talks about?
Considering that's probably a 2011 or 12 (or beyond) story, few in the speculative community seem too terribly concerned at the moment. But there is the immediate-term issue of the serious dilution to existing shareholders another capital raise by Citi will trigger. The company may also be hit with a special charge of as much as $10.8 billion to wind down the government's stake, The WSJ reports.
Citi shares may be up today, but they're down more than 10% from their mid-November highs, perhaps in anticipation of the aforementioned.
For these and other reasons, Harrison currently has no positions in the banks. I won't touch the financials right now, he says. There are easier fish to fry. Less rotten ones, too.