Monday, August 31, 2009

This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse

I saw this in the grocery store today:

I mean seriously... What is our society coming to when one useless leech who is "famous" only for having 8 kids she can't afford because she really really "wanted" them is criticizing another useless bitch who is famous only for being a total hag and letting TV cameras come into her house and make a mockery of her child raising? But to answer InTouchWeekly's question - Octomom is definitely worse.

In other news, one of the big stories today is the NY Times propaganda trumpeting the massive "gains" the government is making on the bailout process. The FT also ran a story bloviating about profits from the rescue programs. Both have been dissected by multiple sources already (NakedCapitalism, Denninger,) but I thought Barry Ritholtz's explanation of the truth was the simplest.
"Looking just at early TARP repayments means that we are ignoring a) the rest of the TARP; and b) the majority of other expenses, guarantees, loans capital injections, and outright spending that has taken place."
One thing is for certain - the past 9 months have given us the most remarkable propaganda campaign the financial press has ever seen. Every headline is mandated to be spun positively, regardless of the degree of misquoting that takes place.

I looked at one blatant example of this when Nouriel Roubini was viciously misquoted a few months ago, but you can see it almost every day with the press touting how everything is getting better because we merely lost 540,000 jobs last week, which is much better than losing 700,000 jobs. Tell that to the 540k newly unemployed. Similarly, when the number of continuing jobless claims decreases, the press spins it positively. I was one of the first to anticipate this phenomenon back in early June when I wrote about people exhausting their unemployment benefits.

Last week, I was raising an eyebrow when the mainstream media headline was "Meredith Whitney: "Fears of bank solvency are behind us." Now, reading that quote, you'd think Whitney was bullish right? But that would be hard to believe, so then you go watch the video. What Whitney actually said was:

"We are early on in terms of bank closures"

"We estimate there will be over 300 bank closures (there had been 78 so far)"

"The small business owner on main street continues to see liquidity come away from him"

"Spending is going to take a long time to come back"

"I don't expect consumer spending to come back anytime soon"

Obviously, she wasn't bullish. Look - you can't cure the economy by lying to the people to foster confidence. This is a tough realization for economists, because they are used to confidence being a main driving force in the economy. If people think things are ok, they borrow more and spend more, which in turn is a self fulfilling prophecy to MAKE things ok. The problem is that currently, confidence matters less than ever, because even if the consumer has confidence, he doesn't have money, the capacity to take on more debt, or a job. You can't spend confidence.

Lest someone accuse me of whining without solutions, I'll remind you of the proper solution: RECOGNIZE bad debt instead of continuing to pretend it will work itself out eventually. Stop funding insolvent institutions and use those funds to seed new, healthy banks instead. We have a capital structure in place where there are rules about what happens when a company loses lots of money: first the stockholders take the losses, then the bondholders take the losses. The taxpayer does not fall anywhere in that hierarchy - CERTAINLY not before the bondholders and stockholders! Bank bondholders need to restructure debt to recapitalize the banks - just like the auto manufactures did.


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