New Deal democrat's blog

Time to Claw Back Wall Street's bonuses for Fictitious Profits

Back when the execrible Wall Street Bailout bill was before Congress, The New York Times and also Barry Ritholtz of The Big Picture blog called for a "claw back" provision to the TARP program, pointing out that at the same time as Wall Street firms needed nearly $1Trillion from taxpayers to stay solvent, their CEO's and other senior executives were keeping monstrous bonuses for what turned out to be fictitious profits. Writedowns in the $ hundreds of billions had completely wiped awary the alleged profits of years' past.

Needless to say, that paeon fell on deaf ears.

Today CNBC has an article on exactly how egregious those bonuses were.

The Deflationary Bust accelerates

Consumer prices in November fell ( - 1.9%) non-seasonally adjusted. The YoY rate of inflation is now only 1.1%. In the last 4 months, prices have fallen ( - 3.4%), or at an annual rate of ( - 13.2%). I am accordingly updating my table of Deflationary Recessions:

Recession dates/ YoY, monthly deflation/greatest +/- change

Recession Time Period -1.5% Deflation Largest Change
1/13 - 12/14 2 - 4/14 (-3.0%)
8/18 - 3/19 n/a (inflationary) +23.7%
1/20 - 7/21 8/20 - 9/22 (-15.8%)
5/23 - 7/24 4/24 (-1.8%)
10/26 - 11/27 1 - 5, 8/27 (-3.4%)
n/a 6/28 (-2.8%)
8/29 - 3/33 4/29, 3/30 - 8/33 (-10.7%)
5/37 - 6/38 1 - 12/38 (-3.4%)
2/45 - 10/45 n/a (inflationary) +2.8%
1/49 - 10/49 1/49 - 1/50 (-3.2%)
7/53 - 5/54 n/a (-.8%)
12/07 - ???? 10/08 - ???? (-3.4%)

Black September


On December 3, John Bergstrom of Bergrstrom Automotive, a major auto dealer, appeared on CNBC and said,

on about September 10, we saw our business fall off 30-35%.

A similar sudden decline in consumer spending during September was reported by Shoppertrak:

Throughout 2008, the American shopper has endured record high gasoline prices, hurricanes and flooding, and a stalled housing market in their quest to shop. While the consumer has remained fairly resilient during this time, two very recent events are dramatically impacting mall visits and consumer confidence.
- Once the financial crisis emerged at the beginning of September, retail traffic declined even further. Between August 31 and September 20, SRTI total U.S. traffic fell an estimated 9.2 percent per day....
- After the failure of Washington Mutual, President Bush’s address to the nation, the presidential debate and the initial rejection of the TARP bailout, traffic fell by an average of 10.5 percent (September 21 – 29).
- The day the TARP bailout package was rejected by congress (September 29) and the NYSE Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 778 points, consumers again responded negatively as shopper traffic fell 12 percent as compared to the same day in 2007
- Sales, which were up 4.0 Percent for the Month of July, and up 3.5 Percent for the Month of August, fell 1.0 percent in September – "the first year-over-year sales decline since March 2003."

Shoppertrak has subsequently reported that "retail sales rebounded slightly, posting a very slight 0.7 percent increase in October. sales for the week ending November 15 dropped 3.1 percent as compared to the same period in 2007." But car sales have not recovered at all. In August car sales were already down about 19% YoY. In September the loss was 21%. In October it was 23%. By November car sales had declined close to 40% from already depressed levels in 2007.

And the stock market, which was only down (-18%) from its all time high in 2007 of 1565 to 1282 at the end of August, by October 10 was down (-43%) to 899.

In the 40 day period between September 1 and October 10, the shallow recession which had crippled the housing industry and Wall Street, but left Main Street virtually intact, suddenly metastasized into a collapse of the consumer economy that some were beginning to liken to the 1930s.

This diary is "the first draft of history", an attempt to look at not only what has happened, but as best we can tell from the vantage point of several months later, why it happened.

December 1930 and October 2008

I've taken Mike Shedlock a/k/a Mish to task on a couple of items lately. But one of his graphs tells a very interesting and timely story that is worth a little more in-depth discussion.

Most people who have read about the Great Depression understand that part of what happened is that the money supply (M1 and M2) contracted sharply and that there is a school of thought that this was a prime driver of the Depression. But then there's the anomaly shown in this graph:

As I will discuss below, the two spikes in the monetary base - in December 1930 and October 2008 - have a lot in common.

"Banks aren't lending": Oh, REALLY???

This morning Mish has an entry entitled
Huge Demand For Treasuries As Banks Refuse To Lend
in which he cites bank reserves and a sluggish M1 multiplier in support of the conclusion that:

Look at the Base Money chart and the Reserve Bank Credit chart. Base money is soaring but all of it is sitting in bank reserves. In other words, banks are not lending. Clearly we have a huge monetary distortion, but banks seem to understand that lending money in this environment would do nothing but increase losses

Of course, Mish's article is simply received wisdom at this point. There can be no recovery until banks start lending, and they are refusing to lend.

There's just one problem with this argument: it isn't true.


Housing and Recessions, Or, This Time it Isn't Different

In Friday's diary, Housing is Nowhere near Bottom, BUT ... I cited as I have several times previously a paper on housing cycles and recessions that was presented by Prof. Edward Leamer to the Federal Reserve at its Jackson Hole conference in 2007. The paper itself is an excellent, in-depth analysis and I highly recommend your reading it in full if you have an hour or so on your hands due to inclement weather, indolence, intellectual curiosity, or if you just generally have a pathetic life.

Unfortunately, many people are dismissing Leamer because even though the data in his paper led to a spot-on conclusion, namely:

The historical record strongly suggests that in 2003 and 2004 we poured the foundation for a recession in 2007 or 2008 led by a collapse in housing we are currently experiencing....

Paulson wants second $350 billion; Obama may help

The Washington Post reports that:

Treasury Department officials are laying the groundwork for seeking the second half of the $700 billion financial rescue package from Congress ... [but w]ith lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressing heated opposition to such a request, Treasury officials have come to realize that they need the president-elect's help to obtain the rescue money, the sources said.

The Treasury aired the possibility of seeking the second half of the funds with transition team officials, who said they would attend a meeting with lawmakers and the Bush administration if the department pulled one together.

Housing is Nowhere Near a Bottom, BUT . . .

My buddy Bonddad occasionally posts items invariably entitled, We're Nowhere near a Bottom in Housing. I agree with that, but there are signs that change is afoot.

As I have previously described, Prof. Edward Leamer has studied all of the post WW2 recessions, and has noted that society needs only so many new houses and vehicles in any given year. Expansions typically end at a point where there has been overproduction of both. The recession ends and the next expansion begins only after that excess has been sopped up by a long and/or deep enough period of underproduction. Needless to say, there was wild overbuilding of houses in the first part of this decade. In fact, the graphs which appear below suggest overbuilding began ever so slightly over 10 years ago.

A full fledged Deflationary Bust

This morning the NAPM reported a record low reading on their services index. This is the vast majority of the economy. Yesterday we learned that auto sales also declined by a record amount in November.
What both auto sales and services have in common is a continuing worsening of monthly measures compared with 2007. For example, in August car sales were down about 19% YoY. In September the loss was 21%. In October it was 23%. November's number, released yesterday,was more than 30% off from 2007.

Some time ago, I summarized Prof. Leamer's research on typical business cycle contractions: first housing, then durables (mainly cars and furniture), then non-durables, and finally services. When services go, you are in the full force of the recession. That's where we are now.

In the services report was another bomb: the prices index has also declined dramatically, also to a new all-time low -- from an all-time high only four months ago.

Is a 2009 recovery still possible?

This is a follow up on my previous posts in which I discussed whether we were heading for a deflationary recession or a recovery in 2009. As we found out within the last couple of weeks, the deflationary recession is already here. But are there still grounds to believe a recovery in 2009 is possible? Money supply indicators (m1 [red, green] and monetary base[orange]) continue to indicate so as of this week's update:

It is now virtually certain that the Kasriel indicator will predict a recovery in the first half of 2009.