Why Didn't We See This Credit Crisis Coming?
This didn't happen overnight. The credit crisis has been building for years.
Graphic shows timeline of credit crisis events with banking and mortgage foreclosures data;
Stocks fall sharply ahead of bailout vote
There are new restrictions allowing Congress to limit how much of the money goes out the door at once. It also includes caps on pay packages of top executives as well as assurances that the government also would ultimately be reimbursed by the companies for any losses. The Treasury would be permitted to spend $250 billion to buy banks' risky assets, giving them a much-needed necessary cash infusion. There also would be another $100 billion for use at president's discretion and a final $350 billion if Congress signs off on it.
Let's put this in perspective. What Foreign News sites are saying about how we got in this financial mess:
What it costs: $700 billion. Ok, in relation to some other big things it´s not that much. Financial markets help the world produce that much twice a week. And if we assume that the assets the agency buys are worth at least half of what it pays, then it´s not that far from the cost of the latest US farm bill.
Total cost of the 2008 US Farm Bill
In the 2008 farm bill, the current ten-year spending level is approximately $600 billion.
The US subsidizes farmers. Now we want to do the same with the financial industry?
The Blame Game
Blame the bubble on FDR, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton
Article in theaustralian.news.com.au
As usual everybody blames markets and calls for regulation when there is a financial crisis. But in Dagens Industri today (in Swedish, subscribers only), I remind the readers of some milestones in the pre-history of the crisis:
1933: As part of the New Deal, investment banks are stopped from also acting as commercial banks (which would have given them bank deposits and more stability).
1938: As part of the New Deal, President Roosevelt creates the mortgage association Fannie Mae and in 1970 Congress creates Freddie Mac. With their implicit government guarantees they can offer cheaper loans and expand until they dominate the American mortgage market.
1989: The American government decides to step in and pay for the savings and loan crisis, which sets a precedent: If you take too big risks with mortgage loans, the government will save you.
1995: The Community Reinvestment Act is revised so that banks and thrifts are stopped from targeting the wealthy, and are forced to give home loans to low- and moderate income-households as well. In return they are allowed to re-package and sell those subprime risks to others, which Bear Sterns pioneers in 1997.
2001-2003: Instead of letting the market get rid of bad businesses and loans after the dot com bubble and 9/11, the Fed reduces its rate from 6.5% to 1%. There is only a mild recession, but at the cost of a dramatic expansion of the money supply, that creates a real estate bubble.
These were definitely not the only villains in the story, but if I deliberately wanted to create a financial crisis, I think that this is almost exactly how I would do it.
The prices increased, people borrowed more, and Mae and Mac ran leverage ratios that exceeeded 60 to 1 (cheered on by the Democrats who now blame free markets for the crisis) to keep giving loans to people who could not really afford it. And meanwhile everybody involved thought that they couldn´t really lose, because the government would bail them out.
It only took more traditional interest rates for the bubble to burst (with the help from some new accounting regulations). The independent investment banks that did not have access to bank deposits collapsed and almost brought the whole system down.
All those who now think that the solution is to give more powers to politicians, authorities and central banks should at least go to the trouble of looking at what they did with the powers they already had. Decision makers on the market do act irresponsibly and incredibly short-sighted from time to time. So do decision makers in government.
The Financial Mess: How We Got Here
By Abraham H. Miller of American Thinker
I am not suggesting that the CRA [Community Reinvestment Act] by itself led to the current crisis, but the CRA was the first and most important part of the food chain. The CRA caused the expansion in the number of questionable loans that lending institutions made, but Wall Street and insurance underwriters were all to willing to package these loans, enhance their ratings through convenient exercises in fantasy, sell them, and insure them with reserves that were more inadequate than the incomes of the people who got the loans in the first place..
The best thing that can emerge from the current financial crisis is the realization that the government needs to stop directing economic decision making. In a sense, the government is putting out a fire it started when it both created the CRA and assessed lending institutions by how well they were doing in response to the program. When Clinton decided, in his usual arrogance, that he knew better than the market how banks should lend money, the seeds were sown for the current financial disaster.
More information on the Community Reinvestment Act: