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Thoughts From The Frontline

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  • Pushing on a String

    This week the Fed altered their end-of-meeting statement by just a few words, but those words have a lot of meaning. It seems they are paving the way to a new round of quantitative easing (QE2), if in their opinion the situation warrants it. A trillion dollars of new money could soon be injected into the system. Tonight we explore some of the implications of a new round of QE. Let's put our speculation hats on, gentle reader, as we are moving into uncharted territory. There are no maps, just theories, and they don't all agree. (Note: this letter may print a little long, as there are a lot of charts.)

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  • Where Do We Go From Here?

    I have been writing for almost a year that the next shoe to drop on US banks would be commercial construction lending. Today we look at some hard numbers. We look across the pond to sort out the problems in Europe. We look at the consequences of the losses stemming from Lehman. Then we look at one of the more serious consequences of the banking crisis, one that will bring the crisis home to you. Finally, we look at what the various governments of the world must do in response. It may not be fun, but it should be interesting. And it is important. Feel free to forward this letter to anyone who asks why we not only need the bailout but will need even more coordinated government action....
  • Who's Afraid of a Big, Bad Bailout?

    Flying last Tuesday, overnight from Cape Town in South Africa to London, I read in the Financial Times that Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas was quoted as saying (this is from memory so it is not exact) that he had difficulty in voting for a bailout plan when none of his constituents could understand the need to bail out Wall Street, didn't understand the problem, and were against spending $750 billion of taxpayer money to solve a crisis for a bunch of (rich) people who took a lot of risk and created the crisis. That is a sentiment that many of the Republican members of the House share. As it happens, I know Joe. My office is in his congressional district. I sat on the Executive Committee for the Texas Republican party representing much of the same district for eight years. This week, Thoughts from the Frontline will be an open letter to Joe, and through him to Congress telling him what the real financial problem is, how it affects his district and help explains to his constituents the nature of the problem, and why he has to hold his nose with one hand and vote for it with the other. I think this is as good a way to explain the crisis we are facing this weekend. This letter will print out a little longer because there are a lot of charts, but the word length is about the same. Let's jump right in....
  • Additional Thoughts on the Continuing Crisis

    We are entering the next stage of the credit crisis, and one which is potentially more troubling than what we have seen over the past year, absent some policy reactions by the central banks and governments world wide. The crisis was started by an intense run-up in leverage by financial institutions and investors world wide, investing in increasingly risky assets such as subprime mortgages and then the realization that leverage could hurt. The deleveraging process started to intensify last year about this time. The easy part of that process has been just about done. Now is the time for the really hard work. It will not be pretty. In this week's letter, we look at the process and think about its implications for the markets and the economy, and visit some data on the housing market and unemployment....
  • Who Holds the Old Maid?

    When is the credit crisis going to end? How will we know? The credit crisis is getting ready to enter its second phase. This week we examine what that means, and what the economic environment will look like over the coming quarters. We also (sadly) re-visit Freddie and Fannie and examine the risks that they put into the markets. Risks, by the way, that were sanctioned by regulators and encouraged by a Congress that took in hundreds of millions in campaign contributions and lobbying fees. We (the US taxpayer) have taken on a huge risk and potential loss for that paltry few hundred million. Sadly, those who encouraged that risk will by and large be voted back into office rather than ridden out of town on a rail (an old US custom, rather barbaric, but one which should maybe be revived for this purpose). It should make for an interesting letter as we count down the last days of summer....
  • It's more than Fannie and Freddie

    Yet another crisis confronts us, as we will have to deal with the aftermath of a rather large number of bank failures over the next year, which is likely to overwhelm the ability of the FDIC to insure your bank deposits. Today we look at the banking system, the FDIC, and Freddie and Fannie. It's not pretty, but as realists we must know what we are facing. But first, I just want to say I am glad that Richard Russell is doing fine. For those who do not know, he suffered a mild stroke last Friday. I talked to him yesterday, and he was a little tired but doing better. He has decided to cut back his writing schedule and relax a bit more, which is a good thing. At 84, he has written a daily (and sometimes lengthy) commentary and has been writing the monthly Dow Theory Letter since 1958. He is the dean of newsletter writers. He has forgotten more than most of us will ever know about the markets....