Posts Tagged ‘default’

Back to the Drawing Board for Greece

Monday, July 9th, 2012

International lenders and Greece will renegotiate the program on which the second financial bailout for Athens is based because the original has become outdated, according to a senior Eurozone official.  Greece received a €130-billion bailout in February from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  General elections in May and June delayed the bailout’s implementation.  The United States, the IMF’s largest member, supports discussions to review the Greek bailout program, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel countered that any relaxing of Greece’s reform promises is unacceptable.

“Anybody who would say that we need not, and cannot renegotiate the MoU (memo of understanding) is delusional, because he, or she, would be under the understanding that the whole program, the whole process, has remained completely on track ever since the weeks before the Greek first election,” the official said.  “Because the economic situation has changed, the situation of tax receipts has changed, the rhythm of implementation of the milestones has changed, the rhythm of privatization has changed — if we were not to change the MoU –it does not work.  We would be signing off on an illusion.  So we have to sit down with our Greek colleagues and say: this is where we should be in July, and this is where we are in July, and there is a delta.  Let’s find out what the delta is and then how to deal with the delta — that is a new MoU,” according to the official.

According to the official, representatives of the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission will visit Greece as soon as a new government is in place to review the program’s implementation and prepare for negotiations.  “It is no secret, quite logical in fact, that due to the time passed without a functioning government in place that can take the required decisions, because of this, there have been significant delays,” the official said.  “The conclusion is that they have to engage in discussions on the memorandum of understanding and bring it back onto an even keel.”

Meanwhile at the G-20 summit in Mexico,  leaders of the world’s most powerful economies say they have produced a coordinated global plan for job creation, which it calls the top priority in fighting the effects of the European economic crisis.  The draft says “We are united in our resolve to promote growth and jobs.”

An editorial in the Australian Financial Review warns Europe not to misrepresent the issue. “The optimism that followed Greece’s election has proved to be short-lived as investors acknowledge the poll result doesn’t really change all that much in terms of Europe’s ongoing debt crisis.  Less than a day after Greece pulled back from installing anti-austerity parties in office, European bond markets were once again in meltdown on concerns that Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland may need more financial aid to prevent default.  The European Union’s financial ‘firewall’ is clearly not up to the task, with the yield on Spanish 10-year bonds soaring to a Euro-era high of 7.29 percent.  In Athens, talks are under way to form a pro-EU coalition government between the center-right New Democracy party and the socialist Pasok party, reducing the likelihood of a near-term Greek exit from the Eurozone.  Yet rather than insist that Athens stick to the tough conditions it agreed to as part of the EU’s €240 billion ($300 billion) rescue packages, there are signs that European leaders may again be preparing to fudge the issue.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel insists that Athens must stick to its austerity commitments and that there is no room for compromise.  But other European politicians are starting to talk about giving Greece more time to fix its problems.  This appears to confirm the Greeks will never live up to their austerity conditions and that the exercise was all about kicking the can further down the road.”

Devaluation would be the optimal way for Greece to jump start its economy.  Because that option is not on the table this time, achieving competitiveness is going to be much harder.  One of the bailout’s stipulations requires the government to cut pensions, slash the number of public servants and control costs – in other words, the “austerity” option.  Others prefer a program to stimulate growth and boost revenue, although one that would likely involve increased spending.  This is the “growth” option.  Angela Merkel favors austerity while French President Francois Hollande prefers the “growth” option.  In this debate, the Germans are in control because they are the ones that are going to cough up the money.  They have the ability to help because, contrary to most of Europe, they practice austerity and thrift.  If German taxpayers are going to have to pay higher taxes to save nations like Greece, they think their European brothers and sisters should share some of the pain.

According to a Washington Post editorial, Germany and other creditworthy E.U. governments were right to tell Greeks before the election that they could not choose both the Euro and an end to austerity and reforms, as several populist parties were promising.  Yet now that voters favored parties that supported the last bailout package, it’s time for Angela Merkel and other austerity hawks to make their own bow to reality. For Greece to stabilize, some easing of the terms of EU loans will be needed, at a minimum; an extension of deadlines for meeting government spending and deficit targets may also be necessary.  Unless it can deliver such a relaxation, there is not much chance the new administration in Athens will be able to push through the huge reforms still needed to make the economy competitive, including privatizations, deregulation and public sector layoffs.

“In the end, a Greek slide into insolvency and an exit from the euro may still be unavoidable. That’s all the more reason why EU leaders must at last agree on decisive measures to shore up the rest of the currency zone, beginning with Spain and Italy.  Measures under discussion for a summit meeting next week, including euro-area bank regulation, are positive but not sufficient.  In the end, banks and governments must be provided with sufficient liquidity to restore confidence — something that will probably require the issuance of bonds backed by all Euro-area countries, or greatly increased lending by the European Central Bank.  As German officials invariably point out, bailout measures will be wasted unless they are accompanied by significant structural reforms by debtor nations.  But without monetary liquidity, and the chance for renewed growth, the Euro cannot be rescued.”

Is Greece Headed Towards a Third Bailout?

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Lucas Papademos, Greece’s prime minister, said that his crisis-plagued country could require a third bailout just weeks after it secured a second round of rescue funds after much discussion in Brussels. Athens may have received the biggest bailout in history but another lifeline could not be ruled out, according to Papademos.  To date, the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have committed a total €240 billion to the nearly bankrupt nation.  “Some form of financial assistance might be necessary but we have to work intensely to avoid such an event,” Papademos said, noting that additional spending cuts are inevitable.  Whatever government emerges after the upcoming general election, it is vital that is it prepared for the measures.  “In 2013 – 2014, a reduction in state spending of about €12 billion is required under the new economic program,” Papademos said.  “Every effort must be made to limit wasteful spending and not to further burden salaries of civil servants.”

Greece’s new government will have “about 60 days” to enact long-overdue structural reforms and agree on ways of reining in public debt before officials make a decisive inspection tour in June.  “It is very important that there is no let up in the pace of reforms after elections,” said a senior Papademos aide.  The chiefs of both the EU and IMF missions to Greece said while progress is being made in meeting deficit-reducing targets, a lot of work remains to be done.  “There are still many measures to be taken, painful ones too.  I believe we’ll be able to see in the second half of the year in which direction we’re going, whether we’re on the right path or not,” said Matthias Mors, head EU monitor.

Papademos reiterated that Greece will do everything necessary to remain in the Eurozone, saying the cost of an exit would be “devastating.  More than 70 percent of the Greek people support the country’s continuing participation in the euro area,” he said.  “They realize, despite the sacrifices made, that the long-term benefits from remaining in the Eurozone outweigh the short-term costs.  Greece will do everything possible to make a third adjustment program unnecessary,” Papademos said.  “Having said that, markets may not be accessible by Greece even if it has implemented fully all measures agreed on.  It cannot be excluded that some financial support may be necessary, but we must try hard to avoid such an outcome.”

Private investors in Greek debt wrote down the value of their investment by 53.5 percent, or risk losing everything in a possible default.  Public-sector jobs are being slashed, workers ‘ wages are being frozen, welfare payments are being slashed, and taxes are being raised.  Greece’s official unemployment rate is currently more than 20 percent.  If Greece does default, it could start a domino effect that would drag down other ailing European economies — possibly plunging the Eurozone into recession.

According to Papademos, “The real economy is still weak, and high unemployment is likely to persist in the near future.  The challenging period ahead of us needs to be addressed with great care.  If we do things right, implementing all measures agreed upon in a timely, effective and equitable manner, and if we explain our policy objectives and strategy convincingly, public support will be sustained.  An improvement in confidence would have a positive multiplier effect on economic activity and employment.”

When asked if Greece might return to its old currency, Papademos said “The consequences would be devastating.  A return to the drachma would cause high inflation, unstable exchange rate, and a loss of real value of bank deposits.  Real incomes would drop sharply, the banking system would be severely destabilized, there would be many bankruptcies, and unemployment would increase.  A return to the drachma would increase social inequalities, favoring those who have money abroad.”

Foreclosures Decline, But Expect a Spike Thanks to Banks Settlement

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Foreclosure filings declined eight percent in February, the smallest year-over-year decrease since October 2010, as lenders began working through a backlog of seized properties, according to RealtyTrac Inc. A total of 206,900 homes received notices of default, auction or repossession last month, down two percent from January, according to the data firm, which noted that one in every 637 households received a filing.  Those numbers could rise sharply in coming months.

Banks slowed foreclosures for more than a year as attorneys general in every state investigated charges of shoddy and incomplete paperwork.  A $25 billion settlement with the five largest lenders removed some roadblocks to property seizures and gave the go-ahead for future actions, Brandon Moore, RealtyTrac’s chief executive officer, said.  “February’s numbers point to a gradually rising foreclosure tide.  That should result in more states posting annual increases in the coming months.”

“The pig is starting to move through the python,” said Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac’s director of marketing.  The banks “have already adjusted their foreclosure practices to fit the terms of the settlement.  We expect that to continue as (the settlement) gets finalized,” Blomquist said.

The settlement clarifies the way in which foreclosures must be handled.  That is expected to let banks speed up their processing, putting many delinquent homeowners into the foreclosure process.  Cases could move forward after being on hold for months — even years — with their delinquent owners still living illegally in the properties.

“The foreclosure and mortgage settlement filed in court earlier this week will help pave the way to a properly functioning foreclosure process by providing a clear roadmap for necessary foreclosures,” Moore continued.  “That should result in more states posting annual increases in the coming months.  Not surprisingly, many of the biggest annual increases in February were in states with the more bureaucratic judicial foreclosure process, which resulted in a larger backlog of foreclosures built up over the last 18 months in those states.”

Cities with the highest foreclosure rates were Riverside-San Bernardino in California (one in 166 housing units); Atlanta (one in 244); Phoenix (one in 259); Miami (one in 264); and Chicago (one in 302).

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of the Inspector General’s report found that several banks violated servicing standards and foreclosure procedures and engaged in extensive robo signing.  The banks agreed to follow new servicing standards and offer relief to borrowers by providing $10 billion in principal reductions, $3 billion in refinancing loans and $7 billion in alternatives to foreclosure.  Foreclosures in the 26 states with a judicial foreclosure process rose 24 percent over last year, while activity in the 24 states that follow a non-judicial foreclosure process fell by 23 percent

Default notices, the initial step in the foreclosure process increased more than 20 percent in 12 states, including Hawaii, Maryland, Connecticut, South Carolina, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Florida.  State attorneys general have filed lawsuits against major lenders in New York, California and Nevada in recent months, further slowing the pace of foreclosures in those states.

As Foreclosures Decline, Federal Government Makes Deal With 49 States

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

In good news for beleaguered homeowners, the Obama administration announced a $26 billion mortgage settlement, which 49 out of 50 state attorneys general signed on to.  The deal won praise from such groups as the Mortgage Bankers Association, the industry trade group for lenders, and the Center for Responsible Lending, a public interest group advocating for borrowers.

Conservatives suggested that the Obama administration is overreaching, and that the agreement rewards homeowners who haven’t been paying their mortgages.  On the other side, some liberal groups say it falls far short of providing the needed level of help to troubled homeowners hurt by the housing bubble, problems they blame on Wall Street banks and investors.  They would prefer additional relief for homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages.

“It’s a big check with narrow immunity,” said Paul Miller, a former examiner for the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and currently an analyst with FBR Capital Markets in Arlington, VA.  “You get the state attorneys general off your back, but you’re not getting immunity from securitizations, which could come with their own steep cost down the road.”

Regulators are “aggressive” on pursuing securities claims and have set up a task force to do so, said Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.  The $26 billion deal doesn’t protect banks from claims related to faulty loans sold to government-owned Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, he said.  “It wasn’t the servicing practices that created the bubble, nor caused its collapse,” Donovan said.  “It was the origination and securitization of these horrendous products.”

Writing on Salon, Matt Stoller says that the deal lets the banks down relatively easily.  “Rather than settling anything, this agreement is simply a continuation of the policy framework of both the Bush and the Obama administrations.  So what exactly is that framework?  It is, as Damon Silvers of the Congressional Oversight Panel which monitored the bailouts, once put it, to preserve the capital structures of the largest banks.  ‘We can either have a rational resolution to the foreclosure crisis or we can preserve the capital structure of the banks,’ said Silvers in October, 2010.  “’We can’t do both.’  Writing down debt that cannot be paid back — the approach Franklin Roosevelt took — is off the table, as it would jeopardize the equity keeping those banks afloat.  This policy framework isn’t obvious, because it isn’t admissible in polite company.  Nonetheless, it occasionally gets out.  Back in August 2010, at an ‘on background’ briefing of financial bloggers, Treasury officials admitted that the point of its housing programs were to space out foreclosures so that banks could absorb smaller shocks to their balance sheets.  This is consistent with the president’s own words a few months later.”

Very gradually, the foreclosure crisis seems to be easing. The number of homes in foreclosure declined by 130,000, or 8.4 percent last year to 830,000, according to a report from CoreLogic, an economic research firm.  That compares with 1.1 million homes foreclosed in 2010.  These are homes whose owners had fallen far behind on payments, forcing lenders to put them into the foreclosure process.  The homes remain in the foreclosure inventory until they’re sold — either at auction or in a short sale, which is when a home is sold for less than the mortgage value — or until homeowners are current again on payments

There are two reasons for the decline in the foreclosure inventory, according to Mark Fleming, CoreLogic’s chief economist.  “The pace at which properties are entering foreclosure is slowing,” he said.  “And servicers nationwide stepped up the rate at which they were able to process distressed assets.”

In the last few years, homes have entered foreclosure more slowly because lenders carefully scrutinized applicants; only low-risk borrowers are granted loans.  Along with a measured improvement in the economy, this equals fewer borrowers getting into trouble.  Even borrowers in default are avoiding foreclosure in many instance and are being held up by judicial and regulatory constraints, according to Fleming.

The practice of robo-signing, in which banks filed slapdash and sometimes improper paperwork, made lenders more cautious about getting their paperwork in order before foreclosing.  When a bank does put a home into foreclosure, they are trying to speed the process.  One way they’ve done that is by encouraging short sales.  Another is that they’ve stepped up their foreclosure prevention efforts — often with the aid of government programs such as Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), which the government says has helped nearly one million Americans stay in their homes.

After foreclosures are completed and the homes are back in the lenders’ hands, they sell quickly.  “This is the first time in a year that REO sales (those of bank-owned properties) have outpaced completed foreclosures,” Fleming said.  In December, there were 103 sales of bank-owned homes for every 100 homes in the foreclosure inventory.  That was a significant increase from November of 2010, when there were only 94 REO sales for every 100 homes in the foreclosure process.

As of December of 2011, Florida still topped the nation’s foreclosure inventory at 11.9 percent, followed by New Jersey with 6.4 percent and Illinois 5.4 percent.  Nevada, consistently the number one foreclosure state in the nation, has fallen to fourth place with 5.3 percent.

Fitch Ratings Reaffirms U.S. Creditworthiness as AAA

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan says that Italy is the root of most of Europe’s economic problems, as well as our own.  In a recent appearance on “Meet the Press”, “It depends on Europe, not the United States,” Greenspan said. “The United States was actually doing relatively well, sluggish but going forward until Italy ran into trouble.”  According to Greenspan, 50 percent of American corporations have offices in Europe, and the continent “has been a very important driving force in the overall earnings of U.S. corporations.”  Greenspan also noted that S&P’s downgrade “hit a nerve”.  The ratings agency said it was reducing the AAA rating to AA+ not only because of the country’s debt load, but because it doesn’t believe that Congress can resolve the country’s debt problems.  Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, agrees, noting that “There’s a lot of fear and misunderstanding and confusion, and that all could come out in the stock and bond markets.  I don’t think it takes much to unnerve investors given the current environment.  I think anything could drive investors to sell given how fragile sentiment is.”

At the same time, Greenspan downplayed the risk of a double-dip recession in the United States, noting that the economy is in better shape than its European peers.  With all of this bickering going on, the economy is slowing down,” Greenspan said.  “You can see it in all the data.  I don’t see a double-dip, but I do see it slowing down.”  Europe, which purchases 25 percent of American exports and is home to the operations of many American companies, could determine the course of the U.S. economy’s recovery, according to Greenspan.  European leaders are working to control a sovereign-debt crisis, which has spread to Italy, the euro zone’s third-largest economy, and is causing chaos in global financial markets.

“When Italy first showed signs of weakness and started selling its bonds — the yield is now over six percent, which is an unsustainable level — it created a massive problem in Europe because Italy is a very large country, cannot be easily bailed out and indeed cannot be bailed out.  This is not an issue of credit rating. The United States can pay any debt it has because we can always print money to do that.  There is zero probability of default,” Greenspan said.

In the meantime, Fitch Ratings delivered some good news to the U.S. economy when it reaffirmed its AAA credit rating and said it did not anticipate downgrading the nation’s debt in the near future.  The firm said the outlook for the rating is stable because the recent deal to raise the debt ceiling and cut the budget deficit proved that the nation’s political leaders are willing to do what’s necessary to cut the nation’s growing debt.  The debt-ceiling deal “was a significant positive development that provided a substantive and necessary increase in the federal debt ceiling.  It also signaled that there is the political commitment to place U.S. public finances on a sustainable path consistent with the U.S. sovereign rating remaining ‘AAA’,” Fitch said.  Fitch’s outlook is the most positive on the U.S. of the primary credit rating agencies.  Standard & Poor’s downgraded long-term debt to AA+ after concluding that the planned $2.1 trillion to $2.4 trillion budget cuts over the next 10 years are not large enough to stabilize the nation’s rising debt.  Moody’s Investor Services also retained the nation’s AAA rating, but changed its outlook to negative.  This means that there’s a possibility of a downgrade.

“The key pillars of the U.S.’s exceptional creditworthiness remains intact: its pivotal role in the global financial system and the flexible, diversified and wealthy economy that provides its revenue base.  Monetary and exchange-rate flexibility further enhances the capacity of the economy to absorb and adjust to ‘shocks,’ Fitch said.

“I think they’re looking at a broader perspective than S&P in the global aspects,” Steve Goldman, Weeden & Company market strategist said of Fitch’s decision. “It’s giving a sigh of relief to investors here.”

Greece Has Worst Credit in the World – Below Pakistan and Ecuador

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

European finance ministers are working to resolve a quandary over how to talk banks into “voluntarily” contributing to a second Greece bailout and avoiding a destructive debt default. This attempt to rescue Greece’s finances hinges on how far banks, pension funds and insurers will accept new terms on old debts prior to repayment by Athens.  Greece has accumulated 350 billion euros ($500 billion) of debt, more than its entire economy produces in 18 months.  The European Central Bank (ECB) is concerned that requiring private investors to help could see the credit ratings agencies deem Athens to be in default, an enormous risk for the entire eurozone.

European finance chiefs are hammering out a Greek rescue to prevent sovereign default after the country was given the world’s lowest credit rating by Standard & Poor’s.  According to Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager, “We need to make it as voluntary as possible to prevent triggering scenarios that cost more and make financial markets lose all confidence in the eurozone.”

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is firm in his belief that taxpayers in the eurozone’s biggest economy will be willing to lend Greece more money — but only if banks and private creditors take their own hits.  “The German government is ready to participate in supplementary measures,” Schaeuble said, but, “of course, a role for the private sector is an element.  We are in discussions.”  Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter echoed this hardline stance, noting that “we can’t leave the profits in the hands of the banks and the losses in the hands of taxpayers.”  The chairman of the 17-nation currency Eurogroup, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, said the finance ministers had come together “to examine different options…all the options.”  Additionally, Germany is supporting a bond swap that would push out the maturities on Greece’s debt by seven years, giving it more time to rebalance its economy and sell state assets.

According to Finnish Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen, “Most of the countries have indicated that some form of private sector involvement is crucial,  I want to underline that we have to avoid, whatever it takes, the next financial crisis.  The balance is very difficult.”  A new aid package for Greece is expected to be finalized at an upcoming European Union summit.

A majority of German banks say they can withstand Greek debt restructuring, according to Christoph Schmidt, an economic adviser to Chancellor Angela Merkel.  A “soft restructuring” would have little effect on Greece’s debt burden and eventually creditors — including the European Central Bank — will have to write off part of their Greek sovereign debt, Schmidt said.

A more pessimistic viewpoint was expressed by European Central Bank Governing Council member Christian Noyer who said any attempt by eurozone governments to fine-tune Greek debt that results in a default means financing the nation’s entire economy.  “Our position is extremely simple: if there is a solution that avoids a risk of default, it seems suitable,” Noyer said.  “If you can’t find it, it’s better to avoid touching the debt.  If, despite everything, you try to reduce the debt and you provoke a risk of default, you’ll have to finance the entire Greek economy.  We’ve gone as far as possible in our interpretation of the quality of debt.  If we have debt in default, it will be impossible to consider that we have quality debt.  Therefore it will become impossible to accept this debt as collateral.”  Believing that restructuring or rescheduling can lead to a relaxation of budget plans is a “dangerous illusion,” he said.  “Such operations do not in themselves provide any new financing.  They always lead, at least initially, to a further drop in confidence and lower capital inflows, which increases the adjustment effort needed.”  Noyer also rejected suggestions that the ECB’s stance was related to concerns about the ability of European banks to absorb losses on Greek debt, or even about the ECB taking losses on its own Greek holdings.

The position “has nothing to do with the situation of French or German or European banks, and nothing to do with the fact that the euro system holds Greek debt,” he said.  “That’s rubbish.  Our one and only concern is the financing of the Greek economy.  We must absolutely avoid anything that could result in a default,” Noyer said.  “It would be an extraordinarily serious risk for the financing of the Greek economy and would be one for a certain number of euro-zone regions after that.”

Greece now has the dubious honor of being the lowest-rated sovereign in the world, below Ecuador, Jamaica, Pakistan and Grenada. According to Standard & Poor’s, “In our view, Greece is increasingly likely to restructure its debt in a manner that, under the conditions of any package of additional funding provided by Greece’s official creditors, would result in one or more defaults under our criteria.”

Want to Buy a Toxic Asset? The Treasury Department Is Selling Them

Monday, April 18th, 2011

The Treasury Department is planning to sell $142 billion worth of toxic assets that it acquired during the financial crisis.  According to Treasury, it wants to sell approximately $10 million worth of assets every month, depending on market conditions and hopes to end the program next year.  Treasury acquired the securities — primarily 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac –between October, 2008 and December, 2009 to stabilize the home loan market.

The Treasury has decided to sell the securities now because the market has “notably improved.”  According to Treasury officials, the sale could net $15 billion to $20 billion in profits for taxpayers.  The sale will have a negligible impact on the U.S. debt limit but could delay the ceiling’s arrival by a few days.  In early March, Treasury estimated the U.S. would hit the $14.294 trillion ceiling between April 15 and May 31.  The Treasury in 2008 retained State Street Global Advisors, a leading institutional asset manager, to acquire, manage and dispose of the mortgage-backed securities portfolio.

“We will exit this investment at a gradual and orderly pace to maximize the recovery of taxpayer dollars and help protect the process of repair of the housing finance market, Mary Miller, assistant secretary for financial markets, said.  “We’re continuing to wind down the emergency programs that were put in place in 2008 and 2009 to help restore market stability, and the sale of these securities is consistent with that effort.”

Congress gave Treasury the authority to buy securities guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  The value of these mortgage-backed securities declined significantly after the housing bubble burst, prompting fears that write-downs could drag down individual banks and further plunge the financial system into panic.  The Treasury said that three years after the worst point of the crisis, the market for asset-backed derivatives is now much more robust.

The government bought $221 billion of these bonds, as part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008.  Treasury announced that it would buy the bonds on the day the government took over Fannie and Freddie.  “The primary objectives of this portfolio will be to promote market stability, ensure mortgage availability, and protect the taxpayer,” Treasury said at the time.  The portfolio is now just $142 billion.  The Congressional Oversight Panel, which supervised the Troubled Asset Relief Program, said that as of February of 2011, Treasury had received $84 billion in principal repayments and $16.7 billion in interest on the securities it holds.

“It was a bit of a surprise, though will likely be easy to digest,said Tom Tucci, head of government bond trading at Capital Markets in New York.  “We spent a year and a half at levels that were unsustainable because they weren’t based on economic fundamentals, they were based on fear.  “Now some of the fundamentals are starting to come back into place.”

Republicans are asking for deeper cuts in government spending before they will agree to raise the debt limit.  Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has cautioned that failure to raise the borrowing limit would cause an unparalleled default by the government on the national debt.  Without question, this would drive up the government’s cost of borrowing money.

Fannie, Freddie Bailouts Could Cost the Taxpayers $154 Billion

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Taxpayer bill for Fannie, Freddie bailout could reach $154 billion. The ultimate cost of bailing out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could cost as much as $154 billion unless the economy improves, according to a government report.  The mortgage giants rescue – which has kept the housing market on life supports – already has cost $135 billion to cover losses on home loans in default.  The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, says the most likely scenario is that house prices will have to fall slightly during a slow economic recovery, then rise a bit.  If that occurs, the Fannie and Freddie bailout will cost taxpayers an additional $19 billion.  A more upbeat prediction sees the housing market recovering sooner, which would require just $6 billion more for a total bill of $141 billion.

Washington, D.C., research firm Federal Financial Analytics believes the FHFA projection provides a sound indication of what the bailout will cost, but “nowhere near a definitive picture of it.”  Fannie and Freddie issued a joint statement that said “It’s simply impossible to forecast reliably now how much foreclosuregate will cost.”  Fannie and Freddie’s plight stands in sharp contrast to the success of the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP), which is now expected to cost just 10 percent of the $700 billion originally forecast.

Federal regulators seized Fannie and Freddie in September of 2008 in the wake of the financial crisis.  Since then, the government has kept the agencies solvent, with President Obama pledging unlimited support.  “From the beginning, the Obama administration has made it clear that the current structure of the government’s role in housing finance, while necessary in the short-term to provide critical support to a still-fragile housing market, is simply not acceptable for the long term,” said Jeffrey Goldstein, Treasury Department undersecretary for domestic finance.

Waiting for Defaults

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Commercial real estate may be in better shape than thought. Real estate professionals who had been expecting a worst-case scenario – an onrush of distressed commercial properties coming onto the market – are still waiting for that to come to fruition.  Ben Johnson, writing in the National Real Estate Investor, notes that “Keep on waiting/lurking seems to be the prevailing view.  According to New York-based researcher Real Capital Analytics, the default rate for commercial real estate mortgages held by the nation’s FDIC-insured depository institutions did increase by nine basis points to 4.28 percent in the 2nd quarter, up from 4.19 percent in the 1st quarter. For those of you keeping score on a historical scorecard, at its cyclical low in the 1st half of 2008, the commercial mortgage default rate was 0.58 percent.  A mere pittance.  Year-over-year, the tale is more striking, with the commercial default rate up by 139 basis points.”

Instead of accelerating, Johnson says that the negative drift seems to be slowing.  “Year-over-year increases had been accelerating for 13 consecutive quarters through the end of 2009, but have moderated more recently,” he said.  The dollar volume of commercial mortgages in default recorded the smallest increase since the 2nd quarter of 2007.  Approximately $46.2 billion of bank-held commercial mortgages currently are in default, an increase of $547 million from the 1st quarter of 2010.

Sovereign Debt Could Be 2010’s Subprime

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

 Potential sovereign debt defaults could destabilize global economy in 2010.Greece, Spain, Ukraine, Austria, Latvia and Mexico are among the nations in danger of sovereign debt default, putting the global economic recovery from the recession at risk.  Sovereign debt is the debt of nations.  For example, U.S. Treasuries are backed by the “full faith and credit” of the government; similarly, other countries sell bonds to raise money to pay for programs such as armies and public healthcare.  When a nation defaults on its sovereign debt, it means they are unable to pay their creditors.  Dubai escaped default when its oil-rich neighbor, Abu Dhabi, bailed out the emirate to the tune of $10 billion.  Also in trouble – though to lesser degrees — are Ecuador, Argentina, Grenada, Lebanon, Pakistan and Bolivia.

A default on sovereign debt is potentially even more disastrous than last year’s subprime meltdown because it has the potential to lead to geopolitical volatility, social unrest and even war.  Investors who have purchased sovereign debt – which typically is perceived as safer than corporate debt because countries can raise taxes and increase tariffs to raise cash to pay their debts – could see some extremely poor returns.

In a book entitled This Time Is Different:  Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, authors and economists Ken Rogoff of Harvard and Carmen Reinhart of the University of Maryland state that “Since 1970, nearly half of sovereign defaults have occurred in nations with debt-to-GNP ratios of 60 percent or more.  This makes sense:  As a country’s debt starts to approach the size of its total economy (or GNP), it gets harder to make their payments, just like an individual whose debts start to eat up all (or most) of their salary.”