Thursday, August 27, 2009

Photo Retrospective: Ted Kennedy

[click for slide show]

Also, the Boston Globe has a video timeline here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Where Exactly Is All That TARP money?

Not here. As far as savings go, Americans have gotten religion. We now owe less money collectively than we did a year ago, as the graph above shows. Not only do we want to get out from under; lending institutions are forcing us to submit to tighter discipline. They are making money less freely available now to protect themselves from risky borrowers.

But this is bad news for an economy built on expanding consumer debt. The reduced demand for goods and services has resulted in massive layoffs during the past nineteen months, feeding a vicious cycle of lost incomes and delinquent loans. Policy makers in Washington last fall tried to stanch the bleeding with the infamous TARP, a program designed to force $700 billion through the nation's banks into the hands of tapped-out consumers. It was a frantic attempt to keep the debt addiction going.

A funny thing happened on the way to recovery:

[THERE it is...]

Instead of recycling the money as intended, the banks are sitting on it. Notice (above) how excess bank reserves have soared since September's meltdown in the credit markets. Once burned, banks are now twice shy about building their balance sheets on the backs of distressed consumers. Instead, they are hunkering down until the storm passes.

TARP was supposed to mitigate the pain. It has not done that, nor has it helped to spread the pain evenly. It has selected and protected a privileged group of survivors, a class that, more than made whole, is actually profiting from the crisis. During the Obama relief rally, banks have made money by underwriting each other's stock offerings and trading each other's stock. They have not made it by making new consumer loans or modifying existing ones.

They said that taking TARP money was the patriotic thing to do. They lied.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Population Grows, Workforce Doesn't

For the first time since World War II, the U.S. Gross Domestic Product has shrunk for four straight quarters (and five of the last six). Another post-WW2 first: we are completing a ten-year period with no net new jobs (see chart above). Wages and salaries, which drive recoveries in spending (not to mention tax collections), fell 4.7 percent in the 12 months through June, the biggest drop since records began in 1960. In other words, we have more dependents than ever before in a shrinking economy less able to support them.

Today brings the "good" news from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that "only" 247,000 jobs were lost in July. Numbed by monthly losses twice as large earlier this year, we are coaxed by the media to accept that a quarter-million new pink slips somehow bespeak an imminent recovery. I again remind you that the BLS data are "adjusted," and perhaps this month adjusted more than usual in order to pump up consumer and investor psychology (see Chris Martenson's take here). For now we have an Economy of Hope, but not yet one of results.

[update, September 4: Sure enough, the BLS has revised the July number to 276,000 jobs lost, a number nearly 12% uglier than the preliminary estimate. The final "official" number will not be known for another month.]

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Lake Umbagog Slide Show

Begin here
(courtesy Boston Globe)