Xmas gifts for Wachovia execs

As the Chronicle’s James Temple reported earlier this month, it’s sayonara for most of Wachovia’s top executives when Wells Fargo’s takeover is complete, around Christmas time. He also noted that golden parachutes will be billowing all over Charlotte, N.C., where Wachovia is based.

Now we have hard numbers. According to an SEC filing, the failing bank’s top 10 executives will be eligible for a total of $98.1 million in severance pay. At last report, two of those executives are moving over to Wells, so the actual tab will be a little smaller. CEO Bob Steel and chairman Lanty Smith aren’t eligible for severance, but not to worry. They get to reap $2.5 million in stock based rewards as a going away present…

Wells Fargo already received $25 billion from the taxpayers under the Federal Reserve’s TARP program, part of the $700 billion bailout, approved by our heroic representatives in Congress. They, along with other banks, will have enough money available for many more of these games.

In fact, since they are “too big to fail”, they will most likely receive much more. And rightfully so. Now is really the time for the tax paying workers in this country to cut back and give those ailing executives a well deserved break for a job well done…

…Wachovia lost $33 billion in the last two quarters.

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Citigroup Agony Prolonged

The associated press writes in “Government unveils bold plan to rescue Citigroup”:

The government unveiled a bold plan Sunday to rescue Citigroup, injecting a fresh $20 billion into the troubled firm as well as guaranteeing hundreds of billions of dollars in risky assets.

There is nothing bold about injecting $20 billion and guaranteeing hundreds of billions. It’s what we have been doing, keep doing, and will be doing until we’re broke.

The action, announced jointly by the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., is aimed at shoring up a huge financial institution whose collapse would wreak havoc on the already crippled financial system and the U.S. economy.

Its collapse would wreak havoc? Like the havoc that we have been seeing since we started to bail out one failing business after another with billions of dollars?

The sweeping plan is geared to stemming a crisis of confidence in the company, whose stock has been hammered in the past week on worries about its financial health.

There is nothing sweeping about this plan. The stock has been hammered because the company isn’t worth a dime

“With these transactions, the U.S. government is taking the actions necessary to strengthen the financial system and protect U.S. taxpayers and the U.S. economy,” the three agencies said in a statement issued late Sunday night. “We will continue to use all of our resources to preserve the strength of our banking institutions, and promote the process of repair and recovery and to manage risks.”

How are we protecting the U.S. taxpayer by taking their money and throwing at failed business operations. This is so far from reality, if it wasn’t so sad I would say it’s laughable.

The Citigroup rescue came after a weekend of marathon discussions led by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who is being tapped by President-elect Barack Obama as his Treasury chief also participated.

This gives us a preview of the “Change” that Mr. Obama is about to bring: The person who will lead the bailout scams will have a different name. That’s about it.

Vikram S. Pandit, Citi’s chief executive officer, welcomed the action. “We appreciate the tremendous effort by the government to assure market stability,” he said in a statement.

Of course he does. Who doesn’t like getting rewarded handsomely for being a miserable failure.

The $20 billion cash injection by the Treasury Department will come from the $700 billion financial bailout package. The capital infusion follows an earlier one — of $25 billion — in Citigroup in which the government also received an ownership stake.

…and which of course didn’t resolve anything at all. The new $20 billion will accomplish just as much.

As part of the plan, Treasury and the FDIC will guarantee against the “possibility of unusually large losses” on up to $306 billion of risky loans and securities backed by commercial and residential mortgages.

These number are insane. Yet, they don’t match the insanity going on at Citi. This bank has $1.1 trillion in off-balance sheet assets alone. That is only on top of all the defaulting loans already on their balance sheet. $306 billion will be of help for a few months to a year. They will do nothing but postpone judgment day.

As a condition of the rescue, Citigroup is barred from paying quarterly dividends to shareholders of more than 1 cent a share for three years unless the company obtains consent from the three federal agencies. The bank is currently paying a dividend of 16 cents, halved from a 32-cent payout in the previous quarter. The agreement also places restrictions on executive compensation, including bonuses.

Among all the nonsense I am surprised to actually find something that makes sense.

Specifically, Citigroup will modify mortgages to help people avoid foreclosure along the lines of an FDIC plan that was put into effect at IndyMac Bank, a major failed savings and loan based in Pasadena, Calif.

…which of course means that the underlying mortgages will have to be adjusted on the books (as they should). More write downs ahead…

Citigroup is such a large, interconnected player in the financial system that it is seen by Washington policymakers as too big to fail. The company has operations stretching around the globe in more than 100 countries.

…and that’s precisely why we should NOT bail them out as I explained in The Economics of Coporate Bailouts.

Citigroup was especially hard hit by the meltdown in risky, subprime mortgages made to people with tarnished credit or low incomes. Foreclosures on those mortgages spiked, leaving Citi and other financial companies wracking up huge losses on the soured investments. The company has failed to turn a profit during the past four quarters and has announced plans to slash thousands of jobs.

…but what they are not telling us is that Citi will pretty soon be writing down massive amounts of simple consumer credit, credit card debt. This appears to be an issue that the media and government don’t even want to hint at.

Again: Citi is a lost cause. Stop throwing more bodies onto the pile. It won’t work.

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Citi’s Endgame

2 months ago I wrote that Citigroup, GM, Ford, or GE will go bankrupt soon unless they receive additional bailout money. Of course this wasn’t a strike of genius, I was merely pointing out the obvious.

As far as GM and Ford, they don’t deserve any more mention. These two giant jokes cannot possibly be called business operations. It is insulting to see the media seriously pose the question as to whether or not the taxpayer should even consider sparing his change for these miserable failures. It hurts to see their executive junkies squander more money on private jets to capitol hill in order to petition for yet another bailout fix. They, along with the UAW, need to be wiped off the face of the earth once and for all and stop making the American car industry the ridicule of the world.

Citigroup is finally approaching its endgame, too.

TheStreet.com writes:

Citigroup executives began weighing the possibility of auctioning off pieces of the financial giant or even selling the company outright, the Wall Street Journal reports.

This would actually be the right move. But it would expose the truth that Citi isn’t worth anything. At this point, the only salable unit appears to be Citi’s GWM (Global Wealth Management) division.  Its profit only dropped by 27% for the first 3 quarters of 2008 when compared to the same period in 2007. Global Cards was still profitable in the first 3 quarters but dropped by 79% and will, without a doubt, get wiped out in 2009/2010 with the inevitable collapse of consumer credit. The other 2 divisions, ICG (International Clients Group) and Consumer Banking have turned profits in the first 3 quarters of 2007 into substantial losses in the same period for 2008 (1.8 billion and 10.4 billion, respectively).

The internal discussions are at a preliminary stage and don’t signal that Citigroup’s board and management are backing down from their insistence that the New York company has ample capital, funding and strategic direction, the Journal reports, citing people familiar with the matter.

Just a few facts:
– Based on their recent 10Q Citigroup  has Shareholder’s Equity of around $113 Billion
– Citi is holding $1.1 Trillion in off-balance sheet assets.
– These assets have been used to fund holding firms for risky mortgages, short term commercial paper, and CDOs
– All of these will eventally have to return to Citi’s balance sheet
– If Citi had to write off only 15% of these assets this would wipe out their entire shareholder’s equity unless they manage to recapitalize the business significantly
– Who is going to help recapitalize a business that faces multi-billion dollar write downs, yet still pays a dividend? (except of course for the distinguished Prince Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia who seems to enjoy burning his money)

Citi is a lost cause. Finally their management is waking up to reality. The company, as we know it, will not survive.

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The Economics of Corporate Bailouts

The objectives of economic policy are to continuously improve the well-being of the largest possible number of people in society by making sure that the scarce resources available on earth are utilized so that every one’s most urgent needs are satisfied before less urgent ones are addressed.

When a business squanders factors of production which, from the consumers‘ point of view, would satisfy more urgent and/or ample needs in other lines of production, it operates at a loss. This sends a signal to the entrepreneur running the business to do one of the following, lest his operation contribute to a deterioration of the welfare of society:

– find a better use for the factors of production employed (produce different, more demanded goods)
– find more effective ways to employ them (increase the output of the factors employed)
– abort the operation, make the factors available to entrepreneurs who plan to employ them in more urgent lines of production, thus releasing them from their current occupation (declare bankruptcy)

Those are the choices he has under a capitalistic system on a market where the consumer, the common man, is supreme, a market based upon voluntary action. Any of these steps would swiftly remedy the misallocation of the resources and align them to the benefit of the common people, the consumers.

(Whether the workers employed in the business are paid market or union wages, they will easily be able to find a new, profitable, occupation at wages that are equal to or below the ones they are currently being paid. Overall, the consumers that the new employer sells to will benefit to the extent that the new workers contribute to a larger supply of valued and demanded goods. True, the individual worker may not be happy about the fact that he has to adjust and/or start off at a level that is slightly below his previous one. However, the people he produces for are workers, too. For the majority of the products produced in a capitalist society are produced for the common man. Everyone is now consumer, now producer, and would like to be favored in both roles. But there can be no other means of reconciling these conflicting interests than making sure that at any given point in time as many workers and other resources as possible are, from the consumers’ point of view, employed in the most urgent lines of production. The greatest harm is inflicted upon society as a whole if resources are withdrawn from these most urgent uses and occupied in less urgent, wasteful, operations.)

In an interventionist system, however, the entrepreneur who operates at a loss has another choice: He can petition with the government for a bailout. Under this arrangement, the government obtains additional tax money from the people under its governance territory and uses it in order to cover the losses generated by the business. It hence forces the people to restrict their consumption in order to keep up an operation that, from the their own point of view contributes to a lowering of their standard of living. It relieves the entrepreneur from the responsibility for this damage and lets the taxpayer, the consumers, shoulder it.

Alternatively the government can obtain the money by having the central bank produce it and make it available to it in a credit transaction. This would of course result in inflation and credit expansion, which again the consumer pays for in the form of prices that are higher than they would have been without the intervention (this could be rising prices, but it could also just mean prices that are dropping more slowly).

The government could also borrow the money in a credit transaction on the market, along with the implicit commitment to tax people in the future, meaning to forcefully take their money, in order to repay this debt. All this does is to shift the burden of restricted consumption into the future, while in the present withdrawing resources that capitalists may have employed for factors of production in profitable, and thus urgently demanded, operations, instead of loaning it to an entity that can simply repay by stealing it from others, and thus has no incentive to address consumer demands. This can be vividly witnessed in the fact that the money is made available to largely unprofitable businesses in a corporate bailout.

If unprofitable, in other words wasteful and less-urgently needed operations are subsidized while proper conduct is taxed and thus punished, it is only to be expected that more undesired behavior will be encouraged. Irresponsibility, short-sightedness, and imprudent conduct in business will the the inevitable outcomes over time.

Either way, such a policy of course necessitates a well planned and thought out propaganda and fear campaign before public approval will be granted.

The management style of the business will then in no way be a profit oriented one. If not already bureaucratic, it will become an inherently bureaucratic operation. But the bureaucratic style is precisely the opposite of what it needs. It needs to stop withdrawing resources from occupations where they could fulfill more urgent and ample needs from the consumers’ point of view.

But even from the business’s point of view there is no long term help for its employees and managers if its failed operation is bailed out. The bureaucracy and inherent lack of innovation will ultimately maneuver the business toward a devastating collapse which can no longer be justifiably funded out of tax money. All employees will lose their occupation. But since the failed operation went on for much longer than necessary, the bulk of the employees will be trained in ineffective, outdated, and unprofitable procedures. Now it will be even harder for them to adjust to the conditions on the market.

This holds true for any type of business, no matter what products and services it provides. Whether it builds cars or brokers credit transactions, the consumers’ judgment tells the entrepreneur whether they are supplied with the most urgently demanded goods or not.

The more resources the business employs, the more suppliers it purchases from, and the larger the loss, the more will the standard of living of the common people, the consumers, deteriorate, if the bailout intervention continues. Every single dollar appropriated would be better employed by the consumer it is forcefully taken from. Every dollar used to obliterate the loss is misspent. The larger the business that is being bailed out, the more immediate harm is inflicted upon the common man.

Thus, there is nothing that could be farther from the truth than the argument that some corporations are too big to fail. It is hard to find a more sinister and callous consumer scam perpetrated upon the populace than the corporate bailout. It adversely affects the standard of living of the common man, who is consumer, taxpayer and worker at the same time, and on top of that leaves the employees of the business poorly trained and inflexible once the inevitable collapse occurs.

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Marketing

“It is generally admitted that the average man displays poor taste. Consequently business, entirely dependent on the patronage of the masses of such men, is forced to bring to the market inferior literature and art. (One of the great problems of capitalistic civilization is how to make high quality achievements possible in a social environment in which the “regular fellow” is supreme.)

It is furthermore well known that many people indulge in habits that result in undesired effects. As the instigators of the great anti-capitalistic campaign see it, the bad taste and the unsafe consumption habits of people and the other evils of our age are simply generated by the public relations or sales activities of the various branches of “capital”,— wars are made by the munitions industries, the “merchants of death”;dipsomania by alcohol capital, the fabulous “whiskey trust,” and the breweries.

This philosophy is not only based on the doctrine depicting the common people as guileless suckers who can easily be taken in by the ruses of a race of crafty hucksters. It implies in addition the nonsensical theorem that the sale of articles which the consumer really needs and would buy if not hypnotized by the wiles of the sellers is unprofitable for business and that on the other hand only the sale of articles which are of little or no use for the buyer or are even downright detrimental to him yields large profits. For if one were not to assume this, there would be no reason to conclude that in the competition of the market the sellers of bad articles outstrip those of better articles.

The same sophisticated tricks by means of which slick traders are said to convince the buying public can also be used by those offering good and valuable merchandise on the market. But then good and poor articles compete under equal conditions and there is no reason to make a pessimistic judgment on the chances of the better merchandise. While both articles, the good and the bad, would be equally aided by the alleged trickery of the sellers, only the better one enjoys the advantage of being better.”

(Mises, Money, Method, and the Market Process, Chapter 14)

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