CIT Group – Trading Halted

The AP reports Trading halted in CIT shares:

Trading in the shares of crippled commercial lender CIT Group Inc. was halted on the New York Stock Exchange late Wednesday afternoon.

A trading halt often occurs when news about a company is about to be released.

Regulators have been poring over the books at New York-based CIT trying to determine which of its assets remain strong enough to secure emergency financing.

The company has been teetering on the brink of a bankruptcy filing as its assets decline in value and a large debt payment looms.

Industry and government officials say representatives from the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. have been meeting to discuss plans for a possible rescue of CIT.

Time for more corporate bailouts. Yipeee!

On a side note: Just as an example, please consider the phoney argument of an “independent” Federal Reserve Bank raised against auditing it in light of what I highlighted above.

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Tim Geithner Refuses to Answer Simple Question on Derivatives

The simple answer Tim Geithner trying to avoid here: “Yes, taxpayer money will be used to bailout worthless derivatives issued today.”

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Saving the X Industry

Henry Hazlitts Economics in One Lesson is timeless, clear, and simple. When it was written in 1946 its lessons were as true as they are today. Unfortunately most journalists, economists, and politicians have not learned from it and still resort to the same tired arguments that have been refuted long ago. Please consider Chapter 14, “Saving the X Industry”. Feel free to substitute “Auto” or “Banking” for the “X”:

The lobbies of Congress are crowded with representatives of the X industry. The X industry is sick. The X industry is dying. It must be saved. It can be saved only by a tariff, by higher prices, or by a subsidy. If it is allowed to die, workers will be thrown on the streets. Their landlords, grocers, butchers, clothing stores and local motion picture theaters will lose business, and depression will spread in ever-widening circles. But if the X industry, by prompt action of Congress, is saved—ah then! it will buy equipment from other industries; more men will be employed; they will give more business to the butchers, bakers and neon-light makers, and then it is prosperity that will spread in ever-widening circles.

It is obvious that this is merely a generalized form of the case we have just been considering. There the X industry was agriculture. But there are an endless number of X industries. Two of the most notable examples in recent years have been the coal and silver industries. To “save silver” Congress did immense harm. One of the arguments for the rescue plan was that it would help “the East.” One of its actual results was to cause deflation in China, which had been on a silver basis, and to force China off that basis. The United States Treasury was compelled to acquire, at ridiculous prices far above the market level, hoards of unnecessary silver, and to store it in vaults. The essential political aims of the “silver Senators” could have been as well achieved, at a fraction of the harm and cost, by the payment of a frank subsidy to the mine owners or to their workers; but Congress and the country would never have approved a naked steal of this sort unaccompanied by the ideological flimflam regarding “silver’s essential role in the national currency.”

To save the coal industry Congress passed the Guffey Act, under which the owners of coal mines were not only permitted, but compelled, to conspire together not to sell below certain minimum prices fixed by the government. Though Congress had started out to fix the price of coal, the government soon found itself (because of different sizes, thousands of mines, and shipments to thousands of different destinations by rail, truck, ship and barge) fixing 350,000 separate prices for coal! One effect of this attempt to keep coal prices above the competitive market level was to accelerate the tendency toward the substitution by consumers of other sources of power or heat—such as oil, natural gas and hydroelectric energy.

But our aim here is not to trace all the results that followed historically from efforts to save particular industries, but to trace a few of the chief results that must necessarily follow from efforts to save an industry.

It may be argued that a given industry must be created or preserved for military reasons. It may be argued that a given industry is being ruined by taxes or wage rates disproportionate to those of other industries; or that, if a public utility, it is being forced to operate at rates or charges to the public that do not permit an adequate profit margin. Such arguments may or may not be justified in a particular case. We are not concerned with them here. We are concerned only with a single argument for saving the X industry—that if it is allowed to shrink in size or perish through the forces of free competition (always, by spokesmen for the industry, designated in such cases as a laissez-faire, anarchic, cutthroat, dog-eat-dog, law-of-the-jungle competition) it will pull down the general economy with it, and that if it is artificially kept alive it will help everybody else.

What we are talking about here is nothing else but a generalized case of the argument put forward for “parity” prices for farm products or for tariff protection for any number of X industries. The argument against artificially higher prices applies, of course, not only to farm products but to any other product, just as the reasons we have found for opposing tariff protection for one industry apply to any other.

But there are always any number of schemes for saving X industries. There are two main types of such proposals in addition to those we have already considered, and we shall take a brief glance at them. One is to contend that the X industry is already “overcrowded,” and to try to prevent other firms or workers from getting into it. The other is to argue that the X industry needs to be supported by a direct subsidy from the government.

Now if the X industry is really overcrowded as compared with other industries it will not need any coercive legislation to keep out new capital or new workers. New capital does not rush into industries that are obviously dying. Investors do not eagerly seek the industries that present the highest risks of loss combined with the lowest returns. Nor do workers, when they have any better alternative, go into industries where the wages are lowest and the prospects for steady employment least promising.

If new capital and new labor are forcibly kept out of the X industry, however, either by monopolies, cartels, union policy or legislation, it deprives this capital and labor of liberty of choice. It forces investors to place their money where the returns seem less promising to them than in the X industry. It forces workers into industries with even lower wages and prospects than they could find in the allegedly sick X industry. It means, in short, that both capital and labor are less efficiently employed than they would be if they were permitted to make their own free choices. It means, therefore, a lowering of production which must reflect itself in a lower average living standard.

That lower living standard will be brought about either by lower average money wages than would otherwise prevail or by higher average living costs, or by a combination of both. (The exact result would depend upon the accompanying monetary policy.) By these restrictive policies wages and capital returns might indeed be kept higher than otherwise within the X industry itself; but wages and capital returns in other industries would be forced down lower than otherwise. The X industry would benefit only at the expense of the A, B and C industries.

Similar results would follow any attempt to save the X industry by a direct subsidy out of the public till. This would be nothing more than a transfer of wealth or income to the X industry. The taxpayers would lose precisely as much as the people in the X industry gained. The great advantage of a subsidy, indeed, from the standpoint of the public, is that it makes this fact so clear. There is far less opportunity for the intellectual obfuscation that accompanies arguments for tariffs, minimum-price fixing or monopolistic exclusion.

It is obvious in the case of a subsidy that the taxpayers must lose precisely as much as the X industry gains. It should be equally clear that, as a consequence, other industries must lose what the X industry gains. They must pay part of the taxes that are used to support the X industry. And consumers, because they are taxed to support the X industry, will have that much less income left with which to buy other things. The result must be that other industries on the average must be smaller than otherwise in order that the X industry may be larger.

But the result of this subsidy is not merely that there has been a transfer of wealth or income, or that other industries have shrunk in the aggregate as much as the X industry has expanded. The result is also (and this is where the net loss comes in to the nation considered as a unit) that capital and labor are driven out of industries in which they are more efficiently employed to be diverted to an industry in which they are less efficiently employed. Less wealth is created. The average standard of living is lowered compared with what it would have been.

These results are virtually inherent, in fact, in the very arguments put forward to subsidize the X industry. The X industry is shrinking or dying by the contention of its friends. Why, it may be asked, should it be kept alive by artificial respiration? The idea that an expanding economy implies that all industries must be simultaneously expanding is a profound error. In order that new industries may grow fast enough it is necessary that some old industries should be allowed to shrink or die. They must do this in order to release the necessary capital and labor for the new industries. If we had tried to keep the horse-and-buggy trade artificially alive we should have slowed down the growth of the automobile industry and all the trades dependent on it. We should have lowered the production of wealth and retarded economic and scientific progress.

We do the same thing, however, when we try to prevent any industry from dying in order to protect the labor already trained or the capital already invested in it. Paradoxical as it may seem to some, it is just as necessary to the health of a dynamic economy that dying industries be allowed to die as that growing industries be allowed to grow. The first process is essential to the second. It is as foolish to try to preserve obsolescent industries as to try to preserve obsolescent methods of production: this is often in fact, merely two ways of describing the same thing. Improved methods of production must constantly supplant obsolete methods, if both, old needs and new wants are to be filled by better commodities and better means.

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AIG – Sinking Money in a Hole

It’s time for our dear politicians to act surprised again. It’s time for Congress again to complain about the results of false policies that they themselves recklessly approved, against all warnings. It’s time again for Ben Bernanke to fire off mindless blather, platitudes and predictions that will, as always and without exception, turn out to be abysmally false.

The AP has a shocking surprise for us, Taxpayers unlikely to be fully repaid in AIG mess:

As the cost of the rescue swells, experts says it’s becoming harder to envision a scenario in which the government could recoup its full investment. Even though the AIG payouts to major banks have angered critics of the bailout, it might be legally impossible to claw back any of the billions already doled out.

Of course the taxpayer won’t get any of this money back. Is there a living creature with more than one brain cell that seriously expected the taxpayer would ever see this money come back? Of course it will be legally impossible to get the billions handed out back in any way. Congress and the Fed shouldn’t have been so stupid to throw it at them in the first place.

The government agreed to uphold those contracts when it seized control of American International Group in September. It argued that failing to repay the debts of the globally interconnected company could cause catastrophic losses at big international banks, potentially toppling the financial system.

…and the problem with that is what exactly? Toppling the financial systen? Does that mean the people who were instrumental to the credit expansion and the ensuing credit crisis would have gone out of business and we wouldn’t have to deal with their incompetence, greed, irresponsibility, and arrogance? Great! Anyone who has a problem with that should speak out and explain precisely why that would be such a terrible thing to happen. Especially he should explain why it is, on the flip side, good when instead the taxpayer who earned money with honest and productive work is milked to the Nth degree and driven into bankruptcy.

Scrutiny of AIG’s dealings with its trading partners comes after revelations over the weekend that the insurer planned to pay out tens of millions in executive bonuses. President Barack Obama on Monday accused AIG of “recklessness and greed.” He pledged to try to block the bonuses, which AIG insisted it’s contractually obligated to pay.

Mr. Obama, how about we pursue a policy of change? How about we no longer announce that we will react when the damage is already done. How about we proactively prevent disasters from happening? How about we listen to the people who advised us not to put the taxpayer on the hook for $170 billion for an organization whose market value is $2 billion? How about we realize that there is a reason why these organizations are not performing, why they are on the brink of bankruptcy? It is because they pursue the profession of wasting money. When we subsidize this behavior, we will get more of it. How much longer do we want to subsidize this bahavior?

Later, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration would modify the terms of a pending $30 billion bailout installment for AIG to at least recoup the $165 million the bonuses represent. That wouldn’t rescind the bonuses, just require AIG to account for them differently.

How retarded is this government? We hear from our President how outraged he is and at the same time his press secretary calmly announces that $165 million need to be accounted for in a slightly different manner, and then we’ll give them another $30 billion. Disgusting.

Asked if he’d favor trying to see if those AIG contracts could be broken so the government could recover some of those payouts, Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, stopped short of endorsing the idea. But he said “that’s something that has to be examined.”

“I would want to know the consequences of not paying those debts,” Frank, D-Mass., told The Associated Press.

There is definitely something that needs to be examined. And that is Rep. Barney Frank’s head. This guy has been wrong on every single thing he said. He has been the strongest supporter of all bailouts and spending boondoggles that were brought before Congress. His dishonesty and hippocrisy are astounding.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, defending the $30 billion lifeline the government provided to AIG, said earlier this month that the government may eventually be able to “recover most or all” of the taxpayers’ investments.

*Yawn* *Sigh* No, Mr. Bernanke. The government will not be able to recover any of the taxpayers’ investments. You know that or you are the biggest idiot to ever head the Federal Reserve. Your statement is wrong, just as all your previous statements have been. Please, do us all a favor and shut the hell up.

Some words of wisdom in closing:

But Mark Williams, a former Fed examiner and finance professor at Boston University, said the AIG wind-down inevitably will cost taxpayers money. And he thinks it will take much more money — perhaps an additional $200 billion — to finish winding down AIG’s financial dealings so its core businesses can be sold off.

“No longer can we call it an investment,” he said. “We just have to call it what it is — and that’s sinking money in a hole.”

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Hudson City Bancorp Posts Record Profits

My good friend Goran “G.” Djenadic pointed me to this interesting article. Thus my shout out to Chicago: “Thanks G. !”

While the major national banks are teetering on the brink of collapse, this New Jersey thrift seems to be doing alright:

Decade of record profits for Hudson City Bancorp:

Hudson City Bancorp, the largest New Jersey-based thrift, continues to stand out as a pillar of profitability in a battered industry.

The parent of Hudson City Savings Bank on Wednesday reported a fourth-quarter profit of $124.3 million, up 60 percent from the previous year as both loans and deposits grew by nearly 22 percent year-over-year. Per-share profit rose to 25 cents a share from 16 cents.

For the year, profits rose more than 50 percent to $445.6 million.

“This was the 10th straight year of record profits, and we think ’09 will continue that trend,” said Chief Executive Officer Ronald E. Hermance Jr. in an interview.

Hudson City is thriving while many banks, including such titans as Citigroup and Bank of America Corp., flounder. Citi lost $8.29 billion and BOA $1.79 billion in the fourth quarter. Both banks slashed their dividends to a penny a share.

The New Jersey lender, on the other hand, increased its quarterly dividend to 14 cents from 13 cents.

“We think it’s a good sign to put out there, and we would not be doing it if we didn’t see future earnings growth,” Hermance said.

The bank is enjoying the fruit of its relatively low overhead costs and long-adhered-to policy of avoiding subprime and other risky loans, lending only to those with verifiably good credit and collateral, said Theodore Kovaleff, president of banking consultant Informed Sources Service Group.

“I look at them as an area of serenity amidst a major maelstrom,” said Kovaleff, who owns Hudson City shares.

Hudson City is a jumbo mortgage specialist with 127 branches in the northern New Jersey, Long Island and Western Connecticut suburbs. Although the real estate market remains poor, the bank has benefited from the demise of competitors such as Long Island-based American Home Mortgage and the scant availability of wholesale funding for loan brokers.

Hudson City, which raised $3.9 billion in a 2005 stock offering, remains very well capitalized compared to its peers, said analyst Matthew Kelley of Sterne Agee & Leach Inc.

And the bank’s above-average rates on certificates of deposit have allowed it to rake in high-end consumer deposits, Kovaleff said.

Lending was boosted in recent months by lower interest rates, bringing a surge in refinancings of loans that were made by competitors.

The bank has also benefited from a flight of consumer deposits — a comparatively low-cost source of funding for loans — from equity markets and from banks with besmirched reputations.

Meanwhile, Hudson City’s national, Internet-based deposit-gathering program has brought in more than $50 million since being quietly launched in November.

Hudson City has not been immune from the housing market woes.

It added $9 million to its reserve against future possible loan losses in the fourth quarter, up from a $2 million provision in the year-earlier period. Loans with payments 90 days or more past due increased to $217.6 million from $79.4 million, year-over-year.

“When [Hudson City] is forced to foreclose the losses are quite modest,” Kelley said, adding that the bank’s portfolio of securities investments “is the cleanest of the banks we cover in the Northeast.”

The coming year is going to be more challenging, he said.

“They are not going to grow loans quite as fast and the [profit] spread has compressed over the last couple of weeks,” he said.

“But I continue to believe Hudson City will outperform on earnings and on stock performance.”

Now, it remains to be seen if Hudson City will be able to weather the storm. They are, like most banks, also highly leveraged and we have no idea what assets they really have on their balance sheet. But at least they haven’t been begging for taxpayer money over the past year. Depositors are rewarding them with their trust and their deposit money.

Performance ultimately prevails in a free market. It can’t, however, stand out so long as the government subsidizes one failure after another.

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