America Attacks Syria and other stories

I have wasted a bunch of time I could not really afford to waste reading Abu Mugawama’s blog tonight. So naturally I think everyone else ought to do the same.

First off, read this post on the American attack into Syrian. Be sure to follow all the links and read all the comments.

Then read Abu Mugawama/Andrew Exum’s post of the week. In fact, you should do this every week.

For those that don’t know, Andrew Exum outed himself and retired from the blog that he started because of time constraints. That lasted all of a couple of months before he was suckered into coming back. The deal was that he would only write one post a week. He has sort of stuck to this schedule. Which is to say; he writes one post a week and sometimes he writes more.

It was a good thing he came back because his blog was getting boring without him. The others are cool and all (particularly Londonstani) but Abu Mugawama has consistently demonstrated that he is the best of the best and the rest are just the rest. That is not to say I agree with all the time (or even most of time) but he is one of the few people out there who consistently makes me feel dumb by comparison. Plus, he manages to bring out the best of his excellent comment section.

I only wished he could cover more areas of the world. On the other hand, I am thankful that he seems to have limitations.

Another way of proving that it is a solvency problem

From Paul Kedrosky….

The following more or less supports what some have been saying for a while -– that major banks in the U.S. and the U.K. will end up being entirely nationalized before this crisis is over –- but it’s still a striking way of looking at the data. The gist: Government recapitalization and other fund-raising has largely been in service of banks’ prior subprime losses, while corporate and consumer loans are just starting to hit bank balance sheets. It won’t take much to tip banks over into insolvency again.

What follows is a chart that you all should take a look at. Alphaville has more.

Gloom and Doom

From the Economist….

Britain’s economy contracted by 0.5% (an annualised rate of 2%) in the third quarter, according to a preliminary estimate. The drop, far worse than forecasters had expected, was the first quarterly decline in output since 1992 and the biggest since 1990. The pound immediately sank below $1.56, an alarming fall. A week earlier it was trading above $1.73 and could be exchanged for $2 as recently as July.

The economic news from the euro area was scarcely better. An index of manufacturing industry based on a survey of purchasing managers slumped from 45.0 to 41.3, its lowest level since it began in 1997 (a reading below 50 is consistent with falling activity). The corresponding index for services fell to 46.9.

The Crisis Did Not Start In America

It is absurd to blame the current economic crisis on America when most of the other rich and powerful countries in the world were running trade surpluses. A trade surplus is sign that a country thinks it would make more money investing in other countries then it would make investing in itself. So China, Japan, Germany, Russia, and others had more faith in American and few other countries than they had in their own economies. It was the fact that so many countries had no faith in their own economic future that led to the crisis.

Felix Salmon explains how that worked out for Germany…..

Maybe it’s just that Germany was running a massive current-account surplus, and needed to lend lots of money abroad, and that German banks as a consequence would lend to just about anyone. After all, the $21 billion in exposure to Iceland might be multiples of Iceland’s GDP, but it’s still a mere fraction of German banks’ $311 billion exposure to Spain, or their $241 billion exposure to Ireland.

Germany is likely to lose serious amounts of money on all of those investments. But why did they ever place themselves in a position of loaning more money to Iceland then its GDP was worth? Why were Germans so eager to loan money to Iceland instead of their fellow Germans?

We can restate that same question with America as the subject.

The problem with America is that it was growing its net indebtedness faster then it was growing GDP. In other words, it was destroying capital. This is not sustainable over the long haul. If US GDP growth had kept up with the trade deficit, then the trade deficit would have been a good thing.

But why were the world markets willing to throw vast amounts of money at a country that was clearly a net destroyer of capital? The short answer is obvious. Many large and powerful countries thought they could make more money investing in America then in their own countries. But why?

I don’t know that I can prove the answer to that question. But I can’t help noting that most of the big exporters of capital have one thing in common. They are all facing serious demographic problems that make America’s demographic problems seem like a cake walk in comparison. When you add up China, Japan, Germany, and Russia you have most of the world’s trade surplus by dollar value. You also have a list countries that are at the top of the list as far as having unbalanced demographic.

Of course, there are many countries that have serious demographic problems and yet they are not running trade surpluses. Almost all of Eastern Europe would fall into this category. So one could have a good argument over just how relevant the demographic problems are.

But regardless of the outcomes of such arguments, the fact remains that the root of the crisis stems from the fact that the world depended on America, Ireland, Spain, and a few other such countries to create a decent return on investment. Anyone seeking to solve the crisis must first understand why so many rich and powerful countries had so little faith in their own countries that they preferred to invest huge sums elsewhere.

Was the failure to bail out Lehman Brothers a mistake?

They say that the failure to bail out Lehman Brothers was a mistake. But given the fact that the cost of the bails that did go through continues to grow, I don’t buy this line of reasoning.

From Calculated Risk…

The Fed has marked down the Bear Stearns assets from $29,526 million to $26,802 million this week. This is a mark down of $2.7 billion or 9.2%. The Fed is now underwater by a little over $2 billion plus lost interest.

From Naked Capitalism….

In case you weren’t keeping tabs (the number and variety of handout-recipients grows with every passing day), AIG was first given a loan (really, akin to a maximum borrowing authorization) of $85 billion with much fanfare and high drama, which was later quietly increased by another $37.8 billion. In the last ten days, AIG has said it intended to borrow perhaps as much as $10 billion through a separate, new commercial paper program.

Bloomberg indicates that AIG is now saying that it might need even more dough, although its latest plea does not have a figure attached to it.