Monday, March 23, 2009

An astronomical sum is still not enough!

Why not? Because of a series of very powerful reasons:

First, most of the money is being poured into a virtually bottomless pit. Even while Uncle Sam spends or lends hundreds of billions, the wealth destruction taking place at the household level in America is occurring in the trillions — $12.9 trillion vaporized in real estate, stocks, and other assets since the onset of the crisis, according to the Fed's latest Flow of Funds.

Second, most of the money from the government is still a promise, and even much of the disbursed funds have yet to reach their destination. Meanwhile, all of the wealth lost has already hit home — literally, in the household.

Third, the government has been, and is, greatly underestimating the magnitude of this debt crisis. Specifically,

The FDIC's "Problem List" of troubled banks includes only 252 institutions with assets of $159 billion. However, based on our analysis, a total of 1,568 banks and thrifts are at risk of failure with assets of $2.32 trillion due to weak capital, asset quality, earnings, and other factors. (The details are in Part I of our white paper, and the institutions are named in Appendix A.)

When Treasury officials first planned to provide TARP funds to Citigroup, they assumed it was among the strong institutions and that the funds would go primarily toward stabilizing the markets or the economy. But even before the check could be cut, they learned that the money would have to be for a very different purpose: an emergency injection of capital to prevent Citigroup's collapse. Based on our analysis, however, Citigroup is not alone. We could witness a similar outcome for JPMorgan Chase and other major banks. (See Part II of our white paper.)

AIG is big. But it, too, is not alone. Yes, in a February 26 memorandum, AIG made the case that its $2 trillion in credit default swaps (CDS) would have been the big event that could have caused a global collapse. And indeed, its counterparties alone have $36 trillion in assets. But AIG's CDS portfolio is just one of many: Citibank's portfolio has $2.9 trillion, almost a trillion more than AIG's at its peak. JPMorgan Chase has $9.2 trillion, or almost five times more than AIG. And globally, the Bank of International Settlements reports a total of $57.3 trillion in credit default swaps, more than 28 times larger than AIG's CDS portfolio.
Clearly, the money available to the U.S. government is too small for a crisis of these dimensions.

Larry Potter

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