Sunday, November 15, 2009

Future U.S. Bailouts - FHA, FDIC, PBGC, U.S. States

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.

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There is no end in sight for U.S. bailouts stemming from the Credit Crisis. Once you've bailed out wealthy Wall Street bankers (and there are a handful of Federal Reserve programs for this in addition to $700 billion TARP program), it isn't politically tenable to say no to pensioners, savers, homeowners. and local governments. It should be kept in mind that the Credit Crisis didn't create the problems, but merely exposed the rot in the system that had been there for many years. As Warren Buffett most famously said, "you only know who's swimming naked when the tide goes out". Well, a lot of U.S. government operations have been swimming naked for years and the Credit Crisis caused the tide to go out.

The problems center around housing, banking, pensions, and government operations that don't have the money printing ability of the federal government. The government already nationalized massive housing loan entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2008 and these have become bottomless pits for government aid. Fannie lost $18.9 billion in the third quarter of this year and requested an additional $15 billion in funding. Things would be even worse, if much of the loans that had previously been handled by Fannie and Freddie weren't now being insured by the FHA (Federal Housing Administration). The FHA is now backing loans that would have made a crooked subprime mortgage broker blush in the heyday of the housing bubble. When it comes to getting FHA insurance these days, bad credit, a spotty work history, and even a previous foreclosure aren't deal breakers. Not surprisingly, FHA finances are spiraling downhill fast and warnings about a need for a bailout are already becoming louder.

The FDIC has temporarily solved its need for a bailout, with temporarily being the operative word. On November 12th the FDIC mandated that banks pay three years of their insurance premiums up front. This will provide the FDIC's insolvent bank deposit insurance program with an immediate cash infusion of $45 billion. Unfortunately, the FDIC itself estimates that its funding needs will be $100 billion in the next four years. Assuming they only need that amount (which is possibly very optimistic), they will still have a serious short fall. There have been 123 U.S bank failures as of mid-November and the ones on November 13th cost the FDIC approximately a billion dollars. That's for just one week. At that rate, the FDIC would be out of money again in 45 weeks.

The PBGC (Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation), a government chartered company that insures U.S. pensions is another operation which is heading toward a bailout. In its 35 years of operation, it has lost money in 29. Losses have even taken place when the U.S. economy was strong and the stock market rallied. In bad years, the PBGC loses even more money. So far in 2009, it has taken over 144 failed pension programs compared to 67 in 2008. It was $22 billion in the red this year. According to an inspector general's report, the PBGC's former director was alleged to have had improper contacts with Wall Street. When questioned by a congressional panel, he took the Fifth Amendment (refusing to answer because it might incriminate him). Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives also had serious ethical problems. Corruption and bailouts seem to go hand in hand.

While California's budget woes are well known, there are nine other U.S. states that are in serious financial trouble and an additional ten not far behind them. California has a $121 billion budget gap and is resorting to IOUs to make payments. According to the Pew Center, the nine other states in serious trouble are Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Florida (states hit hardest by the housing downturn along with California), Rhode Island, Oregon, New Jersey, Illinois and Wisconsin. High unemployment and reduced business activity have caused tax receipts to plummet and are behind the current fiscal distress. There is little evidence the problem is getting better despite claims by the federal authorities and mainstream economists that the recession is over. The federal government has the same problem as the states, but it just prints money to make ends meet. While the feds can bail out the states, who's going to bail out the U.S. when money printing doesn't work anymore?

NEXT: The Art of Inflation

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer,New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.