Partners - Stock market, economic and political commentary by Patricia Chadwick

Posts Tagged ‘government’

Whom Do You Trust – Warren Buffett or The Federal Government?

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Listening to Warren Buffett as he discussed Goldman Sachs on Squawk Box yesterday morning, I was struck by both his eminent business sense as well as his common sense. His assessment of the securities firm and its CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, was reasoned, and was based on his many years of dealing with the company as well as his own immensely sound and proven business acumen.

Mr. Buffett understands risk and how markets work. He knows that in the world of buying and selling complex financial instruments, responsibility is a two way street. Caveat emptor. The buyers of the instruments at issue were not naïve individuals, unfamiliar with the vicissitudes of the market; rather, they were sophisticated investors, looking for a risky investment with a kick. Mr. Buffett admitted to making mistakes of his own, to failing to see the bubble in the residential real estate market. It was reassuring to hear him make that admission.

What a far cry his interview was from the experience last week of listening to the many U.S. Senators (on both sides of the aisle) grilling Goldman Sachs employees. It was plainly evident that none of the Senators comprehended the financial instruments at stake. Rather they were grasping at headlines – grandstanding, haranguing and trying to intimidate – force feeding isolated words and phrases to make theatre and to obfuscate their own enormous culpability in the real estate bubble and its subsequent bursting. Unlike Mr. Buffet who readily confessed that he isn’t right all the time, not a single Senator admitted to pressuring the banks to relax mortgage lending standards. Nor did any of them mention Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for which they have oversight and which have been so preposterously mismanaged.

The Federal Government is powerful, more powerful than any corporation in this country. If it wants, it can destroy a company, because it has infinite staying power and no profit motive. That is precisely what it did to Drexel Burnham, to Arthur Andersen, to Lehman Brothers. It can create an environment that makes it expedient for customers to abandon a company and for employees to jump ship. And in that way it can bring down any company if it so chooses.

Rather than admit their own involvement in the global financial crisis, Congress and the White House appear bent on finding scapegoats. Wall Street is an easy target, and the most profitable of the Wall Street firms is the easiest and most expedient target. And Congress, given its miserably poor standing in the polls, is hoping that by vilifying the private sector they will find redemption. That will not work.

Financial reform is needed. The citizens of this country would be well served by thoughtful and reasoned legislation that would mitigate the risk associated with rampant leveraging. If Congress really wants redemption, let it admit its own errors and work together with the private sector in the best interests of the people it is supposed to serve.

November cannot come too soon.

Don’t Rob Peter to Pay Paul!!

Friday, February 5th, 2010

It is good to see that the President has bipartisan support for the budget proposal to give tax incentives to small companies in this country.

Over half of the workforce in this country is employed by small companies and most of the job creation comes from small and new companies. Tax relief such as recommended in the bill, will help in spurring private sector growth and pulling the economy out of the recession.

However, if simultaneously, the Government turns around and raises income taxes on individuals or corporations, the overall economic benefit will be non-existent.

The Federal Government cannot endlessly pour money into the economy to create new jobs. Sooner or later it must let the private sector take over. As the Federal support is withdrawn, the private sector needs to be given incentives to take risks and make investments. Raising income taxes will have exactly the opposite effect.

During the late 1990s, when the Federal Budget went from deficit to surplus, it was after President Clinton had cut the capital gains tax. What ensued was a strong wave of capital investment and corporate profits growth both of which generated huge incremental tax revenues – both income and capital gains – for the Federal Government.

Admittedly, the deficit turned surplus of the 1990s was augmented by the sharp cut in defense spending by the Federal Government, not an option on the table today. However, despite the vocal concerns of many pundits, primarily on the far right, the level of the U. S. Government debt and even the very high current budget deficits, should not necessarily doom us to third world status.

What we need in this country is private sector growth, not Federal Government loans injected into the economy. The Federal Government should do all that it can to augment and support the private sector, so that it can remove itself as the agent of stimulus. Only then will hiring commence and personal income start to grow.

Bernanke IS the Right Person for the Job

Friday, December 18th, 2009

It is good news that the Senate Banking Committee yesterday approved Ben Bernanke’s nomination for a second term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. But it is disappointing that the 16 – 7 vote did not include a single Republican. For once, I am happy that Republicans are in the minority in the Senate, which will now require a full 60 votes to confirm Mr. Bernanke. Let’s hope there are at least a few Republican Senators who see the wisdom of keeping Mr. Bernanke.

It is disconcerting to observe how yesterday’s hero can morph into today’s villain. A year ago at this time, Ben Bernanke was truly engaged in saving the world from financial collapse. His comprehensive understanding of the financial markets and his knowledge of the causes and catastrophic decisions leading up to the Depression served the U.S. and the world well.

Because last year’s financial crisis did not culminate in a global financial catastrophe, (thank goodness) the world has forgotten how close we came to the brink of disaster. It is ironic that both Houses of Congress can find no cause to blame themselves for any of the events that led to the financial crisis and the ensuing recession. All they can do is heap blame on Wall Street and the Fed Chairman. Ironically the most outspoken critics of Wall Street and Mr. Bernanke, Senator Christopher Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank, were the most aggressive proponents of the Government policies that led directly to the crisis. It seems a bit like a case of “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

Unlike Congress, Mr. Bernanke has admitted to errors. But to be fair, most of the issues that led to the crisis were in place well before he became chairman.

The Federal Reserve has a dual role. It is charged with safeguarding the purchasing power of the dollar, i.e. managing inflation, and promoting full employment. However, it cannot singlehandedly guarantee these two objectives. What the U. S. economy has needed throughout this financial crisis is liquidity and the Fed has and continues to provide that. Today deflation is a far greater risk than inflation. With the economy in a recession, the velocity of money had declined putting little upward pressure on prices. The time will come for rates to rise and money policy to tighten, but now is not the time when unemployment is high and asset prices are low.

If the Senate has the best interests of the U.S. at heart, it will vote to retain Mr. Bernanke for a second term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Talk About Killing the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg!!

Monday, October 12th, 2009

I was flummoxed, bowled over and plain stupefied as I read the article by Eric Dash and Jack Healy on the front page of the business section of the New York Times this past Saturday.   On the surface, the story simply defies belief.

Beleaguered Citigroup has been forced to execute a fire sale of its prize-winning entity, Phibro, because the Federal Government’s ‘pay czar’, Kenneth Feinberg, has ruled that the compensation contract with top level employees at Phibro “promoted excessive risk-taking and ran counter to the public interest”.  (A quote from the article.)


Socialized Medicine – the People are Speaking – They Don’t Want It

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Remember 1993 and health care? It was doomed because Americans did not want Big Government running one more part of their lives. Why? Because Government doesn’t do things very well – it’s as simple as that.

They – the Government – euphemistically refer to its proposed health care plan as simply one option in the public/private marketplace. But we – the people – know what that plan really is. It is socialized medicine.


National Health Care Plan – Dead On Arrival

Friday, July 17th, 2009

Just two days ago, the New York Times heralded on its front page “Health Care Bill Passes First Test on Capital Hill”, a title that belied the fact that the health care bill as currently structured has almost no likelihood of becoming law. Moderate Democrat Senators have no stomach for it, because their constituencies have no stomach for it.

This morning’s Wall Street Journal’s front page headline signals the more likely path for the bill “Budget Blow for Health Plan”, a story that the New York Times has relegated to page 12 (page 3 of the National news section of the paper). When the Director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) contradicts the statements of Congressmen/women and Senators, trouble is brewing, and that is exactly what Douglas Elmendorf has done.


Health Care Reform – 1993 Redux!!

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

The Obama Administration’s aggressive and seemingly frantic pressure to get a health care bill passed over the next few weeks (a virtual impossibility) brings back memories of sixteen years ago, in 1993 when the newly inaugurated Clinton Administration tried exactly the same thing. And it was that very aggressiveness on the part of (most particularly) Hilary Clinton that (thankfully) ultimately doomed the project. I predict the same thing will happen again in 2009.


What Hath 100 Days Wrought?

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

President Obama promised CHANGE in his campaign for President, and after 100 days in office, it is easy to give him a grade of A++ on keeping that promise. I must leave it to historians to gauge whether or not his first 100 days will take the top prize in terms of changes instituted in this country, but for sure he will get honorable mention.


The Tyranny of Rising Credit Card Interest Rates

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

I never thought I would find myself in the same camp as the self-acclaimed “democrat socialist” Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. But last evening on the Kudlow Report he made a very legitimate case for Government capping interest rates on credit card balances.


Congress: Investigate the Consumer Debt Crisis!

Monday, April 13th, 2009

The housing industry is finally just starting to get a bit of life, thanks to mortgage rates that are at the lowest levels in nearly 50 years. Combined with falling house prices, home affordability is the best level in years. Wise homebuyers will take out a fixed rate mortgage, NOT a variable one, however long the term might be, and budget to pay that fixed amount every month.