Richard Koo's latest observations on the US economy are as always, a must read. The critical observation from the Nomura economist explains why the realists and the naive idealists are at greater odds than ever before: the government continues to perpetuate, endorse and legalize accounting fraud in the hope that covering everything up under the rug will rekindle animal spirits. The truth, as Koo points out, is that were the FASB to show the real sad state of affairs, the two core industries in the US - finance and real estate, would be bankrupt. "If US authorities were to require banks to mark their commercial real estate loans to market today, lending to this sector would be extinguished, triggering a chain of bankruptcies as borrowers became unable to roll over their debt." In other news Citi, Bank of America, and Wells just reported fantastic earnings beats on the heels of reduced credit loss provisions. Nothing on the conference call mentioned the fact that all would be bankrupt if there was an ounce of integrity left in financial reporting, and that every firm is committing FASB-complicit 10(b)-5 fraud. One day, just like Goldman's mortgage follies, all this will be the subject of epic lawsuits. But not yet. There is some more money to be stolen from the middle class first, by these very firms.
Some other observations on the greatest game of extend and pretend from the well-respected economist:
Fed understands risks of too-rapid bad loan disposals
Mr. Bernanke also emphasized that the Fed is making serious efforts to address credit supply problems—ie, the credit crunch.
The Fed chairman understands that an exclusive focus by bank examiners on uncovering bad loans could leave banks reluctant to lend, thereby sparking a “bank inspector recession” and delaying the recovery. To prevent this scenario, Mr. Bernanke says he has instructed Fed bank inspectors to ensure that banks are lending to creditworthy borrowers. In ordinary times, the Fed would seek to have banks write off their non-performing loans as quickly as possible. This is the correct approach when there are only a handful of distressed lenders. But during a systemic crisis, when many banks face the same problems, forcing lenders to rush ahead with bad loan disposals (ie, sales) can trigger a further decline in asset prices, creating more bad loans and sending the economy into a tailspin.
I think the Fed’s shift in focus from conventional nonperforming loan disposals to credit crunch prevention is an attempt to avoid this scenario.
Fed retraining bank examiners in bad loan management
Perhaps based on an awareness of Japan’s failures in this area, the US has not only made public a list of items bank examiners are to focus on, but is also retraining its examiners in a bid to keep them on the right track. Roughly 1,000 inspectors have already completed the retraining.
Among other things, the retraining program teaches examiners how to modify loans to troubled borrowers and how to manage distressed commercial real estate loans. In that sense, it is a far cry from traditional training, which emphasized the quick discovery and disposal of nonperforming loans.
Full Koo note: