It's a good thing Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, the man who saved our economy, is in charge. Otherwise I might be a bit concerned about these three (and many other) bailouts-in-the-making:
The Federal Housing Administration won’t be able to earn its way to financial health this year, increasing the chance it will need a taxpayer bailout, based on an updated forecast from Moody’s Analytics, which provides the agency’s housing-market analysis.
The U.S. government mortgage-insurer, which guarantees $1.1 trillion in home loans, had been counting on “robust growth” in home prices to help rebuild its insurance fund after paying out $37 billion to cover defaults the past three years, according to its annual report to Congress, filed in November.
It won’t get that growth until 2014, according to the latest outlook from Moody’s Analytics. Prices will fall 3 percent in fiscal 2012 before growing 1.4 percent in 2013 and 6.5 percent in 2014, said Celia Chen, a Moody’s Analytics housing economist who updated her estimate after providing the housing-market forecast for the FHA’s annual actuarial report.
“The FHA’s economic projections are surreal,” said Andrew Caplin, a New York University economics professor who has testified to Congress on the agency’s finances. “They must believe there will be very few readers in Congress able to critically review such a complex report.”
In their annual review, the FHA’s actuaries -- risk analysts who specialize in insurance -- used earlier projections that called for increases of 1.2 percent in 2012 and 3.8 percent in 2013. The agency, which backs mortgages that cover as much as 96.5 percent of a home’s value, is sensitive to changes in home prices. While the insurance fund’s 2012 outlook called for net growth of about $9 billion, that will drop if home prices decline, according to the FHA’s November report.
Back in late 2006 and early 2007 a few (soon to be very rich) people were warning anyone who cared to listen, about what cracks in the subprime facade meant for the housing sector and the credit bubble in general. They were largely ignored as none other than the Fed chairman promised that all is fine (see here). A few months later New Century collapsed and the rest is history: tens of trillions later we are still picking up the pieces and housing continues to collapse. Yet one bubble which the Federal Government managed to blow in the meantime to staggering proportions in virtually no time, for no other reason than to give the impression of consumer releveraging, was the student debt bubble, which at last check just surpassed $1 trillion, and is growing at $40-50 billion each month. However, just like subprime, the first cracks have now appeared. In a report set to convince borrowers that Student Loan ABS are still safe - of course they are - they are backed by all taxpayers after all in the form of the Family Federal Education Program - Fitch discloses something rather troubling, namely that of the $1 trillion + in student debt outstanding, "as many as 27% of all student loan borrowers are more than 30 days past due." In other words at least $270 billion in student loans are no longer current (extrapolating the delinquency rate into the total loans outstanding). That this is happening with interest rates at record lows is quite stunning and a loud wake up call that it is not rates that determine affordability and sustainability: it is general economic conditions, deplorable as they may be, which have made the popping of the student loan bubble inevitable. It also means that if the rise in interest rate continues, then the student loan bubble will pop that much faster, and bring another $1 trillion in unintended consequences on the shoulders of the US taxpayer who once again will be left footing the bill.
"More Municipalities Betting on Pension Bonds to Cover Obligations" (Los Angeles Times)
Local governments are increasingly borrowing money to plug shortfalls in their employee pension funds by exploiting a loophole in federal law. Market experts say the risks and long-term costs are frequently ignored.
-- NEW YORK Struggling to pay employee pensions, local governments are increasingly borrowing money to cover their obligations — exploiting a loophole in federal law that allows them to issue taxable bonds without seeking voter approval.
Oakland took a bet on its pension fund that ended up costing the city an estimated $245 million — nearly a quarter of its annual budget. That hasn't stopped the city from looking to try its luck one more time.
The bets are being made using an exotic but increasingly popular financial instrument known as a pension obligation bond. Cities, counties and states use the bonds to take out high-interest loans from private investors to plug shortfalls in their employee pension funds.
If the pension funds make smart investments with the borrowed money, the returns can help pay the interest due to borrowers and sometimes even spin off some extra cash to pay pension costs. If they don't, the bonds can create additional costs for taxpayers, put the retirement funds of teachers and firefighters in jeopardy, and, in the worst case scenario, force municipalities into bankruptcy.
Municipal finance experts are sounding alarms about the practice, saying that local elected officials are taking unnecessary risk because they are afraid to anger voters by raising taxes. There is also the risk of instigating powerful public employee unions if pensions are cut.
"There are communities that just do not want to make the hard choices, even though it means the choices in the future will be worse," said Robert Doty, a municipal finance consultant in Sacramento. "They are just going to dig themselves deeper and deeper into a hole."
But Apple closed up on the day, so that's all that matters -- right?
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