Simply Too Big

Perhaps you believe, as many people do, that the largest banks in the nation such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs should be broken up. They are simply “Too big to fail” and the cost of a bailout by taxpayers to avoid a systemic failure is too great. Who should break them up? The federal government, by legislation? The Federal Reserve, by regulation?

How about the free market – because they are not as profitable?

For all the shouting and consternation about big banks, one simple fact has gone overlooked. With their tremendous size and ability to “make the market”, as shown by the “London Whale” incident, they do not actually rule the world. They are about as profitable, and usually less so, than smaller banks. The reasons are not obvious but they are demonstrated. And those who should be doing the shouting are not the “99%” but the shareholders.

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Break Big Banks?

Too Big to Fail. It’s not just a description, it’s a political mantra – we have banks which have grown to the point where government cannot manage a potential collapse and the whole system goes down. Why not just bust them up?

There are actually a lot of good reasons why something much more subtle has to be done, as well as something more comprehensive. That doesn’t sell as well on the campaign trail, where the evil banks are a handy villain for all of our economic ills. Yet it’s vitally important because it’s entirely possible that in a rush to regulate we might do something which is not only dangerous but misses the real problem entirely.

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Banks Amok? Perhaps Not

The Greek Crisis has everyone nervous, and for good reasons. If this is what happens when a nation hits a financial crisis people around the world have to reasonably ask, “Are we next?” Every nation on this planet is deep into debt, although few are as bad off as Greece.

A lot of national debt is a threat to the world we live in for two related but distinct reasons. The first is that a nation loses the ability to make its own decisions and operate as a legitimate sovereign nation – which, in the case of democracies, means a de facto taking of power by creditors at the expense of the people. The second is that a large debt load has to be serviced by the government somehow which ultimately is a drain on the economy, reducing the standard of living and generally hurting personal opportunities.

With all this debt floating around causing so much pain it’s best to look at who holds it and how the world can get a handle on it.

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“Oxi” Means …

Greece has voted “no”. The word is “oxi”, pronounced something like “ohee” in phonetic English, but with a little bit stuck in your throat on the “h” as if you are spitting on the European Central Bank (ECB).

It may well be that this deal had to be rejected and Greece has to essentially go over the cliff to be able to really stand on its feet one day. It may be that the ECB deserves to be spat on, and for that matter perhaps all banks have it coming to them.

But banks today are what we have to watch – in Greece and all around the world. The proud Hellenic people may be about to find out what a world without banks is like as theirs are at the very least going to remain closed for a while longer.  Life is going to become increasingly more difficult for everyone.

But this is hardly the first time Greece stood up and said “no” to the great powers of the world.
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Payday Can’t Come Fast Enough

The woman ahead of us in line at the convenience store had a bit more than the impatient, bored look we all shared. She held her head high and spoke to the cashier in a friendly tone, paying for the gasoline she was going to pump. Like many people at this store, in this part of St Paul, she paid with cash – but hers came in crisp twenties slid neatly out of a bank envelope. After we paid our own way out of the line I asked my daughter if she noticed. “My guess is she just cashed her paycheck because she doesn’t have a bank account,” I told her. It was a good guess, because it turns out that more than 17% of that particular neighborhood’s households have no bank account – and many rely on the UnBank check cashing up the street.

There are many reasons people don’t have bank accounts, up to and including the fact that check cashing stores can actually be cheaper than fees on everything. But some people wind up using these places for a “Payday Loan”, or a one-month advance on the next paycheck. A recent study shows that people who do this have to take out another loan the next month to pay off the first, and so on – with 62% eventually hitting 7 or more months in a row, the point where the interest payment exceeds the loan amount.

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What is Europe?

What is this thing we call the “Europe”? Is it an aspiration or a government? Is it a business agreement or a marriage? Is it simply a mass of land that many different people share?

While Ukraine fights a nasty civil war over the desire by many to join Europe, the UK is starting to question whether it belongs. Where the European Central Bank (ECB) has given its stamp of approval or withheld it for many important banks a scramble has taken place to comply at all cost.

Whatever it is, Europe has always moved in many directions at once. The last few months even moreso.

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Exit the Eurocrisis – Slowly

Now that the Eurozone Crisis is over, we can all breathe a little easier. Right? While it’s good to not be loping along from one crisis to the next, the aftermath of the flood that lasted from 2008-2012 in drips and drops is still being mopped up. The hits are just being absorbed by the banks and growth is going to be sub-par through 2014, meaning that the lingering unemployment problem is not going away.

There are two parts left to this clean-up – what comes next and what can we learn? They are both important and will dominate 2014 in Europe and the developed world.

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