Thursday, January 22, 2009

Nouriel Roubini Weighs In on Bailout: Additional $1 Trillion Needed Just for Banks

In the afterglow of the Inauguration, sobering numbers indeed from economist Nouriel Roubini.
RGE Monitor Estimates $3.6 Trillion Loan and Securities Losses in the U.S.

Nouriel Roubini and Elisa Parisi-Capone of RGE Monitor release new estimates for expected loan losses and writedowns on U.S. originated securitizations:
  • Loan losses on a total of $12.37 trillion unsecuritized loans are expected to reach $1.6 trillion. Of these, U.S. banks and brokers are expected to incur $1.1 trillion.
  • Mark-to-market writedowns based on derivatives prices and cash bond indices on a further $10.84 trillion in securities reached about $2 trillion ($1.92 trillion.) About 40% of these securities (and losses) are held abroad according to flow-of-funds data. U.S. banks and broker dealers are assumed to incur a share of 30-35%, or $600-700 billion in securities writedowns.
  • Total loan losses and securities writedowns on U.S. originated assets are expected to reach about $3.6 trillion. The U.S. banking sector is exposed to half of this figure, or $1.8 trillion (i.e. $1.1 trillion loan losses + $700bn writedowns.)
  • FDIC-insured banks’ capitalization is $1.3 trillion as of Q3 2008; investment banks had $110bn in equity capital as of Q3 2008. Past recapitalization via TARP 1 funds of $230bn and private capital of $200bn still leaves the U.S. banking system borderline insolvent if our loss estimates materialize.
  • In order to restore safe lending, additional private and/or public capital in the order of $1 – 1.4 trillion is needed. This magnitude calls for a comprehensive solution along the lines of a ‘bad bank’ as proposed by policy makers or an outright restructuring through a new RTC.
  • Back in September, Nouriel Roubini proposed a solution for the banking crisis that also addresses the root causes of the financial turmoil in the housing and the household sectors. The HOME (Home Owners’ Mortgage Enterprise) program combines a RTC to deal with toxic assets, a HOLC to reduce homeowers’ debt, and a RFC to recapitalize viable banks.
I hope our new President, and our Congressional leaders, are listening.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Living through a Downturn: My Dad's Story

It's difficult to thrive when the economic world around you is falling apart.

I hate to say it, but I know. I KNOW. I grew up in Buffalo during the 1970s. One of my fondest memories of my father was our discussions of the decline of the oil industry, his employer (remember Texaco?). He was an award winning salesperson in the early 1960s (I still remember the slogans: Under the Gun in 61, Out in the Blue in 62) and our home collected his trophies. He was a success.

But that was not to last. Texaco closed the Buffalo regional office where he was based, selling petroleum products to a shrinking local industrial base. His territory kept getting bigger, sometimes taking him to not-nearby Pennsylvania.

Dad was laid off in the early 1970s. I was in college at the time. I had a full scholarship, for the debate team. I worked every summer to pay my dining expenses, so all he had to pay for was my dorm and incidentals. So I was spared my life falling apart when his did.

Fortunately, he was quickly hired by a local speciality grease manufacturer, where he worked until his death. But he never really got over the demise of Texaco. He always had liked working at a big corporation; his dad drove a bread truck, so he had advanced himself to the next rung on the ladder. His death came from a heart attack; by the time I got the call and came home from 500 miles away, on Halloween night in 1981, he was already dead.

I think of my dad now, because what he went through is a lot of what many of us will be going through...not just the big losses of houses and savings, but the more subtle losses, the losses of a sense of your place in life. A whole generation is losing the American story of upward mobility.

I see that loss echoed it in the calls for a bailout, the emotion that government needs to "do something" to save these jobs. The emotion as again, a way of life is torn up by forces way out of the average person's control, even out of Wall Street's control.

One of the hardest things for my dad was to see what was going on around him and feel the victim of it. He felt that nothing could be done to restart Buffalo's economy. He was an ambitious homebody, a family man and loyal corporate soldier.

I am writing my book for my dad, in gratitude, and for the dads and moms who will be facing some of the difficulties that we had growing up.

Sadly, my dad really never survived the loss of that job. But in truth, it wasn't the job that killed him, it was something more insidious.

A few months before he died, he told my mother, "I've been fooling people my whole life." For my dad, succeeding in business, even in the limited way he did, propped up his deep sense that he didn't belong. Tell me you don't know people like that, who have gifts and just don't feel they deserve to live into who they really are. Tell me you aren't one.

In my view, my dad deserved to be at the table of plenty. He had the skills and work ethic, but he never had faith in himself. Like many men, he drank, not problematically, but enough to ease himself into home after a day at work.

Dad never survived his personal recession.

My dad never trusted in his bones that he could "Bring forth that which is within him." He never knew that "what is within him would save him." He measured himself by some standard that I never fully understood, and he always came up short in his own eyes. I don't know this for a fact, but I believe he died feeling like a failure.

Throughout my life, I have been trying to figure out a different calculus for my life. I'm writing a book out of these blog posts, about how to bring forth what is within you and be at peace with the demands of an unstable economy. What was a personal project has now become a deeply felt mission. There is a lot of pain coming -- pain that I am very familiar with, and in fact feeling now -- and I want to help Americans to redefine their lives in such a way that they are not victims, like my dad was, when the economy turns against you.

The last time I saw my dad was in Florida, where he and my mom spent every winter. They rented a small house near Orlando, which was where autoworkers and others from the Rust Belt clustered. He was an old man at 71. We talked, as we always had, about politics in Buffalo, cars, and other things. We spent time with their friends from Buffalo. I remember thinking that this man I had so many complex feelings had become "harmless." I think he had found some peace from his demons at long last, and had learned to relax and enjoy his family and friends. He had been retired for six months. Six months later, he was dead.

If my book can help one person to see him or herself more deeply, to tap into his or her own being for answers, rather than crash and burn at the loss of a 401(k), or a job, or a house, then you can be sure that I didn't do it alone. I don;t mean this in any superficial, feminine, new age way. I mean it in the most hard-hitting, war-like, practical, life-saving way.

After all these years, maybe I've found a way to pay my dad back for his sacrifices. He is in every word I write.

How NOT To Think About the Recession

A success coach named Della Menechella is recommending formula for thinking about the recession that is fundamentally unsound.

Her advice is rooted in the sandy soil of many years of easy times, times that have come to an abrupt and surprising end. There is more than a little economic illiteracy underlying her assumptions. Yet, it is the approach most Americans are comfortable with: if I look ahead and stay positive, things will stay essentially the same, because I am a successful person.

But that is not what a subset of Americans I call "super-copers" does in a crisis. Research over many decades shows that decisive, resilient people, be they CEOs or widows, FACE UP TO threats and crisis, go through (and get through) a phase of panic and depression,and shore up their situation against the threat. THEN AND ONLY THEN do they look to the future, and what they do about it is different too.

But before we get to that, I need to debunk the pervasive view that Memechella's article passes off as sound advice.

I want you to not only stay afloat in the difficult year ahead, I want you to thrive. So let me help you recession-proof yourself by helping you replace soft thoughts such as hers with robust, resilient, recession-proof thinking.

ADVICE: Don't read news coverage of the economy.
Everywhere you turn you hear that we are either heading into a recession, we are already in a recession or we are on the brink of a depression. It is enough to make you crazy. While it is true that we are experiencing financial challenges in our world today, it is also true that the constant talk about financial ruin is helping to create those very conditions.
WRONG! Make sure you understand what is going on, and once you have formed your opinion, then control your daily news diet or eliminate it. To just turn away because "it makes you crazy" prizes mental confort over honesty.

ADVICE: Don't let fear stop you from spending.

When people only hear about how bad the economy is, that layoffs are imminent, that we are going to have money problems for months, if not years, they become fearful of spending money. When people don’t spend money, the economy worsens. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

WRONG! Confidence and trust are essential elements of any economic system. Consumers lack confidence in their job security, their investments, their housing values. Cutting back spending is prudent advice. This recession is caused by excessive consumer debt-fueled spending that is no longer sustainable. Retrenching consumption is part of the solution, and it will take a recession to achieve it.

ADVICE: Don't worry because you will be one of the lucky ones.

Whatever success you are currently enjoying is yours because of who you are. It is not an accident....Just because the economic conditions are changing, that does not mean that your success is about to be pulled out from under you. You have a consciousness of success and that will help you to find success in the evolving economic climate.
SHALLOW: What if you are not? Are you willing to assume once a winner, always a winner? The economy is not growing. Those who were successful for the 20 years when growth was easy are not necessarily of the temperament to succeed in a recession. (That is the point of this whole article, really!). Some investment advisers do better in bull markets, others in bear markets. Not many do well in both, because each kind of success requires a different kind of thinking. Since this will be a deep and long recession, wouldn't you like to learn more about how those who prosper in a recession do it?

ADVICE: Think it and it will be so.
Continually hold a picture of yourself being successful in your mind. See others offering you wonderful opportunities for which you are abundantly rewarded. Does this seem like a fantasy? It isn’t. It is a very powerful success practice....By continuing to hold a success picture in your mind, you will unconsciously be sending out signals to others that you are a success. Your continued success is sure to follow.
PUH-LEEZ! It's hard to know where to start on this one. First, success in business always starts when you provide value to someone else. The resilient thinker asks: how can I increase my value so that when I am one of 100 applicants (instead of just one of, say 10) I will be able to bring the most value. Second, as you notice with all of these tips, they are completely self-centered, about propping up your own thinking about yourself. Resilient people are made of sturdier stuff; they act and connect.

ADVICE: Control your thoughts
I have learned from my own experience and the experience of other successful people that when we take control of our minds, we take control of our destinies.
YEAH, AND THEN? Of course we have to control our thoughts, not take counsel of our fears. But that is just the beginning.

This recession is full of opportunities for growth and joy. They won't be the same opportunities that we had in the last 20 years, which were amply funded by a debt-inflated economy.

Everyone to a person will face a decline in their financial well-being. Some of us, like this writer, are so wedded to identifying as "successful" that we may cling to appearances rather than accept our losses with grace and move on to the next part of life.

But the resilient thinker -- whoa, she is off for a wonderful adventure that depends more on her imagination and guts and less on her bank account. Ah, but her story is another blog post away.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Reality Bites

I hope you will read this gentle, sympathetic, but tough-minded assessment from investment advisor and prominent financial blogger Mike Shedlock (Mish). He put it in a comment yesterday, and it needs more visibility.

People may not like it but the standard of living in the US is likely to drop for the first time in history.

People need to be prepared for this and the loss of a job [and, I might add, the failure of a small business.]

Yes, this is "doom and gloom" but it is also reality.

It is time for balance sheet repair at every level: personal, corporate, city, state, national.

It will be a time of tough choices.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

25 Things to Do Instead of Panic About the Recession

If you, like me, like to have a list of things to do to feel more in control, try this one. It is guaranteed to calm your panic. You have enormous resources inside of you; these tips will free up your natural resilience. Work with the list until your panic abates and your resilient self kicks in.


1. Take a deep breath. Then another.

2. Walk outside. Without a coat, just go out and walk around. Smell the air, feel the weather.

3. Make a list of 5 favorite things that you currently have.

4. Make a list of 5 thing you have done that you enjoyed doing; does remembering them make you smile?

5. Write down your favorite color. Wherever you are, find 5 things that are that color and write them down. Describe the actual shade or tint they are in.

6. Look around your house and rearrange one room or nook by bringing in something different or just rearranging what is there - 10 minute time limit.

7. Make a list of 5 people you haven't seen in at least a year. Find their current contact information and send each an e-mail.

8. Who is someone in your profession or area of study that you always wanted to meet? Find their website or blog, get their contact information, and tell them the thing you most admire or appreciate about their work and how it has helped you.

9. Make a list of 5 things you always wanted to do that you keep putting off.

10. Write down one small thing you do exceptionally well with little strain, either at home, in your personal life, or at work. Answer these questions in one sentence each: 1. How did you get the activity rolling? What did you do to keep it rolling? What did you do to overcome obstacles you encountered? How did you bring it to a successful conclusion?

10a. If you liked that, do it a few more times. Look over your answers. What do they tell you about how you are most effective in getting things done?

11. Clean out your car. Wash and wax it yourself. Polish the seats if leather. Vaccuum it out. Treat the wheels and rims. Get rid of all the junk in the trunk.

12. Get a library card.

13. Take out a book that is on a subject related to #3, #4 or #8 above.

14. While you are there, take out a book on feng shui, the art of alignment and placement. Open it at random and implement something from those pages when you go home.

15. Get a small notebook you can carry with you and a pen. Also get a voice recorder (Sansa is a good one). Start blurting out those random thoughts that we all have. Get them out into the fresh air so they can develop.

16. Buy 2 each of three different kinds of apples. Find a simple apple pie recipe on Cut up the apples and put them into a premade crust and bake. While you are enjoying the smell, retain a few slices of each kind of apple and write a review of them as if you were a wine critic. Now come up with a name for your unique apple pie.

17. Make a list 3 things you like to do at work. Not jobs, but activities. What is really fun for you? When do you feel like you are really using what you are all about?

18. Find a wooded area where you can take a walk. Take your voice recorder and your notebook and pen. No agenda. Take a 30 minute walk. Write down anything that you think about.

19. Write down your ideal day. From waking up to having breakfast, to getting into the swing of the day, to eating dinner and activities after dinner, what would be a great day for you?

20. Call up an old friend just for the heck of it to see how he or she is doing.

21. Take that apple pie (or something else) to a neighbor or friend as a surprise. Thank them for something they have done for you.

22. Plan at least 30 minutes to yourself, where you will sit quietly. If you feel the urge to get up and check e-mail or twitter, just sit back down. Have your notebook and recorder at hand.

23. Put up a bulletin board somewhere where you can stick up things that strike you as pretty or meaningful.

24. Make three bins to put your notes in from your notebook and (transcribed from) your recorder: rants/ravings, ideas for work life, ideas for personal life.

25. Make a promise to yourself to keep a copy of this list with you and to PULL IT OUT and do something on it whenever you start to panic. .

If you start to panic again, rinse and repeat. You always have this list to keep your feet on the ground.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

How to Overcome Your Economic Fears

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself. “

We could use a little of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Depression-era grit right now.

This so-called recession is actually a systemic crisis that covers the entire world economy. We will all be deeply affected, if not today, then next year or the year after. All signs are that things will get worse – probably much worse – before they start to get better. No debating: change has come.

We’ve had a pretty long run of peace and prosperity, so long that we have taken them as reality itself. Most of our personal coping strategies were honed in this favorable environment. Ironically, many of us learned to cope with stress by spending the money that seemed to be plentiful and unending.

So how do we cope now? The problems are tougher, and we don’t have the money we once did to make pain go away.

Fear makes people do strange things – go on spending sprees, take impulsive action to stem losses (like selling stock abruptly), drink to excess, rail against the “stupidity” of our leaders, get absorbed in blogs and twitter to the point of distraction [my personal favorite] and so forth.

There is a strain of denial in all of these strategies; denial that something has been lost, and that it isn’t coming back. Scrape back that denial, and our old enemy, cold hard fear, is not far from the surface, with its cold fingers tight around our throats. Many of us are literally “frozen in fear.”

How can we best handle ourselves as this economic crisis unfolds?

We can’t bring back the past, but we can create the future. I’ve found a strategy that works, regardless of the nature of the loss, because it is the deepest possible antidote to fear. It is soft, tender even, so it is probably the last thing a fearful person would think of.

It worked for me when I was diagnosed with breast cancer early in 2008, when 9/11 crashed the foundation and charity world, source of my clients, when I lost everyone close to me within a few weeks in 2003, and now as I cope with my fear about this economy and what it means to me, my new husband, our family, and my friends.

It starts with a basic principle of human nature: If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you fail to do so, what is within you will destroy you.

“What is within you” is what you will use to create your own future. The key question to ask is: What opportunities are there for me to become stronger, more true to who I really am, in this crisis?

I doubt very many of us will become homeless or lack for meals. I expect that many of us will see significantly worsened financial situations now and perhaps for the rest of our lives. I am suggesting that this question, what is within me that I now have the opportunity to bring forth, is the foundation for your own effective coping.

I don’t mean this trivially. I don’t mean trading dinners out for strolls in the woods if that is not your thing. I don’t mean rediscovering the joys of homemade meals and crafts (these are tedium to many, me included).

I do mean a rigorous, continuous, and honest look at who you are, what you really want, and how you can be even more of who you really are, as this crisis unfolds. And I mean applying that deepening knowledge on a moment to moment basis as you make decisions. You won’t be chasing dollars quite so hard in the years ahead; what else is there to being you in the world?

Such a strategy gives you two advantages:

First, it makes it far more likely that the decisions you make will result in personally satisfying outcomes (e.g., happiness) for you. You will likely enjoy watching your choices weave into something new.

Second, it gets you used to finding your own rewards, and insulates you from being manipulated by advertising- generated rewards and separated too readily from your money. There will be less money to go around, that is one certainty. There already is.

I’ve done this, focused on bringing out what is within me when a crisis hits, and it works.

When, through death and desertion, I lost the 5 closest people to me within a month, what I found within me was a deep desire to connect, to relate, to not be alone in the world. This was new – I was a single woman who liked being single. But something changed. I am now married with 4 step children and part of a large extended family.

When I lost my job at a dot-org that lost its funding after 9/11, and the DC economy tanked, I reluctantly took a low-paying job at an SBA-funded Women's Business Center. That turned out to be the start of a new career in small business development that has brought me more intrinsic rewards, friendships, and sense of purpose than any of the work I had done before. I felt I was tapping into something deep.

More recently, I enrolled in a mentoring program to write and speak about small business. Shortly after it started, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Over the course of treatment (now completed), I stayed in the program as best I could.

What happened was that I began to understand my interest in small business more deeply. It stemmed from my upbringing in the Rust Belt, in a state of constant recession. I left to escape the hopelessness that a weak economy creates. In the process, I learned that life -- and making money -- had far more possibilities than the fear-soaked culture I grew up in ever imagined.

My book – and this article is part of it – will now be much deeper and I hope more useful. There are hard times and real losses ahead, for the country, for business, and for many individuals. I hope I can help people mourn the passing of one stage of our national and personal economic journey, and get on with creating the next one.

What is in you that is ready to come to the fore? I’m all ears.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bailout Auto Industry with Retiree Health Insurance Relief

Let's not give Detroit a bailout. If there are problems with the GM, Ford, or Chrysler business model, those are problems that the market -- and reorganization through bankruptcy -- will solve. It worked to modernize the airline industry. It will work for the auto industry, as Mitt Romney explained so well yesterday in The New York Times.

HOWEVER -- there is appropriate economic relief that the Federal government can give Detroit, and that is relief from the burden of health insurance for ALL of its retirees. GM recently cut what the benefits for its salaried retirees, saving the company more than $1.5 billion. But that is pocket change. As Nick Bunkley wrote in The New York Times on November 8,

In fact, paying the cost of hospital stays, surgeries and expensive drugs for retirees, a group now larger than G.M.’s active work force, is a major reason the company’s financial woes are so great. G.M. says it spent $4.6 billion in 2007 on health care for its one million employees and retirees and their dependents.

Two-thirds of GM's insurance costs go to cover retirees, most of them untouchable because union contracts protect their benefit amounts. So -- moving those union retirees into the Federal health care system, with a declining co-pay from GM -- could save Detroit billions.

Of course, this would mean that the Big Three would have to declare bankruptcy so that the union contracts could be loosened and this provision made possible.

I know this roils the Democrats traditional "joined at the hip" relationship to big labor. But this is a national crisis - a time for leadership that looks beyond small-minded politics to the larger issues at play.

And this is true fairness. Detroit is being crushed by the burden of our failure to enact meaningful health care reform.

I know how good those retiree benefits are. I managed my mother's care after her GM salaried retiree husband died. She paid about $15 a month for insurance while I was paying about $400 as a self-employed adult.

In today's economy, letting an entire industry bleed to death to preserve "gold-plated" benefits just doesn't make economic sense. Allowing retirees to have a soft landing in the Federal health insurance system means this solution makes political sense.

Any takers?