Friday, April 4, 2008

Will Congress pay off Credit Card debt next?

In a shocking surprise, all of those people who could not pay-off their mortgages are also having problems with their credit card bills. Late payments on consumer loans have reached 16 year highs. This does not bode well for the financial sector.

There are now a slew of plans being put forward by Washington to bail out homeowners struggling with their mortgage payments. Most of these plans reward brainless homeowners for taking risky loans, buying at the peak of the market, purchasing more home than they could afford, and not having any financial discipline. Of course, the smart homeowners who only purchased what they could afford within traditional lending ratios and used common-sense are the suckers in the proposed Washington plans. The majority of these hard-working homeowners will be paying for this bail-out via higher taxes and bank fees for a long period of time.

The concept that the loan values for under-water home owners will be set to 90% of the current house value, and the loss to the existing loans be taken by the banks and tax-payers is obscene. Especially when the government (meaning the taxpayer) will be on the hook for any of the new loans that still default. While Congress is at it -- why don't they just pay off all the late credit card debt, surely this will be a popular earmark attached to some bill.

Socialize Loss, Privatize Gain – Welcome the new Wall Street motto

On the other hand, now that the Fed has seen it fit to socialize investment banking losses by allowing trading firms to borrow at the discount window, and bailing-out Wall Street institutions; most of main-street America sees nothing wrong with bailing out homeowners directly for their poor decision making to the tune of 400 billion dollars in government loan guarantees. The axioms that currently apply to Wall Street should equally pertain to the individual consumer according to most sentiment surveys.

The discount borrowing by investment companies from the Federal Reserve ‘Discount Window’ reached $38.1 billion in daily borrowing this week; much greater than $7 billion averaged by standard banks. Rather than using these funds to improve liquidity in the credit sector, most of these firms appear to be using the borrowed funds to implement more risky carry strategies to make money. Someone at the Fed needs to close the barn door. The intent of the Fed program was to ease a potential liquidity crisis; in reality the action is expanding the bubble. The Fed should have placed more conditions on these loans when it agreed, for the first time, to let big investment houses temporarily get emergency loans directly from the central bank.

Thanks to Washington, it appears that there is no longer any punishment for poor business practices. No harsh (and proper) lesson will be learned by either the financial markets or individual homeowners about risk control or avoiding excess greed. A significant educational opportunity is being missed, and unfortunately it badly needs to be taught. The recent actions by the government will only increase risky behavior by institutions and consumers in the future.