Did Timothy Geithner Fire Economist Robert Shiller?

 
A couple of years ago I was reading Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner’s Wikipedia Bio.(1) I was surprised to read that Mr. Geithner served as a Treasury Department Attaché in the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan during the early years of what has become known as “Japan’s Lost Decade” (A “Lost Decade” which is now approaching its second decade anniversary).(2)

It’s widely recognized that Japan’s “Lost Decade” was a consequence of the deflation of an asset bubble.* Since reading how Geithner was in a unique position to witness the formation and the consequences of a severe asset bubble, and because I believe he has no doubt followed the efforts of the Japanese Government to stimulate its way out of its economic doldrums, I’ve found Mr. Geithner’s policy positions a little strange.

For me, the strangeness of Treasury Secretary Geithner’s policies took on an even more strange dimension this morning.

This morning I was watching a video of a May 11, 2009 New Yorker Summit presentation of a conversation between Nassim Taleb, Robert Shiller(3) and Nick Paumgarten. At about 4.5 minutes into the video Robert Shiller describes how, after being on the New York Federal Reserve Bank’s “Academic Advisory Panel” for 14 years, Timothy Geithner ‘fired’ him (presumably for Shillers presentation to the panel on asset bubbles). Shiller’s ‘firing’ took place shortly after the first meeting of the "Academic Advisory Panel" after Geithner’s appointment as President of the New York Fed.

 * As much as most economists agree on anything, most economist’s attribute Japan’s “Lost Decade” to the [changed] wealth effect and loss of confidence which followed the late 80’s early ‘90’s bursting of the Japanese commercial real estate bubble, which had inflated excessively during the early-to-mid 1980’s.

I copied the portion of the longer video in which Professor Shiller describes what he interpreted as being fired by Timothy Geithner. If you are interested, you can see the video clip here:

The complete video of the May 11, 2009 New Yorker Summit discussion between Nassim Taleb, Robert Shiller and Nick Paumgarten can be found here:

Footnotes:
(1) Timothy Geithner - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, at: http://www.bing.com/search?setmkt=en-US&q=Timothy+Geithner+Wikipedia
(2) Japan’s “Lost Decade” at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Decade_(Japan)
and Japan announces “new dimension” in quantitative easing wsws.org Saturday 6th April, 2013, at:
(3) Robert Shiller is an economics professor at Yale University. He is the author of a book Irrational Exuberance (published in 2000) which describes the role of excessive confidence in the development of economic bubbles. Professor Shiller expressed concern about the stock market bubble before that bubble burst bubble, and he was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, to warn us of the real estate bubble. He is co-developer of the S&P Case-Shiller Real Estate Price Indeces. [see, http://www.irrationalexuberance.com/definition.htm ]

They Tried It, and It Didn't Work?

On November 5th 2012 (the day before the election) President Obama spoke to a group in Columbus, Ohio.

After hearing an excerpt from the speech I began to wonder if he actually believes what he said, or if he's just rearranging history to suit his goals. I hope you will watch the video at the following hyperlink to its end. I think I ask some relevant questions in the last minute, or so.

Economics professors will tell you that one of the best ways to create jobs, and to stimulate an economy, is support home building. (Think of all the trades, products and services that are required to build and furnish a home.)

But, I've never heard of any economics professor who advocated a long-term policy of providing loans to people who couldn't afford to repay the loans (However, I think some of what are called "Keynesian Economists" seem to favor such policies over as a short term prescription for economic stimulus.)

I’ve come to believe that many of the policies embraced by President Bill Clinton produced great economic results during (and, for awhile after) his administration. But, as those policies and political pressures went to excess, they eventually led to the housing bubble and the financial crisis.

It seems, the financial bubble that burst during the last year of George W. Bush's administration was a long time in the making.

Just a thought . . . .

The Shadow Knows

[First draft, January 10, 2010] Recently I've been reading articles documenting the increasing size of "the shadow inventory" of housing. Many articles mention that in addition to foreclosed properties, and REO's, a rapidly growing portion of the shadow inventory is represented by homes for which the home loan is in default, but on which banks are not foreclosing. Many of the articles I've read explain some reasons why banks and other Collateralized Mortgage Obligation (CMO) investors would choose not to foreclose on borrowers-in-default, but none of the articles list all of the reasons I can think of for banks and investors not foreclosing. 

The change to mark-to-market accounting for certain classes of financial assets (GAAP) has been delayed by Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) - with pressure from the U.S. Congress and bank lobbyists (see: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124396078596677535.html). So, the necessity to actually account for these bank assets' true market value is currently suspended. 

If a mortgage owner is a bank and the bank forecloses, the process for re-pricing the asset begins. And, the amount of the loss on the asset would then reduce the calculated bank reserves and force the regulators to require the bank to add more reserves. Under present market conditions this would not be a good thing for the bank, or for the U.S. Government. (Under present conditions banks which could not raise more reserve assets would be forced into FDIC receivership). And, if banks actually began to foreclose rapidly on all borrowers-in-default the calls for Government Sponsored Agency (GSA) loan insurance payoffs would further complicate the bail-out of the GSA's. Also, the demand for private mortgage insurance payoffs would put further stress on private mortgage insurers and impose additional stress on the financial system in general (and probably require private insurers to increase their required reserves). 

Another reason banks might avoid foreclosing on a borrower-in-default is that judges are becoming a bit cantankerous. Judges have begun to force loan modifications, mandate cram-downs, and in the absence of good physical documentation proving a bank or investor actually owns the loan, some judges have even awarded property to the (supposed) borrower when the loan documentation is missing, flawed or incomplete. 

It seems that the rush to originate loans, slice-and-dice loan tranches, construct CMO derivatives, track ownership, and re-register frequently traded CMO's (in the electronic registration system) led some necessary loan details, and even some complete documentation, to "go missing". So banks and investors are beginning to see foreclosure as a risky and potentially expensive option. (see: 10/24/09 NYT article by Gretchen Morgensen titled, "If Lenders Say 'The Dog Ate Your Mortgage' " at> http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/25/business/economy/25gret.html )  

Another subtlety, as long as the bank allows the borrower-in-default to stay in the home the mortgage investor (bank or CMO investor) is not as greatly exposed to losses from theft, vandalism and gross depreciation of real estate value due to non-maintenance of the property. 

Also, by not foreclosing on borrowers-in-default the lender avoids becoming the owner of the property and thus avoids direct liability for property taxes, HOA Fees, and some of the more recently imposed municipality assessments levied against investors who now own foreclosed property (see: http://www.dlapiper.com/miami-dade_foreclosure_ordinances/ for another example see mosquito abatement fees in some areas of California - Indio, Palm Springs, Stockton, Mountain House, etc.)

If the "shadow inventory" came to the market all at once demand would be even further overwhelmed by supply causing even more significant price erosion.

It’s logical . . . perhaps corrupt, but logical.

Other Resources:

1. See CoreLogic.com at: http://www.corelogic.com/search.aspx?q=shadow+inventory

2. The Case-Shiller S&P Home Price Index is published on the last Tuesday of the month with a two month time lag in reporting for data gathering and data analysis, at: http://www.standardandpoors.com/indices/sp-case-shiller-home-price-indices/en...

3. Also see, YouTube video The Impact of The Delay in Implementing FAS#157 at:  

4. And, watch the YouTube video The Short Sale Conundrum - Mortgage Servicers’ Misaligned Incentives at:

5. Re: Was the strategy for delaying the pain learned during Japan's 'Lost Decade'? “Geithner worked for Kissinger Associates in Washington for three years and then joined the International Affairs division of the U.S. Treasury Department in 1988. He went on to serve as an attaché at the Embassy of the United States in Tokyo.” From Wikipedia, Timothy Geithner at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Geithner

6. Watch a brief segment of Georgetown Law Professor Adam Levitin's Congressional testimony titled, "Regulators Don't Want to Know" at:

 

The Looming Rentcropper Society

In addition to the problems mentioned in Institutional Home Buying Bubble (see post below) there are few other reasonable concerns about the programs that facilitate such institutional bulk purchases.

In addition to the operational difficulties, the operational overhead, and the lack of ‘scalability’ in the bulk ownership and the property management of single family homes – which are presumably geographically disbursed - some commenters have mentioned a few other un-intended negative consequences which might flow from federal government sponsored, and large bank sponsored, programs for the bulk sale of Real Estate Owned (REO) and foreclosed single family properties.  To read about some of the other (somewhat predictable) unintended negative consequences of the bulk sales of single family homes to institutional owners read the articles named and hyperlinked below.

Resources:
Our Coming Rentcropper Society By Yves Smith posted on NakedCapitalism 8/21/2012, at: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/08/our-coming-rentcropper-society.html#Td4eh6HzCh0JProP.99

Our Coming Rentcropper Society: Private Equity Firms Buying-up Blocks of Foreclosures Nationwide By HiPointDem posted on DemocraticUnderground 8/24/2012, at: http://www.democraticunderground.com/10021191182

Foreclosure Bulk Sales Program Allows Banks and Hedgefunds to Buy Low After Selling High By David Dayen posted on FDL March 21, 2012, at: http://news.firedoglake.com/2012/03/21/foreclosure-bulk-sales-program-allows-banks-and-hedge-funds-to-buy-low-after-selling-high/

FHA Moving Forward with Bulk REO Sales By Greg Fielding from 8/27/2012 post on Bay Area Real Estate Trends, at: http://bayarearealestatetrends.com/2012/08/27/fhfa-moving-forward-with-bulk-reo-sales/

Bill Clinton: Building the Foundation for The House of Cards

In this PBS NewsHour video-clip aired January 21, 1998 President Bill Clinton points to his accomplishment of having his 'regulators' force banks to grant loans to applicants to whom the banks would not have otherwise granted loans.

  

In this video-clip President Clinton, claims that 85% of the loans issued under the guidelines of the (then 20 plus year old) Community Reinvestment Act were issued during his first five years in office.

  

Is it any wonder that the GSE's, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, under direction from Clinton and his two administration's HUD Chairmen, Henry Cisneros, and later Andrew Cuomo, continued lowering the standards for loans they would purchase from mortgage originators?

 

And, is it any wonder that investment banking interests devised ways to 'package' large numbers of mortgage loans into "tranches" of different risk level in order to diversify the risk they were being pressured through regulatory mandate, and political persuasion, to accept?

 

Notice that Clinton mentions this activity was not necessarily an affirmative action or civil rights oriented activity, but rather that it had significant impact on the economy. . . . 

 

Further Reading:

See, The Community Reinvestment Act, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_Reinvestment_Act

 

Bill Clinton's Drive to Increase Homeownership Went Way Too Far By Peter Coy -pub. in Bloomberg BusinessWeek 2/28/2008, at: http://www.businessweek.com/the_thread/hotproperty/archives/2008/02/clintons_... 

  

Bill Clinton, Wanted For Crimes Against Our Economy By Jim Newman pub. 2/27/2012, at: http://kayleighmcenany.com/2012/02/27/jim-newman-bill-clinton-wanted-for-crimes-against-our-economy/

 

 Key words search for: Janet Reno threatens banks

 

Smoke, Mirrors and The Shadow Inventory

The Wall Street Journal “Smart Money” Will Short Sales Hit Home Prices?  By Anna Maria Andriotis - pub. August 22, 2012

 Why is there a ‘shadow inventory’ of homes?

  

In last quarter of 2008, U.S. banks and their lobbyists pushed the U.S. Congress to force the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) to postpone the implementation of mark-to-market accounting (FAS #157).* The FASB eventually acquiesced.  So, after the acquiescence, banks and other collateralized mortgage obligation [CMO] investors can continue to carry these investments at origination value, rather than at the investment’s current market value.

 

But, if a bank or other mortgage investor forecloses, renegotiates the mortgage, or sells the home (the collateral) the new ‘book value’ of the investment is based upon the new selling price (or mortgage value) - as determined by the terms of the new deal (auction, renegotiation, or sale).

 

By not foreclosing, renegotiating, or formally taking back properties (REO) banks and other mortgage investors can, to some extent, manage what  their losses appear to be, and hopefully offset the losses - they recognize - against other revenue, over time.

  

Key-words-search:Congress Helped Banks Defang Key Rule” By Susan Pulliam & Tom McGinty WSJ 6/3/2009 | Professor Adam Levitin Congressional testimony “Federal Regulators Don’t Want to Know” YouTube | Zombie Banks | Japan Lost Decade (Please note that, at the beginning of Japan’s lost decade our current Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner was living and working in Japan as a Treasury Department attaché in the U.S. Embassy.)

 

*  See, FAS #157 [mark-to-market accounting] and scroll down to the section heading: Effect on subprime crisis and Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 , at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark-to-market_accounting

 

Federal Regulators Don't Want To Know


The Undisclosed Inventory of Homes

My comment on the article, Foreclosure Machines Still Running on ‘Low’  By Robbie Whelan in The Wall Street Journal [Developments Blog] – pub. July 31, 2012 at: http://blogs.wsj.com/developments/2012/07/31/foreclosure-machines-still-running-on-low/?blog_id=36&post_id=21215

The shadow inventory and the large inventory of bank ‘Real Estate Owned’ (REO’s) is a phenomenon which I believe has been caused to a significant extent by the decision to delay the implementation of FAS #157 [commonly known as ‘fair value accounting’ or ‘mark-to-market accounting’].

The delay in the implementation of mark-to-market accounting allows mortgage investors to report (on books and records) the value of their mortgage investments at the investment’s origination value rather than requiring these assets be valued at an estimate of current market value. See article, Congress Helped Banks Defang Key Rule By Susan Pulliam & Tom McGinty - pub. Wall Street Journal June 3, 2009 | at: http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB124396078596677535-lMyQjAxMTIyNDMzMTkzNjEwWj.html?mod=wsj_valettop_email

For further insight into the implications, and one of the likely consequences of the delay of mark-to-market accounting watch a brief video-clip of a portion of Georgetown University Law Professor, Adam Levitin's U.S. Congressional testimony titled, Federal Regulators Don't Want to Know at:

The shadow inventory and bank REO's (not under current listing contracts) represent an historically significant supply of housing which in many ways is not transparent or adequately disclosed, and therefore is not fully-factored into the ‘market's pricing” of homes (supply and demand).

Zombie Accounting and The Shadow Inventory

I recently watched a U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Hearing on C-SPAN. The hearing, which was held on December 15, 2010, was titled “Mortgage Services and Foreclosure Practices”.1 The testimony and the questions and answers in the hearing provided a significant amount of interesting information about the processes, and the legal and practical issues surrounding the mortgage servicing industry, and the Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS).

Because I followed the history of Congress’s involvement in pressuring the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) to delay the implementation of FAS #157 in early 2009.2 I found a question, which was asked by Congressman Bobby Scott (D. VA) troubling.

At approximately 1 hour 36 minutes into the hearing Congressman Scott asked, in essence, if there was anything in “accounting standards” that might provide incentives for mortgage investors and mortgage servicers not to agree to short sales and to prefer alternatives that might be less advantageous for all parties.

I was surprised by the question because of Congress’ significant role in pressuring the FASB for a delay in FAS #157 and I was also bit surprised that none of the witnesses could directly answer the question - from an accounting standards perspective. In general, the witnesses only discussed the mis-alignment of incentives, where mortgage pooling and servicing agreements provide ongoing revenue for servicers when a short sale is not agreed to and a foreclosure is delayed.3

Footnotes: 
1. The December 15, 2010 House Judiciary Committee “Mortgage Services and Foreclosure Practices” hearing may be seen at:  http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/297095-1
2. See a Wall Street Journal article titled, Congress Helped Banks Defang Key Rule By Susan Pulliam and Tom McGinty pub. 6/3/2009 at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124396078596677535.html Also see, For Your Reading Pleasure By Jack Ciesielski pub. in the Analyst’s Accounting Observer 2/25/2010 at: http://www.accountingobserver.com/PublicBlog/tabid/54/EntryId/12583/For-Your-Reading-Pleasure.aspx
3. Under the typical mortgage securitization “Pooling and Servicing Agreements” mortgage investors agree to pay mortgage servicers fees for arranging: home inspections, arranging broker ‘opinion of value’, preparing and filing documents, general documentation, notifications, forced insurance fees, and etc.