Category Archives: US

The Madness of Student Loans

I read an amazing article in today’s US print edition of the Wall Street Journal. The article was titled, ‘Parents are Drowning in College-Loan Debt‘. The front page article explored data that suggests new record levels of delinquency on college-loan debts associated with a government-managed program called Parent Plus. 

Apparently this program allows parents to borrow money to support educational costs over and above the maximum a child can obtain from federal aid. The article suggests that there is no limit to what can be borrowed via Parent Plus (created by Congress in 1980 when Jimmy Carter was president); and that the most information needed to qualify is a social security ID. Apparently there is no credit check or any other required qualification.

Excuse me? I had to read that part again. What idiot approved this policy? Talk about idiot. This is just the kind of lunatic policy that contributes to unsustainable price increases in secondary education that the droves demand for more subsidies, loans and debts. This is as close to nuts as the same socialist and left-leaning policies that suggested expanding home ownership for those that cannot afford it was a good thing. This is madness.

Not every child needs to go to college. But every child should have the opportunity. There is a distinction between those two points; and the result should not lead to governments controlling access by funneling loans to those that cannot afford it. Attendance should be based on merit. Thus fewer would attend and so prices would not rise as fast and so fewer loans would be needed. But socialism informs uneducated parents that they have a right to a college education and so Uncle Sam has to bend over and make crap up and print more money and screw everyone as a result. Nice.

Now we are again in another financial pickle. But I can’t stop and write about how to fix it. I am going to rush off to go apply for my free Parent Plus loan.

Trump One Step Closer to Quitting

Reference:

I believe Donald Trump will quit the Presidency of the United States. I forecasted Trump would win (see April 2016: Trump Will Eat Clinton Alive), and in that article last Spring I suggested that he would quit. He will quit due to the inability for politicians in Washington to be rational and negotiate. He will quit with acrimony and bolshiness. About the only thing that will prevent this situation from taking place is tax reform.

Let me first state that I think that Obamacare was the wrong tool for the job. It was a rushed, Ill-focused, partisan and socialist effort to undermine the best parts of America. Its namesake and his supporters suggested that the Affordible Care Act (ACA) it helps those that need most help (the uninsured), and it does (in some way) but at a system-wide cost that is unacceptable and unaffordable.

The free market is anything but that; regulation is like a strangling vine; prices remain untouched and high; big pharmaceutical remains unfettered; patient outcomes remain anathema to healthcare. This country continues to spend ever more on healthcare, more than any other developed nation per capita, and yet our outcomes and their improvement reman poor and lacking, even on a good day. Obamacare was the wrong tool for the job.

The bad news is the Republican approach to Obamacare has split its own party. Worse, the repeal and replacement was in their reach. Yet last week the chance for correction was thrown out.  

There were even votes against the Republican policy from folks like Ron Paul who didn’t want the ‘Obamacare Lite’ but who wanted a full repeal. So he withheld his support. The Freedom Caucus, apparent fiscal hawks, had a chance to budget-fence Medicaid, yet they withdrew support in the mad hope of a perfect policy sometime in the future.  

This is madness. This is political suicide. The Democrats have been handed a free ticket and Trump must be mad. This is Washington at its worst. There will likely never be a perfect policy or time enough to develop it.

Now the movement shifts to tax reform. If an overhaul is not executed Trump will feel like quitting and he may yet do so. The Republicans need to realize that they have a rare opportunity but only if they unite. If they play party politics and splinter again, change will not be forthcoming. The Democrats, not in power of any sort, will be in power in all but name.

Obama won on the promise of change and socialists alike all rammed through their left-leaning, redistributive, anti-business and anti-free market policies. We are slowly bleeding to death now under the weight of ignorance and self feeling. Our polices cannot be paid for without printing money since we are all too happy to free-ride the masses and garrote the rest. The rest who are free and employed folks who work for a living, who want to improve their lot with their own blood, sweat and tears, not from hand-outs from Uncle Sam.

Trump also won on an argument for change. Alas the Republicans have forgotten how to govern.    

US Economy Not Out of the Woods – Beware the Hype that Says Otherwise

You would think that, given the press coverage, much of the US economy is making great progress.  Apparently interest rates will continue to rise in response to the Fed’s feeling that the economy is doing well; near-full employment, GDP recovery, stock market growth, bond and dollar strength and all that jazz.  But these data points mask some other troubling items that suggest any recovery will likely be lopsided and even short-term based.  You only have to look under the covers at, say, unemployment, credit, or housing.  

  • Unemployment: despite low levels of reported unemployment many economists are concerned that the participation rate is at very low levels.  In other words, there is a lot of unemployed that is not being reported in the official KPI.  Some economists suggest that real effective unemployment maybe nearer 6 or even 9 percent.  Thus the result of economic growth may not lead to wage price pressure so soon, since the participation rate may improve the so pick up some of the slack.  This is good news overall but not if the Fed believes that they need to head off wage inflation likely to appear due to pressure on a really tight labor market
  • Consumer Credit:  Student and auto loans are running ahead at full steam, and mortgage debt continues apace.  While many firms have cleared their balance sheets of bad debts, consumers – which drive a massive part of the US economy – are amassing debt easier than looking for a hot meal.  On February 27th the US print edtion of the Financial Times carried an article, More US car owners behind on loan payments than at any time since 2009.  What is realy funky here is that if you go into the market now to look for a new or used car, you will be offered a loan for repayment now past the 5 year window.  It used to be that 5 years was the maximum and this was only a few years ago.  Now you can get a loan over 6 years or longer.  So the consumer part of the market is building up a nice bad-debt situation.
  • House prices: Yes, house prices have recovered, so we are told, to near pre-crisis levels.  So that part of the market is secure, right?  Wrong.  Home ownership is a its lowest levels in years.  It turns out that the buyers that are driving up prices are investment firms and conglomerates that are snapping up property then leasing them to. So first time buyers are being squeezed out.  The housing market has not recovered in the way we would want it or need it to for effective sustainment.

So we have a very lopsided economic recovery.  It is not stable and even the strong shoots are some challenging weeds hiding just under the covers.  Even if Trump can delivery on +2% GDP growth, I am not altogether sure that woudl mask the issues that are building up today.

Obamacare – The Gift that Keeps on Taking

I thought it was interesting the angle taken by two Opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal on Matvh 17th and 15th.  Both pieces highlighted what for me is not well known or reported in the wider press.  The point being that the regulation that comprises the Affodible Care Act (ACA) was going to continue to drive a greater wedge into public finances long into the future.  According to the two articles, increased taxed and transfer payments from the federal governance were baked into the regulation or required as a result of how the regulation was to be sustained.  In other words, ACA did way more than “tackle” the problem of offering healthcare to those that did not have it; it really did tinker with the entire system on which it relies nourishment.

The perspective offered by the Wall Street Journal goes some way to explain the Republical delight in how repealing and replacing Obamacare will in fact eliminate or significantly reduce this socialist wedge that woudl have other driven our Governmetn on to ever larger formats.  We really do need to figure out how balance increasesing demands of an aging population with the need to fund a smaller government.  If the government were a business, it would long have gone out of business.  And it does not help to hear others say, “the governmetn is not a business” since, at the end of the day, it has to be funded.  We cannot just borrow forever and print money when we feel like it.  Every nation on earth that has gone this route has ended up in revolution or disaster.  We all beleive the US is different.  Let’s hope so.

 – March 17th, How to Repair Obamacare’s Fiscal Damage

 – March 15th, The Health Bill’s Fiscal Bonus

US Government Sets Up Next Financial Crisis & Brexit Not the Risk at All

Two articles came accross my desk this week – one caused consternation on my part and the other seemed to offer a sanity check.  The former concerned the US economy and specifically how there are signs that consumers, and lenders, are returning to the same behavior that led to the financial crisis at the source or our current economic challenges.  The latter concerned the hype and over blown concern with Brexit and its impact on Britain’s economy.

In the US print editions of the Wall Stree Journal (Wednesday January 11th) there was an article titled, “New Loans, Same Old Dangers“.  This front page article described a government-led initiative (Property Assessed Clean Energy) that provides subsidies loans to encourage homeowners to buy energy saving devices.  The article gives an example of a homeowner who is not able to afford the loan is still encouraged to take it out.  As is common practice this loan is then sliced up with other loans and sold on as a bond – what is called securitization in the financial industry.  This is analogous to the risky mortgage loans offered, and taken up by people who should have known better, and sold on to governments in Iceland as “AAA” opportunities.

The market is very small – the article suggests around $3.4bn of loans have been made so far – but the model is just damning.  FIrst you have big government trying to force its policies on a free market.  With the housing issues that triggered the financial crisis this was Government demanding ever greater home ownership among poor people and those that could not afford it.  Second you have the lowering of standard for the setting up of loans.  This is identical to what happened with dubious sales efforts of mortgage brokers during the 1990’s and early 2000s.  Finally you have the build up of risky loans and owners of the loans not knowing where the real risk is.

The popular uprising that has brought Trump to the White House would do well to heed these stories.  After all people will be people and when offered a bad apple that looks and smells sweet, many will take it.  Perhaps we should not fault those that do – or should we expect a stronger moral aptitude?  Either way we need to get big government out of the way.  It should not seek to foist its social or political wants on you and me – we should be free to do what we want, how we want, when we want, as long as it does not harm our fellow citizen.  Innovation and opportunity will drive improvement in the energy sector.  And perhaps tax credits would be a safer way to encourage small changes in behavior that do not create risky loans.  

The other article, a commentary piece in the US print edition of the Financial Times (Thursday Janary 12th) was titled, “The City has nothing to fear from Brexit“.  It was penned by Stanislas Yassukovich who is a former chief executive officer of European Banking Group.  The article is a breath of fresh air since it refutes many of the risks and issues that most other “specialists” report in the press.  For example we have heard a lot about “passporting” – the idea that a financial institution authorized to trade in one country of the EU can freely trade in another country.  It turns out that non-member states can use this capability quite easily – so it’s not even needed as a negotiation.  The article goes further.

Passporting was a means to try to level set the complexities of rules across what was meant to be a single market.  It turns out that even with passporting there remains complex and different rules that still need to accommodated when trading across the member-states.  As such, “core retail financial activities – residential mortgages, deposit and savings products and so on – remain almost entirely national, and highly protected.”   This whole think stinks to me.  

The recent news that PM Thresa May fired her senior most civil servant who worke with the EU was greeted in the press as bad news.  It seems he kept repeating to the PM that it was not going to be possible to complete all negotiations in time before the two year window closed for leaving the EU.  Why is this?  He may have had a practical view on things but he certainly did not have a positive view on what is possible.  I think we need clean out the cupboard and get a fresh new look at everything.  Good for PM May to do so.  If the author of this article is right, there is little we should fear from Brexit.   

Healthcare under TrumpĀ 

Healthcare’s Bipartisan Dilemma” in today’s US print edition of the Wall Street Journal  details several ideas and alternatives being discussed that might replace the ACA. Every example considers tweaks to the current system that abuses the market based approach. As with the ACA, the costs to cover sick folks is mashed together with the larger population of healthy people. The result, as with the ACA, is massive price and market distortion. In fact the very essence of risk (with respect to insurance and premium) is undermined. As such the free market is a monster.

There is a different way that should be considered yet it is not (yet) in the news. Literally, return the market to where it was: remove the entire ACA and permit risk to be priced into he market as it was.  

For those that fail to get insurance, offer a subsidized state-health insurance. This is the equivalent of the UK’s National Health Service but at a state level. Federal funds and state taxes would be used to pay for the service. This idea was floated in the run up to the ACA being signed and this represents a simple subsidized pool. It would be transparent and visible. The costs of this aspect of healthcare would be clear.

Finally another issue in healthcare needs to be addressed at the same time: costs. Additional efforts need to be enhanced to shift the reward system for healthcare, public (Medicare, Medicaid etc) and private. Rewards need to be explicit and focused on health, not piece-rate and work. Visits to the doctor and specialist are not relevant; results are. This program needs to be led by business people in Washington, not politicians.

Along with this is a revamp of regulations to help reduce the risk of insurance against negligence. This part of the industry puts too much of a burden on costs and needs to reduced.   

The Home Owners/Renters Market is Upside Down

Two articles today suggest that two of the world’s largest economies are swapping roles and focus for home ownership and renting. Germany has been a nation of renters; home ownership has run at relatively low levels compared to the UK or US. The US has operated under the assumption that home ownership is central to the American Dream.

As we all now know, policies adopted by the US government in the 1980s led to a relaxation of requirements for those seeking a mortgage and low income, even zero-income families, obtained mortgages they could never afford. The result, when combined with human greed both by home buyers and the investment community, led to the financial crisis that is the cause of the situation we are in today: near zero interest rates and massive influx of quantitive easing that has filled the coffers of the investor class.

But what is happening now? It seems that the near zero interest rates in Germany are driving record levels of home ownership and low interest rates in the US is driving up demand for rental property with record low-levels of home ownership. The world is turning upside down!

In the US print edition of the Financial Times, the article, “German’s switch to home ownership fuels bubble fears“, reports that house prices are rising as demand for mortgages continues to rise. The good news is that many of these new mortgages are fixed rate plans- which protects home owners as interest rates increase.  Germany has been a relative laggard when it comes to home ownership. See Most Germans don’t buy their homes: Theey rent.  Here’s why.  

In the US print edition of the Wall Street Journal, in an article, “Millennials Fuel House Rental Boom“, we hear of the later boom afflicting the US market. It turns out that US home ownership is at record lows, yet house prices around the country are recovering and in some regions, back to pre-crisis levels. How can this be?   Turns out that firms flush with cash and low cost loans have been buying up property in the cheap and renting them. The article above goes even further and explains how firms are now increasing investing in entirely new property developments specifically for the rental market.  

This all might alarm you. The American Dream, perhaps western democracy, was assumed to be predicated on home ownership. But this is not the case. The German economy has done very well with relatively low home ownership rates. The US might have to learn from the Germans how to run such an economy; likewise the Germans need to take a leaf out of the US’ books to avoid bubble blow-out.  

But in all practical terms we should be alarmed. Germany is an export-based economy. Other counties want (or need) to buy Germany’s products. Exports from the US is vastly less of a proportion of it’s GDP than it is for Germany. So there is little room for the US to behave more like Germany. Additionally Germany cannot set its own interest rates; even now the stresses between the EU center and periphery are growing again. Greece, Spain and Italy continue to need low interest rates to help nurture their local economies to recovery. Germany, never near a recession, is showing signs of too rapid growth (and growing inflation) and may approach overheating before the periphery is even back to positive growth.  

Bottom line: zero interest rates and quantitive easing (and resulting central bank balance sheet ballooning) is changing our economic foundations. This will impact our societies in ways it is hard to predict. Hang on guys, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride!