The government forks over another $13.8 billion to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to cover their losses for the last quarter. The regular drumbeat of bailout billions handed to these zombies barely enters the nation’s consciousness anymore, but it adds up: $184.8 billion since 2008. And there is no end in sight. Supercommittee, where art thou?
In what may be a precursor of a monumental shift, Toyota and Honda are planning to export U.S.-made vehicles to South Korea. Apparently, it's now cheaper to produce cars here and ship them halfway across the world than it is to produce them in Japan. But to what banana-republic levels will the dollar and real wages have to sink before U.S. manufacturing is competitive with China?
Yakuza just can’t catch a break. Now it’s life insurance companies that are tightening the noose. Organized crime is big business in Japan. Extortion, built on a culture of shame, is phenomenally successful. But.... In 1963, there were 184,000 yakuza. In 2009, they were 80,900. And new laws disrupt the ambiguous relationship between them and society.
No country is economically more dependent on the survival of the euro than Germany: the export powerhouse thrived because Eurozone countries could borrow unlimited amounts of euros to buy German goods. But now that the gravy train has stopped in front of a mountain of unmanageable sovereign debt, Germany finds itself at war—with itself.
Participants in the G-20 meeting in Cannes thought it would be a relaxed affair of photo ops, handshakes, and fancy dinners, interrupted by rubber stamping the Grand Plan of bailing out Greece, bondholders, and European banks. But then Giorgios Papandreou, prime minister of Greece, fired his bazooka. And the Greek extortion racket was back on.
The season's ditty: companies announce big profits after they jack up prices. But even the inexplicable American consumer, the toughest creature out there, struggles with these prices as misery spreads into the middle class. Now add HoneyBaked to the list, just in time for the holidays. But there is hope.
The members of the congressional panel on deficit reduction are struggling to come up with something that will—I mean, let's be realistic—get them reelected and fill their campaign funds. Even if they come up with a plan that will reduce the gargantuan budget deficits, Congress won't follow through. Because it doesn't have to, thanks to the Fed.
According to last week's GDP number, the economy has been growing supposedly at a rate of 2.5% in the third quarter—thanks largely to the inexplicable American consumer, the toughest creature out there. But there are some pernicious trends and unpleasant zigzags that point the opposite way.
Tokyo's organized crime exclusionary laws went into effect in October—and are wreaking havoc. Now doing business with the yakuza is a crime. In an ingenious twist, paying off the yakuza is also a crime. Even victims of blackmail—hush money is an outright industry in Japan—commit a crime if they pay.
The title-deed fiasco that is unraveling the tottering banks of Cyprus and the country’s finances gets more complicated—and more fascinating—with each additional piece of information. So, in response to my post below, one of my readers in Cyprus added more horrid details on just how screwed up the situation is.
Real estate in Cyprus has been popular with foreigners—they own 100,000 homes in a country with 803,000 people. Turns out, it's Cyprus' national sport sponsored by dumb money. Now the underlying title-deed scandal is unraveling the finances not only of expat owners, but also of the banks and the government ... who are hushing it up.
Consumer confidence indices have collapsed to levels not seen in years or even decades. Yet the toughest creature out there that no one has yet been able to beat down struck again. Consumer spending increased at an annual rate of 2.4% during the third quarter, though the mood has become outright morose since.
Tuition did it again: up 8.3% for universities and 8.7% for community colleges. For many students, the increases are even steeper. Here in California, they're outright ridiculous. Student loans will cover much of it, though student loan debt already exceeds $1 trillion. Why? It's the system.
President Obama's expansion of a mortgage refinancing program is a way for underwater homeowners to reduce their monthly payments. That would save them some money, he said, "...and it gets those families spending again.” But there is an insidious hook buried inside....
The German parliament has a historic opportunity to say no to the bankers: it gets to vote on expanding the European bailout fund to €1 trillion, though it had just been expanded to €440 billion. Since no one has any money, it will be in form of leverage, the very mechanism that has wreaked so much havoc already.
Berlusconi, waiting for money.
The new ministers just can't keep their mouths under control—that's the problem with the cabinet of Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, himself in office only since September 1. This time it was Tatsuo Hirano, ironically the Minister for Disaster Management, who issued the latest gaffe by calling tsunami victims "idiots."
When a bank is allowed to collapse, the lies behind its financial statements come out of the woodwork—and Dexia, the bailed-out French-Belgian mega-bank that re-collapsed in early October, is no exception: a report surfaced with the damning results of an earlier investigation by French regulators. And then? Nothing.
But it should.
The audit report confirms what we already knew about the financial crisis: during the bailout mania at the Fed, trillions of dollars were handed out based on self-serving interests— "conflicts of interest," the Government Accountability Office mercifully calls it.
The ugly numbers speak volumes on how the Fed's policies hurt the real economy. But those policies enable Congress and the White House to run up ruinous budget deficits that make those of the Eurozone look benign.
That's inflation—not jobs, wages, or GDP.
Germany and France kissed and made up before the G-20 powwow in Paris last weekend. A contrived show of unity to boost the markets. And it worked. But already, Germany is sniping at France again. Over money. Because German taxpayers might have to subsidize a French company. Via Greece.
Fighting over taxpayer money.