Tuesday, July 22, 2008

8,500 U.S. Banks; Many Will Die Soon

8,500 U.S. Banks; Many Will Die Soon

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How bad is this going to get?

Bear Stearns got bailed out 'cause they were highly visible (read: failure would have exposed aforementioned funny money to the average Joe), Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are Government Sponsored Entities who now have their sickly balance sheets backstopped by the U.S. Treasury (read you & me), but all the commercial banks have is the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Great! All accounts are insured to $100,000! We're saved!

Way wrong. The FDIC is an insurance operation. They make an educated guess as to how many banks will fail and what the total exposure is, then they collect insurance premiums from them. They've got $51 billion … and Indymac alone sucked up 10% of that. If a big one lets go, like Washington Mutual or Wachovia, then the FDIC will look just like FEMA did facing down hurricane Katrina. Don't go and look at the scoreboard on the Bank Implode-O-Meter unless you've got a very strong stomach. Oh, and do note that a good bit of those write downs are investment banks - the FDIC does not cover their activities.

OK, very scared now, so what do I do?

Run, don't walk, to your bank and get the funds you have clear of this mess before it gets any worse. The safe deposit box … isn't. There were rules during the Great Depression such that a treasury agent got to paw through any that were opened before the owner got to touch their stuff; gold, silver, and cash could easily be confiscated in an emergency.

So, what to do? Cash at home in the First Bank of Serta? A fire proof safe? Maybe cashier's checks in your name and leave the receipts in the safe deposit box, thusly meeting the portability requirement with safety? Nope on that last one, cashier's checks drawn on a dead bank are dead. Treasury Bills? Wow, look at the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bailout … they'll not go *poof* instantly, but they're going down in value bigtime. Swiss bank account? Hey, look at that first salvo in making sure dollars in the U.S. stay in the U.S.

OK, terrified, what do I do?

The GSEs, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are indeed "too big to fail" – they'd whack the whole U.S. economy if they went down hard. Ditto for Bear Stearns – had they not moved to conceal the troubles there the failure would have sucked all of the monoline bond insurers under. Monoline bond insurers? If you don't know I've laid enough pain down in this diary – we'll cover that mess another day. 8,500 commercial banks, putatively protected by the FDIC? Only a few are large enough to receive the "too big to fail" label. The government doesn't dare touch the FDIC (yet) for fear of clearly communicating they expect the worst. A lot of folks got trimmed in the Indymac crash, with $BIGBUCKS reset to the $100,000 maximum and no recourse. Once this truly gets rolling there will be a reduction in the amounts covered and probably withdrawal limits even with solvent banks.

This can not be stopped. The losses have already occurred. It isn't an "if", it's a "when" and I was expecting it around 4/1/2008, but they held it off for another quarter. It looks for all the world like July is the lucky month with the Indymac stuff coming down right next to Fannie and Freddie's corpses hitting the mighty U.S. Treasury Reanimator. Someone, somewhere is going to pull a joker out of this house of cards – some innocuous bond sale somewhere will fail, a monoline insurer will get pushed over the edge, and then the rout will begin.

The Ginormous Banking Enema has begun with the first little squirt from Indymac Bancorp's failure. It won't end until we're all up to our nostrils in an alphabet soup of make believe financial instruments and newly created federal agencies conceived to clean up the mess.

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