Adéu a Nihil Obstat | Hola a The Catalan Analyst

Després de 13 anys d'escriure en aquest bloc pràcticament sense interrumpció, avui el dono per clausurat. Això no vol dir que m'hagi jubilat de la xarxa, sinó que he passat el relleu a un altra bloc que segueix la mateixa línia del Nihil Obstat. Es tracta del bloc The Catalan Analyst i del compte de Twitter del mateix nom: @CatalanAnalyst Us recomano que els seguiu.

Moltes gràcies a tots per haver-me seguit amb tanta fidelitat durant tots aquests anys.

divendres, 26 de setembre de 2008

Quan el remei és la malaltia

Cada vegada que hi ha una crisi financera –i n’hi ha cíclicament cada vuit o nou anys- polítics i comentaristes decreten solemnement la culpabilitat del mercat i demanen més regulació i intervenció per part de l’estat. Però, la realitat és que per cada intent de desregulació que hi ha hagut en els últims 30 anys se'n han fet molts més en sentit contrari, sense que s’hagi aconseguit evitar les crisis. Tot i això, cada vegada que sonen les sirenes, tothom torna a demanar que s’apliqui al malalt la mateixa medicina.

Si es veu amb perspectiva, al darrera de la crisi actual més que un malfuncionament del mercat el que hi ha són unes polítiques públiques desencertades. D’una banda, una legislació que va forçar les entitats hipotecàries a concedir préstecs d’alt risc i, de l’altra, un excés de liquiditat per uns tipus d’interès extremadament baixos que va estimular inversions arriscades que no s’haurien fet si el preu del diner que haugés sigut tan barat. Si en això hi afegim la fe inveterada dels inversors en que el totxo no baixaria mai de preu, obtindrem les claus del que realment ha passat.

Un breu repàs històric ens mostra fins a quin punt el sistema financer nord-americà està condicionat per les regulacions públiques:

1933: Como parte del New Deal, se prohibió a los bancos de inversión actuar también como bancos comerciales (lo que les habría dado acceso a depósitos bancarios y más estabilidad).

1938: Como parte del New Deal, el Presidente Roosevelt crea la sociedad hipotecaria Fannie Mae y en 1970 el Congreso crea Freddie Mac. Con la garantía implícita del respaldo del gobierno pueden ofrecer préstamos más baratos y expandirse hasta dominar el mercado hipotecario americano.

1989: El gobierno norteamericano decide intervenir y pagar por la crisis de las asociaciones de ahorro y préstamo (S&L crisis), lo que sienta un precedente: Si usted corre demasiados riesgos con los préstamos hipotecarios, el gobierno se los garantizará.

1995: Se modifica la Ley de Reinversión en la Comunidad para prohibir que los bancos y las sociedades de préstamo se concentren en prestar a los ricos y se les obliga a otorgar préstamos para la adquisición de vivienda a personas con ingresos bajos y medios. A cambio, se les permite agrupar y vender esos créditos riesgosos (subprime) a terceros, algo en lo que Bearn Stearns
fueron pioneros en 1997.

2001-2003:
En lugar de permitir que el mercado eliminara a los malos negocios y préstamos tras el estallido de la burbuja de las “punto com” y tras los ataques del 11 de Septiembre, la Reserva Federal reduce las tasas del 6.5% a 1%. La recesión es corta, pero el precio que se pagó fue una expansión de la oferta monetaria que da lugar a la burbuja inmobiliaria.

Los precios de las viviendas aumentaron, la gente pidió más prestamos, y Mae y Mac alcanzaron razones de apalancamientos de 60 a 1 (algo que festejaron los Demócratas quienes ahora culpan al libre mercado de la crisis) para poder seguir otorgando préstamos a personas que realmente no podían pagarlos. Mientras tanto, todos los involucrados pensaban que no tenían nada que perder en realidad, porque el gobierno los rescataría.

Solamente hizo falta que las tasas de interés subieran a niveles tradicionales para que la burbuja estallara (con la ayuda de la nueva regulación contable). Los bancos de inversión independientes al no tener acceso a los depósitos se colapsaron y por poco acabaron con todo el sistema financiero.

Todos aquellos que hoy piensan que la solución es darle mayores poderes a los políticos, autoridades y bancos centrales deberían por lo menos tomarse la molestia de ver lo que hicieron con el poder que ya tenían. Los tomadores de decisiones en el mercado llegan a tomar decisiones sin pensar en el largo plazo de vez en cuando. Los tomadores de decisiones en el gobierno también.


Un article del mes de setembre de 1999 del New York Times feia una valoració -positiva, of course!- de l'aplicació d'aquèlla llei. Però ja aleshores, Peter Wallison de l'American Enterprise Institute advertia dels perills que comportava. Uns perills que ara s'han fet realitat.

In a move that could help increase home ownership rates among minorities and low-income consumers, the Fannie Mae Corporation is easing the credit requirements on loans that it will purchase from banks and other lenders.

The action, which will begin as a pilot program involving 24 banks in 15 markets -- including the New York metropolitan region -- will encourage those banks to extend home mortgages to individuals whose credit is generally not good enough to qualify for conventional loans. Fannie Mae officials say they hope to make it a nationwide program by next spring.

Fannie Mae, the nation's biggest underwriter of home mortgages, has been under increasing pressure from the Clinton Administration to expand mortgage loans among low and moderate income people and felt pressure from stock holders to maintain its phenomenal growth in profits.

In addition, banks, thrift institutions and mortgage companies have been pressing Fannie Mae to help them make more loans to so-called subprime borrowers. These borrowers whose incomes, credit ratings and savings are not good enough to qualify for conventional loans, can only get loans from finance companies that charge much higher interest rates -- anywhere from three to four percentage points higher than conventional loans.

''Fannie Mae has expanded home ownership for millions of families in the 1990's by reducing down payment requirements,'' said Franklin D. Raines, Fannie Mae's chairman and chief executive officer. ''Yet there remain too many borrowers whose credit is just a notch below what our underwriting has required who have been relegated to paying significantly higher mortgage rates in the so-called subprime market.''

Demographic information on these borrowers is sketchy. But at least one study indicates that 18 percent of the loans in the subprime market went to black borrowers, compared to 5 per cent of loans in the conventional loan market.

In moving, even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980's.

''From the perspective of many people, including me, this is another thrift industry growing up around us,'' said Peter Wallison a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. ''If they fail, the government will have to step up and bail them out the way it stepped up and bailed out the thrift industry.''

Under Fannie Mae's pilot program, consumers who qualify can secure a mortgage with an interest rate one percentage point above that of a conventional, 30-year fixed rate mortgage of less than $240,000 -- a rate that currently averages about 7.76 per cent. If the borrower makes his or her monthly payments on time for two years, the one percentage point premium is dropped.

Fannie Mae, the nation's biggest underwriter of home mortgages, does not lend money directly to consumers. Instead, it purchases loans that banks make on what is called the secondary market. By expanding the type of loans that it will buy, Fannie Mae is hoping to spur banks to make more loans to people with less-than-stellar credit ratings.

Fannie Mae officials stress that the new mortgages will be extended to all potential borrowers who can qualify for a mortgage. But they add that the move is intended in part to increase the number of minority and low income home owners who tend to have worse credit ratings than non-Hispanic whites.

Home ownership has, in fact, exploded among minorities during the economic boom of the 1990's. The number of mortgages extended to Hispanic applicants jumped by 87.2 per cent from 1993 to 1998, according to Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies. During that same period the number of African Americans who got mortgages to buy a home increased by 71.9 per cent and the number of Asian Americans by 46.3 per cent.

In contrast, the number of non-Hispanic whites who received loans for homes increased by 31.2 per cent.

Despite these gains, home ownership rates for minorities continue to lag behind non-Hispanic whites, in part because blacks and Hispanics in particular tend to have on average worse credit ratings.

In July, the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed that by the year 2001, 50 percent of Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's portfolio be made up of loans to low and moderate-income borrowers. Last year, 44 percent of the loans Fannie Mae purchased were from these groups.

The change in policy also comes at the same time that HUD is investigating allegations of racial discrimination in the automated underwriting systems used by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to determine the credit-worthiness of credit applicants.

Per fer front al problema, la Casa Blanca ha elaborat un pla, corregit i augmentat pels demòcrates, que ja ha provocat les protestes de molts ciutadans que es neguen a que paguin justos per pecadors. Per Johan Norberg el pla és dolent, però hi ha alternativa, encara que no sigui perfecte:
What it costs: $700 billion. Ok, in relation to some other big things it´s not that much. Financial markets help the world produce that much twice a week. And if we assume that the assets the agency buys are worth at least half of what it pays, then it´s not that far from the cost of the latest US farm bill.
And yet, in one dollar bills, end to end longwise, they would stretch two-thirds of the way from Wall Street to the sun. And it´s on top of other expenses and deficits, and would harm the US economy, taxpayers, businesses and workers.

What it buys: Come on, it´s a bailout. It reinforces the bizarre anti-capitalist idea that profits should be privatised and costs socialised, which is not just morally offensive, but also results in recklessness and crises again and again. What would you do in Las Vegas if you could keep all your gains but pass the losses on to taxpayers?

How it is done: This is not just a bailout, it´s an attempt by treasury secretary Hank Paulson (of Goldman Sachs fame) to turn himself into an economic czar. Just look at section 8 in the bailout plan and think about the grotsque anti-democratic implications: "Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."

How about that? No checks, no balances, no accountability and no rule of law. In other words: "Stand and deliver! Give me $700 billion to help my old friends and then forget about it and don´t tell anyone."

There are alternatives: If the government did not tempt everybody with potential bailouts, they would be forced to deal with the situation themselves. Insolvent borrowers would sell loans instead of waiting for a better price from Mr Paulson, and creditors would be forced to forgive some of the debts instead of waiting for the bailout.

If the government must get involved it should only guarantee debts in exchange for equities, and/or act like it was a de facto bankruptcy and force creditors to forgive some debt in exchange for equity.

No, it´s not perfect. But it´s better that borrowers and creditors pay for their mistakes than that taxpayers are forced to pay for their mistakes and bonuses. Socialism is bad, for banks as well.