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Before anyone "corrects" me, the headline of this diary is not going to change.  (Although, I do qualify the title at the very end of the diary.) Call it my effort to cut through the propaganda, as it were. It is what it is, and I'm tired of being told (by some) it is what it is not.

When the U.S. government tells you to come up with billions--in some cases scores of billions--of dollars in additional capital, or they're going to force you to do it by making you convert  government-owned or privately-owned preferred bonds or stock, or otherwise put you in FDIC receivership, after putting you through an initial stress test, that means you definitely failed the test.  Period. (No matter what candy-coated crap the government, or the banks, might spin to the contrary.)

This breaking story, late tonight on Bloomberg, doesn't specify any entities other than Citigroup and Bank of America;  but, very educated speculation in their story, quoted as coming from Morgan Stanley, and from my other sources, tells us the other four (or, possibly, more) banks on this list would most likely be found among the following list of six players:  Fifth Third Corp.,  KeyCorp, PNC Financial, Regions Financial Corp., Sun Trust Banks, Inc., and Wells Fargo. But, again, that is speculation.

More about how (per my headline) "everything" really is still "breaking," below; and, as Martin Wolf over at the Financial Times tells us tonight, if you think anything's going to be returning to any semblance of "normal" in less than two years, you are "deluded."

Here's the latest, running right now on Bloomberg: "Fed Is Said to Seek Capital for at Least Six Banks After Tests."

Fed Is Said to Seek Capital for at Least Six Banks After Tests
By Robert Schmidt and Rebecca Christie

April 29 (Bloomberg) -- At least six of the 19 largest U.S. banks require additional capital, according to preliminary results of government stress tests, people briefed on the matter said.

While some of the lenders may need extra cash injections from the government, most of the capital is likely to come from converting preferred shares to common equity, the people said. The Federal Reserve is now hearing appeals from banks, including Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp., that regulators have determined need more of a cushion against losses, they added.

By pushing conversions, rather than federal assistance, the government would allow banks to shore themselves up without the political taint that has soured both Wall Street and Congress on the bailouts. The risk is that, along with diluting existing shareholders, the government action won't seem strong enough.

As we also learn (or don't learn, as the case may be) in this story, the extent of the government's demands may never be disclosed to the public. However, whatever is disclosed, will be made public on or around May 5th or 6th, since the original May 4th date for public disclosure has been pushed back to allow more time for banks to "negotiate" about these matters with the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve.

Treasury Secretary Geithner, as the article reminds us:

"...has said that banks can add capital by a variety of ways, including converting government-held preferred shares dating from capital injections made last year, raising private funds or getting more taxpayer cash. With regulators putting an emphasis on common equity in their stress tests, converting privately held preferred shares is another option..."

Firms that receive exceptional assistance could face stiffer government controls, including the firing of executives or board members, the Treasury chief has warned.

Articles throughout the MSM also tell us today that B of A CEO Ken Lewis' job may very well be on the line as he awaits results of a shareholder vote on whether he should be re-elected.

The article also mentions, among other things, the fact that the International Monetary Fund "...calculates global losses tied to bad loans and securitized assets may reach $4.1 trillion next year."

In that regard this morning, the stodgy-conservative Financial Times' Martin Wolf tells us more taxpayer bailout cash is needed everywhere around the globe:

The IMF estimates the additional equity requirements of the banks as well. It starts from total reported writedowns up to the end of 2008, which come to $510bn in the US, $154bn in the eurozone and $110bn in the UK. The capital raised to the end of 2008 is, again, $391bn in the US, $243bn in the eurozone and $110bn in the UK. But the IMF estimates additional writedowns in 2009 and 2010 at $550bn in the US, $750bn in the eurozone and $200bn in the UK. Against this, it estimates net retained earnings at $300bn in the US, $600bn in the eurozone and $175bn in the UK.

The IMF points out that the ratio of total common equity to total assets - a measure investors burned by more sophisticated risk-adjusted ratios increasingly trust - was 3.7 per cent in the US at the end of 2008, but 2.5 per cent in the eurozone and 2.1 per cent in the UK. The IMF concludes that the extra equity needed to reduce leverage to 17 to 1 (or common equity to 6 per cent of total assets) would be $500bn in the US, $725bn in the eurozone and $250bn in the UK. For a 25 to 1 leverage, the required infusion would be $275bn in the US, $375bn in the eurozone and $125bn in the UK.

In current dire circumstances, the chances of raising such sums from markets are zero. Part of the reason is that they could still prove to be too little.....

Yet these are not the only sums required. Governments have so far provided up to $8,900bn in financing for banks, via lending facilities, asset purchase schemes and guarantees. But this is less than a third of their financing needs. On the assumption that deposits grow in line with nominal GDP, the IMF estimates that the "refinancing gap" of the banks - the rollover of short-term wholesale funding, plus maturing long-term debt - will rise from $20,700bn in late 2008 to $25,600bn in late 2011, or a little over 60 per cent of their total assets (see chart below). This looks like a recipe for huge shrinkage in balance sheets. Moreover, even these sums ignore the disappearance of securitised lending via the so-called "shadow banking system", which was particularly important in the US.


Respectable opinion assumes that it would be best to provide full bail-outs of creditors in systemically important institutions. The rationale for this is that it is the only way to eliminate further panic. The objection is not the fiscal cost. It is that a limited number of large, complex and "too-big-to-fail" institutions would then emerge. Their creditors would naturally believe they were lending to governments. This would be a recipe for yet bigger catastrophes in future years.

Wolf tells us "the path to recovery is likely to be slow..." And, it " a recipe for a long recession and a weak recovery...The UK's position in this looks dire. But that of the US looks quite bad, too, even compared with that of Japan in the 1990s.

Those who hope for a swift return to what they thought normal two years ago are deluded.

Bracing Us for Tougher Times, Summers/Geithner Use More Somber Words

General Consensus: 'The economy's going to keep declining for some time.'

Many throughout the blogosphere, including yours truly, have been saying this--see line immediately above--for awhile; but, this past weekend, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner joined this chorus, eschewing more optimistic comments they had been making about our economy in recent weeks for notably gloomier projections about the months (or, the year...or two) ahead. One could say a milestone has been passed in that a change of tone has emerged--despite the all-too-frequent misleading headlines from our clueless MSM--from the administration this past weekend which is telling us to brace for harder times. IMHO, if the cliche: "Knowing the problem is half the solution" applies, then we're halfway there.

GEITHNER: "Geither Sounds Darker Tone Than G-7."

Geither Sounds Darker Tone Than G-7

WASHINGTON -- Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the world's economies are beginning to stabilize but cautioned that it is "too early" to say risks have receded and that more action needs to be taken to counteract the worst financial crisis in generations.

"Financial conditions in some markets have shown modest improvement," Mr. Geithner said, adding that it would be "wrong to conclude that we are close to emerging from the darkness that descended on the global economy early last fall."

The secretary struck a more somber tone than a statement released by the Group of Seven finance ministers who gathered in Washington before weekend-long meetings at the International Monetary Fund.

SUMMERS: "Summers Says U.S. Economy Will Keep Declining `For Some Time.'

Summers Says U.S. Economy Will Keep Declining `For Some Time'
By Matthew Benjamin

April 26 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. economy will continue to contract "for some time to come," said Lawrence Summers, director of the White House National Economic Council.

"I expect the economy will continue to decline," with "sharp declines in employment for quite some time this year," Summers said today on "Fox News Sunday."

Summers said the economy will pick up as manufacturers rebuild depleted inventories and consumers replace aging cars. "These imbalances can't continue forever," he said. "When they are repaired they will be a source of impetus for the economy."

"We're on a path toward containment and toward building a path toward expansion," he said, adding that "even sharp plans take time" to work, perhaps six months or more.

So, what has caused this noticeable shift in pronouncements from the administration?

Could it be the real stress test results?

We may never really know just how much of a wake-up call they really are/were, but the timing--with the results being delivered to the banks this past Friday--is stark and certainly more than coincidental.

As Yves Smith pointed out over at Naked Capitalism this weekend,  the "Markets Cheer Stress Test Double Speak."

Saturday, April 25, 2009
Markets Cheer Stress Test Double Speak
Forgive me for sounding even crankier than usual, but the reason deception sells is that so many people line up for it...

I strongly suggest reading Smith's take on all of this, since Naked Capitalism has been pretty damn spot-on for quite awhile about all of this.

One little fact here that Smith points out: The U.S. banking industry has somewhere around $5.2 trillion in "off-balance-sheet assets"  that it hasn't even put back on its books. And, only $900 billion is scheduled to be "promoted" to banks' balance sheets in fiscal '09.

Smith points out that a significant number of those banks that were subjected to these stress tests, by Naked Capitalism's metrics (if nobody else's), will require massive additional financial support from our government, above and beyond what taxpayers have provided to date.

I would also pay attention to an ongoing theme mentioned by Smith in this piece--one that I've also been reading in some of the more respected investment blogs--the reality that there's been an incredible level of (demonstrated, though not-so-tacitly-acknowledged) market manipulation occurring throughout Wall Street of late.

Is it the reality that unemployment's going to get uglier, perhaps well into 2010?

Economists' unemployment projections for April are already noting another 650,000-700,000 jobs lost. That'll put the US Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics' U.3 unemployment index at approximately 9.0%. The BLS' U.6 rate, which is considered to be the most accurate, apples-to-apples index for comparing current unemployment with year's past, should be close to 17%+/- And, accounting for Obama administration economics advisor Austan Goolsbie's claims that another 1% to 2% of our jobless are underreported every month, that puts us very close to the 20% jobless mark heading into May. (NOTE: The reality that I just placed this in a factual diary about our nation's economy causes me great angst.)

"Initial jobless claims rise; continuing claims hit."

Initial jobless claims rise; continuing claims hit
By Ruth Mantell
8:30 a.m. EDT April 23, 2009

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- First-time claims for state unemployment benefits rose a seasonally adjusted 27,000 to 640,000 in the week ended April 18, the Labor Department reported Thursday. After initial claims fell a revised 47,000 in the prior week, the most recent gain may dim hopes among some observers for a sustained trend of sharply falling claims. Still, the four-week average of initial claims fell 4,250 to 646,750 in the most recent weekly data. For the week ended April 11, the number of people collecting state unemployment benefits reached yet another new record, gaining 93,000 to hit 6.14 million - more than double the level in the prior year. These continuing claims have reached new weekly records since late January, signaling that workers are having a tough time finding jobs. The four-week average of continuing claims rose 142,500 to a record 5.94 million. The insured unemployment rate - the proportion of covered workers who are receiving benefits - rose to 4.6% from 4.5%, reaching the highest level since January 1983.

Is Washington finally acknowledging that, once again,  the economic situation in this country is significantly worse than most of the worst-case scenario projections?

If you follow the link, immediately above, you'll see that our government's worst-case scenarios, as they relate to the banks' stress tests, are already being exceeded by statistical facts just one-third of the way into 2009. With Geithner and Summers finally acknowledging that matters are going to get worse as we proceed through 2009, doesn't that really do more to discount the government's current metrics about Wall Street more than anything I could add to the argument?  (This is a reality that's been reported upon, repeatedly, for...years!)

Or, is the uncharacteristic somberness just now coming out of D.C. about the ongoing crash and burn due to:

-- the $5.2 trillion in off-balance-sheet assets still held (and not posted) by our nation's banks?

As Bloomberg columnist David Reilly reminded us: "Banks' Hidden Junk Menaces $1 Trillion Purge," there's still $5.2 trillion in "assets" unaccounted for on U.S. banks' balance sheets, a large portion of which will require significant writedowns against future industry 'profits.'

Banks' Hidden Junk Menaces $1 Trillion Purge: David Reilly
Commentary by David Reilly

March 25 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. government wants to clear as much as $1 trillion in soured loans and securities from bank balance sheets with its latest bailout plan.

That might prove a short-term respite. No sooner might the Treasury Department mop up those assets than $1 trillion or more in new ones spring up to take their place.

That is due to the potential return of assets held in so-called off-balance-sheet vehicles that banks may soon have to put back onto their books. The end result may be that banks are in no better shape to increase lending even after the government bailout.

So investors betting for quick solutions to the financial crisis could be disappointed. The tangled web that banks wove over the years will take a long time to undo.

At the end of 2008, for example, off-balance-sheet assets at just the four biggest U.S. banks -- Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. -- were about $5.2 trillion, according to their 2008 annual filings.

-- the upcoming crash of the commercial real estate marketplace?

ZeroHedge tells us there's, easily, yet another $1 trillion in commercial real estate writedowns coming that's not even accounted for in bank's "off-balance assets." The problem here, however, is that it may adversely affect regional banks as much, if not moreso, than Wall Street.

Saturday, April 25, 2009
The One Trillion Commercial Real Estate Time Bomb
Posted by Tyler Durden at 10:48 PM

...However, for now I focus on some additional facts about why the unprecedented economic deterioration and the resulting epic drop in commercial real estate values could result in over $1 trillion in upcoming headaches for financial institutions, investors and the administration.

When a month ago I presented some of the projected dynamics of CMBS, a weakness of that analysis was that it did not address the issue in the context of the CRE market's entirety. The fact is that Commercial Mortgage Backed Securities (or securitized conduit financings that gained a lot of favor during the credit bubble peak years for beginners) is at most 25% of the total commercial real estate market, with the bulk of exposure concentrated at banks (50%) and insurance companies' (10%) balance sheets.

But regardless what the source of the original credit exposure, whether securitized or whole loans, the core of the problem is the decline in prices of the underlying properties, in many cases as much as 35-50%. When one considers that with time, the underlying financings became more and more debt prevalent (a good example of the CRE bubble market is the late-2006 purchase of 666 Fifth Avenue by Jared Kushner from Tishman Speyer for $1.8 billion with no equity down), the largest threat to both the CRE market and the bank's balance sheet is the refinancing contingency, as absent yet another major rent/real estate bubble, the value holes at the time of maturity would have to be plugged with equity from existing borrowers (which, despite what the "stress test" may allege, simply does not exist absent a wholesale banking system nationalization).

-- the ongoing tanking of home prices?

Per today's NY Times: "U.S. Home Prices Continued to Decline in February."

U.S. Home Prices Continued to Decline in February
Published (Online): April 28, 2009         Published (Print): April 29, 2009

Phoenix has achieved the unwelcome distinction of becoming the first major American city where home prices have fallen in half since the market peaked in the middle of the decade, according to data released Tuesday.

Though historical statistics are scant, experts said the precipitous decline probably had few if any equals in modern times.

"Even during the Depression, I'm not sure prices fell this quickly," said Karl Guntermann, a professor of real estate at Arizona State University.

Greg Swann, a Phoenix real estate agent, took a moment to marvel at the news. "What happened here will some day be a new chapter in `Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,' " the classic survey of investing mania, he said. "We were living during the boom like there was no tomorrow. And guess what? Now it's tomorrow."

Home prices in the Sun Belt city, the 12th-largest metropolitan area in the United States, dropped 4.5 percent in February, according to the Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller Home Price Index. Prices in Phoenix are now down 50.8 percent since the market peaked in June 2006.

For the country as a whole, the Case-Shiller numbers offered the thinnest of silver linings: things are still getting worse, but more slowly.

In February, the price of single-family homes in 20 major metropolitan areas fell 18.6 percent from the year earlier, compared with a record drop of 19 percent in January.

Sorry, but prices falling 18.6% over a year versus 19% does not cause for celebration or optimism make.

-- rather lame pronouncements to the contrary from the current administration notwithstanding, the reality that Wall Street has not cooperated with our government's efforts to return consumer credit to the marketplace?

Also from Summers this weekend:

Summers said the White House is working with credit card companies toward "provisions that would protect consumers." If legislation the administration supports is passed, "you'll see benefits to consumers that would come very quickly."

Unfortunately, Summers is still spinning it here. No less than half of all consumer credit lines will have evaporated by the end of calendar year 2009, so says highly-respected Wall Street analyst Meredith Whitney, in: "Forbes' Transcript of Meredith Whitney Interview."

This is the most interesting topic for me out there, which is credit card lines. So, there are about $4.6 trillion in unused credit card lines. And there are about $840 billion of used credit lines. So, in the fourth quarter alone, I'm sorry, now of course it's $4.2 trillion. In the fourth quarter alone, half a trillion dollars of lines were cut from the consumer, half a trillion.

And this is before any type of regulatory changes. So, banks are cutting lines for a couple of reasons. No. 1, risk aversion. No. 2, they don't want to hold regulatory capital against unused lines when they are so capital-dependent. And No. 3, which is also risk dependent is, where I have a monogamous relationship with you as a mortgage borrower, I have multiple relationships with my credit cards.


I haven't thought about it, but that's exactly right. And when you get a pay cut, 90% of Americans use their credit card to--

Tide them over?

Tide them over and as a cash-flow management vehicle. So, when your credit card line gets cut, it's the equivalent of getting a pay cut.

And there's a regulation coming along from the Office of Thrift Supervision, can you explain that?


That's going to throw a real wrench into people's access to credit card capital.

I'm sure you will get shivers up your spine, unintended consequences. This is "Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices." And there are a lot of good things that it does. This is regulation to protect the consumer. And that's passed by, it's already passed. It's just a question of, it's supposed to go into effect by mid-2010.

As of the past few days, there are now numerous voices in Congress calling to bring these laws into effect immediately. IMHO, that's a good thing. However, as Ms. Whitney tells us, there's a hidden downside here:

It may get accelerated by Congress before that, but passed by the Office of Thrift and Supervision, National Credit Union Association, and who am I forgetting, the Fed, all three regulatory bodies that govern credit cards. So, what happens is, to protect the consumer, they say OK, well you're going to need a grace period through which to pay your credit card bill. So, you go on vacation. You come back. "Wait, I have to pay my bill in two days?" Oh, now you get a required 21-day grace period.

And there are other things it does in terms of, if I give you a teaser-rate product and you make a payment, right now it goes, your payment goes to the low-interest-rate part of the credit card portion. Going forward, it'll go to the high-interest credit card payment. So, you can ultimately get out of debt.

The unintended consequence it risks doing, and I think it will do, is I, as a lender for your credit card, an unsecured lender for your credit card, monitor your credit bureau monthly. And so, I know when you're late with your phone bill, your utility bill, your sacrosanct cable bill. Right, for a man, it's all about the cable bill. And so, I'm going to monitor that and change your rate accordingly. Well, going forward, after this is adopted, I can look at your credit bureau, but I can't do anything to you unless you're late with me.


But the half-a-trillion dollars of lines that were cut last year were well in advance, and, I would say, had nothing to do with the UDAP proposal. So, that's more on the come. Now, I think there's going to be $2.7 trillion in lines reduced. So, a 50% cut of the lines outstanding.

According to the latest numbers in this article, approximately 18 months ago, Wall Street had provisioned somewhere in the neighborhood of $4.6 trillion in consumer credit lines (i.e.: credit cards, installment lines with "open-to-buy" availability, etc.) to the public. Of that availabile credit, approximately $840 billion was utilized by consumers. (Most consumers maintained those open lines for emergencies, one-time purchases, special needs such as their kids' tuition bills, folks that have lost their jobs that are still trying to pay the mortgage, and so forth.) By December, $2.5 trillion of that will have been eliminated, unilaterally, by Wall Street. (Indeed, over $1.5 trillion of that is already gone.)

The government continues to put forth the myth that it is, supposedly, returning credit to the consumer marketplace, but, as I've noted in numerous diaries over the past few months, the reality is just the opposite. From just a month ago: "Optimistic Spin Belies Simple Truths About Credit Logjam."

Now, responsible consumers that wish to spend, cannot. Somewhere around a third of the consumer population--many folks that still pay their bills that had easy access to credit up until the Fall of 2008--is finding it next to impossible to obtain credit now.

This all feeds into the vicious cycle which causes, directly and indirectly, many/most of the problems mentioned above.

-- worsening foreign governments' balance sheets, including the virtually inevitable, upcoming downgrade of the sovereign debt of the U.K.? (See today's Financial Times quotes, above.)

-- the truth that, at some point over the next five years--probably sooner rather than later--the price of oil will, once again, rise well beyond $100 per barrel, possibly moving closer to $200/barrel?

Yes, I would have to agree with Martin Wolf when he talks about delusions. Reality's a bitch. But, I take heart in knowing that we really are beginning to see hope at the end of this long tunnel, because I sense--or at least I hope I sense--a shift in that we're beginning to see a little more factual, hard-hitting, reality-based information coming from a Treasury Department and a Federal Reserve System that has been nothing but opaque up until now.

Let the sunlight in.   We can handle the truth.  Because, while the first three words of the title of this diary are "Breaking: Almost Everything," the truth is our will is not broken.

Not at all.

Once we see the true extent of the problem(s), at that point, we can deal with it for what it is; and, I'm sure everything else will sort itself out...eventually.

Originally posted to on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 01:42 AM PDT.

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