Hussman: Average Americans Are Getting Scalped So That Bondholders Can Be Saved from Taking a Haircut

PhD economist John Hussman has some great quotes in his current market comment:

It appears to be wishful thinking to believe that the credit crisis is over. Most likely, what we’ve witnessed in recent months is little more than the combination of a lull in the [mortgage] reset schedule coupled with a wholly unsustainable burst of deficit spending amounting to over 7% of GDP.

My impression of the U.S. banking system is that it is quietly going insolvent, in a manner that will become evident only when the slack for “significant judgment” (provided by the FASB earlier this year when it altered mark-to-market rules) is taken up so tightly that the rope snaps. Presently, this slack has allowed banks some time, but the question is, time for what? The rules encourage banks to neither modify loans nor foreclose, both which would trigger a restatement of value on the mortgage asset. Meanwhile, banks are reluctant to allow “short sales” in lieu of foreclosure (where a homeowner sells a home to avoid foreclosure, but at a price less than the residual loan value, so the bank has to essentially eat the loss). This again defers the restatement of asset values for a while, but makes business sense only if home prices are expected to recover faster than the foregone interest that could be earned on new loans.

So if you talk to people who oversee these assets, including people who work with the FDIC, you’ll hear that there is an inventory of unrecognized losses being built up, in hopes that the underlying mortgages will turn around without the need for loss reporting. In view of the CRL foreclosure projections, all we can think is – fat chance…

Our policy makers bailed out bank bondholders instead of focusing on debt restructuring. The bad assets are still in the banking system, millions of families will still lose their homes, the Treasury and Fed have jointly issued trillions in new government obligations, but the bondholders of Bear Stearns will still get 100% of their principal and interest.

Despite the current enthusiasm of Wall Street, this story has probably not ended, and the evidence suggests it will end badly.

For background, see this and this.

Technical note: Hussman thinks that stocks are extremely overbought.

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