Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Meredith Whitney on Small is Beautiful

Barack needs to kick his econ team to Pluto. He needs to listen up and make the following the econ generals leading the fight:

David Cay Johnston
Meredith Whitney
Muhammad Yunus
Vinod Khosla
Prof. William Black

Under them should be Matt Taibbi and Michael Lewis as special advisors or whatever fancy junior cabinet sounding names you want.

Meanwhile back in reality, EM08 continues to barf all over us, but one of the key things for Americans to keep their eyeballs glued on is the mass-media (mis)handling of it. It is absolutely nuts the way they are shooting Krugman and Roubini blanks everywhere. Oh wait, this is Bizarro world.

Right on time, here's Meredith Whitney breakin' it down on the credit crunch, small business, small banking, and the crucial role both should be playing at this turning point, with chirps from yours truly.

Before I turn you over to Meredith, I'll make the point that one of the important things completely absent in mass media coverage of EM08 are the messages that are being sent out to Americans. Think about the TARP, GM & Chrysler bailouts, AIG bailouts, and the utter madness of banks who, with public money, didn't help the public but instead helped themselves. The executive/management bonuses while reprehensible are just mis-direction by mass media; the TRUE damage is in the further conglomeration the banking system has undergone. Thus, welcome to the era of the super banks, led by JP Morgan/Chase and Goldman Sachs. As I've said but will say again until everyone knows, if you think mass-media conglomeration is bad, think about the unprecedented power these super banks now wield.

Is the irony of "too big to fail" lost on you...?

Meredith Whitney's following take makes me think about those small banks and community oriented credit unions that didn't buy into all of the toxic mortgages much less the ultra high risk gambling committed by the banks and AIG (Well, it was risky... for TAXPAYERS).

Then these law-abiding small banks and community oriented credit unions had to stand by and be humiliated as the government dumped free money on these criminals in the biggest heist in history.

Here're the questions;

How do you think those banks and credit unions feel?

As an American, how do you feel about that?

What kind of message is that to be sending?

Why isn't the mass media addressing this?

Will you continue to bank at a large bank? (Disclosure; I don't anymore. I bank at my local credit union exclusively now)

One more thing I'll say about Whitney's take; I stand and applaud her, because it's easy to see that she's sticking up for the little people and, lest we forget, sounder economic practices. But in her own way, she's really talking about communities. I believe that is one of the things Americans desperately need to get back to.

I said it before and here again; That Meredith Whitney - she's one smart gal.

Meredith Whitney

* The Wall Street Journal
* OCTOBER 1, 2009, 6:58 P.M. ET

The Credit Crunch Continues
Taxpayer dollars have supported institutions that are 'too big to fail.' Small business has been left out in the cold.


Anyone counting on a meaningful economic recovery will be greatly disappointed. How do I know? I follow credit, and credit is contracting. Access to credit is being denied at an accelerating pace. Large, well-capitalized companies have no problem finding credit. Small businesses, on the other hand, have never had a harder time getting a loan.

jp: Emphasis mine. In textbook journalistic inverted pyramid form, there's the theme, in perfect accord with TARP strategy. In Bonzo Ronnie's time it was "trickle down" economics. Today it's "too big to fail."

Since the onset of the credit crisis over two years ago, available credit to small businesses and consumers has contracted by trillions of dollars, and that phenomenon is reflected in dismal consumer spending trends. Equally worrisome are the trends in small-business credit, which has contracted at one of the fastest paces of any lending category. Small business loans are hard to find, and credit-card lines (a critical funding source to small businesses) have been cut by 25% since last year.

Unfortunately for small businesses, credit-line cuts are only about half way through. Home equity loans, also historically a key funding source for start-up small businesses, are not a source of liquidity anymore because more than 32% of U.S. homes are worth less than their mortgages.

Why do small businesses matter so much? In the U.S., small businesses employ 50% of the country's workforce and contribute 38% of GDP. Without access to credit, small businesses can't grow, can't hire, and too often end up going out of business. What's more, small businesses are often the primary source of this country's innovation. Apple, Dell, McDonald's, Starbucks were all started as small businesses.

What's especially disturbing is how taxpayer dollars have supported "too big to fail" businesses yet left small businesses unassisted and at a significant disadvantage. Small businesses do not have the same access to government guarantees on their debt. After all, most of these small businesses don't issue public debt. [Emphasis mine]

As is true in most recessions, banks' commercial lending portfolios shrink as creditworthy customers pay down their debts and the less-worthy borrowers are simply denied loans. Banks, in other words, want to lend only to those that don't want to borrow. Challenging as that may be, in the last cycle small businesses at least had access to their credit cards.

Small businesses primarily fund themselves through credit cards and loans from local lenders. In the past two years, credit-card lines have been cut by over $1.25 trillion. During the same time, 10% of all credit-card accounts have been cancelled. According to the most recent Federal Reserve data, small business lending is down 3%, or $113 billion, from fourth-quarter 2008 peak levels—the first contraction since 1993. Credit cards are the most common source of liquidity to small businesses, used by 82% as a vital portion of their overall funding. Thus, it is of merit when 79% of small businesses surveyed tell the Small Business Association that credit-card lending standards have tightened drastically and their access to credit lines has decreased materially.

Incentives should be provided to smaller banks to step up small-business loans on a greater scale. Smaller banks could not only bridge gaps created by the shut down in the securitization market but also gaps being created by a massive contraction in credit-card lines. Arguably credit would perform better with these types of loans as they would reintroduce and reinforce the most important rule in banking: "Know Your Customer." [Emphasis mine]

I believe that we are only in the early stages of the second half of this credit cycle. I expect another $1.5 trillion of credit-card lines to be removed from the system by the end of 2010. This includes not only the large lenders reducing exposure but also the shuttering of several major subprime credit-card lenders. Beginning in the fourth quarter of 2007, lenders began reducing available credit by zip code. During the past four quarters, lenders have cut "inactive" accounts (whether or not the customer viewed the account as a liquidity vehicle).

The next phase will likely be credit-line cuts as lenders race to pre-emptively protect themselves from regulatory changes associated with the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act, passed in May of this year, and the 2008 Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices Act.

Regulators should be mindful that regulatory change during the midst of a credit crisis often ends with unintended consequences. Those same consumers that regulators are trying to help are actually being hurt by a vast reduction in available credit.

Main Street represents the foundation of this country. Reviving it should take priority over any regulatory reform or systemic overhaul. [Emphasis mine]