Jan 31 2009

Banker Assigns Responsibility for Meltdown

Published by at 10:23 pm under Debt and Credit,US Economy

“I sincerely believe that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies, and that the principles of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” – Thomas Jefferson


A friend of mine, who happens to run a local BB&T bank, sent me an interview of the recently retired Chairman of BB&T Corp, John A. Allison that was in American Banker – The Financial Services Daily.  I have read that Mr. Allison is a somewhat highly regarded bank executive and this might be debatable, but one thing is for sure – he is confident that he knows what caused the financial mess we are now living through.  I didn’t find this article online when I searched, so I thought readers would find some of what he said quite interesting.


Mr. Allison’s views on the root causes of the mess we’re now in:

“There are certainly individual financial institutions that have made some pretty serious errors.  But the root causes, however, are government policy, and I think there are four primary culprits in this regard: 1.  The Federal Reserve, which has, in my opinion, mismanaged the interest rates and monetary policy by driving rates down too low and raising them too high and that has distorted economic calculation.  2.  The existence of FDIC insurance, which has allowed people to raise money they couldn’t have in a true free market.  3. Housing in a broad context where the government tried to encourage above-market rate of homeownership under the theory that homeownership is always good.  Homeownership in general is good, but giving someone a home is not necessarily good, and particularly if they’re not able to pay for it…Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the No. 1 villians because of their magnitude…They were the ones who created the subprime crisis.  4.  Finally, the Securities and Exchange Commission is largely to blame.  Fair-value accounting has certainly accelerated the problems.  If we had had it in the early 1990’s, we would have had an economic collapse.  It is a very poor accounting concept.  Personally, I would just get rid of it tomorrow.”


Mr. Allison’s comments on which banks will survive:

“Through a very non-market-driven process, you have potentially created an oligopoly in the banking business, with four to nine institutions depending on how you look at it…Look at Citigroup.  It failed twice last year and even more times during my career.  That’s not good, and it creates a challenge.  While there are some economies of scale, you can say it’s not obvious that having more than a trillion dollars in assets is a good thing.  BB&T can compete very effectively against these big banks, but they have a…fundamental, long-term, potential competitive funding advantage if they are basically perceived as being subsidized or protected by the government.  It’s artificial, and you can argue that it is adverse selection.  Citibank shouldn’t be here…”


Mr. Allison’s thoughts on redeeming qualities to the Tarp:

“Only in one context.  Tarp wasn’t necessary except that the government created a panic and they probably had to do something about it.  But they didn’t need to create the panic to begin with.”


Mr. Allison’s views on when we will know we have hit bottom and how much longer until things get better:

“I think the biggest indicator will be the stabilization of real estate prices.  It is amazing to me how little focus has been put on fixing these real estate markets.  Until you bottom real estate, you’re not going to fix the economy.  I think the market will bottom in less than 18 months, but it will take at least 18 months before we see a meaningful recovery.  I think BB&T will be very advantaged on the other side.  We have an operating model and a culture that can compete more effectively over the long term.”


DBP Disclaimer: Although I generally agree with Mr. Allison’s comments, I am not suggesting they are correct, nor do I have any reason to believe that his timetable for recovery is valid in specific terms.

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