Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Bringing on the Scary


I believe we are at "Return to Normal."


CIT goes bankrupt, from "The Guardian":

"Thousands of small and medium-sized businesses in the US face financial difficulties and could go out of business after lender CIT Group filed for bankruptcy protection last night. Although the company will keep operating, it is unlikely to be able to make the same number of loans as before. CIT provides working capital to small firms such as shops, their suppliers and restaurants, many of whom are already struggling in the recession.

In one of the the biggest corporate failures in US history, CIT made its filing in the New York bankruptcy court yesterday, after a debt-exchange offer to bondholders failed. CIT said most of its bondholders have agreed a prepackaged reorganisation plan which will reduce total debt by $10bn (£6.1bn) while allowing the company to continue to do business. The collapse is also bad news for US taxpayers, who stand to lose the $2.3bn provided last year to prop up the troubled lender.

Creditors will end up owning the company, while common and preferred shareholders – including the US government – will be wiped out by the plan. This is the government's biggest loss yet through its Troubled Asset Relief Programme (Tarp). "The decision to proceed with our plan of reorganisation will allow CIT to continue to provide funding to our small business and middle-market customers, two sectors that remain vitally important to the US economy," said CIT's chairman and chief executive, Jeffrey Peek, who will step down by the end of the year.

But retail trade groups are worried that many shops will be left without financing – and stock – ahead of the crucial Christmas season, with traditional banks also cutting back credit. CIT has provided funding to 2,000 firms that supply merchandise to more than 300,000 stores. About 60% of America's clothing industry depends on CIT for financing. Harold Reichwald of law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips said CIT's case is likely to force the company's customers to look elsewhere for financing. "If I was a small businessman, I would say to myself, 'I have to find alternatives'," he said. "In this marketplace, there aren't a lot of alternatives.""

An interview from the blog "The Automatic Earth":

"I think almost all assets will fall as price support is knocked out from underneath them, but the dollar should rise initially on a flight to safety. Scarce cash will be king for a long time, and the value of one’s currency relative to available goods and services domestically will matter much more for most people than its value relative to other currencies internationally.

In a deflationary scenario, prices fall, but purchasing power typically falls even faster, meaning that everything becomes less affordable despite the lower nominal prices. Prices in real terms, adjusted for changes in the supply of money and credit, are what matter.

In a world where almost everything is becoming rapidly less affordable, the essentials will be the least affordable of all, as a much larger percentage of a much smaller money supply will be chasing them. This will confer relative price support."

[...]

"Whereas inflation can conceal a fall in purchasing power, so that people may not even realize it is happening, deflation brutally exposes it. Wages would have to fall just to keep purchasing power the same, but keeping it the same will not be an option for cash-strapped employers. In addition, with a large surplus of labour, workers will have no bargaining power.

This is a recipe for exploitation the like of which we have not seen for a very long time, but in the intervening adjustment period it is likely to lead first to war in the labour markets.

I would expect general strikes and a breakdown in the reliability of centralized services such as healthcare, education, power systems, water treatment, garbage (and snow) removal etc. This will be exacerbated by plunging tax revenues for all levels of government, which governments will try to compensate for by raising taxes, on anyone still capable of paying, to punitive levels. We would thus expect rapidly deteriorating services at much higher cost.

Many people are at risk of being eventually priced out of the market for goods and services, and particularly the essential ones, entirely.

In my opinion, we stand on the brink of truly tragic circumstances."

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