AIG Shareholders Give U.S. Taxpayers the Middle Finger (And Other Unbelievably True Stories from the Week in News)

by John Kiernan on January 9, 2013

AIG shareholder suitHold on – is this the news, a dream, or some sort of Oscar Wilde-type satire?  That’s along the lines of what I was thinking last night while watching Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett report a pair of stories seemingly straight out of The Twilight Zone or Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

I mean, could AIG actually be SUING the U.S. government (as well as you, me, and every other taxpayer by extension)?  Are U.S. politics really so flawed that rape is actually LEGAL in California if the victim is single and the perpetrator impersonates her boyfriend?

Americans Need New Financial Role Models

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on October 10, 2012

 

“The first time I got a check and I seen the chunk out of it … that’s when I found out about taxes, that’s when I found out about everything.”

Five Ways You Can Turn Your Debt-inspired Frown Upside Down

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on November 19, 2010

5 waysOften, the holiday season—with its emphasis on gift giving—serves as an unwelcome reminder of any financial problems people may have. While this notion might seem depressing, it should actually be viewed as an opportunity. Instead of getting bummed about your situation, simply take the reminder as impetus to remedy your financial woes. The lowering of credit card debt, for one, can be approached and ultimately achieved through the consideration of five simple steps.

Step 1 – Evaluate your necessities
Approach your lifestyle with an exceedingly critical eye, and you will most likely discover that you spend money on things that you can certainly live without, though you might initially believe this to be impossible. You shouldn’t waste money on things like cable TV packages, cell phone data plans, dinners out or fancy vacations. Instead, fund only your means of subsistence—things like food, housing and health insurance—and use your savings to pay down your debt. While this step is the most obvious way to lower your debt, it is also by far the hardest to execute because it is often difficult to part with luxuries you have grown accustomed to.

Watchdogs Patrol World Cup Credit Fraud

by Guest on June 29, 2010

scamThis guest post is written by Ted Higgins, a financial writer for the Total Bankruptcy Blog.

During the World Cup, soccer players will flop, feign, and fall in order to draw penalties against their opponents. Unfortunately, this sort of scamming also occurs away from the field. In fact, major international events like the World Cup create a golden opportunity for criminals operating credit card scams.

Geithner lacks the judgement to do bailouts

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on November 18, 2009

GeithnerIf Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner doesn’t know how to get appropriately compensated for the loans / bailouts that he keeps approving on behalf of the United States Government then he shouldn’t be giving out these loans at all.  His mismanagement of these negotiations is wasting our money.

For instance last year, when Geithner, then operating through the New York Fed, decided to bailout AIG, the ailing insurance giant was already in negotiations with banks that would have retired their Credit Default Swaps with AIG paying 40 cents on the dollar.  Once Geithner took over the negotiations, he instructed AIG to pay 100 cents on the dollar.  The flubbed negotiations cost American taxpayers at least $19 billion (i.e. 60% of the $32.5 billion that AIG paid to retire the swaps).

The Bulls Are Wrong About Our Economic Recovery

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on September 10, 2009

RecessionThe bulls are pointing to the end of a recession and a robust recovery ahead for the American economy.  Their optimism is based on a definition of the recession, in economic terms.  For economists, a recession ends when the economy ends its negative growth.   These terms, however, are theoretical.  In practice, a robust recovery must parallel a robust recovery at the American household level, which is unlikely to happen for a number of reasons: 

  • The Unemployment rate:  We hear a good deal of optimism coming from economists concerning the fact that the unemployment rate is slowing, but we ought to remember that it isn’t actually going down, but continues to rise.  According to the Associated Press, we are at the worst unemployment crisis since 1983 and economists are predicting the unemployment rate to peak above 10% by the middle of next year. 
  • State Deficits:  We are suffering huge deficits at the state level which the Federal Stimulus package can not correct.  This means additional job losses for state employees.
  • Unemployment Insurance:  Not only is America facing a dangerously high unemployment rate, but the unemployment level in this country has been high for so long that benefits are now running out.  We are in a situation far worse than simply having people who are out of work; they are out of work, have few prospects for new jobs, and are receiving no income.
  • Continuing Bank Failures:  Despite the federal government’s intervention, we continue to see banks fail.  The number of banks on the FDIC’s “Problem List” (banks in danger of failing) has gone from 305 to 416 at the end of June ’09.  Some analysts are afraid that the FDIC will go into the red by the end of this year.
  • Continuing Credit Crunch:  In these uncertain times, credit markets continue to be very tight.  Because of the continuing failure of the nation’s banks, regulators and bank executive remain cautious, which means less credit availability.  Companies who need to deal with debts that are coming to maturity are likely to find less opportunity to refinance.  As a result, we can expect more corporate bankruptcies and more job losses.   
     

Many economists are calling for more stimulus money by the federal government, but it is clear that what the country really needs is smarter spending.  We desperately need to make investments with government funds that will deliver strong returns on the nation’s money, and thus, we believe that the federal government ought to invest in new technologies that will turn America’s trade deficits into strong surpluses. It is precisely for that reason that this is the right time for a ‘Manhattan Project’ on energy independence.

Leave Capitol Hill to Congress and Detroit to Detroit

by Brian Johnson on August 20, 2009

ChryslerOne of the ways that Chrysler and GM have set about to recover is by taking the opportunity afforded to them by their bankruptcies to shrink the number of car dealerships to a managable level.  Before the bankruptcy, this reduction in dealerships could only have been managed on a dealer-by-dealer basis through painstaking renegotiations of contracts and would have proven a very expensive undertaking.  In response, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would make it illegal for these bailed out giants to sever those ties.  Should the bill become law, the auto companies will be forced to re-up contracts which they can no longer afford to maintain.  Essentially, Congress is telling the automotive industry how to conduct its business with an eye to keeping voters happy and without acknowledging the very real threat of this legislation: that it could force Chrysler and GM  into bankruptcy again.

Like others, I believe that the people responsible for running America’s automotive industry are also responsible for their companies’ bankruptcies.  Furthermore, I am not overly confident that they can do what it takes to turn the industry around now. However, I have no doubt than they know more about their particular business than Congress does. 

New & Innovative Credit Card Debt Center from CardHub.com

by Alexandra McDougald on July 27, 2009

credit-card-debtAccording to the Federal Reserve, the credit card charge-off rate for the first quarter of 2009 jumped over 80% to a record 7.51% – meaning that the balance on roughly 1 out of every 13 credit cards is in default.  Additionally, in May, the number of bankruptcy filings reached 6,020 a day, which represents a 33% increase from a year earlier.  To address the concerns of the multitude of consumers facing these challenges, CardHub.com, the leading and most robust online credit card marketplace, today announced the addition of a Credit Card Debt Center to its site.  Launched in July 2008, Card Hub continues to revolutionize the consumer selection process for products and services in the personal finance space.

The Credit Card Debt Center includes two key features: Debt Help that provides consumers with customized debt management advice and Debt Education that offers an in depth understanding of the pros and cons of various debt solution options.  Highlights of these features include:

AIG Acts as Conduit. Taxpayers Get Nothing.

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on July 17, 2009

AIG BankruptMy point, in the past, has been that if America had allowed AIG to go into prepackaged bankruptcy, as we are doing with Chrysler and GM, we would have been in a better position to deal with the money AIG owes through Credit Default Swaps (CDS) because we could have negotiated payback for those positioned to collect on AIG’s obligations.  AIG owed money, we bailed them out to save the economy, and the result is that AIG paid off a lot of its obligations, and we, as taxpayers, now own billions of dollars of nearly worthless AIG stock. 

For the ones that are still not convinced, let us look at Goldman Sachs and its position concerning AIG.  AIG  paid out $13 billion bailout money to cover its CDS obligations to Goldman Sachs.  Actually, taxpayers paid Goldman Sachs, AIG just acted as a conduit.  The $13 billion was incredibly good for Goldman Sachs whose stock has since risen, but not nearly as good for AIG whose stock is perpetually on the verge of tanking.  However, the major problem here is that taxpayers paid AIG to pay off Goldman Sachs.  The result is that taxpayers own AIG stock (on the verge of collapse), and own no stock in Goldman Sachs (which is on the road to recovery).  Moreover, because CDSs are still unregulated, Goldman Sachs stands to make about $30 billion if AIG does, eventually, go bankrupt because of the CDSs they’ve taken out on that eventuality.  It is possible that other companies have similar CDSs bought against AIG, but since, remarkably, there still is no system of market regulation set up for CDSs, we can’t know for sure.

Companies That are Too Big To Fail Should Not Exist

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on July 1, 2009

too-big-to-failThis recession has been characterized by the presence of companies that are so vast and influential that their failure actually endangers the American economy.  The names of these companies, GM, Chrysler, AIG, Citibank, Bank of America, and so on, are all too familiar to us from their prominent place in news stories about economic disaster.  In order to prevent systemic economic collapse, America has resorted to bailouts and political bankruptcy,  essentially changing the “rules of the game” in order not to have these failing companies take our economy down with them.  What is clear is that the benefits reaped by the economy in allowing the existence of these financial giants is nothing as compared to the damage caused by their collapse.  Companies that are too big to fail should simply not be allowed to exist.

We should remember that capitalism is based on free market principles in which companies compete with each other.  If one fails, other and presumably better companies take its place.  Thus, the market evolves so as to better meet consumer demands.  Companies fail in a free market economy because they are unable to compete with stronger business models.  Moreover, they should be allowed to fail in these circumstances so that better business models can take their market share.

Senate Voted Wisely on Cram Down Bill

by Brian Johnson on May 8, 2009

StimulusOn April 30th, the Senate defeated the “cram down” bill that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to adjust mortgages so as to allow those people going through bankruptcy to keep their homes.  The defeat came as some democrats sided with the bill’s opposition, mirroring a general weariness from within the banking community towards this piece of legislation.

The media balked at this defeat with claims that echoed the bill’s sponsor Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) that the banks essentially controlled congress and that senators needed to vote along with the needs of the American people rather than according to the desires of the banking and mortgage lobbies.  The accusation from Durbin, and from the media following the defeat, was that these senators (particularly the 12 democrats who voted against the bill) were essentially bought out.  The media portrayed the senate as under bank control.

Congratulations on the Chrysler Bankruptcy

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on May 1, 2009

ChryslerChrysler has been in deep financial trouble for months and the President has been trying to save it.  In order to keep the iconic American company afloat, President Obama had asked that various groups make concessions.  First through the government bailout, he asked tax payers to make concessions.  We were willing.  Second he asked the banks to whom Chrysler owes money to make concessions; they would have to forgive the majority of the loans awarded.  They were willing.  Then he asked the auto workers themselves to make concessions; for Chrysler to stay afloat they would have to accept pay cuts and a restructuring of employee benefits.  They were willing.  The hope was that all of these concessions would make the company attractive to Fiat who would then swoop in and save Chrysler from economic oblivion.  It was this plan that had ultimately guided the government’s attempt to rescue Chrysler.

Unfortunately, Chrysler also owed money to hedge funds who were also asked to make concessions; they were not willing.  Because of these hedge funds, Chrysler is now going into what is called either surgical or pre-packaged bankruptcy:  bankruptcy in which the government steps in after the debts have been sorted out and provides funding to allow the company to emerge in shape to continue doing business.  By going into pre-packaged bankruptcy, Chrysler and the U.S. government are basically forcing the hand of the hedge fund investors who would not play ball.  They will have to get in line with Chrysler’s other creditors.

A Government of Zero Accountability

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on April 30, 2009

ZeroThe barbarians, so the saying goes, are no longer at the gates.  They’ve stormed through.  In many cases, they were practically let in by negligence of the regulators whose job it was to protect us from greedy swindlers, inventive accountants, and fraudulent lenders.  The gatekeepers themselves, the various federal regulators, have not been punished for failing in their duty to protect America.  They remain, even now, at their posts as the country reels from the damage it has taken from the various scandals and crimes committed against its economy and its taxpayers.  Those whose job it was to police against these crimes have failed us and we wonder why they have not been made accountable.

Why, for instance, didn’t Christopher Cox, the head of the SEC, not resign after the Madoff scandal?  Surely the crime was glaring enough to call his competency into question.  Shouldn’t he have taken some responsibility as the scheme was carried out on his watch?  Cox offered no public apology and was never taken to task for the calamity that resulted from his oversight.  He just stayed in, despite the very real complaints of his critics, until he was replaced by the next administration.

We're All In This Together…Except For Bondholders

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on April 8, 2009

Boat WavingAs more and more big name companies become insolvent, taxpayers and shareholders in these companies are losing money.  Bondholders, on the other hand, are not feeling the hit and are actually making money out of bailed out companies.  Given the size of America’s economic problems and the ways in which these problems seem to affect all of us, it makes no sense that bondholders aren’t feeling the effect as well.

A bondholder is essentially someone who has loaned money to a company.  When a company needs cash, it either issues stock to shareholders or takes out loans.  Thus far, if the stock goes down, investors take the hit.  If the company requires government bailout, taxpayers must pay for the company.  However, even when a company is on the brink of total collapse, and must be brought under federal regulation to keep it from failing, that company is still expected to pay off its debt at the rate set at the time of the loan.  So long as the company has not gone bankrupt, it must still repay its creditors, including its bondholders.

Money, TV Shows, & Entertainment

by Brian Johnson on March 30, 2009

CassandraMoney shows should not treat finance as entertainment by turning the buying of stocks into a joke or by turning a discussion of serious economic situations into an occasion for groundless argument.  These shows discuss issues directly involved in the managing of people’s money, pensions, savings, and 401ks. The networks that produce these shows, then, have a moral responsibility to treat the subject matter with the seriousness that it requires. 

To fulfill this obligation, the networks should do two things.  First, the network should only invite experts to discuss financial topics.  Participation should be limited to those who have actually worked in the field that they will be discussing.  All too often, financial reporters who have little or no work experience in a particular field are invited to comment on very serious economic issues and their presence drowns out the founded insights of real experts who should be listened to.  Second, the networks should see themselves as obliged to foster a healthy debate founded on factual evidence and cogent argument, and not gut feeling.  The moral obligation of these networks should be a constant pursuit of the truth.

AIG Needs to Go into Prepackaged Bankruptcy

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on March 22, 2009

AIG BankruptAs an insolvent company of this size, the government really has only two options for dealing with AIG.  They can either keep pumping money in, allowing AIG to fulfill all of its obligations (i.e. what the government is currently doing), or take AIG through a prepackaged bankruptcy to remove AIG’s Credit Default Swap (CDS) obligations. AIG has huge CDS obligations as a result of their greed in exploring the regulatory loophole that was created from CDS scandal.

By AIG not paying off its CDS obligations, there will be ripple effects throughout the banking/insurance industry.  However, we believe that dealing with these individual crises on a case-by-case basis, will be a much more efficient use of tax payer’s money. The President needs to work towards the best solution for taxpayers’ money. Clean house Mr. President! 

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