Posts filed under ‘Economy’
Yes we can and it’s the most important metric that the Fed will look at as it moves closer to a likely decision to start raising short-term interest rates by the middle of the year. That is my main takeaway from the recently released minutes of the Fed’s Open Market Committee, the group that decides what short-term interest rates should be.
Falling energy prices are pushing inflation further below its 2% objective. Falling pump prices keep more money in people’s wallets but they also make a wide range of products cheaper to make and sell. Normally this is good news but a downward spiral of prices-of the type Europe is seeking to avoid-can have just as pernicious an impact on economic growth as inflation can. Margins get so squeezed that companies can’t cost effectively grow. So you can bet that the Fed won’t raise rates until it knows that inflation is on the way. As the minutes explained:
“A number of participants emphasized that they would need to see either an increase in market-based measures of inflation compensation or evidence that continued low readings on these measures did not constitute grounds for concern”.
Here is a link to the minutes for those of you having trouble sleeping,
Compensation for mortgage “victims?”
Does this bother you as much as it bothers me? Or am I just still in a bad mood because the good people of Albany this morning drove as if they lived in Miami and have never seen snow falling?
When it comes to assigning blame in the mortgage meltdown I’ve never been a big fan of the “Consumer as victim” line of argument. I’ve always considered the American home buyer more of a willing co-conspirator than a victim of the of the mortgage mess. Like Buffalo Springfield says “Nobody is right if every body’s wrong.”
The latest example of how the Government’s flailing inconsistent and at times incoherent response to the Mortgage Meltdown missed the mark comes from the OCC. In a January 2013 settlement between federal bank regulatory agencies and 13 mortgage servicers servicers provided $3.6 billion in cash payments to borrowers whose homes were in any stage of the foreclosure process in 2009 or 2010. The payments ranged from several hundred dollars to $125,000 plus lost equity. The shoddy practices of these servicers such as robo-signings- allegedly exacerbated the huge nationwide increase in foreclosures.
Did servicers act sloppily? Absolutely. Were there large numbers of homeowners who wouldn’t have faced foreclosure but for these practices? Absolutely not. People lost their homes because they couldn’t afford them.
So I’m not all that surprised by this News Release issued yesterday afternoon by the OCC. It appears that Nearly 600,000 checks mailed to borrowers of these 13 servicers remain outstanding, and have now expired. The checks have been reissued. “As part of the agencies’ ongoing efforts to reach these borrowers, the paying agent was directed to conduct additional searches of updated addresses. The current mailing represents the third attempt directed by the agencies to provide checks to in-scope borrowers.”
As someone who subscribes to the glass half-empty view of the U.S. economy, even I have to admit that Friday’s jobs report is a good indication that we will probably be seeing the Fed raise short term interest rates by the middle of this year.
The most important number to look at in terms of the employment numbers are those that assess wage and workforce participation growth. On both of these fronts, the news was moderately encouraging. Average hourly earnings rose by $0.12 to $24.75 in January. This is encouraging if only because average hourly wages actually dropped by $0.12 in December. Over the last twelve months, wages have grown a tepid 2.2%, but at least it is headed in the right direction.
As for my favorite statistic, the workforce participation rate, this increased to 62.9% in January, following a slight decline last month. Similarly, it’s actually a good sign that the unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 5.7%. This means that more people are actually looking for work. Remember the unemployment rate just represents the number of adults actively looking for work. The more long term unemployed you have, the less reliable it becomes as an indicator of economic growth.
Hanging together, or Hanging Separately
What to do as the big get bigger and the small stay small? As I’ve talked about in a previous blog, the Great Recession accentuated the divide between big and small credit unions. It’s an understatement to say that a disproportionate amount of the industry’s growth is coming from credit unions with $500 million or more in assets.
As a result, now more than ever before, credit unions have to combine resources. A great example of how this can be done comes from an article in today’s Wall Street Journal reporting that a group of small banks are joining together with Lending Club to expand their ability to offer consumer loans.
Participations are clearly a key element in any strategy to combine resources. In addition, websites like Lending Club are radically changing underwriting models. Increasingly, if banks and credit unions aren’t willing to provide uncollateralized loans, there is someone on the Internet who will. Of course, these raise huge compliance issues, most notably indirect lending doesn’t absolve a bank or a credit union from assessing the quality of a loan in which it participates. In addition, with credit unions, such loans can raise membership issues as well.
Still something needs to be done quickly. The WSJ points out that in 1994, banks and thrifts with less than $10 billion in assets held about 69% of U.S. consumer loans; that number has dropped to 9% as of 2014.
Last, But Not Least
I have advocated in this blog space for NCUA to provide live broadcasts of its board meetings. After all, for those of us who track regulations for a living, real time information about where the board members stand is a helpful indicator of what to expect in the future. Therefore, I want to give a belated thumbs up to the agency for announcing last week that starting with its February 19th board meeting, it will begin broadcasting these get-togethers live. Watch out C-SPAN.
Now that the blog’s done, I am going to have to tackle all that snow in my driveway. Amazingly, the snow didn’t magically disappear between the time I went to bed and got up. . .it’s days like this that I wonder why I live in the Northeast.
NY Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman yesterday announced an agreement with Citibank under which it has agreed to change its policies for prescreening account applicants so that “applicants are not rejected for accounts based on isolated or minor banking errors, such as paid debts or a small overcharge.” Specifically newspaper reports indicate that Citibank will only decline applicants if they have two or more reported incidents of account abuse in recent years. A similar agreement was reached with CapitalOne earlier this year.
I know there are credit unions that use ChexSystems and similar services . Their use is not illegal and the AG’s announcement is certainly not binding on other financial institutions; however the writing is on the wall and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to examine the criteria your CU uses to disqualify applicants from membership. To their critics ChexSystems and other similar companies disproportionately impact the poor unbanked since these applicants are at greater risk of having bounced a check, for example. My personal advice would be that you disqualify applicants based on a clear pattern of account abuse.
I have also argued in a previous blog that credit unions have a unique obligation to the unbanked and underserved. Disqualifying potential members based on past misconduct could undermine that goal at institutions where membership is too restrictive.
Here is a copy of the press release
The limits of Operation Choke Point
In recent years regulators and the DOJ have become increasingly aggressive about pressuring the banking system not to facilitate legal banking activities that may ultimately aid down stream illegal conduct. . For example, New York’s DFS criticized the NACHA system for facilitating electronic payments of Pay Day Loans and some banks stopped opening accounts for gun dealers.
Yesterday the FDIC pushed back against these overly aggressive tactics. In a letter to FDIC insured institutions it encouraged them to ” take a risk-based approach in assessing individual customer relationships rather than declining to provide banking services to entire categories of customers, without regard to the risks presented by an individual customer or the financial institution’s ability to manage the risk. Financial institutions that can properly manage customer relationships and effectively mitigate risks are neither prohibited nor discouraged from providing services to any category of customer accounts or individual customer operating in compliance with applicable state and federal law.”
It further assured them that “Isolated or technical” BSA violations “do not prompt serious regulatory concern or reflect negatively on management’s supervision or commitment to BSA compliance.”
I wonder if NCUA will be issuing similar Guidance? Here is a link
The state of Monetary Policy
The FOMC issued a statement following its two day powwow in the nation’s capital. Even though it gave itself the typically abundant supply of qualifiers and caveats the best reading of the statement is that the Fed remains likely to raise short term interest rates in the middle of the year.
To me the most telling line in the statement is that “on balance, a range of labor market indicators suggests that under utilization of labor resources continues to diminish.” Why is this important? Because Chairman Yellen has consistently expressed the view that the most commonly used measures of unemployment haven’t provided an accurate snapshot of employment conditions facing American job seekers and the under employed. The generally upbeat assessment of the broader economy tells me that the Fed currently is inclined to believe that the economy is now strong enough to withstand slightly higher interest rates as a hedge against the inflation bogey man.
Here is a link to the statement.
And their off…
With Assembly Democrats moving ahead with plans to officially remove Sheldon Silver as Speaker as early as Monday jockeying for the position has begun in earnest. The Capitol Tonight Morning Memo is reporting that, Manhattan Assemblyman Keith Wright, who was considered a possible candidate for the Speakership, endorsed Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie. Also Rochester area Democrat Joe Morelle, who will likely be Acting Speaker pending a vote on a permanent replacement for Silver, announced Wednesday that he wants the job permanently. Another candidate is veteran J Assemblyman Joe Lentol.
The financial industry’s push for a faster more efficient payment system in this country is finally gaining some traction. The question is: are the changes coming fast enough to satisfy consumer demand now that Apple has inserted itself into the payments system?
Yesterday the Federal Reserve issued a report on updating the payments system. It concludes that:
“the U.S. payment system is at a critical juncture in its evolution. Technology is rapidly changing many elements that support the payment process. High-speed data networks are becoming ubiquitous, computing devices are becoming more sophisticated and mobile, and information is increasingly processed in real-time. These capabilities are changing the nature of commerce and end-user expectations for payment services. Meanwhile, payment security and the protection of sensitive data, which are foundational to public confidence in any payment system, are challenged by dynamic, persistent and rapidly escalating threats. Finally, an increasing number of U.S. citizens and businesses routinely transfer value across borders and demand better payment options to swiftly and efficiently do so.”
The Fed’s next step is to use the report as a framework for further discussion within the financial industry about what steps can be taken to quickly implement needed changes. If all this sounds a bit too slow it’s because events are quickly outpacing the Fed’s ambitions.
Currently NACHA, which implements the ACH electronic payment system, is seeking comment on a proposal to implement Same Day Settlement for ACH transactions. Although the CFPB has already sounded the consumer alarm, NACHA’s proposal is, in part, a recognition that banks could lose control of the payments system if they don’t start innovating at the speed of Apple.
For example, a day after the Fed’s report we may get our First glimpse of how well Apple is doing getting people to use IPhones to make point-of- sale transactions. Apple may very well be on the verge of doing to banking what it did to the music industry: Making the system used to deliver financial goods and services more important to consumers than the actual service provider-i.e. a stodgy bank or credit union. People are going to expect quicker more efficient payment systems and migrate to those financial institutions that are ready to provide them. Here are some links for additional information.
Are we ready for a Grexit?
In his State Of the Union address President Obama correctly proclaimed the U.S. economy is the strongest in the world. The problem is that says more about the weakness of the world economy than it does about the strength of ours.
Those of you looking for signs that the economy isn’t out of the woods yet need look no further than Greece. The first piece of a worst case scenario has fallen into place with the election of the left-wing Syriza party in a decisive victory on Sunday. Greece’s economy is way too small to impact the world but the party has a clear mandate to renegotiate the austerity measures it has been labouring under in return for financial aid from the European union.
The election sets up a game of chicken in which Greece could implicitly threaten to walk away from the EuroZone and the Euro currency if the austerity measures aren’t scaled back and Germany threatens to call Greece’s bluff. If this does happen no one knows what impact this would have on the Euro or the world economy and no one wants to find out. In the meantime expect even more downward pressure on bond yields.
This article link offers an interesting perspective on what lays ahead
NCUA Board member Rick Metsger wrote an article in the CU Times in which he lays out an impressive list of reforms to enhance the flexibility of the federal charter. He also criticizes NAFCU’s Carrie Hunt for suggesting in an article earlier this week that meaningful regulatory reforms are stymied “because of an assertion that we need a change in the Federal Credit Union Act. “
Now I’ve never had the good fortune of meeting Carrie and she certainly doesn’t need a New York based blogger whose caffeine hasn’t completely kicked in yet to come to her defense. But the exchange underscores an important point: NCUA is gun shy when it comes to using its existing regulatory powers to provide expanded fields of membership, particularly when it comes to community charters. Don’t take my word for it; take NCUA’s. NCUA proposed doing away with regulations permitting credit unions to explain in narrative form how an area should be treated as a Well Defined Local Community, notwithstanding the fact that the proposed service area might combine two distinct towns or counties. Instead NCUA adopted changes that limit WDLCs to: “a single political jurisdiction less than an entire State, or a defined portion of that single political jurisdiction; a statistical area limited to 2.5 million or less people, so designated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB),”
If you can’t fit your community into areas predefined by the OMB you are out of luck.
At the time it proposed the change, NCUA explained in the preamble that:
Another problem related to NCUA determining that a multiple, contiguous political jurisdiction is a WDLC based on a narrative application is the risk of litigation. Because the narrative approach is inherently a subjective one, it is vulnerable to legal challenges. NCUA believes it would benefit all involved to eliminate the great expense, effort, and uncertainty associated with the narrative approach in favor of a simpler, more objective method.” (Chartering and Field of Membership for Federal Credit Unions, 74 FR 68722-01, 68723),
At the time the Bankers were ferociously fighting a proposed expansion of a state charter’s field of membership. NCUA no doubt realized that it was in store for similar litigation if it relied on the narrative approach, so it took the easy way out. It limited its own discretion and now deprives federal charters of the ability to serve areas which don’t neatly conform to census data.
Credit unions are stuck in an antiquated regulatory and statutory framework. With the Internet, it is ridiculous to define communities purely in physical terms. Plus, with the demise of manufacturing jobs and this cutting edge technology called an ATM, there isn’t the same need for employee based credit unions. New York State took an important step for the state charter when Governor Cuomo signed legislation permitting state charters greater flexibility in designing fields of membership that reflect the needs of local communities. For example, a SEG based credit union comprised of a City’s library employees can now apply to serve the larger community. In his article, Board Member Metsger lists a bunch of ideas to enhance the flexibility of the federal charter. It’s likely that the better the idea, the more likely it is that NCUA will face the threat of litigation. So what?
The economy continues to pick up steam. The Labor Department reports this morning that employers added 252,000 jobs in December. The WSJ is reporting that this was the strongest year of job growth in 15 years. In addition, judging by these numbers on consumer spending released yesterday it appears that more and more consumers are feeling safe enough to climb out of the bunker and start spending money they don’t have again. What would we do without consumer debt?
There has been an awful lot of talk about the increase of economic inequality. Specifically does it reflect a normal cyclical adjustment following a recession in which banks lent too much and people spent too much or does it reflect a longer term more fundamental shift in the economy?
First let’s acknowledge that the economic statistics aren’t reflecting the everyday reality of many of our members. The economy is growing but not everyone is benefiting. In a great piece of analysis in yesterday’s WSJ, the paper studied Labor Department statistics and an extensive survey of consumer spending habits to gauge how households earning between $18,000 and $95,000 a year are spending their money. Its conclusions are worth quoting at length:
“The data show they are losing ground. Overall spending for the group rose by about 2.3% over the six-year period from 2007, even as inflation totaled about 12%. At the same time, income for the group stagnated, rising less than half a percent. With health care and other costs rising, these consumers spent less on furniture, entertainment, clothing and even child care, the Journal analysis found.”
Now I know some of you are thinking that these statistics reflect the normal ebb and flow of the business cycle. After all, Americans now know what happens when banks lend and people spend irresponsibly. However the statistics say that more is going on here than the economic cycle. As pointed out by Erik Brynjolfsson Andrew McAfee in their book “The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies” median household income hit its high in 1999 and has dramatically fallen since then. In addition you have to go back since before the Great Depression to find another period when the top 10% of wage earners earned more than 50% of total income. By the way the top one percent are earning 22% of the income pie.
Economics 101 tells us that greater productivity leads to higher wages. If this is the case than we should be seeing upward pressure on wages but as the WSJ article makes clear this is not happening and by some measures this linkage between productivity ad wages has been weakening for decades.
Is it possible, as the authors suggest, that technology has created an economic system where there is no longer a linkage between productivity and wages? Where computers take over the tasks previously performed by humans and makes those employees that remain more efficient at a cheaper cost? I’m not convinced yet but all you have to do is look at the most modern branches and ATMS to see that we need fewer employees than we used to.
I’ve always thought that the best way to find out if the country’s economic downturn is over isn’t to pay too much attention to the economic statistics but to listen to your members. Are they talking with pride about the school their kids got accepted to or are they wondering how they are going to pay for college? Are they enjoying their work or wondering how they are ever going to retire? Do they have a career or a job they settled for months after being laid off? I think most American’s would be shocked to find out that the economy in which they are struggling to make ends meet is the envy of most of the world: inflation is nonexistent, productivity is growing and unemployment is tumbling but it sure doesn’t feel that great to the average consumer.
What is going on here? Something that the statistics aren’t capturing.