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Posts Tagged ‘Lehman

The Endgame: Europe is finished

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by Tyler Durden
Posted Zero Hedge on September 14, 2011

THE MOST SCATHING REPORT DESCRIBING IN EXQUISITE DETAIL the coming financial apocalypse in Europe comes not from some fringe blogger or soundbite striving politician, but from perpetual bulge bracket wannabe, Jefferies, and specifically its chief market strategist David Zervos. “The bottom line is that it looks like a Lehman like event is about to be unleashed on Europe WITHOUT an effective TARP like structure fully in place.

Now maybe, just maybe, they can do what the US did and build one on the fly – wiping out a few institutions and then using an expanded EFSF/Eurobond structure to prevent systemic collapse. But politically that is increasingly feeling like a long shot. Rather it looks like we will get 17 TARPs – one for each country. That is going to require a US style socialization of each banking system – with many WAMUs, Wachovias, AIGs and IndyMacs along the way.

The road map for Europe is still 2008 in the US, with the end game a country by country socialization of their commercial banks. The fact is that the Germans are NOT going to pay for pan European structure to recap French and Italian banks – even though it is probably a more cost effective solution for both the German banks and taxpayers….Expect a massive policy response in Europe and a move towards financial market nationlaization that will make the US experience look like a walk in the park. ” Must read for anyone who wants a glimpse of the endgame. Oh, good luck China. You’ll need it.

Full Report:

In most ways the excess borrowing by, and lending to, European sovereign nations was no different than it was to US subprime households. In both cases loans were made to folks that never had the means to pay them back. And these loans were made in the first place because regulatory arbitrage allowed stealth leverage of the lending on the balance sheets of financial institutions for many years. This levered lending generated short term spikes in both bank profits and most importantly executive compensation – however, the days of excess spread collection and big commercial bank bonuses are now long gone.

We are only left with the long term social costs associated with this malevolent behavior. While there are obvious similarities in the two debtors, there is one VERY important difference – that is concentration. What do I mean by that? Well specifically, there are only a handful of insolvent sovereign European borrowers, while there are millions of bankrupt subprime households. This has been THE key factor in understanding how the differing policy responses to the two debt crisis have evolved.

In the case of US mortgage borrowers, there was no easy way to construct a government bailout for millions of individual households – there was too much dispersion and heterogeneity. Instead the defaults ran quickly through the system in 2008 – forcing insolvency, deleveraging and eventually a systemic shutdown of the financial system. As the regulators FINALLY woke up to the gravity of the situation in October, they reacted with a wholesale socialization of the commercial banking system – TLGP wrapped bank debt and TARP injected equity capital. From then on it has been a long hard road to recovery, and the scars from this excessive lending are still firmly entrenched in both household and banking sector balance sheets.

Even three years later, we are trying to construct some form of household debt service burden relief (ie refi.gov) in order to find a way to put the economy on a sustainable track to recovery. And of course Dodd-Frank and the FHFA are trying to make sure the money center commercial banks both pay for their past sins and are never allowed to sin this way again! More on that below, but first let’s contrast this with the European debt crisis evolution.

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What happens when a nation goes bankrupt?

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by Simon Black
of Sovereign Man
Posted Sept 14, 2011

THREE YEARS AGO TODAY, MY BEST FRIEND CALLED ME and told me to turn on my television. I remember the way he described it– “Lehman is finished.”  The TV showed guys packing up their desks on Sunday afternoon, moving out of their offices forever. That was the precipice from which financial markets plunged the following day, taking the global economy along for the next three years.

We appear to be at that moment once more. Greece is out of cash. Again. The Greek Deputy Finance Minister said on Monday that his country only has enough cash to operate for a few more weeks.

As I write this note, French, German, and Greek politicians are all on a conference call, feverishly trying to figure out a way to avoid default.  Everyone seems to understand the consequences at stake… given the chain of derivatives out there, a Greek default will completely dwarf the Lehman collapse. Unfortunately for the bureaucrats, dissent against the Greek bailout plan is spreading across Europe… and leaders can no longer ignore the growing wave of opposition in Finland, the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany.

It’s no wonder, when you think about it. Why should a German hairdresser who retires at age 65 stick his neck out so that a Greek hairdresser can retire at age 50? This, from a continent that was perpetually at war with itself for over a thousand years. Europe’s great benefactor over the last several months has been China, whose treasury has been buying up worthless European sovereign debt to ensure that Greece doesn’t default. It’s a testament to the absurdity of our failed financial system when the highly indebted rich countries of the world have to go to China, a nation of peasants, for a bailout.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum this morning, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao delivered a stern message: there is a limit to Chinese generosity, and it will come at a price. The Chinese will undoubtedly use any further investment in European bonds as leverage to influence western politicians. They already bought Tim Geithner. The US government refuses to label China a ‘currency manipulator’. Similarly, European politicians will now be forced to acknowledge China as a ‘market economy’.

Ultimately, this charade will fail. It’s a simple matter of arithmetic. China could buy every single penny of Greek debt and it still wouldn’t solve the underlying problem: Greece would still be in debt! And more, still hemorrhaging billions of euros each month. Throwing more money at the problem only makes it worse.

Then there are those Greek assets for sale… like state-owned Hellenic Railways Group. It lost a cool billion euros last year. Or the notoriously inefficient, highly unionized, traditionally lossmaking Greek postal service, Hellenic Post. Any takers? These are not exactly high quality assets… nor can Greece expect to get top dollar in what’s clearly a distress sale.

Over 200 years ago, Napoleon was forced to sell France’s claim to 828,000 square miles of land in the New World in order to cover his war expenses. US President Thomas Jefferson happily obliged, paying the modern equivalent of around $315 million (based on the gold price), roughly 59 cents per acre in today’s money.

According to US census records, there were around 90,000 people living within the territory during that time who literally woke up the next day to a different world. This is the sort of thing that happens when governments go bankrupt. With the Lehman collapse, a lot of people got hurt… but it was mostly a financial and economic issue. When an entire nation goes bust, the pain is felt much deeper: the most basic systems and institutions that people have come to depend on simply disappear.

Argentina’s millennial debt crisis is a great example of this… suddenly the power failed, the police stopped working, the gas stations closed, the grocery stores ran out of food, the retirement checks stopped coming, and the banks went under (taking people’s life savings with them).

European leaders (with Chinese help) can postpone the endgame for a short time, but they’re really just taking an umbrella into a hurricane. It would be foolish to not expect a Greek default, and it would be even more foolish to not expect significant consequences. The only question is– how are you prepared to deal with what happens?

Cracks beneath the Façade

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by ilene
from Stock World Weekly
Posted June 26, 2011

China 

ON THURSDAY, QU XING, DIRECTOR OF THE CHINA INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, a Foreign Ministry think tank, told reporters that China doesn’t want to see debt restructuring in the Eurozone and is working with the IMF and countries involved with the debt crisis in an attempt to avoid it. Speaking at a press conference during a visit to Hungary, Premier Wen Jiabao said, “China is a long-term investor in Europe’s sovereign debt market. In recent years we have increased by a quite big margin holdings of Euro bonds. In the future, as we have done in the past, we will support Europe and the Euro.”. Sunday, on a tour of the Chinese-owned Longbridge MG Motor factory in Birmingham, Premier Wen told BBC it will lend to European countries, and also has plans to stimulate domestic demand and reduce its foreign trade surplus.

China’s stated position prompted Zero Hedge to ask, “Will the third time be the charm for the Chinese ‘white knight’ approach to Europe, where it has so far sunk about $50 billion in bad money after good?” Saturday, Zero Hedge reported that China’s European Bailout (And TBTF) Bid Hits Overdrive, As Wen Jiabao is Now in the Market for Hungarian Bonds. “It seems China has learned from the best, and either knows something others don’t (except for the SHIBOR market of course) or is actively preparing to become Too Biggest To Fail by making sure that if something bad happens to it, literally the entire world will follow it into the depths of hell.  Sunday, ZH wrote, “As expected, China is the new IMF… All this means is that China will do everything in its power to prevent the ECB from launching an outright unsterilized monetization episode, which will double the amount of importable inflation (plunging EUR) to hit the Chinese domestic economy, and destabilize the already shaky stability, so critical for the Chinese communist party.” (China Says It Will Bail Out Insolvent European Countries.)

It’s good to know that China has its problem with inflation now solidly under control.

 

Greece

Greece has a population of just over 11 million people. Compare that to the New York City metropolitan area population estimated at 18.9 million. It may seem strange that Greece’s travails might greatly affect the global economy, but the potential repercussions from a Greek default become more significant when considering leverage and derivatives. Data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show that German banks are heavily leveraged, holding 32 Euros of loans for every Euro of capital they have on hand. Other banks are leveraged to the hilt as well. Belgian banks are leveraged 30-1, and French banks are leveraged 26-1. Lehman’s leverage at the time of its collapse was 31-1. U.S. Banks are paragons of sanity by comparison, with an average leverage of only 13-1. (Europe’s sickly banks) France and Germany are the countries most exposed to Greek debt through bank and private lending and government debt exposure (chart below).

Derivatives present another potential minefield. As Louise Story wrote in the NY Times,
“It’s the $616 billion question: Does the euro crisis have a hidden A.I.G.? No one seems to be sure, in large part because the world of derivatives is so murky. But the possibility that some company out there may have insured billions of dollars of European debt has added a new tension to the sovereign default debate… The looming uncertainties are whether these contracts — which insure against possibilities like a Greek default — are concentrated in the hands of a few companies, and if these companies will be able to pay out billions of dollars to cover losses during a default.” (Derivatives Cloud the Possible Fallout From a Greek Default)

Michael Hudson explored the differences between what happened to Iceland and its debt crisis, and what is currently happening in Greece:
“The fight for Europe’s future is being waged in Athens and other Greek cities to resist financial demands that are the 21st century’s version of an outright military attack. The threat of bank overlordship is not the kind of economy-killing policy that affords opportunities for heroism in armed battle, to be sure. Destructive financial policies are more like an exercise in the banality of evil – in this case, the pro-creditor assumptions of the European Central Bank (ECB), EU and IMF (egged on by the U.S. Treasury)…

“The bankers are trying to get a windfall by using the debt hammer to achieve what warfare did in times past. They are demanding privatization of public assets (on credit, with tax deductibility for interest so as to leave more cash flow to pay the bankers). This transfer of land, public utilities and interest as financial booty and tribute to creditor economies is what makes financial austerity like war in its effect…

“One would think that after fifty years of austerity programs and privatization selloffs to pay bad debts, the world had learned enough about causes and consequences. The banking profession chooses deliberately to be ignorant. ‘Good accepted practice’ is bolstered by Nobel Economics Prizes to provide a cloak of plausible deniability when markets “unexpectedly” are hollowed out and new investment slows as a result of financially bleeding economies, medieval-style, while wealth is siphoned up to the top of the economic pyramid.

“My friend David Kelley likes to cite Molly Ivins’ quip: ‘It’s hard to convince people that you are killing them for their own good.’ The EU’s attempt to do this didn’t succeed in Iceland. And like the Icelanders, the Greek protesters have had their fill of neoliberal learned ignorance that austerity, unemployment and shrinking markets are the path to prosperity, not deeper poverty. So we must ask what motivates central banks to promote tunnel-visioned managers who follow the orders and logic of a system that imposes needless suffering and waste – all to pursue the banal obsession that banks must not lose money?

“One must conclude that the EU’s new central planners (isn’t that what Hayek said was the Road to Serfdom?) are acting as class warriors by demanding that all losses are to be suffered by economies imposing debt deflation and permitting creditors to grab assets – as if this won’t make the problem worse. This ECB hard line is backed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Geithner, evidently so that U.S. institutions not lose their bets on derivative plays they have written up…” (Michael Hudson’s Whither Greece – Without a national referendum Iceland-style, EU dictates cannot be binding for more.)

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Systemic risk is on red alert

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by Graham Summers
Phoenix Capital Research
Posted June 15, 2011

SINCE 2009, I’VE BEEN WARNING THAT SYSTEMIC RISK REMAINS HIGH. However, from that time until today, investors have been willing to bet on the US Federal Reserve (and the world’s central banks) keeping a lid on things. Until today.

Greece has erupted into full-scale, violent riots that could shut down the entire Government there. SHOULD this happen it’s the beginning of the END GAME for central bank intervention in the financial system. And the reason is: The only thing that has maintained investor confidence since the depths of 2009 is the belief that the central banks can continue to bailout/ intervene to control any financial problem.

Remember, we never actually “took the hit” we needed to take in 2008. The same junk debt remains in the system (it’s just been hidden by loosened accounting standards). The same enormous derivatives time bomb is still ticking (it’s over $600 TRILLION in size).

None of these problems were solved. None were even addressed. All the central banks did was lend more money to the insolvent big banks. Well, that and damage their sovereign balance sheets by taking on a ton of garbage debt (the Fed’s balance sheet is now over $2.8 TRILLION in size).

So in plain terms, the central banks took systemic risk that existed in the private sector and allowed it to spread to the public sector.

What does this mean? That the next Crisis won’t just involve banks like Goldman Sachs, it will involve entire countries (including the US) going belly-up. We’re already seeing it in Greece. That situation has made it very clear what happens when you combine public outrage with Government bankruptcy and systemic insolvency: SHUT-DOWN.

This IS coming to the US. And it won’t be long. Once the bailout wagon stops (first in Greece) the ensuing collapse will spread VERY quickly. The reason is quite simple: Greece is the Bear Stearns of the Sovereign Debt Collapse.

So buckle up, because it was only six months or so after Bear Stearns that the Lehman disaster unfolded. Given the amount of leverage in the system today, we could easily see the issues hitting Greece today arriving at the US’s shores before the year’s end.

Death by Debt

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by Chris Martenson
Originally posted June 8, 2011

ONE OF THE CONCLUSIONS THAT I TRY TO COAX, LEAD and/or nudge people towards is acceptance of the fact that the economy can’t be fixed. By this I mean that the old regime of general economic stability and rising standards of living fueled by excessive credit are a thing of the past. At least they are for the debt-encrusted developed nations over the short haul – and, over the long haul, across the entire soon-to-be energy-starved globe.

The sooner we can accept that idea and make other plans the better. To paraphrase a famous saying, Anything that can’t be fixed, won’t.

The basis for this view stems from understanding that debt-based money systems operate best when they can grow exponentially forever. Of course, nothing can, which means that even without natural limits, such systems are prone to increasingly chaotic behavior, until the money that undergirds them collapses into utter worthlessness, allowing the cycle to begin anew.

All economic depressions share the same root cause. Too much credit that does not lead to enhanced future cash flows is extended. In other words, this means lending without regard for the ability of the loan to repay both the principal and interest from enhanced production; money is loaned for consumption, and poor investment decisions are made. Eventually gravity takes over, debts are defaulted upon, no more borrowers can be found, and the system is rather painfully scrubbed clean. It’s a very normal and usual process.

When we bring in natural limits, however, (such as is the case for petroleum right now), what emerges is a forcing function that pushes a debt-based, exponential money system over the brink all that much faster and harder.

But for the moment, let’s ignore the imminent energy crisis. On a pure debt, deficit, and liability basis, the US, much of Europe, and Japan are all well past the point of no return. No matter what policy tweaks, tax and benefit adjustments, or spending cuts are made – individually or in combination – nothing really pencils out to anything that remotely resembles a solution that would allow us to return to business as usual.

At the heart of it all, the developed nations blew themselves a gigantic credit bubble, which fed all kinds of grotesque distortions, of which housing is perhaps the most visible poster child. However outsized government budgets and promises might be, overconsumption of nearly everything imaginable, bloated college tuition costs, and rising prices in healthcare utterly disconnected from economics are other symptoms, too. This report will examine the deficits, debts, and liabilities in such a way as to make the case that there’s no possibility of a return of generally rising living standards for most of the developed world.  A new era is upon us. There’s always a slight chance , should some transformative technology come along, like another Internet, or perhaps the equivalent of another Industrial Revolution, but no such catalysts are on the horizon, let alone at the ready.

At the end, we will tie this understanding of the debt predicament to the energy situation raised in my prior report to fully develop the conclusion that we can –and really should – seriously entertain the premise that there’s just no way for all the debts to be paid back.  There are many implications to this line of thinking, not the least of which is the risk that the debt-based, fiat money system itself is in danger of failing.

Too Little Debt! (or, your one chart that explains everything)

If I were to be given just one chart, by which I had to explain everything about why Bernanke’s printed efforts have so far failed to actually cure anything and why I am pessimistic that further efforts will fall short, it is this one:

There’s a lot going on in this deceptively simple chart so let’s take it one step at a time.  First, “Total Credit Market Debt” is everything – financial sector debt, government debt (federal, state, and local), household debt, and corporate debt – and that is the bold red line (data from the Federal Reserve).

Next, if we start in January 1970 and ask the question, “How long before that debt doubled and then doubled again?” we find that debt has doubled five times in four decades (blue triangles).

Then if we perform an exponential curve fit (blue line) and round up, we find a nearly perfect fit with a R2 of 0.99.  This means that debt has been growing in a nearly perfect exponential fashion through the 1970’s, the 1980’s, the 1990’s and the 2000’s.  In order for the 2010 decade to mirror, match, or in any way resemble the prior four decades, credit market debt will need to double again, from $52 trillion to $104 trillion.

Finally, note that the most serious departure between the idealized exponential curve fit and the data occurred beginning in 2008, and it has not yet even remotely begun to return to its former trajectory.

This explains everything.

It explains why Bernanke’s $2 trillion has not created a spectacular party in anything other than a few select areas (banking, corporate profits), which were positioned to directly benefit from the money. It explains why things don’t feel right, or the same, and why most people are still feeling quite queasy about the state of the economy. It explains why the massive disconnects between government pensions and promises, all developed and doled out during the prior four decades, cannot be met by current budget realities.

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Why Growth Is Dead

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by Chris Martenson
Posted May 12th, 2011

THE END OF THE SECOND ROUND of quantitative easing (QE II) is going to be a complete disaster for the paper markets – specifically commodities, stocks, and then finally bonds, in that order, with losses of 20% to 50% by the end of October. The only thing that will arrest the plunge will be QE III, although we should remain alert to the likelihood that it will be named something else in an attempt to obscure what it really is. Perhaps it will be known as the “Muni Asset Trust Term Liquidity Facility” or the “American Prime Purchase Program,” but whatever it is called, it will involve hundreds of billions of thin-air dollars being printed and dumped into the financial system.

A Premature Victory Lap

Bernanke recently stood at a lectern and announced to the assembled audience that the Fed’s recent policies could be credited with elevated stock prices and an improved employment statistic while somehow keeping inflation low. It was his own version of a ‘mission accomplished’ speech, just like the one GW Bush gave. And similarly, it does not mark the end of significant difficulties, but the probable beginning of a very long period of treacherous economic and financial disruption.

Here’s one recent version of how the Fed’s actions are being interpreted, courtesy of Bloomberg:

Bernanke’s QE2 Averts Deflation, Spurs Rally, Expands Credit

Ben S. Bernanke’s $600 billion strike against deflation is paying off, as stock and debt markets rise, bank lending grows and economists forecast faster growth. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has gained 13.5 percent since the Federal Reserve chairman announced on Nov. 3 the plan to buy Treasuries through its so-called quantitative easing policy. Government bond yields show investors expect consumer prices to rise in line with historical averages. The riskiest companies are obtaining credit at the cheapest borrowing costs ever and Fed data show that commercial and industrial loans outstanding are rising for the first time since 2008.

“Looking at market indicators, you have to be convinced it’s been a success,” said Bradley Tank, chief investment officer for fixed-income in Chicago at Neuberger Berman Fixed Income LLC, which oversees about $83 billion. “When you get into periods of aggressive central bank easing, and we’re clearly in the most aggressive period of easing that we’ve ever seen, the markets tend to lead the real economy.”

A rising stock market, low inflation expectations, and lots and lots of cheap credit for even the riskiest companies. What’s not to like?

The main problem is that this is all an illusion. If it were truly possible to print one’s way to prosperity, history would have already proven that to be possible, yet such efforts have always failed. The reason is simple enough: Money is not wealth; it is a commodity that we use as a temporary store of wealth. Real wealth is the products and services that are made possible by an initial balance of high-quality resources that can be transformed by human effort and ingenuity.

For some reason, however, this basic concept has managed to elude the high priests and priestesses of the money temples throughout time. Somehow it always seems compelling to give money printing a try, maybe because this time seems different. But it never is. And it’s not different this time, either. Even as the markets are beginning to correct in anticipation of the end of QE II (which I predicted in my newsletters as early as March 8, 2011), we should note that the Fed is still pumping an average of $89 billion per month into the markets.

When we compare the $370 billion that the Fed has printed and placed into the financial system year-to-date against the levels of money flows going into and out of mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and money market funds, we observe that the Fed’s actions swamp those flows by a factor of roughly 2:1. That is, the amount the Fed is putting in is quite significant, and its disappearance from the markets is something that needs to be carefully considered.

On the plus side, we can all be thankful for the one thing that money printing can do, and has done, which is buying a little more time for everyone. As I consistently advocate, such time should be used, at least in part, to ready oneself for a future of less and to become more resilient against whatever shocks are yet to come.

While money printing can so some wondrous things in the short term – (Hey, give me $2 trillion to spend and I’ll throw a nice party, too!) – it cannot fix the predicament of fundamental insolvency. The United States has lived beyond its means for a couple of decades and promised itself a future that it forgot to adequately fund. The choice that remains is between accepting an unpleasant but relatively steady period of austerity leading to a new lower standard of living – and a final catastrophe for the dollar. The former is akin to walking down around the side of a cliff, and the latter is jumping off.

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Lehman Died so TARP and AIG Might Live

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by Mike Whitney
Originally posted September 18, 2009

“LEHMAN’S FATE WAS SEALED NOT IN THE boardroom of that gaudy Manhattan headquarters. It was sealed downtown, in the gloomy gray building of the New York Federal Reserve, the Wall Street branch of the U.S. central bank.” –Stephen Foley, UK Independent

Stephen Foley is on to something. Lehman Bros. didn’t die of natural causes; it was drawn-and-quartered by high-ranking officials at the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve. Most of the rubbish presently appearing in the media, ignores this glaring fact. Lehman was a planned demolition (most likely) concocted by ex-Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson, who wanted to create a financial 9-11 to scare Congress into complying with his demands for $700 billion in emergency funding (TARP) for underwater US banking behemoths. The whole incident reeks of conflict of interest, corruption, and blackmail.

The media have played a critical role in peddling the official “Who could have known what would happen” version of events. Bernanke and Paulson were fully aware that they playing with fire, but they chose to proceed anyway, using the mushrooming crisis to achieve their own objectives. Then things began to spin out of control; credit markets froze, interbank lending slowed to a crawl, and stock markets plunged. Even so, the Fed and Treasury persisted with their plan, demanding their $700 billion pound of flesh before they’d do what was needed to stop the bleeding. It was all avoidable.

Lehman had potential buyers – including Barclays – who probably would have made the sale if Bernanke and Paulson had merely provided guarantees for some of their trading positions. Instead, Treasury and the Fed balked, thrusting the knife deeper into Lehman’s ribs. They claimed they didn’t have legal authority for such guarantees. It’s a lie. The Fed has provided $12.8 trillion in loans and other commitments to keep the financial system operating without congressional approval or any explicit authorization under the terms of its charter. The Fed never considered the limits of its “legal authority” when it bailed-out AIG or organized the acquisition of Bear Stearns by JP Morgan pushing $30 billion in future liabilities onto the public’s balance sheet. The Fed’s excuses don’t square with the facts.

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