Audit Notes: TP Bubble, No More “Fat Cats,” Big Long Now

The Wall Street Journal takes a look at one growing American industry the Internet and the Chinese can’t wipe out: Toilet paper.

Turns out that “unlike other paper, tissue paper isn’t economical to ship from overseas because of its bulk.”

Newspapers on the other hand:

But between 2001 and 2011, U.S. annual consumption of daily-newspaper newsprint plunged 61% to 3.6 million tons and annual consumption of paper used for printing, note pads and more fell roughly 38%, according to Vertical Research Partners, which tracks the paper industry. The decline was devastating to paper producers.

But even this industry faces trouble, thanks to all the private-equity money and corporate welfare flowing its way:

Paper mills across the U.S. are trying to find a future in tissue paper. Clearwater Paper Corp., of Spokane, Wash., received $50 million in state and local incentives in North Carolina to open a $280 million tissue-making plant there last year, and will employ 250 by year’s end. Wisconsin-based Wausau Paper, founded in 1899, is spending $220 million on a tissue plant that will begin production in Kentucky in early 2013. Closely held First Quality Enterprises Inc. opened a tissue plant in Anderson, S.C., last year.

But so many tissue plants are cropping up that a possible oversupply is looming. “There is going to be a bit of a fight,” said Chip Dillon of Vertical Research.

— Bloomberg News reports that the Obama campaign is going around to $36,000-a-head Wall Street fundraisers “pledging not to demonize” Wall Street. He’ll never say “fat cats” again like he did that one time, back in 2009.

It short-arms the story a bit, but The Huffington Post picks it up and adds some good context:

The current attempt at appeasement also comes as Obama attempts to win back the donors that provided him with so much last election. Despite criticizing Wall Street during a 2007 speech at the Nasdaq stock exchange, financial industry donations to Obama outpaced Wall Street cash to his GOP rival John McCain two-to-one at certain points in that campaign, according to the New York Daily News.

This time, Wall Street donors are instead favoring Republican candidates, their dollars going to the GOP by a five to one margin. And Mitt Romney, the Republican front runner and a former Wall Street man himself, is netting most of that cash, according to campaign finance data.

— Bloomberg reports that some of the investors who made fortunes betting against subprime mortgages during the bubble are now betting on them.

Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass, who made $500 million betting against subprime debt in the crash, is raising a fund to buy home loan securities. He’s joining Greg Lippmann, a former Deutsche Bank AG trader, and John Paulson, who made $15 billion in 2007, in betting on default prone mortgages. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and American International Group Inc. (AIG) have also emerged as buyers this year as trading more than doubled for non-agency mortgage notes.

The $1.1 trillion market for U.S. mortgage bonds without government-backing is joining a global rally in everything from stocks and commodities to company loans, as confidence grows that Europe’s sovereign debt crisis will be contained. Investors are speculating the riskiest mortgage securities are priced to withstand an economic slowdown and home price declines even as President Barack Obama and the Federal Reserve pursue policies to combat the six-year residential real-estate slump.

How much are those option ARMs going for these days?

Typical prices for the most-senior bonds tied to option adjustable-rate mortgages rose to 55 cents on the dollar last week from 49 cents in November, according to Barclays Capital.

And those are the (formerly) AAA ones.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,