The NYT asks what AIG’s done with its $123 billion government loan, keeping up the paper’s good coverage of that insurance company’s disgrace. This time the paper reports that analysts are coming to believe the company was sitting on tens of billions in losses for months. That’s no good:
Mr. Vickery and other analysts are examining the company’s disclosures for clues that the cushion was threadbare and that company officials knew they had major losses months before the bailout.
Tantalizing support for this argument comes from what appears to have been a behind-the-scenes clash at the company over how to value some of its derivatives contracts. An accountant brought in by the company because of an earlier scandal was pushed to the sidelines on this issue, and the company’s outside auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, warned of a material weakness months before the government bailout.
The internal auditor resigned and is now in seclusion, according to a former colleague.
I agree with Dean: Put everything on the table. My bet is the reason that won’t happen is because their balance sheets are so bad.
The Auditeers have talked about how much we like economic history reports. Even if history doesn’t repeat itself (exactly, anyway), it is helpful to have context when we hear “Great Depression”, “breadlines”, and “crash” day in and day out. The Washington Post comes through here with a nice read explaining how the Depression didn’t start overnight.
Soup kitchens popped up within months, but didn’t become “ubiquitous” in many cities until 1932, says Kyvig, author of “Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1940.” The demand was so overwhelming by then, he says, that church and private charities turned to increasingly strapped local governments to keep their programs going.
Kyvig, a professor at Northern Illinois University, says he stuns his students when he tells them what happened in Detroit, a particularly hard-hit city. Overwhelmed by demands from the needy, the city shut down its zoo in 1932 and slaughtered its animals to provide food.
The parallels between October 1929 and today are striking.
Although the contemporary economy is far larger and more complex than it was eight decades ago, consumers were deeply in debt then, too. The gap between rich and poor had widened, thanks in part to tax cuts for the wealthy. Amid it all, the stock market—lightly regulated—grew into a speculative bubble, driven to unsupportable highs by investors who used borrowed money to purchase shares.
If you have any doubts that commercial real estate will be the next big shoe to drop, check out a random Thursday’s headlines on the Marketplace front of the WSJ:
Bloomberg notes that well-known shorts David Einhorn and Stevie Cohen aren’t having any problem raising money, unlike some of their other hedge fund peers.