AIG’s Financial Crisis – Forget Business Ethics – We Need More Money!

October 8, 2008

$700 Billion for the banking bailout – $85 Billion for AIG (a private company) – these amounts are only a drop in the bucket of what it will truly cost before this financial fiasco is complete in the history books.  The sad thing is – in order to clean up the mess, the goverment will have to “borrow” money to correct – OVERBORROWING!

Now AIG says it needs more – almost $38 billion more!  Talking about missing a projection.  And the biggest question of all, where will it end?

Read the following according to CNN:

The New York Federal Reserve is lending up to $37.8 billion to American International Group to give the troubled insurer access to much-needed cash.

In exchange, AIG is giving the New York Fed investment-grade, fixed-income securities that it had previously lent out to other institutions for a fee. Those institutions are now returning these securities and want their money back.

The new program, announced Wednesday, is on top of the $85 billion the federal government agreed to lend to AIG last month to prevent the global company from collapsing. AIG said last Friday it had drawn down $61 billion.

To be sure none of us want to see a financial collaspe, but $38 billion on top of $85 billion – the question seems to be where will it end?  And what seems amazing is the magnitude of which the federal goverment is being the backbone of private “for profit” financial institutions.  Frankly put, if the issue were just you or I “Joe Citizen” and we were about to go under – we’d drown.  So why on the back of the taxpayers is the federal goverment backing institutions that have apparently thrown ethics to the wind when making financial desisions?

As a business ethics speaker, I am told daily that my phone should be ringing off the hook – “apparently Washington and Wall Street need your help.”  I can’t disagree with the sentiment, but they needed the help before they made poor business choices that have a clear unethical smell to them.

In a Forbes Article the following was stated:

AIG’s problems stemmed primarily from its insurance of mortgage-backed securities and other risky debt.

On Tuesday former top executives at AIG testified before the House Oversight Committee blaming everything but themselves for the company’s problems and subsequent bailout that cost taxpayers billions of dollars. (See “‘Wasn’t Us’ Former AIG Execs Say)

“Wasn’t us” my ass.  Sorry for the language, but if you’re an exec with a firm like AIG the buck stops with you.  Any person who runs a company has the power to make decisions that “should” be in the best interest of the shareholders.  With an equity decline of 95.4% – YES THAT IS 95.4% – who else to blame but the execs who set the course for the company.  Sure the market has changed, but it changed because “unethically” corporate executives have placed short term quarterly profits above common business sense.

My sense is – it will be a long cold financial winter that may practically last several seasons, if not years.  Your comments are always welcome!


President Bush: Government Bailout Necessary…!

September 24, 2008

…but as the President speaks and says that “our entire economy is in danger” – unless you pass my $700 billion bailout proposal – the question I ask is – is it really $700 billion or will it (in the end) be more like 3 Trillion?

According to CBS News: Speaking in dire terms, President Bush on Wednesday warned Americans and lawmakers reluctant to pass a historic financial rescue plan that failing to act fast risks wiping out retirement savings, rising foreclosures, lost jobs, closed business and “a long and painful recession.”

Now by no stretch of the imagination am I making light of one of the most serious financial issues of our time, but I keep hearing Forrest Gump in my head saying, “Now I know I’m not a smart man, but…”  Well the “but” is when has a government financial projection ever been what they projected it will be – ever?

Bush is right in that we may not only be facing a recession but the possibility of a full fledged depression is not that unlikely.

He spoke just after inviting Democrat Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain, one of whom will inherit the mess in four months, and key congressional leaders to an extraordinary White House meeting Thursday afternoon to hammer out a compromise.

“Without immediate action by Congress, American could slip into a financial panic and a distressing scenario would unfold,” Mr. Bush said in a prime-time address from the White House East Room that he hoped would help rescue his tough-sell bailout package.

The question remains – is the actions that are proposed too little too late.  Every presentation on ethics I make has one central theme – EVERY CHOICE HAS A CONSEQUENCE.  We, as a country, relished in the glow of a robust economy balanced on the back of an illusion.  We had leadership from both parties and substantial financial institutions who seemed to be more concerned about growing a false economy than taking the measures that all agree today would have made sounder financial sense.

As an example – today I had a conversation with a Realtor (as I am in the housing market as I write this).   He suggested that mortgage rates would never be lower and that after the bailout – the housing market pricing would stabilize hence home prices are at their bottom.  I must admit (while he may be right – guess there is always that possibility) I had to laugh.  Now, I don’t know about the interest rates, but this I believe – housing prices will continue to slide for two very clear reasons:

(1) the number of people who can qualify for a mortgage is shrinking even as we speak.  Fewer people are finding increases in their income and many should not have qualified in the first place – hence a smaller population of potential buyers.

(2) an over abundance of inventory.  Now I just sold my home in Texas within three days after it was listed for above asking price.  For that I am thankful to God and feel blessed.  But, as I moved to a different part of our country I found that it is a buyers market.  More homes than buyers makes that true.  The other part that I have found is builders and Realtors are having a difficult time adjusting their thinking about pricing – they still think it is worth what they thought it was.  Yet, I’ve seen homes on the market for now over 600 days with no purchase prospect in sight.

But – the realtor told me that we have to pass this “bailout” otherwise, we will face a disaster.  Afterall, he stated, “our economy is built on the ability to borrow against our house.  If you need to buy something new or put a kid through college – you use the equity in your home as a second mortgage to pay for it.  Otherwise, how else would you get the money?”  He made that statement and ask that question with sincerity.  What was amazing was – he could not conceive of another way to meet financial obligations.

Perhaps we have forgotten sound financial principles.  As a business ethics speaker, I admit I forgot those principles in my past and the price that I paid was significant.  We should pray that the bailout works – for the cost of failure will be much higher than most of us would care to dream.

QUESTION: Do you support the “bailout” and why?


Government Bail Out! $200 billion – now $500 Billion – Oops now $700 Billion – Is it too little too late?

September 20, 2008

The first paragraph from Yahoo news reads:

A half-trillion dollar bailout that the Bush administration and Congress are negotiating this weekend for faltering financial institutions could unload their bad debt on the government, and in turn the taxpayer.

So let me get this right … financial institutions made bad loans that are either delinquent or in default to people who should not have received them in the first place and now in order to keep the CREDIT markets afloat the government is going to do a massive bail out so that these same institutions can continue to loan.

Do not get me wrong I agree with the statement made by Treasury Secretary Paulson…”I am convinced that this bold approach will cost American families far less than the alternative — a continuing series of financial institution failures and frozen credit markets unable to fund economic expansion.  The financial security of all Americans … depends on our ability to restore our financial institutions to a sound footing.”

His statement is accurate, but the whole concept is that the economy is based on consumer spending and borrowing.  In fact, whether we wish to admit it or not, the entire US system is based on borrowing.  The government is the biggest borrower of all.  And unless somehow history does not repeat itself – eventually there is a day of reckoning when you are expected to pay back what you owe.  What happens when the government and/or the taxpayers can’t repay what the government has borrowed?

But enough of the big picture…what about now and the impact?  First, most of us have no idea how close we have come to a major depression.  In fact, while I am no doomsayer, rarely is reality what is stated by the government.  More times than not the outcome is far more costly than what is predicted.  So we very well may not have seen the end of this financial mess.

According to CNN: The plan: The federal government would buy up “hundreds of billions of dollars” of illiquid mortgage assets at a deep discount from banks. The Treasury Department is likely to run the program directly, unlike the savings and loan crisis of the 1990s that led to the creation of the Resolution Trust Company.

“The federal government must implement a program to remove these illiquid assets that are weighing down our financial institutions and threatening our economy,” said Paulson.

Now what is clear about this plan is that financial institutions get to clean up their balance sheets so that they can continue to stay in business and LOAN. 

Question: Wonder what consequences, if any, the bank or financial institutions will incur?  Any penalties for making stupid loans to unqualified individuals in the first place?

Question: As inefficient as the government is how will they be any better at collecting on what is due than the financial institutions are?  Bet, they won’t be…rather either one or two things will happen: (1) they will do just what the banks would have done – FORECLOSE and sell the property off at deep discounts; or (2) somehow FORGIVE the debt and allow the property owners to own at less than what they borrowed in the first place.  Either way – people who have played by the rules PAY!

According to a CNN article: The plan will help banks shore up their balance sheets by removing hard-to-value assets. This would address the seemingly endless rounds of writedowns and capital raising that have been rocking the financial sector.

Without these bad loans weighing on their books, banks may be more willing to lend. Or at least that’s the goal.

The problem is that the bailout will not automatically make banks profitable, nor will it stop the slide in home values that is wreaking havoc on the economy.

Danger! Without the bad business on the books Banks would find it easier to raise capital and MAKE MORE LOANS.  The question still remains – who or what will make sure that banks don’t repeat (in the interest of big profit) what they did (not that long ago) to get into this mess?

Over the course of two days the price tag has gone from $200 billion to $500 billion and now I see on MSNBC that it is $700 billion.  Now, as Forrest Gump would say…”I’m not a smart man,” but I know that this government bail out will cost each American a lot of money.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?