French mainstream press confirms our assessment of the financial crisis

French mainstream press confirms our assessment of the financial crisis

 

Some American news consumers insist that anything not based on mainstream reports is not worth their while reading. In fact, I just heard Alan Colmes attacking Jerome Corsi on his book The Obama Nation and one of his chief criticisms was that Corsi uses conservative media as factual support.

Now, I have previously refuted at this site the leftist view that our current financial crisis is due to rampant laissez-faire free-market finance. I have shown, based on various sources, that in fact, the blame lies squarely with the government, and particularly with the CRA and its beefed up enforcement under Clinton, and unfortunately, under second-term George W. Bush as well. Certainly, some readers who think like Alan Colmes were skeptical and dismissive of my facts, even though most come from neutral sources.

That is why I was delighted when a French colleague recently sent me an article from the online version of the daily newspaper Figaro confirming my assessment of the financial crisis and its origins.

Now, while the Left in France does classify Figaro as right of center, you need to understand that this is a highly respected century-old publication that enjoys a very large hardcopy readership, with over 400,000 copies distributed and with an amazing 4.224 million unique on-line visitors, making it the number one news site in France today.

By contrast, the newspaper at the other end of the political spectrum, Libération, has a hardcopy readership of only 160,000 and claims only 150,000 visitors to its web site.

Clearly, French readers on both the Left and Right trust and prefer Le Figaro.

 This is why I took the pains to translate Figaro’s recent article “Subprime accused, State guilty” by Vincent Bénard.

This translation is one item you can safely forward to your most skeptical friends.

Donald Hank

 

 

Translation  of :

Subprime: market accused, State Guilty

 
09/09/2008 | Updated : 10:43 |

 

Vincent Bénard, President of the Hayek Institute of Brussels, author of “Le Logement, crise publique, remèdes privés” (Romillat), reviews the subprime lending crisis and takes the side of the free economy when Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, two mortgage refinancing agencies, are placed under the conservatorship of the United States government.

The cause is understood by many observers: the subprime financial crisis is due to the madness of the markets and shows the limits of unbridled finance.  And they urge more public regulation of financial institutions.

Free enterprise is the whipping boy again, because there is no market more perverted by the intervention of the federal government than that of mortgage credit in the United States.

The two institutions with the cute nicknames Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FHLMC) bear a heavy weight of responsibility in the financial unmooring of the American banking system.  The former was initially a government agency created in 1938 by the FDR administration to issue low interest mortgages thanks to federal guarantees, which supplied liquidity to a home loan market at low rates accessible to lower-income families.

In 1968, the Johnson Administration, realizing that the State-guaranteed commitments of Fannie Mae were becoming broader and would be subject to the lending capacity of a treasury department mired in financing the Vietnam War, arranged for it to be privatized.  Then in 1970, the Nixon administration created Freddie Mac to provide a semblance of competitiveness in this mortgage credit refinancing market.

This background provided Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with a hybrid status of Government Sponsored Enterprise (GSE).  Thus, they were private but legally bound to deal exclusively in home loan refinancing under federal control in exchange for tax breaks.  Worse yet, while being officially private, the two agencies have always been considered – thanks to their public sponsorship and their social role, to benefit from an implicit guarantee on the part of the American Treasury!

Privatized benefits, collectivized losses: such a cocktail was bound to prompt the executives of the GSEs to take excessive risks if the state sponsorship came up short.  This is exactly what happened in the 1990s.  It was reminiscent of a famous French scandal…[The author is referring to the Credit Lyonnais scandal in which the French government bailed out that bank]

The sponsorship of these two enterprises was transferred to the US Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) in 1992, because that agency wanted to influence GSE-financed loans to satisfy a major objective of any self-respecting politician in America, namely, increasing the home ownership rate among low-income populations, notably minorities.

Thus, the HUD forced Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to increase both the volume and the proportion of refinanced subprime credits (up to 56% in 2004).  To make matters worse, one of the HUD bosses, fearing that the declaration of risks taken by the two GSEs in order to satisfy these rules, would cause the markets to lose confidence in them, solved the problem by making it perfectly legal for them not to disclose too many details about their exposures.

Thus, using increasingly complex mortgage products, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac refinanced more than five trillion dollars in credits, or 40% of American homes, including more than half of subprime credits even though they did not have enough of their own funds to commit to such amounts.  As a result, the banks issuing these credits could afford not to be too particular about the loans they authorized, because there were two refinancers on the stock market to back them up.  Countrywide, the bank whose lending policies to lower-income families is now vilified, was incensed only three years ago by the executives of Fannie Mae for their brash subprime lending policies.

But the downturn in the economic boom multiplied borrower defaults, and the two GSEs are threatened with not being able to meet their obligations, which could spread to all institutional investors.  Now the State is urgently calling for their rescue, which will cost the taxpayer several hundred billion dollars.

A second public intervention expanded bank excesses in granting credits to insolvent families.  In the 1990s, studies showed that members of black and Hispanic communities had loan applications turned down somewhat more than whites or Asians, although these refusals only amounted to one application out of four.  Certain lobbies saw in this not a logical reflection of less wealth in these communities but rather proof of purported racism in the financial world.   

An antidiscrimination law of 1977, the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), was thus strengthened in 1995 to crack down on banks refusing credit to minorities under penalty of greater sanctions.  The banks were thus obliged to partially relinquish the precautionary role they normally play when refusing a loan to a person who is objectively less solvent.  No big deal: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were there to refinance these shaky loans!

Today, many experts believe that, without the CRA, and without the GSEs, minorities would have more access to property than they now do, less quickly but more soundly.  By trying to artificially accelerate what the free economy accomplished at its own rate, it was the State that, through both regulations and legislation, led the actors in the credit chain to behave irresponsibly, causing a serious financial crisis and resulting in the failure of many families it purported to help.

Translated by Donald Hank

 


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