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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

April 2, 2009 at 10:20 AM

Behind the big rally, dangers of another bubble

Top of the News: Now we know what the next bubble will be. Call it the Fasbee Bubble, after the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). Today the body relaxed its rule that said banks had to value an asset for what it would actually be worth in today’s market — the “mark to market rule.” Now the institutions can determine the “fair market value” of their assets. As the Wall Street Journal put it, this is “a step that could encourage banks to trade their credit bets more freely and thereby encourage greater lending activity to spur the broader economy.” Fun! No wonder stocks are soaring today.

The trouble with the Fasbee Bubble is that many of those “bets” are rotten loans — the banks screwed up, the “assets” will never recover their peak value and under honest accounting they would be forced to write them down. Yet the political and special interest pressure was so intense that FASB backed down on a basic of fair and transparent accounting. While lots of bets are flowing into the Wall Street casino today, this rule change is bad for investors, especially average folks. It smacks of a return to gaming the system and it’s — surprise! — unsustainable. It just lets the zombie banks wander around longer, feeding on hapless taxpayers.

It’s no wonder our Chinese creditors have been criticizing American capitalism and floating the idea of replacing the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, or that President Obama faces a Europe that’s obstinate about its priority being tougher international financial regulation. (While we’re playing Fasbee, China is using its stimulus to build high-speed rail, subways, major research operations — and also working to become the world leader in hybrid and electric cars).

There’s a chance the market is anticipating real recovery. A chance. But if it’s a Fasbee Bubble, it will be the shortest one yet.

The Back Story: As the big tourist season grows closer for Seattle, national numbers on the hotel industry are sobering. Calculated Risk offers an analysis on falling occupancy rates. The good news is they haven’t fallen to the dungeon of the months after 9/11. Still, a challenging season ahead. Meanwhile, this adds to pressure on commercial lending. Delinquent loans rose 43 percent in the first quarter.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

iPod for the Queen

IOUs for the Chinese

I owe those bankers

Comments | More in Banking, Outlook, Stock market

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