Governing Board of the European Baha’i Business Forum (EBBF). 2009-06. “An Ethical Perspective on Today’s Economic Crisis: A statement from the European Baha’i Business Forum.”

“The world is passing through an economic and financial crisis unprecedented in modern times. Its global scope transcends the cyclical adjustments of national economies and the corrective instruments usually used by business and national governments. The general malaise and loss of confidence point to deeper issues and more fundamental flaws in the economic system, extending to a crisis of leadership and values. This unprecedented crisis, together with its accompanying social breakdown, reflects a profound error of conception about human nature itself. We are being shown that, unless the development of society finds a purpose beyond the mere amelioration of material conditions, it will fail to attain even this goal. That purpose must be sought in spiritual dimensions of life and motivation that transcend a constantly changing economic landscape and an artificially imposed division of human societies into “developed” and “developing”. The European Baha’i Business Forum recognizes in this situation an opportunity to reshape the fundamental concepts and structures that will not only lift us from this crisis but set us on a road towards a new set of institutions and behaviours which will enable humankind to prosper. As the present crisis is fundamentally one of trust and integrity, and therefore ethical in its foundation, its solution cannot be a mere institutional reorganization or some additional regulatory measures. It needs an ethical response at all levels: the individual, the corporation and the government and regulatory entities. There is no quick fix to this situation. Several principles must be considered while reshaping our thinking on institutions and the individuals that compose them. We need to replace the concept of self-centred materialism with that of service to humanity, competition with cooperation, corruption with ethical behaviour, sexism with gender balance, more authoritarian legislation with personal ethics, national regulation with international supervision, protectionism with world unity, and injustice with justice. EBBF promotes and welcomes engagement with the widest possible community to develop together the new framework. Given the importance of the business community in the world, we should draw on its special capabilities and resources, in collaboration with governments, international organizations and NGOs, to design the institutional framework and the guiding principles of the new economic system. We call on peoples from all businesses, countries, and walks of life to work together to build a new economic system based upon equity and justice (EBBF 2009-06).”

Who’s Who

“EBBF is a network of over 400 women and men, a community of people passionate about bringing ethical values, personal virtues and moral leadership into their workplaces. Its membership is diverse and crosses generations, borders, sectors and beliefs. It began in 1990 and is now present in over 60 countries. EBBF’s vision is to enhance the well-being and prosperity of humankind. It believes that positively influencing the world of business, starting from the inspiration of action by each of its members, is an important step in this direction (EBBF 2009-06).”

Notes

“EBBF promotes seven core values that it feels are of strategic importance in enhancing business performance: Business Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Sustainable Development, Partnership of Women and Men, A New Paradigm of Work, Consultation in Decision-Making, Values-Based Leadership (EBBF 2009-06).”

Webliography

Governing Board of the European Baha’i Business Forum (EBBF). 2009-06. “An Ethical Perspective on Today’s Economic Crisis: A statement from the European Baha’i Business Forum.” Chambery, France.

1982 Household debt in the U.S. — the money owed as individuals was c. 60% of income in 1982.

1995- 2000 Phil Gramm was chairman of the Senate Banking Committee; he was “Washington’s most prominent and outspoken champion of financial deregulation  (Time 2009-04-07).”  

 1998 Powerful lobby groups comprising hedge funds and the banking sector including investment banks defeated Commodity Futures Trading Commission proposal to regulate the burgeoning derivatives market (Kiviat 2008-09-23). 

1999 Phil Gramm “played a leading role in writing and pushing through Congress the 1999 repeal of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial banks from Wall Street (Time 2009-04-07).” 

2000 Phil Gramm “inserted a key provision into the 2000 Commodity Futures Modernization Act that exempted over-the-counter derivatives like credit-default swaps from regulation by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Credit-default swaps took down AIG, which has cost the U.S. $150 billion thus far (Time Special 2009-04-07).” 

Early 2000s Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve chairman, brought in “super-low interest rates”. His assertive insistence on deregulation along with the easy access to credit are now considered to be  leading causes of the mortgage crisis (Time Special 2009-04-07).

2005 Christopher Cox became chairman of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Under his direction the SEC did not insist on greater disclosure of big investment banks like Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch.

2006 Hank Paulson left the top job at Goldman Sachs to become Treasury Secretary. In 2008 during the last year of the Bush Administration, he single-handedly ran the country’s economic policy. Time argued that he was late in battling the financial crisis; he let Lehman Brothers fail; he pushed the big bailout bill through Congress (Time Special 2009-04-07).

2007 Household debt in the U.S. increased to more than 130% of income in 2007. Time magazine special report on the financial crisis lays blame on American consumer enjoyed living beyond their means and becoming dependent on credit.

2008-10 Alan Greenspan admitted in a US “congressional hearing that he had “made a mistake in presuming” that financial firms could regulate themselves (Time Special 2009-04-07).”

For more see 25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis”  Time Magazine.

Kiviat, Barbara. 2008-09-23. “How Much is the SEC’s Cox to Blame?Time Magazine.

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1965-2005 Between 1965 to 2005 there was no national US real-estate bust as home prices surpassed inflation by a percentage point or two on average. However local reversals have taken place and some cities have never recovered (Christie 2005).

1973-5 US investors in the S&P 500 lost 14% in 1973 and 26% in 1974 but gained 37% in 1975 (Mann 2000).

1970s “The additional grades or risk have arisen from the willingness to underwrite mortgages for more risky borrowers, encouraged by the democratization of credit since the 1970s. Lending to more risky borrowers is, by definition, more risky. More loans to risky borrowers increases the total amount of risk to be sold in the marketplace” (Mason and Rosner 2007).

1980-1990 In Los Angeles real estate was turbocharged for nearly 10 years (Christie 2005).

1985 In Peoria, Ill. a more traditional area the average home price fell from $60,800 in 1981 to $51,400 in 1985 partially because of strikes and lay-offs at Caterpillar, the city’s biggest employer (Christie 2005).

1987 Canadian families saved 20 percent of their take-home pay (Ed 2007).
1987 Stock market crash
1988 In “oil patch” cities like Oklahoma City prices plummeted 26 percent from 1983 to 1988. They only returned to 1983 levels in 2003 fifteen years later. In Oklahoma City, the inflation-adjusted price in 1983 was $196,600. Today, it’s just $135,100 (Christie 2005).

1988 Houston home prices fell 22 percent from $111,000 in 1983 to $86,800 in 1988 rebounded only in 2003. Counting inflation, the average Houston home, which cost just $159,700 in 2004, is actually worth less [in 2005] than it was [in 1983]. When, adjusted for inflation, a home cost about $219,000 in 1983 (Christie 2005).

1988 – 1990s Real estate prices fell in Northern California first followed by the rest of the state “as employers fled, incomes dwindled, quakes rumbled, sales fell and prices slipped. [. . .] Silicon Valley’s housing market crashed into recession along with the state’s economy (Perkins 2001).

1989-90 The notorious price bubble of 1989-90 was linked to central banks specifically the Bank of Japan. “The Japanese economy continued to suffer during the early 1990s, and remained in recession until the end of 1993. Nominal GDP growth rates, which had been around 7 percent during the bubble period, fell beginning in 1990 and by 1991-93 were close to zero. Profits in the manufacturing sector fell 24.5 percent in 1991 and 32.1 percent in 1992. Bankruptcies began to rise starting in the latter half of 1990; by 1992, bankruptcies with debt more than Y10 million totaled 14,569 cases. Failures of real estate firms or of firms engaged in “active fund management” constituted more than half the corporate bankruptcies in 1991 and 1992 (Miller 2001).”

1991 Inflation-adjusted take-home pay in Canada froze to this level (Ed. 2007).”

1992 A new car in Canada cost $20, 000.

1992 – 2000 “Japan remained pretty stagnant in the last eight years, with the majority of the loss coming in the first two, when it eventually fell by more than 60%. There was never a big drop, just a constant and inexorable drift downward. Real estate prices plummeted, almost no Japanese company ended 1992 higher than it started 1990. In the interim, banks have failed (and if it weren’t for the financial props of the Japanese government, many more would have), and companies have had to reassess some of their basic assumptions, such as lifetime employment and large benefit packages” (Mann 2000).

1996 There was a housing market reversal in Los Angeles with average house price dropping from $222,200 in 1990 to $176,300 in 1996, a loss of 20.7 percent. “Furthermore, those are nominal prices, not real values. To calculate the loss more realistically you would have to figure in the cost of inflation: $222,200 in 1990 would have been worth $266,700 in 1996 dollars, which means the actual loss for homeowners buying in 1990 and selling in 1996 was closer to 34 percent (Christie 2005).”

1994- 1996 “In 1994, [Japanese] banks wrote off non-performing assets of Y5.7 trillion, exceeding the previous high of Y4.3 trillion in fiscal year 1993. As yet, no major bank has failed, although a number have reportedly encountered serious difficulties. In December, 1994, the Bank of Japan supervised the takeover of two credit cooperatives, the Tokyo Kyowa Credit Cooperative and the Anzen Credit Cooperative, through the creation of a bridge bank with government support. The Bank’s decision not to let these institutions fail and pay off depositors under the deposit guarantee program was based, largely, on concern for the potential systemic effects of a deposit payoff on public confidence in the banking system in general. The “jusen,” or housing finance banks, suffered the most serious problems; these institutions, which were typically organized and sponsored by major commercial banks and staffed, in part, by former officials from the Ministry of Finance, lost tens of billions of dollars as a result of the collapse of the price bubble, and became one of the most contentious political issues of the day during 1995-86 (Miller 2001)”.

1996 “How do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions as they have in Japan over the past decade? And how do we factor that assessment into monetary policy? We as central bankers need not be concerned if a collapsing financial asset bubble does not threaten to impair the real economy, its production, jobs, and price stability. Indeed, the sharp stock market break of 1987 had few negative consequences for the economy. But we should not underestimate or become complacent about the complexity of the interactions of asset markets and the economy. Thus, evaluating shifts in balance sheets generally, and in asset prices particularly, must be an integral part of the development of monetary policy.” – Alan Greenspan (December 5, 1996)**

1998 There was a market correction in the United States in October of 1998.
1992 – 2000 “Japan remained pretty stagnant in the last eight years, with the majority of the loss coming in the first two, when it eventually fell by more than 60%. There was never a big drop, just a constant and inexorable drift downward. Real estate prices plummeted, almost no Japanese company ended 1992 higher than it started 1990. In the interim, banks have failed (and if it weren’t for the financial props of the Japanese government, many more would have), and companies have had to reassess some of their basic assumptions, such as lifetime employment and large benefit packages” (Mann 2000).
2004 British Columbia graduates from university have an average debt of $20, 000.
2005 Real-estate investing spiked, pressuring prices upward. In Phoenix, according to Bill Jilbert, president and COO of the Coldwell Banker brokerage there, investors from Nevada and California have invaded the Arizona market, and “affordable housing has been pushed to extremes (Christie 2005).”
2000 In Tampa Bay Florida, high risk adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM) made homes “seem affordable when wages stagnated as prices soared. They were just the ticket for cash-out refinancings and home equity credit lines that bought cars and swimming pools and paid off credit card debt. “What happened in a lot of expensive real estate markets is that first-time home buyers who felt they could not afford a home otherwise, took on a loan that had lower monthly payments than a traditional mortgage would have,” said Allen Fishbein, director of housing policy for the Consumer Federation of America. “They weren’t being underwritten on the basis of the borrower’s reasonable capacity to handle these loans.” The payments started out manageable, especially since many loans offered teaser rates. But borrowers are getting a lesson in what the word “adjustable” means. More than $130-billion in mortgages payments were reset in 2006″ In 2006 nearly a third of Tampa Bay mortgages were the high-risk varieties, up from 10 percent in 2003 (Huntley 2006).
1991- 2005 “[I]ncreased complexity from increased grading of risk can also result in increased opacity. Risk that is more difficult to see, by virtue of complexity, is risk just the same. There are plenty of reasons to believe that the amount of risk in the marketplace has increased. Figure 3 shows that defaults on ABS and residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) increased substantially between 1991 and 2005” (Mason and Rosner 2007).
2006 Fitch Global Structured Finance 1991-2005 Default Study revealed that, “the overwhelming majority of global structured finance defaults over the 1991-2005 period were from the U.S., accounting for more than 97 percent of the total. While the 1,000 U.S. defaults were mainly concentrated in the Asset-Backed Securities._ (ABS) sector, the 27 international defaults were primarily from the collateralized debt obligations (CDO) sector.” See Mason and Rosner (2007) warn that risk continues to increase, as ratings agencies revise their loss expectations to account for the dynamics of the mortgage meltdown. For instance, on March 27, Standard & Poor’s raised its expectation for losses on
2006 In Florida millions of homeowners were warned of the mortgage meltdown in which they will “face a financial nightmare brought on by a combination of higher interest rates, risky mortgages and a housing market gone cold (Huntley 2006).
2007 Since 1991 inflation-adjusted hourly wages rose only 10 cents (Ed. 2007).”
2007 A new car in Canada cost $32,000 a 60 percent increase from 1992 (Ed. 2007).”
2007Canadians collectively owe three quarters of a trillion dollars in personal debt. Canadian families not only have no savings, they draw on pension savings to make ends meet.

“The result of the easy credit is that an average family now owes far more than it takes in. That means we remain solvent only so long as the book value of our assets — things like our home, pension funds or investments — continue to increase (Ed. 2007).”

2007 British Columbia graduates from university have an average debt of $27, 000.

2007 It is now acceptable for Canadian families to pay 60 percent of income to pay monthly payments of their home mortgages (Ed. 2007).

2007 The British Columbia government will allow home owners who are over 55 to defer property tax payments for as long as they live. The government will claim unpaid taxes after you die or sell effectively placing the tax burden on the children (Ed. 2007).

2007 “The number of corporate failures in Japan rose for the third month in a row totaling 896 cases in December up 18.2%. November flops were up 6.5% and the number of companies going belly up in October were up 7.8%. The amount of debts the insolvent companies left behind were up 30.6% to 463.09 billion yen (Belew 2007).

2007 In March Bob Lawless reported in his blog that, “The folks at Automated Access to Court Electronic Records or AACER regularly collect data from all the bankruptcy courts for creditors and attorneys. They have a wealth of information that does not show up in the mainstream media. Most recently, they tell me that there were 58,640 total U.S. bankruptcy filings in February 2007 as compared to 55,088 total U.S. bankruptcy filings in January 2007. OK, that looks like a slight increase, but looks are deceiving. It’s actually a fairly hefty increase. The February filings were spread over only nineteen business days while the January filings were spread over twenty-one days. On a daily basis, the February filings were up 17.7% as compared to January (Lawless 2007).”

2007 Jayson Seth analysed data in National Association of Realtors (NAR) June 24, 2007 report. Seth argues that “America’s easy-credit, quick-flipping, borrow-now-and-forget-the-consequences lifestyle is coming to an increasingly painful, grinding halt” and the “confidence of homebuilders is at a 16-year low (Seth 2007).”

2007 Lawrence Yun, National Association of Realtors announced that the real estate market is softening due to psychological factors, tighter credit for subprime borrowers. NAR’s Lawrence Yun explained that since late 2006 housing sales have slowed as buyers double up with family, friends or just mortgage helper units in their homes to be able to pay for higher-priced homes.

2007 Mason and Rosner (2007) warn that risk continues to increase, as ratings agencies revise their loss expectations to account for the dynamics of the mortgage meltdown. For instance, on March 27, Standard & Poor’s raised its expectation for losses on 1. “Residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) market has experienced significant changes [from 1997-2007]” Furthermore they caution that “structural changes in mortgage origination and servicing have interacted with complex RMBS and highly volatile CDO funding structures to place the U.S. housing market at risk. Equally as important, however, is that housing market weaknesses feed back through financial markets to further weaken financial instruments backing today’s CDOs. Decreased housing starts that will result from lower liquidity in the MBS sector will further weaken credit spreads and depress CDO and MBS issuance. This feedback mechanism can create imbalances in the U.S. economy that, if left unchecked, could lead to prolonged domestic economic implications for U.S. standing in the world economic order [. . .] The potential for prolonged economic difficulties that also interfere with home ownership in the United States raises significant public policy concerns. Already we are witnessing restructurings and layoffs at top financial institutions. More importantly, however, is the need to provide stable funding sources for economic growth. The biggest obstacle that we have identified is lack of transparency.” (Mason and Rosner 2007).

2007 In a Marketplace interview Amy Scott asked interviewees about the disturbing consequences of the interconnections between banks, hedge funds, high risk mortgages and pension funds. In June two major hedge funds managed by the investment bank Bear Stearns, who purchased securities that were essentially a “repackaging of all kinds of risky mortgages” to tap into the subprime mortgage market are now verging on collapse as the number of borrowers defaulting on these mortgages increases. Joseph Mason explained that “this isn’t just a Wall Street problem. Your 401k or pension fund may be invested in similar mortgage-related securities.” The investor-base is broad and it is difficult to know who is at risk. “Investment managers don’t have to report their holdings. And unlike stocks, these securities aren’t quoted on an open market.” Mason has been a firm proponent of more transparency in financial dealings (Scott 2007).

2010-05-06 According to a report entitled “The Microstructure of the ‘Flash Crash’: Flow Toxicity, Liquidity Crashes and the Probability of Informed Trading” in The Journal of Portfolio Management, “The ‘flash crash’ of May 6th 2010 was the second largest point swing (1,010.14 points) and the biggest one-day point decline (998.5 points) in the history of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. For a few minutes, $1 trillion in market value vanished.” Report authors argued that the ‘flash crash’ was the result of the new dynamics at play in the current market structure.”

Easley, David, Lopez de Prado, Marcos M. and O’Hara, Maureen, “The Microstructure of the ‘Flash Crash’: Flow Toxicity, Liquidity Crashes and the Probability of Informed Trading.” (November 19, 2010). The Journal of Portfolio Management, Vol. 37, No. 2, pp. 118-128, Winter 2011. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1695041

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1695041

See also article was written by Heather Stewart and Simon Goodley, for The Observer on Sunday 9th October 2011 00.06 Europe/London

Credit crunch, Financial crisis, Financial sector, Banking, Global recession, Stock markets, Business, Lehman Brothers, Margaret Thatcher,

More state intervention through laws and regulations: the future of financial intruments as mortgage-meltdown reveals high cost of unfettered markets. The US heads towards recession, shares plungs, oil prices have reached a $120 peak, gold a $1000, OPEC spurns US call for more oil production, activist shareholders call for more transparency and accountability of CEOs, but complex financial instruments used by hedge funds and private equity funds that operate outside of regulation, continue to create more wealth for the wealthy. Wealth disparities intensify as hedge funds and private equity funds skim off the cream of global markets by operating from tax-free offshore locations using everything from emotions, gut feelings, intuition, chaos theory and complex financial algorithms (based on variables, outcomes and values that might be realized in the future and money that is more cyber that really real. These financial institutions with their rhizome-like roots have permeated practically every aspect of our economic lives through our pensions, mortgages and investments. They have create havoc in the economies of nation states and lower quintile households. They gamble big and lose big. When their losses cause the inevitable domino effect, nation states and citizens are forced to cover their losses to prevent the worst. The financial crisis has been triggered by the invisible hand impatient for higher returns, controlled not by a law of nature, human or otherwise, but by an insatiable addiction to a money game. Law makers and regulators from the state and the market are calling a halt.

Bajaj, Vikas. 2008. “Mortgage Defaults Reach a New High.” New York Times. March 6, 2008.

Other related New York Times stories:

  • Bush and Fed Step Toward a Mortgage Rescue (March 5, 2008)
  • Bundled Mortgages and Dubious Fees Complicate Foreclosure Cases (March 4, 2008)
  • Spitzer to Present a Plan to Reduce Foreclosures (March 4, 2008)
  • Other related stories:  

    Acharya, A., H. Almeida, and M. Campello, 2006, “Is cash negative debt? A hedging perspective on corporate financial policies.” Journal of Financial Intermediation.

    Bates, Thomas W.; Kahle, Kathleen M.; Stulz, René M. 2007. “Why do U.S. firms hold so much more cash than they used to?”  (October 2007). Fisher College of Business Working Paper No. 2007-03-006 Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=927962

    Dittmar, A., and J. Mahrt-Smith. 2007. “Corporate governance and the value of cash holdings.” Journal of Financial Economics 83, 599-634.

    Johnston, Megan. 2007. “Whatcha doin’ with all that cash?: Summer money scramble to be one hot topic at AFP confab.” Financial Week. October 22, 2007.

    McDonald, Ian. 2006. “Cash Dilemma: How to Spend It.” Wall Street Journal. May 24, 2006. p. C3. McDonald, Ian. 2006. Capital Pains: Big Cash Hoards.” Wall Street Journal. July 21, 2006. p. C1. Polczer, Shaun. 2008. Scientific investor finds predictability in chaos: Check your emotions before acting.” Calgary Herald. March 04, 2008.

  • Relief for Homeowners Is Given to a Relative Few (March 4, 2008) 
  • Walter Zimmerman, principal partner in New York-based United Energy brokers, applies chaos theory to commodity markets. ” Chaos theory is not based on chaos but on the theory that extremely complex phenomena, like the market, have underlying hidden patterns that can be revealed by delving deeply to glean predictive information about that which was seemingly chaotic. He bases his market predictions on the assumption that markets are reflections of human nature and that both are unchanging, both are more emotional than logical, and that behavioural patterns of human nature/herd instinct/the market will be repeated over time. He advises his clients, the bigger oil producers in Calgary to hedge production against high commodity values (oil at $120 a barrel). If the economy continues to unravel, oil prices will correct lower to about $70 or $80.  He argues that governments cannot fight a recession and inflation at the same time. Cutting interest rates to fight recession leads to inflation and fighting inflation depresses economic activity. Summary of (Polczer 2008-03-04).

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