The stories below offer further concrete evidence that major issues persist in the US economy. When making investment decisions, we prefer to place more weight behind this type of data than “leading” economic indicators the government likes to laud and CNBC types love to regurgitate.
The rally in the US$ last week stalled this week right at the resistance of a long-term downtrend. We expected as much and wrote about the move last week. Treasury bonds however continue to rally. The direction of this market is perhaps harder to predict on a short-term basis due to the open efforts of the Fed to buy treasuries and support the market.
ECONX Initial Claims Disappoint
The initial claims report did nothing to support the economic recovery scenario. Initial claims for the week ended Aug. 15 increased to 576,000 from a revised 561,000 in the prior week. The number lifted the 4-week moving average to 570,000 from 565,750. Initial claims are up 31.5% from the prior year. Continuing claims rose 2,000 to 6.241 million. The 4-week moving average fell by 2,000 to 6.266 million. No major layoffs were announced yet 10 states reported increases in unemployment of more than 1,000. When you factor in that continuing claims were expected to slowly run down as unemployment benefits lapsed and not due to new hires, this report shows the labor market is more troubled than previously thought.
Failed banks weighing on FDIC – WSJ
WSJ reports banks in the U.S. that failed in the past two years were in far worse shape than those that collapsed during the industry’s last crisis, a looming problem for the government agency charged with insuring deposits.
At three of the five banks that failed Friday, increasing the total to 77 so far this year, the financial hit to the agency’s deposit-insurance fund is expected by the FDIC to be about 50% of their assets. The biggest hit on a percentage basis is coming from Community Bank of Nevada, a Las Vegas bank with $1.52 billion in assets and an estimated cost of $781.5 million. The failure of Colonial Bank, a unit of Colonial BancGroup that was sold to BB&T Corp., will cost $2.8 billion, or 11% of the Montgomery, Ala., bank’s assets. For the 102 banks that have collapsed in the past two years, the FDIC’s estimated cost averaged 25% of assets. That is up from the 19% rate between 1989 and 1995, when 747 financial institutions were closed by regulators, according to the FDIC.
The agency’s insurance fund already has dipped to $13 billion, with more than 300 battered banks and thrifts still on an undisclosed FDIC list of problem institutions. One problem is that so many banks took risks when the economy was booming, and are seeing their capital dissipate with alarming speed.
Calpers takes another property hit – WSJ
WSJ reports the California Public Employees’ Retirement System has given up control of its stake in a trophy office tower in Portland, Ore., a sign that even the largest institutional investors are cutting their losses rather than throwing good money after some badly battered real-estate assets. The decision by Calpers, the country’s largest public pension fund by assets, to walk from its investment in the Koin Center, one of Oregon’s tallest buildings at about 509 feet, nicknamed the “mechanical pencil” for its signature shape, also shows that leasing problems are cropping up in even the country’s healthier markets. While it is on the rise, downtown Portland’s Class A office vacancy rate was 6.1% as of June 30, below the average of 12.9% for major U.S. downtown markets, according to Colliers International. Despite Portland’s relative health, in July a partnership that includes Calpers and CommonWealth Partners, defaulted on the Koin Center’s $70 million mortgage provided by New York Life Insurance Co., according to court papers. A state circuit court judge approved New York Life’s request that a receiver be appointed to control and possibly sell the property.
Tishman faces office downturn – WSJ
WSJ reports a partnership led by Tishman Speyer Properties is in default on debt tied to one of the largest office portfolios in the Washington area, the latest in a line of humbling turns for the prominent property developer. Tishman Speyer paid $2.8 billion in late 2006 for what was known as the CarrAmerica portfolio, a collection of 28 buildings leased to law cos, lobbyists and other upscale tenants in and around Washington. But in taking advantage of the easy credit terms of the time, Tishman ended up overpaying. With office vacancies rising and rents falling, the partnership has violated lender’s covenants. Tishman also must find a way to refinance the debt when it comes due in 2011, something that analysts say could be a struggle.