Markets Rally on Hopes of Regulatory Relief

by Hans Bader on April 2, 2009

The stock market has gone up by 280 points so far today, fueled by FASB’s vote to relax rigid mark-to-market accounting rules, which require financial institutions to value assets at their current fire-sale prices, and magnify boom-bust economic cycles.

The market may also be getting a boost from the Senate’s earlier vote undercutting the Obama Administration’s proposed $2 trillion cap-and-trade carbon tax, which would impose burdens on the economy akin to Herbert Hoover’s disastrous 1932 Revenue Act at the beginning of the Great Depression.

The market’s rise contrasts with its fall in the weeks after passage of Obama’s $800 billion stimulus package, which Obama falsely claimed was needed to avert “disaster” and “irreversible decline.” Obama made that claim even though the Congressional Budget Office, controlled by his own Congressional allies, admitted that the stimulus package would shrink the economy over “the long run.

Many commentators have called for relaxation or repeal of mark-to-market accounting rules to stem the financial crisis, including former FDIC Chairman William Isaac, Congressmen Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Paul Kanjorski (D-PA), the Wall Street Journal, John Berlau, Jeff Miller, Holman Jenkins, Newt Gingrich, and the Republican Study Committee.

While pushing through $8 trillion in bailouts, and trillions more in debt from massive budget increases, the Obama administration has until recently ignored inexpensive possible ways of mitigating the financial crisis like reform of “mark-to-market” accounting rules.

The Obama administration’s footdragging on accounting-regulation reform is inconsistent with the rationale for its trillion-dollar toxic-asset buy-up program, which defies mark-to-market concepts in a much more extreme way than a mere relaxation of mark-to-market accounting rules. The Treasury Secretary claims taxpayers won’t lose a full trillion under Obama’s toxic-asset program, because the assets aren’t as worthless as their current market prices suggest. But if that’s true, why did he continue to insist on federal accounting rules that force banks to value their assets at the current depressed market prices? Either the accounting rules were right — in which case taxpayers will end up losing a trillion dollars — or they were wrong, amplifying financial panics — in which case the rules should be repealed, so that banks, not taxpayers, will be able to take the risk of holding the assets. (If these accounting rules, known as “mark-to-market” accounting, had been in place in the late 1980s, “every major commercial bank would have collapsed,” wiping out the economy).

It’s not even clear that all these bailouts are needed. As William Seidman, the banking official who helped clean up the S&L Crisis as head of the RTC, notes, the government’s $170 billion AIG bailout was absurdly expensive and wasteful. “We paid off huge debts that AIG had in the swaps market, which we probably did not have to do. We bought a number of assets from AIG at high prices, which we probably did not have to do.”

That includes a huge unneeded windfall for the investment bank formerly headed by Treasury Secretary Paulson, Goldman Sachs, a major donor to liberal politicians, which received billions of dollars from taxpayers that it did not even need, through the AIG bailout.

Obama’s record-breaking tax and spending increases violate his campaign promises to enact a “net spending cut” and not to raise taxes “in any form” on anyone making less than $250,000 a year.

Ironically, Obama’s “cap-and-trade” carbon tax might have the perverse effect of increasing, rather than reducing, greenhouse gas emissions. Cap-and-trade is a pernicious “form of tax farming.”

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