The financial systems of the world’s two major economic powers, the US and Europe, are effectively on life support, with most of the money coming from the battered US Government and Federal Reserve.

Without the series of moves by the Fed and US Governments this year, the world economy would be moving towards a 1930s style of depression, led by an imploding financial system.

The life support system was completed yesterday when the US government announced a $US200 billion plus deal to take control of the tottering mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Twelve Federal Home Loan Banks will also be given a liquidity lifeline to prevent their failures.

It is the latest in a series of moves that sees the entire US economy on government life support. The Fed is lending US commercial banks more than $US17 billion a day and the Fed’s Term Auction facility is a semi-permanent overdraft at the moment for the entire financial system worth a continuing $US150 billion.

The US Treasury will also extend financial support to 12 federal Home Loan Banks that are essentially state owned co-operatives operating in the private sector. They have a further $US1.3 trillion in assets and will be given short term financial support for as long as possible to ensure they continue lending money.

The Government will inject up to $US100 billion in each of them as needed to ensure they meet their debts. In addition, it would start buying mortgages backed by these companies and extend an unlimited liquidity facility to them until the end of next year.

But it’s not just the huge US financial system that is being kept afloat: through arrangements with the European Central Bank and the Swiss National Bank, the Fed is helping fund the banking and financial sectors there to the tune of tens of billions of dollars a day. The ECB is also pumping billions of its own money into the European financial system, as is the Bank of England.

What’s happening in the US and Europe emphasises the very real strength of the Australian economy and the Australian financial system despite all those nervous Nellies obsessing about debt levels here. Yes they are a problem, but we have cash to burn in our banks and it is being lent. The US has no cash and none to lend, except from the Government teat.

Despite the “support” legislation of two months ago by the US Government, the final move was brought on by growing distaste for Fannie and Freddie debt (and for that associated with the home loan banks). As well a complete investigation of Fannie and Freddie’s accounts showed legal, but questionable accounting moves that overstated their capital, particularly Freddie, which may have gone close to failure in the December quarter of this year.

On top of that, major foreign buyers of Fannie and Freddie debt, including Russia and China, had been cutting back on their previous large purchases.

The US government stopped short of using the word “nationalisation” for the deals with Fannie and Freddie and used a term called “conservatorship”: it’s really all semantics. This is a takeover that will extend for two years and more, but leave the problem of what to do for the new President and the new Congress.

The deal came after a miserable day in US markets on Friday. Silver State, a $US2 billion in deposits, 13 branch operation in Nevada, became the 11th US bank to fail this year. A son of John McCain by a former marriage was a senior executive at the bank until June, a development that has fascinated political America.

We learned that the US jobs worsened in August to the point where more than 80,000 jobs were lost in the month (plus another 58,000 in earlier months) and the unemployment rate hit a five year high of 6.1%.

And figures released by the Mortgage Bankers Association showed record numbers of US home loans are now in the foreclosure process and a record number of US home loans are now in arrears. The number of house loans in foreclosure represents 2.8% of all outstanding loans, up from 1.4% of all loans during the same period a year ago.

So, what does this all add up to? Easily $US1 trillion all up in losses, new capital injections and US Government and Fed support. Plus there’s the support from the ECB and the Bank of England which is in the tens of billions of US dollars a day. And there’s the stockmarket losses. Estimates put those at more than $US12 trillion since last August.

The actual size of the bailout and support is hard to quantify: $US200 billion for Fannie and Freddie, plus other deals, liquidity support for the home loan banks and for private banks and insurers hurt by the loss of value in Fannie and Freddie shares; $US150 billion every 28 days from the Fed: $US17.5 billion for the banks every day, plus billions swapped with the ECB and the Swiss central bank.

And this is on top of the half a trillion of losses already suffered from the credit crunch and subprime meltdown: and there’s also the $US350 billion in fresh capital raised by private sector banks, insurers and other investors.

There’s also billions of dollars in losses among state government and individual investors from things like auction rate notes collapsing; cahs management fund losses and top ups for the companies and investors involved, and the failures of hedge funds and mortgage brokers and issuers tops the $US150 billion with loses on various forms of investment and cash funds.

The losses are enormous: Deutsche Bank has ‘escaped’ lightly with $US10.3 billion, HSBC, $US27.3 billion, GMAC over $5 billion, GE Money, several billions, UBS, Citigroup and Merrill Lynch: $US130 billion between the three of them. 11 banks have failed in the US this year: total; cost over $US45 billion.

You can see that without the lifelines from the Fed, the US Government and also the ECB and the Bank of England, the world economy would be going to hell in a hand basket very quickly: it would be a case of “Hello 1932”.

Peter Fray

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