Where is the ECB Printing Press?

By John Mauldin

November 12, 2011

Europe remains the focus of markets, and rightly so. But the picture is not as clear as one would like. Different analysts point to different problemsif only this one problem could be solved, then all this would go away, they tend to say. Sadly, it is not one problem but three that must be solved, and none of them is easy. In today’s letter I try and offer a basic primer on the problems facing Europe. My challenge to myself is to do it in a short piece rather than the book-length tome it could easily become. Thus, in the pursuit of brevity, we will not be as in-depth as usual, but I think it helps us to step back a few feet and look at the larger picture before we focus on minutiae.

Where Can I Find €3 Trillion?

First, for the record, the European issue is not a crisis of confidence, as Merkel and Sarkozy, et al., keep telling us. It is structural. And until the structural issues are dealt with, the problems will not be solved.

The first problem facing Europe is the glaring sore thumb: there is simply too much sovereign debt in Greece, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Belgium. That is not news. What has yet to be absorbed by the markets is that the cost of bailouts, present and potential, is likely to be in the €3 trillion range, talking an average of the estimates I have seen (with the Boston Consulting Group suggesting €6 trillion). €3 trillion is not pocket change. Indeed, it is a number that is inconceivable in scope.

Greece has been told that they can write off 50% of their debt held by private entities, but not that owed to the IMF, ECB, or other public entities. This means something more like a 20-30% haircut on total debt. Sean Egan suggests that eventually Greece will write off closer to 90%. That is a number that cannot be contemplated in polite European circles, as it is plenty enough to cause a serious banking crisis.

And that is before we get to the rest of the problem children. Portugal will need at least a 40% write-off (probably more!). The Irish are going to walk away from the bank debt they assumed in the banking crisis. While on paper Spain looks like it may survive, in reality it has significant problems in its banking sector. If they move to insure the solvency of their banks, their debts become unmanageable, not to mention that their debt grows each and every month from the rather large deficits they run and seem totally unwilling to try to reduce.

The Spanish government deficit is likely to be at least 7% next year, well above their target of 6%. The “semi-autonomous regions” are in deep trouble, and their citizens are leveraged due to excessive real estate exuberance. Unemployment across Spain is 21%, and for the young it is over 40%. The Spanish government has adopted the rather novel idea that if it doesn’t pay its bills then its deficit will not be as large and therefore they can get closer to meeting their targets. Yields on Spanish debt are about 1% lower than on Italian debt, but give them time.

And then there is Italy. Italy is simply too big to save. Yes, it looks like Berlusconi is leaving, but he is not the real problem. The problem is a 10-year bond yield at 7%, when your debt is 120% of GDP and growing. Italy is likely to be in recession soon, which will only make the problem worse. A drop in GDP while deficits rise means that debt-to-GDP rises faster. That means interest-rate costs are rising faster than (the lack of) growth in the economy. The deficit is a reported 4.6%. By contrast, Germany’s is 4.3%. But the difference is the debt. The market realizes that if you grow debt by 5% a year, it will not be but a few years until Italy is at 150%. There is no retreat without default from such a number, and the markets are saying, “We’ve seen this movie before and the ending is not a happy one. We think we’ll leave at intermission.”

The ONLY reason that Italian yields have dropped below 7% is that the European Central Bank has been buying Italian debtin size.” Any retreat by the ECB from buying Italian debt and Italian yields shoot to the moon. Italy will need to raise close to €350 this year, including new debt and rollover debt. The higher rates will put even more pressure on the deficit.

Debt, whether it is with an individual, a family, a city, or a country, always has a limit. Debt cannot grow beyond the ability to service the debt. That is the clear lesson of Rogoff and Reinhardt’s epic work, This Time Is Different. When that limit is reached, the debt must be restructured in some way, either with better terms or through some sort of default.

Mediterranean Europe simply borrowed more than it could pay, given the cash flows of the various countries. And now we are at the Endgame. How can one deal with the debt?

The best solution is to figure out how to grow your economy faster than the growth of debt. Over time, debt service becomes a smaller part of the economy. But Southern Europe does not seemingly have that option. Certainly not Greece, Portugal, or Spain; and this week we learned that Italian production was off 4.8%. Europe, even Germany, is slipping into recession.

Germany is in the position of wanting the problem countries to cut their deficits through something called austerity. And living within your means is hardly a novel idea. It makes a great deal of sense. But when you are a country in recession and have to cut back, it only makes the recession worse for a period of time. Asking Greece to cuts its deficit by 4% a year for 4 years to get to something closer to balance means that the Greek economy will shrink by at least 10%, if not more. Tax revenues, never on solid footing, will shrink, making the deficit worse. How do you ask people to willingly enter into a pepression for a rather long time in order to pay back the banks, even if the debts were freely taken on by the government and the money spent on the populace, and even if the haircuts are 50%?

Yes, if Greece leaves the euro that means they will also have a depression. No one will lend them money for at least three years. Their banks will be insolvent, their pension funds destroyed. Their ability to buy needed materials (like oil, medicines, etc.) will be limited to the amount of goods they can produce and sell. Government employees will be forced to leave jobs, as there will be no money to pay them. Those on government pensions will get a fraction of what they were promised. Going back to the drachma will be painful in the extreme. Just as staying in the euro will be painful. Greece has no good choices.

There are those who suggest that Europe is demonstrating the failure of the socialist welfare state. And there is some reason to say that. But I don’t think the socialist welfare state is the cause of the debt crisis. One can have a welfare state without debt, if you are willing to run a sensible budget. Think of the Scandinavian countries.

And you can have countries without much social welfare get into debt problems. There are plenty of examples in history. Amassing large amounts of debt is a national problem that has as much to do with character as anything else. That is true for families or for countries. It is wanting to spend for goods and services today and pay for them in the future.

Debt has its uses. Properly used, it can be of great benefit to societies and families. People can buy homes and tools that can be used for the production of goods, build roads and other infrastructure, etc. But debt cannot be allowed to become the master of the budget or the source for current spending, again whether for families or countries. And Greece and its fellow countries have used debt to fund current spending and now have run up against the inability to borrow more at sustainable levels.

The easy answer is to cut spending. But when you cut back spending, even borrowed spending, it is going to affect GDP. It is something that may have to be done, but it is not without consequence. Ireland, a small country of 4.2 million people, just paid close to €1 billion to service debt that it owes for taking on the debts of its banks that went bankrupt. That is hugely unpopular in Ireland, and it will not be long before the Irish government simply says no. If the current one does not, then there will be a new one that does. Unless the Irish renegotiate their debt, they will be paying on it for decades. Debt that was private debt and paid to European banks (who lent to Irish banks) is now public debt. And it is a punitive and crushing debt.

We can go to each problem country and home in on its own particular situation, and the answer almost always seems to be that the debt must be dealt with in some manner that either directly or indirectly amounts to default. (Even if the Eurozone leaders say that a 50% haircut by a bank is “voluntary.” Yeah, right. European leaders have a different understanding of voluntary than I learned in school.)

But that is the problem. The European Commission is trying to figure out how to find €1 trillion to use to bail out southern Europe and Ireland. They so far cannot, and the market recognizes that fact and that the needs are actually much higher. European leaders cannot (at least publicly) fathom how to find €3 trillion. But whether or not they canfindanother few trillion, that debt will have to be restructured or defaulted. Once you go down that path, as they have with Greece, it is just a matter of time before you have to do the same for Portugal and Ireland; and are Spain and Italy close on their heels?

When Leverage Comes Back to Haunt

You European regulators allowed their banks to leverage up to 450 to 1 on their capital, on the theory that sovereign nations in an enlightened Europe could not default, and therefore no reserves need to be kept for “investing” in government debt. And with those rules, banks borrowed massively and invested it in government debt, making the spread. It was an awesome free profit machine. Until Greece became a road bump. Now it is a nightmare. Even if you only invested 4% of your bank’s assets in Greek debt, if that is more than your capital then you are bankrupt.

Irish banks were foolish and invested in Irish real estate that was in a bubble. They went bankrupt. Spanish banks were even more heavily leveraged to real estate, but have yet to write down their debt. They assume that houses will only lose about 15%, rather than the 50% that the real world is suggesting. And you can get away with that for a time if you own the agencies that rate the real estate debt, as the Spanish banks do. But most of the rest of European banks are going to go bankrupt the old-fashioned, tried-and-true, proven-over-the-centuries way: by buying government debt. Somehow they want to be seen as rational in leveraging up government debt.

As I told the Irish crowd last week, don’t worry about your bank debt; all you have to do is wait a little while. When French and Italian banks (and most of the other banks in Europe) are publicly insolvent and have to go to their respective countries and the ECB for capital, the relatively small amount (by comparison) of Irish bank debt will not even be noticed when you default. I was trying for a little humor, but there is a core of truth in that glib remark.

France cannot afford to bail out its banks. As we have seen this week, they are already in danger of losing their AAA rating, as a false (premature?) press release from S&P suggested. (Someone is in trouble for that one! Seriously, you think S&P is not ready for this? There is reason to believe, I hear, that this was a draft for use later. We’ll see.) France will want the Eurozone to bail out their banks, and that means the ECB. If France gets such a deal, Ireland will certainly demand – and getone, too.

The German Dilemma

And that brings us to the third problem, which has two parts: (1) the massive trade imbalances in Europe, where Germany and a few others export and the rest of Europe buys, And (2) the fact that German labor is far cheaper on a relative basis than Greek or Portugal labor (or that of most of the rest of the Eurozone). German workers have seen very little rise in their incomes, while Southern Europe labor costs have risen to over 30% higher.

I won’t go into the details (I have written about this before), but there is a basic rule in economics. You can reduce private debt and you can reduce public debt and you can run a trade deficit. But you can only do two of the three at the same time. The total of the three must balance.

Greece runs a massive trade deficit. They are also attempting to reduce their government debt, and private debt (that borrowed by business and consumers) is being forcibly reduced, as the banks are in full retreat.

Greece must therefore endure a large reduction in its labor costs if it wants to reduce its government deficit. Sell that one to the unions. (By the way, Irish public unions took a large reduction, as did pensioners. Different political climate and country.) Germany seemingly wants the rest of Europe to behave like Germans, except that they also want them to continue to buy German products and run trade deficits, while Germany exports its way to prosperity.

In the “old days” of a decade ago, a European country could simply devalue its currency and adjust the relative value of labor that way. But with a fixed currency there is no adjustment mechanism other than reduced pay or large unemployment numbers, which eventually translates into lower wages.

Essentially, the southern part of Europe is on an odd sort of “gold standard,” with the euro being the fixed standard. And the adjustments are painful. There are no easy answers if you stay with the euro. And leaving is its own nightmare.

So How Do We Solve the Eurozone Problem?

Let’s quickly look at options for solving this.
1. The Germans (and the Dutch and Finns, et al.) can simply take their export surplus and taxes and savings and pay for the deficits in the southern zone until such time as they can be brought under control. Or they can bail out all the banks. Not just their own but throughout Europe, as a customer without a banking system cannot buy your products. That seems to be a political non-starter.
2. The problem countries can make the extremely painful adjustments, cut their deficits, and enter into a lengthy pepression. That also seems to be a political non-starter.
3. The Eurozone can forgive enough debt to get the various countries back to a place where they can function, nationalizing the banks that hold the debt, which would lead to a Europe-wide deep recession. Possible if the Eurozone leaders can sell it, but it is a tough sell.
4. A few countries (2? 3? 4?) can leave the Eurozone. If this is not done in an orderly fashion, the chaos will reverberate around the world.

All of the above paths (or some combination of them) mean a banking crisis and chaos and long-term recessions. These are not pretty paths. But the above options assume that the ECB remains true to its Bundesbank core. Which brings us to the nextsolution.”

Where Is the ECB Printing Press?

It is hard for us in the US to understand, but the commitment of European leaders to a united Europe is amazingly strong. They will do whatever they think they must do (and/or can sell to the voters) to maintain the European Union.

As a way to think about it, the US fought its most bloody war over the question of whether or not to remain a union. I think you have to call that commitment. While I am not suggesting that Europe is getting ready to start a civil war, I think it is helpful to remember that commitments to an ideal can drive people into situations that others have a hard time understanding.

Let’s summarize. There is too much debt in many southern countries; and while I have not yet mentioned it, France is not far from having its own crisis if they do not get back into balance. And if they lose their AAA rating, then any EFSF solution is just so much bad paper.

The banks and banking system are effectively insolvent. There are large trade imbalances that make it almost impossible for the weaker Eurozone countries to grow their way out of the problem.

The path of least resistance, and I use that term guardedly, is for the ECB to find its printing press. Perhaps they can borrow one from Bernanke. Yes, I know they are buying sovereign debt now, but they are “sterilizingit, meaning they sell euro paper to offset the monetary base effects (large oversimplification, I know).

But the money to solve the crisis does not exist. The only way to find it is for the ECB to print money and print in size, enough to lower the value of the euro and make exports cheaper (which gives southern Europe a chance to grow out of its problems). Which is of course something the Germans vehemently oppose, as it goes against their core DNA coding.

But the choice is print or let the euro perish. I see no other realistic solution, aside from massive austerity, willingly accepted by Europeans everywhere, along with the nationalization of their banks, etc., as described above. I think there is even less willingness to endure all that.

It is a hard choice, I know. If you held a gun to my head and asked, “What do you think they will do?” I would have to say, “I think the ECB prints.” But not without a lot of rancor and solemn pledges and maybe a rewriting of the treaty in order to get Germany to go along.

The choice is between a much lower euro or one that is far different from today’s, with a number of countries having left it. There are no good or easy choices.

As a closing aside, a lower euro means lower US and emerging-market exports (Europe is China’s biggest customer!) to Europe and more competition from Europeans in what the rest of the world sells to each other. It will be the beginning of serious trade issues and when coupled with the collapse of the Japanese yen, circa 2013, will usher in currency wars and protectionism. This will be a decade we will be glad to leave in 2020.

And now I will hit the send button and relax for the rest of the night.

Have a great week!

Your still having fun analyst,

John Mauldin
John@FrontlineThoughts.com

Copyright 2011 John Mauldin. All Rights Reserved.


Federal Reserve Falling Short On Its Dual Mandate: Buy Precious Metals

by: Parsimony Investment Research

November 11, 2011



The Federal Reserve has a dual mandate set by Congress of maximum employment and stable prices. During Chairman Bernanke’s most recent press conference he indicated that the Federal Reserve has done a better job of maintaining price stability while falling short of fostering maximum employment. We believe this statement is quite important for monetary policy and for investors.

We believe the Bernanke and the Federal Reserve are more focused on reducing unemployment given the greater near-term social consequences of unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment as defined by U-6 and youth unemployment. The U-6 unemployment rate is 16.2 percent and the youth unemployment is 18.1 percent.

The chart below from the Bureau of Labor statistics shows that despite the easy monetary policy and the fiscal stimulus packages, there is an incremental 2 million people unemployed.

(Click charts to expand)


Between 2008 and 2011, the Federal Reserve has significantly expanded its balance sheet depicted by the monetary base (red line below) despite generating only a modest increase in real GDP (green line below).

We believe the Federal Reserve will continue to increase the monetary base and weaken the dollar as long term unemployment remains elevated. While the economy (measured by real GDP) and the unemployment rate have not benefited from a substantial increase in the monetary base, the price of gold and silver have benefited from money printing.

Tactical Strategy

The physical markets for both gold and silver should determine the long-term price of the metal and we believe individual investors should continue to accumulate physical precious metals to diversify their wealth and help mitigate the loss of purchasing power from central bank intervention. We own gold and silver in physical and ETF form, the SPDR Gold Trust ETF (GLD) and iShares Silver Trust (SLV). Investors interested in vehicles that retain physical metal should look into Sprott Asset Management’s Sprott Physical Gold Trust (PHYS) and Sprott Physical Silver Trust (PSLV).

Disclosure: I am long GLD, SLV.


THE SATURDAY ESSAY

NOVEMBER 8, 2011

Why Wall Street Can't Handle the Truth

Longtime bank analyst Mike Mayo tells the inside story of why it's so hard to yell 'sell' in a crowded room—and lays out how Wall Street needs to change to avoid the next financial collapse.
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By MIKE MAYO
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Over the past 12 years, longtime banking analyst Mike Mayo has issued numerous calls to sell bank stocks, a rarity in a system where nearly all stocks are rated buy or hold. His negative ratings have frequently gotten him in trouble with banks, clients and his own bosses, who didn't want to alienate those companies. In this excerpt from his new book, "Exile on Wall Street," Mr. Mayo gives an inside view of the fights, the scolding and the threatening phone calls he received as a result of yelling "sell"—and offers a proposal to fix the banking sector.
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Taking a negative position doesn't win you many friends in the banking sector. I've worked as a bank analyst for the past 20 years, where my job is to study publicly traded financial firms and decide which ones would make the best investments. This research goes out to institutional investors: mutual fund companies, university endowments, public-employee retirement funds, hedge funds, and other organizations with large amounts of money. But for about the past decade, especially the past five years or so, most big banks haven't been good investments. In fact, they've been terrible investments, down 50%, 60%, 70% or more.
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Analysts are supposed to be a check on the financial systempeople who can wade through a company's financials and tell investors what's really going on. There are about 5,000 so-called sell-side analysts, about 5% of whom track the financial sector, serving as watchdogs over U.S. companies with combined market value of more than $15 trillion.
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[STREETjump]
John Loomis for The Wall Street Journal

Mike Mayo told the Senate Banking Committee in 2002 that financial analysts "are on the front lines of holding corporations accountable." However, he says, they haven't always upheld this trust with investors.
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Unfortunately, some are little more than cheerleadersafraid of rocking the boat at their firms, afraid of alienating the companies they cover and drawing the wrath of their superiors. The proportion of sell ratings on Wall Street remains under 5%, even today, despite the fact that any first-year MBA student can tell you that 95% of the stocks cannot be winners.
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Over the years, I have pointed out certain problems in the banking sector—things like excessive risk, outsized compensation for bankers, more aggressive lending—and as a result been yelled at, conspicuously ignored, threatened with legal action and mocked by banking executives, all with the intent of persuading me to soften my stance.
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Looking inside the world of finance—with its pressures to conform and stay quietmay offer some insight into why so many others have fudged. And it may offer some answers as to how crisis after crisis has hit the economy over the past decade, taking the markets by surprise, despite what should have been plentiful warning signs.
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***.

It started in 1999, when I was managing director (the equivalent of partner) at Credit Suisse First Boston. At the time, what gave me the biggest concern was a sense that stocks within the banking sector were likely to turn downward.
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Five years after the interstate banking law of 1994, which allowed banks to operate across state lines, the easy gains from consolidation were over. When banks couldn't maintain their growth momentum through mergers and cost cuts, they took the next logical step—they made more consumer loans.
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Logic dictated that this meant the quality of those loans would probably decrease, and, in turn, create a greater risk that some of them would result in losses. At the same time, executive pay was soaring, aided by stock options, which can encourage executives to take on greater risk.
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For my 1,000-page report on the entire banking industry, with detailed reports of 47 banks, I wasn't just going to go negative on a few main stocks but the entire sector. This was completely the opposite of what most analysts were saying, not just about banks but about all sectors.
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In decades past, the ratio of buy ratings to sell ratings had not been this lopsided, and in theory it should be roughly 50-50. That seems right, doesn't it? Some stocks go up, some go down, because of the overall market direction or competitive threats or issues specific to each company. In the late 1990s, though, the ratio was 100 buys or more for every sell. Merrill Lynch had buy ratings on 940 stocks and sell ratings on just 7. Salomon Smith Barney: 856 buy ratings, 4 sells. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter: 670 buys and exactly 0 sells.
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Analysts almost never said to sell specific companies, because that would alienate those firms, which then might move business for bond offerings, equity deals, acquisitions, buybacks or other activity away from the analyst's brokerage firm. Say the word "sell" enough times, and you win a long, awkward elevator ride out of the building with your soon-to-be-former boss. And here I was, ready to go negative on the entire banking sector.
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ReviewCover1104
Associated Press
Some analysts on Wall Street are little more than cheerleaders—afraid of rocking the boat at their firms, afraid of alienating the companies they cover and drawing the wrath of their superiors, says Mike Mayo.
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At the company's morning meeting between analysts and the sales staff, I gave a short presentation on the report. "In no uncertain terms," I said, "sell bank stocks. I'm downgrading the group. Sell Bank One, sell Chase Manhattan." The message went out over the "hoot," or microphone, to more than 50 salespeople around the world. They would relay my thoughts to more than 300 money managers at some of the largest institutional investment firms in the business.
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Afterward, I went back to my desk. Safe so far, I thought, and picked up the phone to call some of the biggest banks that had been downgraded, to give them a heads-up, along with some of the firm's institutional-investing clients. Not long after that, I was summoned back to the hoot for a special presentation to the sales force, something that had never happened before. They wanted me to clarify my thinking. Why not just leave the ratings at hold?
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I laid out my case again: declining loan quality, excess executive compensation and headwinds for the industry after five years of major growth driven by mergers.
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The counterattack started almost immediately. One portfolio manager said, "What's he trying to prove? Don't you know you only put a sell on a dog?" Another yelled, "I can't believe Mayo's doing this. He must be self-destructing!" One trader at a firm that owned a portfolio full of bank shares—which immediately began fallingprinted out my photo and stuck it to her bulletin board with the word "WANTED" scribbled over it. I'd poked a stick into a hornets' nest.
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That morning, I got a call from a client who runs a major endowment. "Check out the TV," he said. On CNBC, the commentators had picked up on the news and were now mocking me. Joe Kernen joked: "Who's Mike Mayo, and do we know whether he was turned down for a car loan?" I even got an ominous, anonymous voice mail from someone with a strong drawl cautioning, "Be careful with what you say."
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Of course, the banks that I had downgraded were even more furious, and they let me know it. Routine meetings with management are a standard part of my work, yet when I requested these meetings after my call, several banks said no. Worse, a couple of big institutions in the Midwest and Southeast threatened to cut all ties with Credit Suisseno more investment banking deals, no more fees.
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Within a few months, the market began to experience problems. The Standard & Poor's bank index peaked in July 1999 and fell more than 20% by the end of the year. Regional banks, in particular, had their worst performance compared to the overall market in half a century.
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***
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I was still negative on the sector in 2001, when I moved over to Prudential, and I initiated my coverage with nine sell ratings. This was a tough stance to take at the time because bank stocks were on the rise. Soon enough, I would run into more of the usual problems.
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After one meeting in New Jersey, one of the more senior portfolio managers offered to "advise" me about my views on the banking industry. The old-timer pulled me into a semidarkened room, just the two of us.
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"I've been doing this a while," he said, "and you've gotta know when to change your view. You can't be so negative." He probably meant it as kindly advice from someone who had been around the block, but it came across more like a disciplinarian father scolding his son. His argument seemed to be that as long as the stock prices were going up, the banks' management and operating strategies didn't matter. [STREET] John Kuczala
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Other companies limited my access to senior executives. An analyst without access to executives—and the one-on-one insights that investors often pay for—can be perceived to be at a disadvantage compared to his or her peers. Goldman Sachs was fairly up front about it, a rarity in the industry. I had recently initiated coverage on the firm, so I had few established relationships I could leverage. When I told one point of contact at the company that I'd like to have more meetings with management, he told me that the firm wasn't singling me out—they treated everyone that way. When I pushed a little harder for a meeting, I received a message that we needed to "have a conversation."
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Feeling like a student being reprimanded by a teacher, I was told that the most efficient use of management's time was for the executives to generate money for the firm instead of talking to the 20 or so analysts covering the company. An analyst like me would simply have to be patient. While I could live with this—to a degree—the gatekeeper added one more point: A consideration in granting analysts meetings with management of Goldman Sachs was the analyst's standing, influence and knowledge. "In other words," the gatekeeper added, "we evaluate you." (A spokesman for Goldman Sachs declined to comment for this article.)
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***

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As the financial crisis started rumbling in 2007, I was working at Deutsche Bank and went on CNBC in November to air my concerns. I said the total cost of the crisis could approach $400 billion, a number that was much higher than anyone else's estimate to that point—though one that still turned out to be too low.
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I came up with this figure by combining losses not only from banks but from everywhere else in the financial system, as well, including mortgages and related securities. The project had been difficult and tedious, and members of my team had stayed at the office until midnight each night for weeks to dig up data.
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The $400 billion number was an imperfect estimate, even with all that work, but at least I could be more vocal about my stance and help investors pull their money while the stock market—and the shares of most Wall Street banks—had yet to reflect these issues.
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WALLST
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I also said that the banking industry had to come clean about the extent of its exposure to problem mortgages and other assets. After eight years of warning about an impending storm, I was now shouting from the mountaintop, saying that it was time to take cover.
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Some of the attention my calls generated was not so positive, even within my own firm. My supervisors at Deutsche Bank told me that I should avoid making those kinds of strong, negative comments about the banking sector in the press.
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Not long after that, I was summoned to a meeting on an upper floor of the building with a senior manager at Deutsche Bank. He said that the firm did not like to be seen as publicly negative on the U.S. banking sector at a time when it held certain short positions.
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In the end, Deutsche Bank made $1.5 billion on one of its proprietary trades during the crisis by betting against mortgage-backed securities. The firm ended up losing about $4.5 billion overall, far less than most big banks, in part because of its aggressive short positions on the U.S. housing market.
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But all I understood at the time was that I was in a cone of silence. The bank wouldn't interfere with my analysis of the sector or my research reports, but there was now a gag rule when it came to any more media spots. I could no longer talk to the broader financial community or to investors at large, only to institutional investors who were clients, and as a result, banks could more easily downplay their problems.
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A spokesman for Deutsche Bank says, "We fully support our analysts' ability to publish independent research for the benefit of our clients."
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***

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To fix the banking sector, should we rely more on government regulation and oversight or let the market figure it out? Tougher rules or more capitalism? Right now, we have the worst of both worlds. We have a purportedly capitalistic system with a lot of rules that are not strictly enforced, and when things go wrong, the government steps in to protect banks from the market consequences of their own worst decisions. To me, that's not capitalism.
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It's easy to understand the appeal of certain regulation. If we'd had the right oversight in place, we would have limited the degree of the financial crisis, which included bailouts measured in hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of people losing their homes due to foreclosures. But we also would have sacrificed innovations in credit and a vibrant financial sector.
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Moreover, the real problem with regulation is that it often doesn't work very well, in part because it's always considering problems in the rearview mirror. The financial system today is almost dizzyingly complex and moving at light speed, and new rules tend to address fairly precise things, like banning specific types of securities or deals.
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The more effective solution would come from letting market forces work. That doesn't mean no rules at all—a banking system like the Wild West, with blood on the floor and consumers being routinely swindled. We need a cultural, perhaps generational, change that compels companies to better apply accounting rules based on economic substance versus surface presentation.
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Even in 2011, some banks were woefully deficient in detailing the amount of their securities and loans that are vulnerable to the ravages of the European financial crisis. The solution is to increase transparency and let outsiders see what's really going on.
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What we need is a better version of capitalism. That version starts with accounting: Let banks operate with a lot of latitude, but make sure outsiders can see the numbers (the real numbers). It also includes bankruptcy: Let those who stand to gain from the risks they takelenders, borrowers and bank executives—also remain accountable for mistakes. As for regulation, the U.S. may want to look to London for ideas. In the last decade, the U.K. equivalent of the Securities Exchange Commission (called the Financial Services Authority) fired much of its staff and hired back higher-caliber talent, at higher salaries. This reduced the motivation for regulators to jump to more lucrative private sector jobs and improved the understanding between banks and regulators.
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A better version of capitalism also means a reduction in the clout of big banks. All of the third-party entities that oversee them need sufficient latitude to serve as a true check and balance. My peer group, the army of 5,000 sell-side Wall Street analysts, can help lead the way to provide scrutiny over the markets. Doing this involves a culture change to ensure that analysts can act with sufficient intellectual curiosity and independence to critically analyze public companies that control so much of our economy.
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—Mr. Mayo is managing director at Credit Agricole Securities. Adapted from "Exile on Wall Street: One Analyst's Fight to Save the Big Banks From Themselves" (Wiley).