The Credit Crisis in Real Time

Just curious, and an informal and highly unscientific survey here:  has anybody else noticed a steep decline or complete shutdown of credit card offers in the mail over, say, the last week or so?  I probably averaged about four or five a week, but they’ve dried up entirely.  Granted, small sample period.

I’m curious to see what other credit offers stop appearing.  I used to get the following pretty regularly:

  • HELOC’s or home equity loans — several month from multiple sources
  • Offers to “skip” a payment on my car loan.  I get them every other month but I’d imagine this will stop for awhile.
  • Pre-approved car loan offers.  A few a month.  Would love to see them disappear.
  • No interest/no payment for umpteen year offers from retailers.  Lowe’s and Best Buy in particular.  I bet these keep coming, as too much of their business model depends on big-ticket purchases.

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Whatcha Readin’?

I’ve long been a fan of magazines, and am surprised by how often I see cutting your subscriptions among money-saving tips.  I consider a few magazine subscriptions to be part of a healthy news and information diet, and it’s just not something I’m willing to forego.  I realize that most of the content can be found online, but I like the simple pleasure of lounging on the couch with a periodical.  But for the sake of argument, how much am I spending yearly for this splurge?

After years of reading Newsweek, I switched to Time back in ’06.  My wife tells me we’re paying about $20 a year for Time.  I also subscribe to Money, which I’m told we just re-upped for $35.  Recently we began a subscription to Smithsonian, mainly because it was $12 and we thought it would make us look smart.  My wife gets Southern Living for about $25, which has its uses, and on a bad month at least has numerous pictures of pie. 

So for less than $100 we get a steady stream of news and informational fiber.  I used to get Sports Illustrated but honestly, I absorb so much sports news through other avenues that it just wasn’t doing it for me.  We also recently didn’t renew Cook’s Illustrated, which is a wonderful magazine but was rather pricey for a bi-monthly.  I’m considering a subscription to the Atlantic, based on the excellent stable of writers they feature on their website.

There’s a lesson to be learned here, though.  Instead of renewing, it can be a lot cheaper to just let your subscription run out and then sign-up again online.  For example, we blew it by paying $35 to renew Money — you can sign up new for $15.


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Paul Newman, Renaissance Man

Charitable work aside, you have to admire a man who could not only make a good film, but provide you with an endless assortment of snacking options with which to watch it.  Quickly and probably unjustly omitting the obvious, a Top 10 list of Paul Newman’s best works:

  1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  2. Those spicy pretzel rods
  3. Cool Hand Luke
  4. Italian Dressing.  The Caesar is really good too, but get the creamy.
  5. The Hustler
  6. The Sting
  7. Popcorn, although it gets a little pricey.  I know it’s for a good cause but still, it’s popcorn.  Y’know?
  8. Salsas, so many salsas
  9. The Hudsucker Proxy
  10. Slapshot

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An Actual Thing You Can Buy: Sliced Apples

I’ll keep this one short, kids.  Staring at me this morning from the Sunday grocery circular was a plastic bag that contained apples, pre-sliced for your convenience.  $2.50 for about 10 ounces of appley goodness — this being the sale price.

Are you bad with both knives and money?
Are you bad with both knives and money?

Hey, maybe you can’t bring yourself to take a knife to an apple and would prefer the gory mess be handled by some factory worker with a stronger stomach for such things.  I suppose it’s also possible you had mono in the 10th grade and never got caught up in Geometry, leaving you woefully inefficient in determining the best way to go about sectioning one up on your own.  Who am I to judge?

I intentionally went with a photo from the organic line;  fear not, they make ’em in regular as well.  It’s just that I couldn’t imagine a person that would be so concerned about what went into their apple, but wouldn’t balk at the idea of them spending time on an assembly line on their way to being wastefully packaged, and likely given a dose of some form of preservative.

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The Genesis of the Credit Crisis

A very good article here from Newsweek about how the birth and evolution of the financial instruments that got us into the bailout mess.  Especially useful as a primer on Credit Default Swaps.  Election-year politics have begun to sneak into some of the coverage of the mortgage meltdown, especially in pundit-heavy havens such as talk radio, and to a lesser degree the cable news programs.  This piece illustrates that at the core of the problem are (mostly) well-intended financial products that ballooned way out of control. 

On a side note, I switched my Newsweek subscription to Time a few years back because I felt the quality of Newsweek had gone downhill with an increasing tendency to lean on pop-culture items.  Perhaps an election year and a major crisis has been good for them, in that there’s been a noticeable uptick in substance of late.  Fareed Zakariah’s work in particular is always good.

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Filed under 2008 Election, finance

All Eyes Towards St. Louis

And now our attention turns to the lone VP debate on Thursday, if you still believe one will occur.  I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but based on what we’ve seen I can’t imagine the McCain camp wants Palin to take the stage against Biden, whose only concern at this point is that he buries her too deep.

Harsh?  Here’s what I noticed from the debate Friday:  Regardless of who you felt to be the victor, there was no denying that it was a good debate between two men who know their stuff and can effectively communicate their positions in an unrehearsed, high-pressure environment.  If you dropped Joe Biden onto that stage, the level of discourse would have remained the same, if not taken a notch higher.  For lack of a better word, Joe knows his shit.

Now put Sarah Palin on that stage with the three of them, based on what you’ve seen from the three interviews we’ve seen thus far.  There is no sane or objective argument to be made that she could hold her own with the other particulars of this race in an unscripted setting.  She’d have been torn apart, and based on prior performances would have been her own worst enemy to boot. 

I’m the first to admit an inclination towards Mr. Biden.  I’m rather looking forward to Thursday.

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Tie goes to the (front)runner

Okay, it’s roughly midnight and I’m trying to erase all memory of tonight’s Georgia game, so let’s discuss last night’s presidential debate.  If you’re remotely familiar with SEC football you’ll excuse all spelling and grammatical areas at this time.  I’ll correct them in the morning.

So…the debate.

My brass tacks take on Friday’s debate is that if you went in with a preference towards one of the candidates, you probably think that candidate won.  McCain fans probably think McCain edged out a victory, and Obama supporters likely think the same about their guy.  No major punches seem to have been landed by either side, and more importantly no major gaffes were made as well.

There were things worth noting.  I thought McCain, on the whole, looked better than he had in most of his recent campaign events.  He got off to a sluggish start but seemed to kick into gear after about 20 minutes, and if you watched him sleepwalk through some of his recent rallys you had to consider this an improvement.  That being said, he seemingly refused to engage Obama at all during the debate, to such degree that he wouldn’t even make eye contact with the man.  I felt it came off as petty at best, and somewhat dismissive and disrespectful to boot.  NBC’s split screen caught him on numerous occasions doing his own version of the sigh that buried Al Gore.  In McCain’s case though, it was more akin to an angry glare towards his own lectern, occasionally punctuated by a weird grin.

Obama came across as very composed, and managed to seem measured and professorial without edging towards aloof or haughty.  He was more forceful than I’m used to seeing him, but tempered it with moments where he pointed out his agreement with McCain.  This probably provides some ammo for the McCain campaign, but nothing major.  I was surprised with how well he fared on foreign policy — if this debate was a litmus test for his chops in this area, he handled it adeptly.

On  the economy, both hedged, and somewhat understandably.  Pressed on the bailout package, neither was keen on giving a detailed or authoritative response that would pigeonhole them in on a position.  I can’t fault either since, as Obama noted early, they’re still waiting on the specific language to emerge from the proposal.  That having been said, I have one major issue with how they addressed the economy.  Both candidates, cognizant of a financial crisis and aware that some form of bailout will occur, have not been forthright enough in adjusting their fiscal plans to accommodate what is known:  that a massive expenditure is coming down the pike.

Yeah, I get that the specifics aren’t in yet.  But as I noted earlier, McCain and Obama have to understand that the tax plans and pet projects that each lined out prior to the Wall Street meltdown will have to be adjusted, or scrapped, or otherwise altered to fit our new economic reality.  Pressed on this matter, Obama mentioned clumsily that he’d have to back burner some of his plans, but then laid out a laundry list of spending programs he’d like to implement.  It was not one of his better moments.  McCain handled this only slightly better in that he didn’t answer a question about cutbacks with a wishlist of expenditures.  But his obsession with earmarks is becoming comical, especially given that his running mate has asked for plenty and supported the earmark poster child, the Bridge to Nowhere.  But even if that wasn’t the case, earmarks are a relative pittance of the federal budget — eliminating them looks great as a matter of principle, but does little actual good in the way of spending. 

The bottom line is this:  we are entering a new economic reality as a result of the mortagage crisis.  The next president will not be able to afford the sort of tax relief or tax breaks that they would like to implement, and on top of that will have to make difficult cutbacks in areas that aren’t necessarily politically palatable.  I would appreciate if one or both would start being upfront and honest about that.  I realize I’m a crazy person for suggesting such a thing.

Like I said, you could probably argue that either or neither candidate won.  My feeling is that if McCain didn’t gain any real ground, then in effect he lost a little.  In other words, Obama held serve, and in doing so eliminated any remaining doubts about legitimacy — if he proved anything, it’s that it is ludicrous to suggest he didn’t belong on that stage with McCain.

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Filed under 2008 Election, finance