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Thinking About Toxicity

by Fred Cederholm
Shortly the Federal Reserve Banking System will assume toxic mortgage CDOs from their current hosts at some form of discount, repackage them, and sell then them to fresh third-party investors at a string of open bid auctions. The devil will be in the details...
I’ve been thinking about toxicity. Actually I’ve been thinking about the unfolding recession/depression, Obama on 60 Minutes, toxic albatrosses, Uncle $ugar as a toxic hedge fund auctioneer, toxic national debt, toxic dollars, and our toxic Congress. Any substantive action last week on the unfolding recession/depression – now being marketed as “THE GREAT CORRECTION” – took a backseat to the brouhaha of $165 MILLION in bonuses paid to potentially culpable parties at AIG from the some $170 BILLION bailout money from the US taxpayers. You’d TH*NK a crime of epic proportions had occurred. Such already had happened, this was but a mini quarterly neo-installment. The $165 MILLION is less than one tenth of one percent of the bailout amount – big whoop! Still it “was a matter of principle” - we all know what happens when DC finds religion and gets principles.

You see we knew our Mr. fix-it-in-chief would more than follow the Bernanke performance on the CBS Newsmagazine 60 Minutes one week later. He would eclipse Ben head shot for head shot and sound byte for sound byte! The ever-present teleprompter was not visible as it was neither on the prior week’s Leno guest spot. Obama scored strike after strike with Steve Crofts on 60 Minutes unlike his “gutter ball” with Jay Leno. The war for hearts and minds about any current economic downturn(s) will continue to be waged and on the air waves and scheduled media events. Can’t dazzle ‘em with results? Baffle ‘em with creative word usage and excessive digits of yet another TRILLION dollar wunderkreig policy initiative! This week’s buzz word is “TOXICITY.” And, there is another TRILLION dollar fix-it plan being rolled-out to implement its program.

There is a certain amount of validity to the assessment that “the behemoths of banking” can not swim on to their golden medals if they continue to be bogged down by the albatrosses of “toxic assets.” The humor here is the coupled marriage of “toxic” – that which can kill you, with “assets” – that which defines your wealth and status. The items in question are those questionable investments which the financial giants are carrying on the plus side of their balance sheet. These are really “toxic liabilities,” but to dub them as such would acknowledge them for the negatives they are; and would define the players carrying them as insolvent, bankrupt, and deep six-ed. Besides who would assume them, or buy them, as TOXIC LIABILITIES in any effort to feather or to improve their own nests?

This will require the marketing magic of a hundred-fold Bernie Madoffs and Allen Stanfords. Uncle $ugar thru slight of hand as financed by the smoke, lights, and mirrors of the Federal Reserve Banking System will assume these invest tumors from their current hosts at some form of discount, repackage them, and sell them to fresh third-party investors at a string of open bid auctions. Will there be any reserve pricing? Will guarantees be made to purchasers? Will verifiable valuations be provided? Will specific properties/addresses be IDed to these reconstituted debt obligations? Lastly, what is the contingency plan if insufficient third party bidders even show up? HUMM..?

In Sunday’s broadcast, Obama criticized the prior Bush/Cheney Administration by stating that their essential failure was in not acknowledging the impracticalness and impossibility of continuing their policies down the road for the long term. I can see those words of assessment coming back to haunt Obama and his Administration in a fairly near term. We are a mere 50+ days into the administration and criticisms/questions are accelerating.

While I like the concept behind the toxicity model, it is so tempting to apply it to other looming disasters. This March 23rd our national debt exceeds $11 TRILLION $54 BILLION. When does our national debt become “toxic asset?” In March of 2006, the US ceased reporting the M3 money supply figures. Last week the Treasury announced that the FED may be forced to buy US Treasury securities unsold at auction by printing yet more money. How will this policy impact the money supply and when does it become a “toxic asset?” I’d argue that our profligate Congress is already “toxic” for us!

I’m Fred Cederholm and I’ve been thinking. You should be thinking, too.

Copyright 2008 Questions, Inc. All rights reserved. Fred Cederholm is a CPA/CFE, a forensic accountant, and writer. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.A., M.A. and M.A.S.). He can be reached at

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This story was published on March 23, 2009.