COMMENTARY:

Thinking About Warnings

by Fred Cederholm
Things happen that are harbingers of more things to come. We don’t always see isolated and random events as warnings. That may be a major mistake on our parts.

I’ve been thinking about warnings. Actually I’ve been thinking about volcanoes, Toyotas, Goldman Sachs, the money supply, US Treasury Securities, foreclosures, and my silver PT Cruiser. Things happen that are harbingers of more things to come. We don’t always see isolated and random events as warnings. That may be a major mistake on our parts. How often days, weeks, or months later do we TH*NK: “Gee, I should of...”?

You see despite all the occurrences that actually DIDN’T make the news last week, there were a number of events, or happenings, which I see as warnings. Planet earth is clearly not as stable a place as we want to TH*NK. The Eyjafjallokull eruptions in Iceland have basically shut down air travel to (and within) Europe. Iceland’s volcanoes generally smolder, burp, and send off ash, but the last week’s events were something to watch closely. While some airports want to re-begin take offs and landings, the cloud of fine ash over the UK, Scandinavia, Central Europe, and Eastern Europe to the Ural Mountains has not dissipated. Airlines are now losing $200 MILLION a day. Although the ash cloud from Iceland continues to linger and grow, pressure is on to fasten seat belts and re-fill the empty skies. Does this mean that a warning is now being ignored? Are they playing fast and loose with passengers?

The past problems of Toyota vehicles accelerating on their own has resulted in a $16.4 MILLION fine to be made payable to Uncle $ugar. A bundle of memos, emails, and letters indicate that Toyota tried to sweep massive quality control problems under their floor mats. The government could have used the $15 BILLION in fines they actually sought, but were capped out at the $16.4 MILLION that was just announced. Toyota isn’t admitting any guilt, but agreed to pay the $16.4 MILLION to put “the matter behind them.” (YEAH, right!!!) Such a “NOLO CONTENDERE” (no innocence, but no guilt either) plea brought back so many memories of my days working as a forensic accountant for the FDIC/ RTC. I can really laugh about this because I was the one who put together “the smoking gun” evidence which was sealed (and I am still under a gag order) by the RTC settlement decree(s) on my cases.

Goldman Sachs, the famous Wall Street investment firm, was dinged for telling many of their clients to invest in mortgage backed securities, while at the same time short selling the securities and betting that they would be worth less, or even worthless. How could such a two faced duplicity be the case? Well under the A,B,C’s of investing. A’s are for averages, B’s are for brokers, and C’s are for commissions! In this case, the C’s are much more desirable than any A’s, or any B’s. At this point, whether the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) will pursue criminal charges against Goldman, or what will be the ultimate fine, penalty, restitution to Uncle $ugar is still open to question. The timing of last week’s disclosures is fortuitous because the Obama Administration is preparing its case that a return to regulation of the banks and investments is highly desirable. The President may not have been able to fly to Poland for a funeral; but unless the Yellowstone Caldron erupts, he will be flying around the US pushing for financial system reform and regulation. The Goldman case is clearly a warning.

News from the US Treasury is highly suspicious. Every week Treasury securities are rolled over and new/ additional ones are offered for sale. In the 2010 year, Uncle $ugar will need to borrow at least another $1.6 TRILLION. This should result in an increasing money supply, and an increase in interest rates! What we are seeing is that the money supply is actually contracting (?), no interest rate increases, and that there is an “unexplained” spike of BILLIONS of “direct” purchases of these securities. Security sales thru brokers and to institutional investors are “indirect:” sales to the general public and foreign governments are “direct.” This is a red flag that something is not right! Who is actually buying these at arbitrarily low interest rates, and how are they paying for them when the reported outstanding money supply is actually decreasing? Should these anomalies be regarded as another warning sign?

An “improving” Real Estate market is presently being hyped, yet the number of foreclosed properties and those held/ owned by banks as OREOs (Other Real Estate Owned) continues to grow. Realty Trac which monitors these, just announced foreclosures doubled to 15,000 in Illinois alone at the end of the first quarter. This is a record high and should be taken as a sign of a worsening economy, not an improvement to it. Closer to home... four of the 22 homes on the market in Creston have sold in the past couple of weeks. This is great news. Then... over the weekend, the engine warning light on my PT Cruiser came on. I am headed to Krahenbuhl’s Monday afternoon to get it checked out. (Bah humbug!)

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


Copyright 2009 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 asklet@rochelle.net.



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This story was published on April 19, 2010.