Saturday, December 20, 2008

Harper and Flaherty's Conversion

Ottawa faces up to reality of deficits Here is the real reason that Harper and Flaherty had their economic conversion on the road to Damascus.

OTTAWA - Canada's parliamentary budget officer is publicly questioning the projected budget surpluses of the Conservative government's recent economic statement and is asking for evidence to back up the predictions.
Kevin Page asked Finance Deputy Minister Rob Wright to turn over details on the projected spending reductions in departments and asset sales that the government has said will generate $10 billion in savings over five years. These are seen as key to the maintenance of a federal surplus.
Page's letter, sent on Dec. 3, has now been posted on the budget office's website. It asks for a reply this week.
He also asked for economic data and assumptions used for the 2008 budget and recent economic statement. Finance refused to give the data for the 2008 budget even though the numbers are routinely turned over to Bay Street forecasters. The assumptions, key to estimating the impact of economic volatility, used to be published by previous governments.
In his economic statement, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty projected a budget surplus of $100 million for 2009-10 based on the sale of about $2 billion in assets that he didn't identify.
Page tabled his office's assessment of Flaherty's economic statement last week, but the report got lost in the storm of the political crisis sparked by the Liberal-NDP coalition's attempt to topple the Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative minority.

But as usual they will use a red herring to distract us from their complete failure to address this crisis earlier. Just as they used the opposition coalition as a red herring to seize power in Ottawa.

Canada's banks are being set up.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has misplayed the financial crisis from the start. The lack of political leadership in this country is staggering. Now Mr. Harper – who dictates lines to his Finance Minister – has finally woken up to the fact 2009 will be one grim year for the domestic economy. '10 doesn't look too hot either. Someone will wear responsibility for a deep recession. The Conservatives are skating hard as they prepare to pin this one on the banks. The politicians will claim the banks hoarded capital, and refused to lend, and that sent consumers and corporations over the cliff. It's nasty, it's cynical, it's destructive and it doesn't happen to be true. But that's clearly going to be Mr. Harper's line.
And despite Flaherty threatening the banks, the Harpocrites have not addressed the increased service charges on credit cards the banks have made, the fact that interest on credit cards is as high as it was during the recession in the eighties, and that banks still charge usury rates on ATM fees.
Feeling the crunch
Rising card transaction fees may mean higher prices, retailers say
Suddenly the issue raised by the NDP is no longer pie in the sky. However unlike Stelmach, the NDP called for the elimination of ATM fees, not just a cap. And we need to see a reduction in usury interest on credit cards. Banks loaning millions to capitalist enterprizes will have less effect than reducing /eliminating service charges, reducing credit card interest and eliminating ATM fees.
New Brunswick Senator Pierrette Ringuette is calling for a federal probe and stronger regulations on fees charged by credit card companies .Canadians hold 64.1 million credit cards, and 80 per cent of them are issued by the two main players in the industry, Visa and MasterCard. Consumers already pay an average of over 24 per cent interest.Visa and MasterCard have about 80 per cent of the national credit card market. Credit card companies are, therefore, extremely wealthy and powerful. Is this a 'collusion' situation because of this 'quasi monopoly' situation?" Ringuette also raised the concern felt by business and retail lobby groups that rates for debit card transactions could increase. There has been concern that the Interac Association, the non-profit group which administers debit and direct payment, could change to a "for-profit" organization. If this happens, the retail council is concerned that the private corporation could be purchased by the credit card companies and therefore create an even greater monopoly over plastic in Canada.
The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce said it would tighten credit card lending through 2009, as it announced its fourth-quarter profit fell by 50 per cent from the same quarter in 2007 — mainly because of higher credit card delinquencies. Some banks have also raised credit card interest rates by five percentage points for customers who are late with their payments. Art Thornton, a bankruptcy trustee in Ottawa, says the changes will mean more business for him."It's going to increase the interest rates noticeably to people who can ill-afford to pay, and it's going to render them — in many cases — insolvent."
And this NOT the issue that Flaherty or Mark Carney are addressing when they challenge the banks to free up credit after bailing them out and reducing the Bank of Canada rate.

Hyer Questions Gov't on Credit Card Processing Fees
Friday, 28 November 2008
Ottawa, ON -- Thunder Bay Superior North MP Bruce Hyer was up in Question Period on Thursday. Hyer was questioning the government over the cost of credit card processing fees.Here is the transcript of the exchange in the House of Commons:
Mr. Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay—Superior North, NDP): Mr. Speaker, small businesses create a huge percentage of all the job growth in Canada. We should be helping them, not hurting them.The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is demanding that this government act before the big banks' next big cash grab. Our small businesses are facing a 10,000% increase in their Visa and MasterCard merchant fees. Is this fair?Does the government believe that it is not its problem, or that it can just not do anything about it? Which is it?
Hon. Diane Ablonczy (Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism), CPC): Mr. Speaker, the member raises an issue of real importance to small business. As he knows, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has been speaking with the players about this issue. The fact of the matter is that the banks in this country are competitive. They are free to put forward products to all of the customers they have, including small business.The Minister of Finance has written to the banks about this issue asking them to deal with it. We are awaiting their responses momentarily, and we believe we can work on it together.
Canadian consumer-banking profit rose 20 percent to C$344 million from a year earlier as personal loans rose 21 percent and it added more mortgages. Commercial loans and credit-card revenue also rose from a year earlier.
Canadian Banking net income was $2,662 million, up 5% or $117 million from last year, reflecting solid volume growth across all businesses and effective cost management, partially offset by margin compression and increased provisions for credit losses. Net income was up 13% over last year, excluding the impacts of a $326 million ($269 million after-tax) gain related to the Visa Inc. restructuring and a $121 million ($79 million after-tax) credit card customer loyalty reward program liability charge recorded in the fourth quarter of 2007.
Canadian Banking's average assets grew by $21 billion or 14%, primarily in mortgages. There was also strong growth in personal revolving credit and other personal loans, as well as in business lending to both commercial and small business customers. Card revenues were a record $397 million in 2008, an increase of 8% from last year. International card revenues increased 11% due to strong growth in Peru, the Caribbean and Mexico. Canadian revenues were up 6% year over year, due mainly to higher transaction volumes. Credit fees of $579 million were $49 million or 9% higher than last year. There were higher acceptance fees in Canada, from both corporate and commercial customers.
A recovery in consumer spending will have to wait until Canadians pay down the excess credit card and mortgage debt accumulated in the past decade. Total personal debt nearly doubled between 2002 and the first half of 2008, when it stood at $1.2-trillion. The ratio of debt to disposable income rose from 98 per cent to 130 per cent over that period, while interest payments as a share of available income were virtually unchanged.
Canadians were besieged with advertising messages that promoted borrowing over those years. With credit so cheap and housing prices surging ahead, households took on a lot of risk. Now debt burdens look much too high.
We can take some comfort from the fact that the loans outstanding here are nowhere near as risky as mortgages in the United States. According to the Canadian Housing Observer, Canada has “a negligible subprime mortgage sector; [and] it is characterized by prudent underwriting.” And in Canada, mortgage insurance to protect the lender is mandatory for high-ratio loans.
But there is no insurance to protect the borrower when housing values decline or when someone in the family loses their job. If you ask people living in homeless shelters what sent them on a downward spiral, the common theme is a combination of losing their job, being unable to work because of injury or illness, and then losing their home.
This is a terrible price to pay for doing what was advertised as the smart thing to do.
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janfromthebruce said...

Retailing main street rather than propping up the "greed on Bay Street."
Progressive economic policy for everyday Canadians.

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