Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Potemkin Capitalism*

described as "The specially-designed facades feature different types of shops")

North Tyneside high street 'revived' by fake shop front (2010.03.03):
Fake businesses are to be used to lessen the impact of the recession on high streets in North Tyneside.

With 140 empty shops in the borough, council bosses think they have come up with a unique way of ensuring shopping areas remain as vibrant as possible.
Judith Wallace, North Tyneside Council's deputy mayor said: "The economic climate has forced many businesses to bring down the shutters.

"We need to ensure that the remaining businesses continue to survive and that means ensuring our high streets look attractive to both shoppers and potential business investors.

"This is a simple and cost-effective approach that keeps the retail unit available for potential new uses and in the meantime also contributes to the street scene."

Empty shops in Wallsend and North Shields are now being earmarked for similar treatment, which costs about £1,500 a time.
Four more U.S. Banks shut down (2010.03.06):
Regulators say they shut down banks in Florida, Maryland, Illinois and Utah, raising to 26 the number of U.S. bank failures this year.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Friday Sun American Bank, based in Boca Raton, Fla., Bank of Illinois of Normal, Ill., Waterfield Bank in Germantown, Md., and Centennial Bank in Ogden, Utah, had a total of $1.1 billion in assets and $1 billion in deposits.

The $304.8 million cost of the closings will come out of a fund the FDIC maintains.
Other bank failure stories from UPI.com:
At least 130 banks failed in the U.S. in 2009. In the first 2 1/4 months of 2010 we've seen at least 26, which projects out to about 139. Not a tremendous change, but still worrying. Especially because it's so far over the "normal" average of about 50 (that's the average of FDIC "Total Failures" and "Total Assistance Transactions" over the period 1934 to 2010). An examination of the annual data suggests that there's a relatively small threshold of "normal" bank failure. Call it 10 or 20/year (there's relatively little difference). At 20/year, we've got a "Green Zone" where 69% of the years (53 years below 20 bank failures) since 1934 represent only 7% of bank failures (265 bank failures) at this normal background rate. That's an average of 5 bank failures per year. The other 31% of the years (24 years at or above 20 bank failures) are a "Red Zone" which account for 93% of the failures (3555 bank failures). That's an average of about 145 bank failures per year. We are clearly in the Red Zone.

(Infographic: U.S. Bank Failures by Year, by Evan Robinson, Group News Blog.
Data sourced from
FDIC, HSOB Failures & Assistance Transactions.)

The green line (representing $ of deposits in failed institutions in constant $) is alarmingly high compared to previous periods of bank failures. There appears to be (either an error in the data or) a qualitative difference between current bank failures and previous failures. I will investigate the data to see if I can find an error -- and I almost hope I do.

It's worth noting that more than half the Red Zone years fall between about 1980 and 1994. I wonder if there's a correlation between the regulatory climate (or control of the Presidency and/or Congress) and bank failures? Hmm.

* if you don't understand the reference, look here and here.

(h/t Will Shetterly, it's all one thing -- he credits Bruce Sterling with the term "Potemkin Capitalism", but I can't find his usage, except for in his 2010 State of the World. An earlier usage comes from the Cato Institute, in Replacing Potemkin Capitalism: Russia's Need for a Free-Market Financial System, published 7 June 1999)