The Rain in Spain May Start Falling Here

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Editor’s Comment:

It is typical politics. You know the problem and the cause but you do nothing about the cause. You don’t fix it because you view your job in government as justifying the perks you get from private companies rather than reason the government even exists — to provide for the protection and welfare of the citizens of that society. It seems that the government of each country has become an entity itself with an allegiance but to itself leaving the people with no government at all.

And the average man in the streets of Boston or Barcelona cannot be fooled or confused any longer. Hollande in France was elected precisely because the people wanted a change that would align the government with the people, by the people and for the people. The point is not whether the people are right or wrong. The point is that we would rather make our own mistakes than let politicians make them for us in order to line their own pockets with gold.

Understating foreclosures and evictions, over stating recovery of the housing Market, lying about economic prospects is simply not covering it any more. The fact is that housing prices have dropped to all time lows and are continuing to drop. The fact is that we would rather kick people out of their homes on fraudulent pretenses and pay for homeless sheltering than keep people in their homes. We have a government that is more concerned with the profits of banks than the feeding and housing of its population. 

When will it end? Maybe never. But if it changes it will be the result of an outraged populace and like so many times before in history, the new aristocracy will have learned nothing from history. The cycle repeats.

Spain Underplaying Bank Losses Faces Ireland Fate

By Yalman Onaran

Spain is underestimating potential losses by its banks, ignoring the cost of souring residential mortgages, as it seeks to avoid an international rescue like the one Ireland needed to shore up its financial system.

The government has asked lenders to increase provisions for bad debt by 54 billion euros ($70 billion) to 166 billion euros. That’s enough to cover losses of about 50 percent on loans to property developers and construction firms, according to the Bank of Spain. There wouldn’t be anything left for defaults on more than 1.4 trillion euros of home loans and corporate debt. Taking those into account, banks would need to increase provisions by as much as five times what the government says, or 270 billion euros, according to estimates by the Centre for European Policy Studies, a Brussels-based research group. Plugging that hole would increase Spain’s public debt by almost 50 percent or force it to seek a bailout, following in the footsteps of Ireland, Greece and Portugal.

“How can you only talk about one type of real estate lending when more and more loans are going bad everywhere in the economy?” said Patrick Lee, a London-based analyst covering Spanish banks for Royal Bank of Canada. “Ireland managed to turn its situation around after recognizing losses much more aggressively and thus needed a bailout. I don’t see how Spain can do it without outside support.”

Double-Dip Recession

Spain, which yesterday took over Bankia SA, the nation’s third-largest lender, is mired in a double-dip recession that has driven unemployment above 24 percent and government borrowing costs to the highest level since the country adopted the euro. Investors are concerned that the Mediterranean nation, Europe’s fifth-largest economy with a banking system six times bigger than Ireland’s, may be too big to save.

In both countries, loans to real estate developers proved most toxic. Ireland funded a so-called bad bank to take much of that debt off lenders’ books, forcing writedowns of 58 percent. The government also required banks to raise capital to cover what was left behind, assuming expected losses of 7 percent for residential mortgages, 15 percent on the debt of small companies and 4 percent on that of larger corporations.

Spain’s banks face bigger risks than the government has acknowledged, even with lower default rates than Ireland experienced. If losses reach 5 percent of mortgages held by Spanish lenders, 8 percent of loans to small companies, 1.5 percent of those to larger firms and half the debt to developers, the cost will be about 250 billion euros. That’s three times the 86 billion euros Irish domestic banks bailed out by their government have lost as real estate prices tumbled.

Bankia Loans

Moody’s Investors Service, a credit-ratings firm, said it expects Spanish bank losses of as much as 306 billion euros. The Centre for European Policy Studies said the figure could be as high as 380 billion euros.

At the Bankia group, the lender formed in 2010 from a merger of seven savings banks, about half the 38 billion euros of real estate development loans held at the end of last year were classified as “doubtful” or at risk of becoming so, according to the company’s annual report. Bad loans across the Valencia-based group, which has the biggest Spanish asset base, reached 8.7 percent in December, and the firm renegotiated almost 10 billion euros of assets in 2011, about 5 percent of its loan book, to prevent them from defaulting.

The government, which came to power in December, announced yesterday that it will take control of Bankia with a 45 percent stake by converting 4.5 billion euros of preferred shares into ordinary stock. The central bank said the lender needs to present a stronger cleanup plan and “consider the contribution of public funds” to help with that.

Rajoy Measures

The Bank of Spain has lost its prestige for failing to supervise banks sufficiently, said Josep Duran i Lleida, leader of Catalan party Convergencia i Unio, which often backs Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government. Governor Miguel Angel Fernandez Ordonez doesn’t need to resign at this point because his term expires in July, Duran said.

Rajoy has shied away from using public funds to shore up the banks, after his predecessor injected 15 billion euros into the financial system. He softened his position earlier this week following a report by the International Monetary Fund that said the country needs to clean up the balance sheets of “weak institutions quickly and adequately” and may need to use government funds to do so.

“The last thing I want to do is lend public money, as has been done in the past, but if it were necessary to get the credit to save the Spanish banking system, I wouldn’t renounce that,” Rajoy told radio station Onda Cero on May 7.

Santander, BBVA

Rajoy said he would announce new measures to bolster confidence in the banking system tomorrow, without giving details. He might ask banks to boost provisions by 30 billion euros, said a person with knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified because the decision hadn’t been announced.

Spain’s two largest lenders, Banco Santander SA (SAN) and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA (BBVA), earn most of their income outside the country and have assets in Latin America they can sell to raise cash if they need to bolster capital. In addition to Bankia, there are more than a dozen regional banks that are almost exclusively domestic and have few assets outside the country to sell to help plug losses.

In investor presentations, the Bank of Spain has said provisions for bad debt would cover losses of between 53 percent and 80 percent on loans for land, housing under construction and finished developments. An additional 30 billion euros would increase coverage to 56 percent of such loans, leaving nothing to absorb losses on 650 billion euros of home mortgages held by Spanish banks or 800 billion euros of company loans.

Housing Bubble

“Spain is constantly playing catch-up, so it’s always several steps behind,” said Nicholas Spiro, managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy, a consulting firm in London specializing in sovereign-credit risk. “They should have gone down the Irish route, bit the bullet and taken on the losses. Every time they announce a small new measure, the goal posts have already moved because of deterioration in the economy.”

Without aggressive writedowns, Spanish banks can’t access market funding and the government can’t convince investors its lenders can survive a contracting economy, said Benjamin Hesse, who manages five financial-stock funds at Fidelity Investments in Boston, which has $1.6 trillion under management.

Spanish banks have “a 1.7 trillion-euro loan book, one of the world’s largest, and they haven’t even started marking it,” Hesse said. “The housing bubble was twice the size of the U.S. in terms of peak prices versus 1990 prices. It’s huge. And there’s no way out for Spain.”

Irish Losses

House prices in Spain more than doubled in a decade and have dropped 30 percent since the first quarter of 2008. U.S. homes, which also doubled in value, have lost 35 percent. Ireland’s have fallen 49 percent after quadrupling.

Ireland injected 63 billion euros into its banks to recapitalize them after shifting property-development loans to the National Asset Management Agency, or NAMA, and requiring other writedowns. That forced the country to seek 68 billion euros in financial aid from the European Union and the IMF.

The losses of bailed-out domestic banks in Ireland have reached 21 percent of their total loans. Spanish banks have reserved for 6 percent of their lending books.

“The upfront loss recognition Ireland forced on the banks helped build confidence,” said Edward Parker, London-based head of European sovereign-credit analysis at Fitch Ratings. “In contrast, Spain has had a constant trickle of bad news about its banks, which doesn’t instill confidence.”

Mortgage Defaults

Spain’s home-loan defaults were 2.7 percent in December, according to the Spanish mortgage association. Home prices are propped up and default rates underreported because banks don’t want to recognize losses, according to Borja Mateo, author of “The Truth About the Spanish Real Estate Market.” Developers are still building new houses around the country, even with 2 million vacant homes.

Ireland’s mortgage-default rate was about 7 percent in 2010, before the government pushed for writedowns, with an additional 5 percent being restructured, according to the Central Bank of Ireland. A year later, overdue and restructured home loans reached 18 percent. At the typical 40 percent recovery rate, Irish banks stand to lose 11 percent of their mortgage portfolios, more than the 7 percent assumed by the central bank in its stress tests. That has led to concern the government may need to inject more capital into the lenders.

‘The New Ireland’

Spain, like Ireland, can’t simply let its financial firms fail. Ireland tried to stick banks’ creditors with losses and was overruled by the EU, which said defaulting on senior debt would raise the specter of contagion and spook investors away from all European banks. Ireland did force subordinated bondholders to take about 15 billion euros of losses.

The EU was protecting German and French banks, among the biggest creditors to Irish lenders, said Marshall Auerback, global portfolio strategist for Madison Street Partners LLC, a Denver-based hedge fund.

“Spain will be the new Ireland,” Auerback said. “Germany is forcing once again the socialization of its banks’ losses in a periphery country and creating sovereign risk, just like it did with Ireland.”

Spanish government officials and bank executives have downplayed potential losses on home loans by pointing to the difference between U.S. and Spanish housing markets. In the U.S., a lender’s only option when a borrower defaults is to seize the house and settle for whatever it can get from a sale. The borrower owes nothing more in this system, called non- recourse lending.

‘More Pressure’

In Spain, a bank can go after other assets of the borrower, who remains on the hook for the debt no matter what the price of the house when sold. Still, the same extended liability didn’t stop the Irish from defaulting on home loans as the economy contracted, incomes fell and unemployment rose to 14 percent.

“As the economy deteriorates, the quality of assets is going to get worse,” said Daragh Quinn, an analyst at Nomura International in Madrid. “Corporate loans are probably going to be a bigger worry than mortgages, but losses will keep rising. Some of the larger banks, in particular BBVA and Santander, will be able to generate enough profits to absorb this deterioration, but other purely domestic ones could come under more pressure.”

Spain’s government has said it wants to find private-sector solutions. Among those being considered are plans to let lenders set up bad banks and to sell toxic assets to outside investors.

Correlation Risk

Those proposals won’t work because third-party investors would require bigger discounts on real estate assets than banks will be willing to offer, RBC’s Lee said.

Spanish banks face another risk, beyond souring loans: They have been buying government bonds in recent months. Holdings of Spanish sovereign debt by lenders based in the country jumped 32 percent to 231 billion euros in the four months ended in February, data from Spain’s treasury show.

That increases the correlation of risk between banks and the government. If Spain rescues its lenders, the public debt increases, threatening the sovereign’s solvency. When Greece restructured its debt, swapping bonds at a 50 percent discount, Greek banks lost billions of euros and had to be recapitalized by the state, which had to borrow more from the EU to do so.

In a scenario where Spain is forced to restructure its debt, even a 20 percent discount could spell almost 50 billion euros of additional losses for the country’s banks.

“Spain will have to turn to the EU for funds to solve its banking problem,” said Madison Street’s Auerback. “But there’s little money left after the other bailouts, so what will Spain get? That’s what worries everybody.”

Simon Johnson: WILL THE FED CRUMBLE?

COMBO Title and Securitization Search, Report, Documents, Analysis & Commentary COMBO TITLE AND SECURITIZATION SEARCH, REPORT, ANALYSIS ON LUMINAQ

Is the New York Fed Making a Big Mistake?

EDITORIAL COMMENT:

You might think that getting rid of the FED is a good idea and if there are no changes in FED policy I might agree with you. I still maintain my optimistic and my hope.

Johnson, a well-known, well respected economist formerly with the IMF called the shots in advance, told us the consequences, told us the remedy and still we do nothing. Policy makers are tone deaf to the fact that we are still playing the same game with Wall Street,and that the “banks own the place.” (Senator Dick Durbin, Illinois). Johnson is joined by dozens of well-known and well respected economists and financial analysts who see us merrily speeding toward our doom. The average Joe and Jane on the street understands that we need to address the truth of this matter — we let Wall Street get out of hand and we are slow to put referees back on the field who understand the game.

The former home of our current Treasury secretary, the NY Federal Reserve, is leading the way on terms and data supplied strictly by Wall Street without regard to those of us who understand that things can get worse although it is difficult to imagine the scenario. Johnson is once again sounding the alarm. Is anyone listening? There is plenty to do including dismantling the behemoth monstrosities whose management doesn’t even possess the resources to track all the activities of any one, much less all, of the mega banks. If they are unmanageable they are clearly not regulatable (if that is a word). With “financial services” accounting for close to 50% of what we now count as our gross domestic product servicing an economy that seems to be doing less and less in real services and products, there is lot to do.

But instead of rolling our sleeves up and getting into the dirt to clean up the mess, the NY Federal Reserve continues the same path that led the FED and the country (along with the rest of the world) off a cliff. BOTTOM LINE: LIP SERVICE INSTEAD OF CORRECTIVE ACTION. PROGNOSIS: TERMINAL.

Like the famed Ostrich, our decision-makers are stuck in the sand examining one grain of sand at a time. The elephant in the living room is that proprietary currency, at the urging of Alan Greenspan while FED chairman, has out-paced genuine government currency 12:1, and the situation is getting worse.

Without tackling the challenging task of dismantling of the bank oligopoly, the amount of leverage the FED has on monetary, fiscal or economic policy is minimal. Do the math. Right now the Fed is busy supplying more money through purchases of Treasury bonds, made necessary because the government is out of money. The amount: $600 BILLION. Sounds like a lot of money, right? Wrong. The notional value of all proprietary currency is around one thousand times the size of the latest FED move, which places the effect at just around one-tenth of one percent.

Thus while Johnson and others cry out for reform that will do us some good, the FED is playing around with a few basis points like a $2 broker of yesteryear. In plain language we are still wandering off course without meaningful policy decisions being made by government. The “banks own the place” (Senator Durbin, Illinois) and we are sitting ducks in a zoo of animal analogies.

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By SIMON JOHNSON
Today's Economist

Simon Johnson, the former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, is the co-author of “13 Bankers.”

An uncomfortable dissonance is beginning to develop within the Federal Reserve.

On the one hand, current and former senior officials now generally agree with the proposition that our leading banks need more capital – that is, more equity relative to what they borrow. (The argument for this has been made most forcefully by Prof. Anat Admati and her distinguished colleagues.)

The language these officials use is vaguer than would be ideal, and they refuse to be drawn out on the precise numbers they have in mind. The Swiss National Bank, holding out for 19 percent capital, and the Bank of England, pushing for at least 20 percent capital, seem to be further ahead and much more confident of their case on this issue.

But an important split appears to be emerging within the Federal Reserve, with the Board of Governors (perhaps) and some regional Feds (definitely) tending to want higher capital levels, while the New York Fed is – incredibly – working hard to enable big banks actually to reduce their capital ratios (in the first instance by allowing them to pay increased dividends).

Officials at the New York Fed with whom I and others have spoken appear to be hardening their position against requiring big banks to maintain more capital (beyond the insufficient increases in the Basel III agreement), though no formal position has yet been taken. These officials will not speak on the record nor provide any details about their arguments or whatever evidence they have developed to support them.

So it is hard to know if any analytical basis exists for their evolving position. They have certainly put up no meaningful counterarguments to the powerful points made by Professor Admati and her colleagues – both in general and against allowing United States banks to increase their dividends now (see also this letter published in The Financial Times).

The single public document from the New York Fed on this issue is a working paper that appeared recently on its Web site. This paper simply assumes the answer it seeks: that higher capital requirements will lower growth, and it refuses to engage with the arguments and evidence to the contrary.

The empirical findings presented fall somewhere between weak and unbelievable. If this is the basis for policy making within the Federal Reserve System, I will be very surprised.

The key point is this. Given that the final capital requirements under Basel III remain to be set by the Fed – and top officials say they are still working on this – what’s the big rush to pay dividends? Retaining earnings (that is, not paying dividends) is the easiest way to build capital (shareholder equity) in the banks.

There is strong logic behind not paying dividends until capital is at or above the level needed for the future.

Without any substance on its side, the New York Fed is increasingly creating the perception that it is just doing what its key stakeholders – the big Wall Street banks – want.

Bankers traditionally dominate the boards of regional Feds. We can argue about whether this is a problem for most of them, but for the New York Fed the predominance of big Wall Street institutions has become a major concern.

At the bottom of the Web page listing its current board members, you can review who belonged to the board every year from 2000 to 2008. Note the presence of influential bankers in the past such as Richard Fuld (Lehman), Stephen Friedman (Goldman) and Sanford Weill (Citigroup). Their firm hand helped guide the New York Fed into the crisis of 2007-8.

The Dodd-Frank legislation reduced the power of big banks slightly in this context, so that the president of the New York Fed is no longer picked by Wall Street’s board representatives (as was Timothy F. Geithner, who was president of the New York Fed until being named Treasury secretary, and William Dudley, the current president and former Goldman Sachs executive).

But the current board of the New York Fed still includes Jamie Dimon, the head of JPMorgan Chase and an outspoken voice for allowing banks to operate with less capital by paying out dividends.

In fact, Mr. Dimon has a theory of “excess capital” in banks that is beyond bizarre – asserting that banks (or perhaps any companies) with strong equity financing will do “dumb things.” This is completely at odds with reality in the American economy, where many fast-growing and ultimately successful companies are financed entirely with equity.

If the New York Fed’s top thinkers have convincing reasons for not wanting to increase capital in our largest banks – if, for example, they agree with Mr. Dimon – they should come out and discuss this in public (and some evidence to support their thinking would be nice).

If the New York Fed were really pushing for higher dividends at this time — for example, by constructing a stress test to justify this action — it would be setting us up to mismanage credit, allowing the megabanks to misallocate resources during the good times and crash just as badly when the next downturn comes.

The top leadership of the New York Fed has a responsibility to engage constructively and openly in the technical debate. Yet some Federal Reserve officials act as if they have a constitutional right to run an independent central bank. This is not the case: Congress created the Fed, and Congress can amend how the Fed operates.

The legitimacy of the Federal Reserve System rests on its technical competence, its ability to remain above the political fray and the extent to which it can avoid being captured by special interests.

The danger that the New York Fed will fatally undermine the fragile credibility of the rest of the Federal Reserve System is very real.

The Long-Term Cost of the Mortgage Fraud Meltdown — The Real Legacy of Wall Street

Editor’s Note: Why do I do this? Because we are delivering a message to future generations about how the world works contrary to our constitution and contrary to American values and ideals. Conservatives conserve nothing except the wealth of the fantastic few while the liberals liberate nobody from the yoke of economic slavery. Maybe it’s all a game. I won’t play and if you care about this country and wish to avoid a societal collapse, you should stop playing too.

History has shown us with grim clarity what happens to any country or empire when the power and the wealth gets so concentrated in just a few people while the rest of the population can’t keep a roof over their head and can’t eat food and can’t get medical care, all hell breaks loose. Galbraith, IMF economists, World Bank economists, all know what is going to happen do to our failure to police our own, our failure to make it right and our failure to make amends to our allies or would-be allies.

Children are learning an important lesson: in their world, Mom and Dad are powerless to prevent the worst things from happening and there is nobody else they can depend upon. A whole generation is growing up with the notion that the American Dream is an unknown, unknowable fantasy. Every time the far right asserts personal responsibility in the face of a wretched fraud committed on most of the country, they close the gate a little more, waiting for the final slaughter. Every time the far left wimps out on their own paltform, the one the people elected them on for CHANGE NOW, they deceive and abandon our citizens.

And so we are a Prozac nation because everyone is depressed. We are a Xanax nation because everyone is so stressed out we can’t think straight. And those of us who are entering our twilight years see a future where our children and grandchildren and their children will lead bleak lives of quiet desperation in a country which proclaims free speech and assembly but has surrendered that basic right to about 100 institutions that control the lobbyists who control the flow of money in Washington and state houses.

In April, 2007 stocks were up, confidence was high and everyone had been convinced that all was well without questioning anything. Meanwhile in the inner recesses of the Federal Reserve and halls of power of the executive branch and the U.S. Department of Treasury in particular, they knew the collapse was coming and the only reason they did nothing was political — they didn’t want to admit that the free market was not working, that it wasn’t free, that it was controlled by monopoly and oligopoly, and that the government wasn’t working either because we the people had allowed people to get re-elected despite their sell-out of our countries and our lives.

In I did some very simple calculations and determined that the DJIA was not actually worth 14,000, it was worth 8,000. As it came down, more stumps revealed themselves as the high water receded. The equities market is overpriced by about 25%-30%. Housing is still inflated by 15%-20%. Nobody wants to hear this. The dollar is in a swan dive because everyone in the world knows the reality except the citizens of the United States of America where we have a “free press” that would rather entertain us than actually tell us the news.

I’m doing my part. What are you doing to end this catastrophe?

Job Woes Exacting a Toll on Family Life

THE WOODLANDS, Tex. — Paul Bachmuth’s 9-year-old daughter, Rebecca, began pulling out strands of her hair over the summer. His older child, Hannah, 12, has become noticeably angrier, more prone to throwing tantrums.

Initially, Mr. Bachmuth, 45, did not think his children were terribly affected when he lost his job nearly a year ago. But now he cannot ignore the mounting evidence.

“I’m starting to think it’s all my fault,” Mr. Bachmuth said.

As the months have worn on, his job search travails have consumed the family, even though the Bachmuths were outwardly holding up on unemployment benefits, their savings and the income from the part-time job held by Mr. Bachmuth’s wife, Amanda. But beneath the surface, they have been a family on the brink. They have watched their children struggle with behavioral issues and a stress-induced disorder. He finally got a job offer last week, but not before the couple began seeing a therapist to save their marriage.

For many families across the country, the greatest damage inflicted by this recession has not necessarily been financial, but emotional and psychological. Children, especially, have become hidden casualties, often absorbing more than their parents are fully aware of. Several academic studies have linked parental job loss — especially that of fathers — to adverse impacts in areas like school performance and self-esteem.

“I’ve heard a lot of people who are out of work say it’s kind of been a blessing, that you have more time to spend with your family,” Mr. Bachmuth said. “I love my family and my family comes first, and my family means more than anything to me, but it hasn’t been that way for me.”

A recent study at the University of California, Davis, found that children in families where the head of the household had lost a job were 15 percent more likely to repeat a grade. Ariel Kalil, a University of Chicago professor of public policy, and Kathleen M. Ziol-Guest, of the Institute for Children and Poverty in New York, found in an earlier study that adolescent children of low-income single mothers who endured unemployment had an increased chance of dropping out of school and showed declines in emotional well-being.

In the long term, children whose parents were laid off have been found to have lower annual earnings as adults than those whose parents remained employed, a phenomenon Peter R. Orszag, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, mentioned in a speech last week at New York University.

A variety of studies have tied drops in family income to negative effects on children’s development. But Dr. Kalil, a developmental psychologist and director of the university’s Center for Human Potential and Public Policy, said the more important factor, especially in middle-class households, appeared to be changes in family dynamics from job loss.

“The extent that job losers are stressed and emotionally disengaged or withdrawn, this really matters for kids,” she said. “The other thing that matters is parental conflict. That has been shown repeatedly in psychological studies to be a bad family dynamic.”

Dr. Kalil said her research indicated that the repercussions were more pronounced in children when fathers experience unemployment, rather than mothers.

She theorized that the reasons have to do with the importance of working to the male self-image, or the extra time that unemployed female breadwinners seem to spend with their children, mitigating the impact on them.

Certainly, some of the more than a dozen families interviewed that were dealing with long-term unemployment said the period had been helpful in certain ways for their families.

Denise Stoll, 39, and her husband, Larry, 47, both lost their positions at a bank in San Antonio in October 2008 when it changed hands. Mrs. Stoll, a vice president who managed a technology group, earned significantly more than her husband, who worked as a district loan origination manager.

Nevertheless, Mr. Stoll took unemployment much harder than she did and struggled to keep his spirits up, before he landed a new job within several months in the Kansas City area, where the family had moved to be closer to relatives. He had to take a sizable pay cut but was grateful to be working again.

Mrs. Stoll is still looking but has also tried to make the most of the additional time with the couple’s 5-year-old triplets, seeking to instill new lessons on the importance of thrift.

“Being a corporate mom, you work a lot of hours, you feed them dinner — maybe,” she said. “This morning, we baked cookies together. I have time to help them with homework. I’m attending church. The house is managed by me. Just a lot more homemaker-type stuff, which I think is more nurturing to them.”

Other families, however, reported unmistakable ill effects.

Robert Syck, 42, of Fishers, Ind., lost his job as a call-center manager in March. He has been around his 11-year-old stepson, Kody, more than ever before. Lately, however, their relationship has become increasingly strained, Mr. Syck said, with even little incidents setting off blowups. His stepson’s grades have slipped and the boy has been talking back to his parents more.

“It’s only been particularly in the last few months that it’s gotten really bad, to where we’re verbally chewing each other out,” said Mr. Syck, who admitted he had been more irritable around the house. “A lot of that is due to the pressures of unemployment.”

When Mr. Bachmuth was first laid off in December from his $120,000 job at an energy consulting firm, he could not even bring himself to tell his family. For several days, he got dressed in the morning and left the house as usual at 6 a.m., but spent the day in coffee shops, the library or just walking around.

Mr. Bachmuth had started the job, working on finance and business development for electric utilities, eight months earlier, moving his family from Austin. They bought something of a dream home, complete with a backyard pool and spa.

Although she knew the economy was ultimately to blame, Mrs. Bachmuth could not help feeling angry at her husband, both said later in interviews.

“She kind of had something in the back of her mind that it was partly my fault I was laid off,” Mr. Bachmuth said. “Maybe you’re not a good enough worker.”

Counseling improved matters significantly, but Mrs. Bachmuth still occasionally dissolved into tears at home.

Besides quarrels over money, the reversal in the couple’s roles also produced friction. Mrs. Bachmuth took on a part-time job at a preschool to earn extra money. But she still did most, if not all, of the cooking, cleaning and laundry.

Dr. Kalil, of the University of Chicago, said a recent study of how people spend their time showed unemployed fathers devote significantly less time to household chores than even mothers who are employed full-time, and do not work as hard in caring for children.

Mr. Bachmuth’s time with his girls, however, did increase. He was the one dropping off Rebecca at school and usually the one who picked her up. He began helping her more with homework. He and Hannah played soccer and chatted more.

But the additional time brought more opportunities for squabbling. The rest of the family had to get used to Mr. Bachmuth being around, sometimes focused on his search for a job, but other times lounging around depressed, watching television or surfing soccer sites on the Internet.

“My dad’s around a lot more, so it’s a little strange because he gets frustrated he’s not at work, and he’s not being challenged,” Hannah said. “So I think me and my dad are a lot closer now because we can spend a lot more time together, but we fight a lot more maybe because he’s around 24-7.”

When Rebecca began pulling her hair out in late summer in what was diagnosed as a stress-induced disorder, she insisted it was because she was bored. But her parents and her therapist — the same one seeing her parents — believed it was clearly related to the job situation.

The hair pulling has since stopped, but she continues to fidget with her brown locks.

The other day, she suddenly asked her mother whether she thought she would be able to find a “good job” when she grew up.

Hannah said her father’s unemployment had made it harder for her to focus on schoolwork. She also conceded she had been more easily annoyed with her parents and her sister.

At night, she said, she has taken to stowing her worries away in an imaginary box.

“I take all the stress and bad things that happen over the day, and I lock them in a box,” she said.

Then, she tries to sleep.

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