BABY, IT’S COLD OUT THERE. So let’s toss another billion on the fire.
What’s that make it? Well, let’s see: $29 billion for Bear Stearns, somewhere between $1 billion and $100 billion each for Fannie and Freddie (a nice narrow range), $85 billion for AIG, a couple of hundred billion to keep stray banks, brokers and their errant kin from asphyxiating themselves by swallowing toxic paper. And then there’s the proposed reincarnation of the Resolution Trust Corp., which all by itself may mean shelling out $800 billion, perhaps even as much as $1 trillion.
While we’re at it, we might as well include the $400 billion with which the Paulson-Bernanke grand plan envisages endowing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. so it can insure money-market funds.
But, please, understand those mind-boggling sums in no way, shape or form are to be construed as designed to aid and abet a bailout. Instead, they are merely the essential ingredients of an “intervention,” or, if you prefer, a “rescue” — just about anything, in other words, that’s semantically sweeter than bailout, with its ugly connotation of a sinking ship.
Besides, we have it on the best authority that none of this largess will cost the taxpayer a cent over the long run, which, if nothing else, speaks volumes about what constitutes the best authority these days.
This is not to say that until the powers-that-be pounded the panic button last week, the billions they had already thrown at the problem as well as taking a big step further and making the wretched companies soaking up those billion de facto vassals of the government were completely in vain. They undeniably had an instant impact. Unfortunately, an instant was about as long as the impact lasted, and it failed miserably to becalm the frantic credit markets or rekindle investor confidence.
The sad truth is that just about every one of Messrs. Paulson and Bernanke’s previous brainstorms — and they seemed to come with increasing frequency as Hank and Ben’s agitation mounted — touched off a brief spasm of exhilaration among investors, only to evaporate in very short order as the credit crisis resolutely morphed into a credit calamity. Or, to change the metaphor, what had been a slow-motion train wreck picked up demonic speed.
On last Wednesday, investors were so gripped with fear and desperate for a haven that they poured into [Treasury] bills even though the yield was nonexistent. In effect, they were willing to pay the government for keeping their money safe. As a glance at the chart shows, that hasn’t happened since the Depression.
Then, everything changed, at least for now. And the soaring rise in the stock market that began Thursday afternoon and extended through the final bell on Friday had Ben and Hank whooping with joy, exchanging high fives and just venting their pleasure with cat-that-swallowed-the-canary smiles, a welcome change from the funereal faces they had donned for the past few months.
While we’re in a generous mood, we might as well add Christopher Cox to the cheerful circle of celebrants. The SEC chief has been the target of a steady stream of slings and arrows directed his way by John McCain, which rather than nailing Cox’s inadequacies (and they’re bountiful) once again demonstrated that McCain and his advisers haven’t much of a clue how markets work.
Frankly, it seems to us, Cox [...] was more interested in covering his derrière than in protecting investors.
WILL THE GRAND PLAN WORK?
The plan, in all its extravagance, seems to have been thrown together on the fly, and once Congress gets a whack at it in the waning days before the lawmakers scurry off to the hustings, it may bear only passing resemblance, for better but probably for worse, to Paulson and Bernanke’s handiwork.
Obviously, the unknowns greatly outweigh the knowns, which make those and myriad other questions tough or downright impossible to answer.
We’re willing to concede that some forceful action was necessary, if only so the Fed can pay penance for its critical part in creating the incredible credit-cum-housing disaster.
Kids, go read the entire article. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll thank me later. In the meantime, I thought I would bring back another movie from way back in March and make it a double-feature evening.
Original DVD cover.