To save our economy and the financial future of America, the US government is taking over our financial system by changing the rules and becoming the backstop for all the junk in the current financial system. While this may save our skins in the near term I think it is going to put America in a big black hole for the next decade or more. First, here is a quick recap of the key elements of the latest mega-bailout plan – which is equal to more than $2,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States.
- Authority for the treasury to buy up to $700 billion in devalued mortgage-backed securities (MBS). This will allow the treasury to take on the “toxic” MBS from the financial firms and out of the financial system. I dub this as the government creating and running the largest ever Toxic Hedge Fund (THF) in history. This is in addition to the purchase of short term debt obligations from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae (remember them?). The potential exposure of the THF fund could be ten to thirty times its underlying assets base thanks to the leverage and derivative nature of the MBS which made them so fatal for financial institutions. If this “Toxic” fund collapses we, the American tax payer, could be on the line for trillions of dollars. Only God could save us in this scenario and the latest crisis will be a walk in the park by comparison.
- The Treasury Department will guarantee the assets in money market mutual funds to reassure savers and investors. Probably the only sensible component of the plan. This is money that is quite safe, but the treasury’s reassurance will make people feel much better about their holdings. I still feel folks should move to an online saving account for the greatest protection and return of investment as detailed in this post.
- The SEC is temporarily banning the short selling of almost 800 financial stocks. Short selling is a bet the stock will fall. It is legal but has been blamed for worsening the crisis by putting added pressure on. Most market traders see this is a knee jerk reaction which doesn’t address the root cause of the crisis. But, there are no rules now, except the ones the Fed and treasury create. So like the rest of us, these Wall Street professionals will have to suck it in and deal with it. I can also bet a number of company’s are clambering to get on the “no short sell list” to boost their share price which will mean more bonuses for their CEO’s come year end.
With all the bailouts to date and the most recent mega-bailout, here are some of the long term problems being created for our futures
- Inflation: While the Fed has about a trillion or so dollars currently on its balance sheet, it is likely the cost all of the bailouts will be much more. In order to get more funding, more money will be printed by the Fed and added to the money supply. Economics 101 says that this will lead to inflation as the purchasing power of the currency declines. So while we save the economy now, in real terms we will all be poorer in the future.
- Too much government authority: The $700 Billion rescue plan gives Treasury power unchecked by courts – so who is overseeing the overseer? With all this economic, regulatory and political power do you think the government will easily give it up? Particularly under a pro-government control democratic administration. Further, if the government is so good at managing debt, then why do we already have the highest national debt in recorded history? The proposal is “a clear abdication of all oversight and fiscal authorities to a Secretary of Treasury that has bungled this crisis from the beginning,” said Joshua Rosner, an analyst at the independent research firm Graham Fisher & Co. in New York. “This is Marxism. And I mean Groucho not Karl.’’
- Bye-bye US dollar and hello $150 oil: With inflation, slower economic growth and uncertain financial markets the US dollar is set to lose a large portion of the gains made over the last few months. Long term the trend for the greenback is down, which coupled with global demand and limited supply will mean $150 oil in the not to distant future (It was already back above $100 this week).
- Limited scope for future administration’s to reduce taxes, improve our health system or reform social security. Their just won’t be any money to do so. Unlike the big financials, don’t rely on the government to bail you out in retirement.
- Losing the mantle of the world’s premier economy: Japan went through an eerily similar scenario in the early 90’s when their financial institutions collapsed. It has been more than 15 years and they are still recovering from that crisis. America may be more resilient and actions were taken sooner rather than later, but it could take until 2015 or later to recover the bailout funds and get the financial system back to being world class. By then the emerging super powers India and China will have made significant ground and it could too late for America to take back the mantle of the worlds most number one economy.
- Bad examples for future management: Unless some serious regulatory and structural changes are made most of the management of these bailed out companies will get off with a relatively minor rebuke. Yes, they may not get their big bonuses but most of them had already made their millions before the financial crisis really struck. So don’t feel too sorry for them while they have a couple of years off in their yachts and holiday homes. A number of them will return to Wall Street in a few years as “consultants” when the dust has settled to very cushy jobs as this crisis and the faces behind it fade into memory.
National debt: You think it is high now; you ain’t seen nothing yet baby. National debt will be a problem for years, if not generations to come. One of the reasons the treasury had to make moves now was pressure from foreign banks in China, Korea and Japan who own a significant amount of MBS. When foreign governments and banks can start putting pressure on the US because of the growing amount we owe them we are slowly but surely losing control of our economic future.
There you have it. My view on things as they currently stand and unfortunately not a very rosy picture painted. What are your thoughts – do you agree/disagree?
– Making the Move: Vanguard Money Market to ING Direct.