Saturday, October 11, 2008

Weather Report

High in the 60s, chance of falling investment bankers.

The credit boom turned into a crunch and now into a free fall. Bailouts, excuse me, "rescue plans" adopted by governments have done nothing to stop the bleeding. People are comparing this to 1929.

Before the founding of the Fed, "banking panics" happened with regulatory, and resulted in stock market crashes. The best analogy in my mind in the Panic of 1907. There was an asset bubble (though in copper, not real estate), the bursting of which lead to a severe credit crunch. As banks began to fail, New York banks suspended specie payments to customers. The Dow lost half of its value.

According to legend, JP Morgan at one point locked the heads of the ten largest banks in his office and told them they had to raise $25 million in half an hour. JD Rockefeller made big deposits in failing banks to help stabilize them.

In the end, the credit crunch eased and within two years the Dow was back at its pre-Panic levels.

Will that happen here? I do not know. The Great Depression was caused by a number of factors. The Fed has engaged in a mildly inflationary policy in the 1920s, but when the recession began (and the stock market crashed), the Fed for some reason decided to TIGHTEN credit. This caused a credit crunch that brought business to a halt. All that was needed was a few bank failures and a return to protectionism and the Great Depression was born.

It seems that the Fed has learned from the lessons of 1929-1933. They are not tightening credit. Unlike the Depression, the FDIC is protecting most persons deposits and so far at least, the failing banks seem to be taken over by other banks. But the fall in asset values is not being stemmed, and the credit crunch still seems in place.

Of course the call will go up for more regulation. But every time there is a banking or securities scandal, ore regulation is proposed -- the Enron scandal lead to SOX and changes to accounting rules, the S&L crisis lead to more regulation and yet we still have the Panic of 2008. More regulation inevitably leads to more lobbying and then a relaxation of that regulation (Representative Waters in 2003 telling a regulator that there were no problems at Fannie and Freddie).

In short, I believe the government should do as little as possible here. The Fed should keep credit available but allow the toxicity to bleed itself out of the system. The banks do not want to foreclose on 10 million houses (or however many it is). The banks can foreclose on the bad ones, renegotiate with the rest, and the bond holders will take their hit. That is capitalism.

1 comment:

William R. Barker said...

To my Catholic Libertarian friend I say...

AMEN. (But no one is FORCED to join me!) (*GRIN*)