I'm happy to announce that nothing too dramatic happened last weekend and no banks collapsed this week- at least not any American banks- yet. On the other hand, we experienced a 8 day consecutive drop in the stock market (globally), like the market has never seen since 1933. The US stock market dropped nearly 18% this week, with the DOW breaking the 9000 mark (and very nearly the 8000 on too today). Asian and European benchmarks posted their worst week as well, while some countries, like Russia, Indonesia and Ukraine were hit so bad that they suspended trading. Basically the stock market dropped and financial journalists are starting to run out of words to describe "down." So how did this happen when the US congress just approved the bailout plan last Friday?
I've pinpointed it down to fear. Fear that this bailout plan will not work or came too late. Fear that the economy is heading for loooong recession (if we're not in one already). Fear that more companies will declare bankruptcy and they will loose all their wealth. And fear is nothing if not a self fulfilling prophecy. As a result, people have been selling off their assets or redeeming their investments in funds, forcing funds to sell off their assets to meet these redemption demands, further driving the market down. Everyone wants to get their hands on solid cash right now- just in case. Emotion is a powerful force. Logically, having just read "The Warren Buffet Way," I believe that as long as you've done your research and you believe that the firm is solid, then the market price of the firm will eventually match with the firm's true value, despite market volatility. In which case, it sounds like there should be a lot of bargains out there right now- not that I'm giving out investment advice. Just musing. Various experts in the field have been debating whether we've hit rock bottom or not and there has not been a general consensus.
So does this mean the bailout plan failed to do its job of stabilizing the economy, since the market actually got worse after it passed? It's far too early to tell (since it has not even been executed yet), but it's comforting to know that something is being done to address the heart of the problem. If you caught a cold and it keeps getting worse, wouldn't you go see a doctor and take some medicine, even though theoretically the body's immune system will naturally fight off the infection, just in case it's something worse than a cold that the body can't fight off by itself?
Though of course, we must bare in mind that the bailout plan is not a cure all (or as Buffet puts it, a "panacea"). To that end, the government has come up with many other 'cures' for the economy:
- On Tuesday, the government announced that it will lend directly to non-financial companies through the commercial paper markets- which are short term, unsecured loans, firms use to borrow money for operational needs i.e. stocking up inventories. This will help companies finance their operational costs easier, since credit is so hard to get these days
- The Fed will start paying interest on commercial banks' reserves, which will expand the central bank's resources and more leverage to battle the this credit market
- On Wednesday, central banks around the world, including US, Britain and China cut their interest rates, which, made together, is supposedly a more powerful move. This is aimed to lower the cost of borrowing and put more liquidity back into the market (and of course there are a host of other effects, but this is the gist). This is one of the most powerful weapon in the US government's arsenal, but at 1.5% (after a 0.5% cut), they don't have much further to go. Any further, and they'll end up like Japan with no more room to adjust their interest rates and a decade long recession. You know the song that goes, "catch a falling star and save it for a rainy day"? I hope there aren't too many even more rainier days ahead, because it looks like we're running out of stars
- Paulson and Bernanke met up with representatives from the rest of the G7 on Friday, to discuss the global economy and came out with a list of broad common goals. I thought those goals were a given, but I guess not.
- They also announced on Friday that the US government will be injecting money into financial firms in exchange for equity stakes, in an attempt to recapitalize firms. At least we're getting something back. Maybe this will help Morgan Stanley, which has been under pressure this week with rumors that MUFG might be pulling out/demaind their stakes and what not.
Over at the other side of the world on a small island of 300,000 people called Iceland, the government nationalized (or rescued) their three biggest banks and closed the stock market, while their currency plummeted (the last I checked it was by a 1/3). Having out grown its Iceland's economy, the banks were struggling to stay afloat in this market with their heavy debts. Some citizens have even lost their life savings becase of this. The government is now currently waiting on a $5.4 billion loan from Russia, the only country who responded to their pleas, having been reluctant to accept anything from the IMF. Not that Russia is doing too well themselves...... I wonder if it's possible for a country to go bankrupt. What happens then? On the otherhand, if anyone is interested in visiting Iceland any time soon (I heard the nature stuff is very pretty over there), Icelandair is offering a "Winter Madness" package for 3 nights staying at the Hilton, for only $549!