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Friday September 5, 2008 - 13:01:32 GMT
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Markets are growing increasingly illiquid.  Asset prices are tumbling from equities, to emerging market debt to mortgages to commodities to currencies.  This is not an orderly environment and one can almost hear a collective cry for help echoing across capital markets.


One can also detect that there is no response…no one is home or no one cares…Katrina of capital markets.  Is it the desire not to push the GOP convention off the news?  Is it a desire to leave tough financial questions like nationalizing the GSEs to the next president?  Where is Paulson?  Maybe the RNC should mobilize a capital market intervention from the Minneapolis Northstar hockey arena led by a cadre of hockey moms.   A few slap shots at the empty nets of the pencil heads on Wall Street might work.


Even the Fed is onto the problems facing not just the capital markets, but the real economy – Governor Rosengren on Wednesday and San Francisco Fed President Yellen today.  Dallas Fed President Fisher, on loan from the European Central Bank (foreign exchange program), came out flailing against inflation today underscoring his brethren in Frankfurt perilously pursuing price stability.  But Fisher is no Bernanke and the consensus is with the Chairman.  The Fed has turned pessimistic on the economy and the outlook is increasingly uncertain.  Perhaps they too see the data and can no longer pretend that a serious recession is an ever growing risk.  They also have the best idea of what kind of shape banks are in and the latest take is lending standards are tightening. 


So it was rather surprising (not for all as ECB had signaled this policy move to the banks in private) that Trichet took today to announce tougher lending standards for banks that park ABS with the ECB in exchange for funds – haircuts as of Feb09 from 12-17%.  Ouch.  Clearly the ECB wants to be compensated for the risk it is assuming in taking questionable ABS for cash.  Moreover, the ECB is using the haircuts to address moral hazard.  And this follows lots of speculation in the press that banks are taking advantage of the central banks’ generosity to make a buck.  Arbbing cheap central bank sources of financing. 


John Kerry called the Iraq War in 2004’s campaign the wrong war at the wrong time with the wrong country.  Well the ECB policy stance (leaning against inflation and moving to tighten collateral standards) is arguably the wrong policy at the wrong time and based on wrong fundamentals.  ECB is in a stockade – locked and loaded for inflation which in normal times would be the right policy at the right time.  But the ECB continues to be in denial that the credit market crisis will impact economic activity and weaker economic activity will impact the credit market crisis.  Not even a series of weak economic numbers is enough to free the ECB from its policy stockade.  Moral of this story is that a rules based monetary policy makes lots of sense in normal times, normal business cycle.  But when things stop being normal pragmatism needs to replace theory…flexibility over rigidity.  The ECB is now a contributing source of financial system disorder.


Enter Bill Gross.  He said he ain’t buying anymore and implied he can’t sell what he owns (quality mortgages and GSE debt).   He also noted that Wells Fargo launched a retail subordinated debt issue on Wednesday and is packaging it for retail investors because institutional investors like PIMCO are full and can’t absorb more. 


In his own style Gross issued a mayday to the US government to step in and support the debt markets.


I really think the Fed is out of the picture beyond simply being lender of first and last resort to banks and investment banks.  Lower rates will not result in increased lending to firms and households in a world where credit markets are saying no way because the borrower may default.  Pushing on a string – a liquidity trap.


This is all about W and H…the White House and Treasury.  Unfortunately the political narrative is blocking any leadership much more intervention and hence it is difficult to see how left to their own demise, capital markets will avoid a solvency-led crash.  We are passing from a bank-solvency-and-liquidity phase to a household-and-firm-solvency-and liquidity-phase with an increasingly broken transmission mechanism called the banking system.




David Gilmore



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