“It’s a bloodbath out there,” says an official with Market Street Mortgage in Houston. She was exaggerating. There is very little blood in the streets – so far. A few hedge funds have failed. A few thousand householders have lost their homes. A few mortgage lenders have gone under. And nearly a trillion dollars have been taken out of the US stock market.
True, Jim Cramer seems to have lost his mind, but he had nothing much to start with. And the lending industry is clearly growing more cautious.
“Alt-A lender Aegis halts home loans,” says the news from Houston.
“No more ‘liar loans’ for Impac Mortgage,” says another report.
German bank, IKB, has gotten an US$11 billion bailout.
And a Bible school in California is suing its investment bankers, saying it was stuck with inappropriate swaps by its commission-greedy advisors.
But we suspect that the real bloodletting is still ahead…when hundreds of billions in adjustable rate mortgages are reset…when speculators find out what is in their derivative positions…when investors turn fearful…and when consumers finally begin to live within their means.
Richard Russell thinks all this is merely driving down expectations…so the stock market can be fully sold-out in anticipation of the third phase of this big bull market. We’re not so sure. Consumers, investors, and speculators have been positive and bullish for a very long time. Except for a couple brief setbacks, prices and confidence have been rising since 1982. It seems to us that this bubble has gotten big enough. Of course…that is not for us to say. Anything could happen.
What we find amusing now is that the press is finally beginning to give credit where it is due. Two articles – one in Forbes and the other in the Wall Street Journal – single out our own dearly beloved former Fed chairman, Alan Greenspan.
“Our present misery dates back to Alan Greenspan’s easy money policy of a few years ago,” writes Martin T. Sosnoff in Forbes. “When the risk-free rate was pegged at 1%, financial market players, starved for higher yields, moved out on the quality spectrum for long maturity goods. Insurance underwriters, brokers, banks and some hedge funds that play the carry trade game have taken hits to their net asset value, but not enough to cripple them permanently.”
“The housing debacle already has cut 1% out of GDP,” he continues. “Fortunately, we are heading to the first anniversary of the decline in new construction, but there’s more coming and no likely recovery before 2009. Existing home prices have peaked until the country absorbs new home inventory and coming defaults on mortgages outstanding.”
The Wall Street Journal adds this:
“When the Fed cut interest rates to the lowest level in a generation to avoid a severe downturn, then-Chairman Alan Greenspan anticipated that making short-term credit so cheap would have unintended consequences. ‘I don’t know what it is, but we’re doing some damage because this is not the way credit markets should operate,’ he and a colleague recall him saying at the time.
“Now the consequences of moves the Fed and others made are becoming clearer.
“Low interest rates engineered by central banks and reinforced by a tidal wave of overseas savings fuelled home prices and leveraged buyouts. Pension funds and endowments, unhappy with skimpy returns, shoved cash at hedge funds and private-equity firms, which borrowed heavily to make big bets. The investments of choice were opaque financial instruments that shifted default risk from lenders to global investors.
The question now: when the dust settles, will the world be better off?”
We have already answered that question: yes and no. There are two parts to this boom – which is what makes it so damnably difficult to understand. There is the part where people are building real businesses, paying real wages and making real profits. Where that is happening – mostly in Asia – the world is a better place already…and getting better all the time.
The other part of this boom is a fraud. People who are not really earning more money have been lured by EZ credit to borrow and spend more than they could afford. Their spending has helped build a real economy in Asia…but it has destroyed their own economy at home. These poor saps are now in a jam. They cannot expect to earn more money; worldwide labour competition is fierce. They have huge debts to pay. And their cost of living is going up sharply – thanks to the growing purchasing power of their new competitors in Asia and elsewhere.
Prior to this big boom, they practically had the world’s oil and resources all to themselves. Now, there are two billion more people bidding for everything – including the food they eat. When they figure out what has happened to them – if they ever do – that is when the real bloodbath will come.
Markets and Money