A systemic financial meltdown

world | Mar 17, 2008 | By Mike Whitney

"It's another round of the credit crisis. Some markets are getting worse than January this time. There is fear that something dramatic will happen and that fear is feeding itself," Jesper Fischer-Nielsen, interest rate strategist at Danske Bank, Copenhagen; Reuters

Last week's action by the Federal Reserve proves that the banking system is insolvent and the US economy is at the brink of collapse. It also shows that the Fed is willing to intervene directly in the stock market if it keeps equities propped up. This is clearly a violation of its mandate and runs contrary to the basic tenets of a free market. Investors who shorted the market yesterday, got clobbered by the not so invisible hand of the Fed chief.

In his prepared statement, Bernanke announced that the Fed would add $200 billion to the financial system to shore up banks that have been battered by mortgage-related losses. The news was greeted with jubilation on Wall Street where traders sent stocks skyrocketing by 416 points, their biggest one-day gain in five years.

“It's like they're putting jumper cables onto a battery to kick-start the credit market,'' said Nick Raich, a manager at National City Private Client Group in Cleveland. ``They're doing their best to try to restore confidence.''

“Confidence”? Is that what it's called when the system is bailed out by Sugar-daddy Bernanke?

To understand the real meaning behind the Fed's action; it's worth considering some of the stories which popped up in the business news just days earlier. For example, last Friday, the International Herald Tribune reported:

“Tight money markets, tumbling stocks and the dollar are expected to heighten worries for investors this week as pressure mounts on central banks facing what looks like the “third wave” of a global credit crisis....Money markets tightened to levels not seen since December, when year-end funding problems pushed lending costs higher across the board.”

The Herald Tribune said that troubles in the credit markets had pushed the stock market down more than 3 percent in a week and that the same conditions which preceded the last two crises (in August and December) were back stronger than ever. In other words, liquidity was vanishing from the system and the market was headed for a crash.

A report in Reuters reiterated the same ominous prediction of a “third wave” saying:

“The two-year U.S. Treasury yields hit a 4-year low below 1.5 percent as investors flocked to safe-haven government bonds....The cost of corporate bond insurance hit record highs on Friday and parts of the debt market which had previously escaped the turmoil are also getting hit.”

Risk premiums were soaring and investors were fleeing stocks and bonds for the safety of government Treasuries; another sure sign that liquidity was disappearing.

Reuters: "The level of financial stress is ... likely to continue to fuel speculation of more immediate central bank action either in the form of increased liquidity injections or an early rate cut," Goldman Sachs said in a note to clients.”

Indeed. When there's a funding-freeze by lenders, investors hit the exits as fast as their feet will carry them. That's why the lights started blinking red at the Federal Reserve and Bernanke concocted a plan to add $200 billion to the listing banking system.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman also referred to a “third wave” in his article “The Face-Slap Theory”. According to Krugman, “The Fed has been cutting the interest rate it controls - the so-called Fed funds rate – (but) the rates that matter most directly to the economy, including rates on mortgages and corporate bonds, have been rising. And th



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Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached at: fergiewhitney@msn.com
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.

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