End of the World or Muddle Through? This week I try to explain in simple terms the very complicated story of how we went from some bad mortgage loan practices in the US to the point of world credit markets freezing up. There is a connection between the retirement plans of Mr. and Mrs. Watanabe in Japan and the subprime problems of Mr. and Mrs. Smith in California. We find the relationship between European banks and problematic hedge funds. And finally, we try and see how we get out of this mess. Oddly, I think it is hedge funds (and maybe Warren Buffett) to the rescue, but not in the way you would think. It is a lot to cover, so let's jump right in. (And there are a lot of charts, so while this will print out long, it is only a little longer than the usual in word length.)
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To say the credit markets are frozen is an understatement. Talking to any number of people who have been in the markets for decades, this is the worst in their memory. Ironically, it is the 100-year anniversary of the Panic of 1907, when one banker (J. P. Morgan) stepped in and provided liquidity to the markets. The central banks of the world are providing liquidity; but as we will see, it is not mere liquidity that is needed.