The weekend has brought us events that can only be described in large, over-the-top terms. The Fed agreeing to take equity on its balance sheet? How bad can things really be? Clearly much worse than most people thought last Friday. Moral Hazard has been re-introduced as Lehman is allowed to go down. I will admit to being surprised. I thought Paulson and Bernanke would put it in the too big too fail category. I think they did the right thing by refusing taxpayer money for a bailout, but it is clearly going to roil the credit markets for weeks and months. It will be interesting to see how long it lasts.
I am in La Jolla today, working with my partners at Altegris, and looking over their shoulders while they monitor the performance of some of our managers. Interesting times. But I have had the time to read two short but very interesting commentaries on the current crisis. I will have more to say on Friday, but for now let's read old friends (to Outside the Box readers) Michael Lewitt of Hegemony Capital Management (www.hcmmarketletter.com) and Barry Ritholtz of Fusion IQ (www.fusioniqrank.com).
As I send this, credit default swaps spreads are simply blowing out. I have been writing about how we would see significant problems in the CDS markets for almost two years. This is something that you could see coming yet nothing was done. I know we are now in crisis, but let's hope that the authorities learn some lessons and put in place some sensible regulations of the CDS market soon. And for the love of Pete (insert your favorite expletive here) put these (more expletives) things on a regulated exchange.
And I agree with Michael below. This is not a time to try and catch a falling knife. That time will come, but not yet. And remember things will get better and we will get through this. As I just said to Barry, "We do live in interesting times."
This week in Outside the Box we take up a topic that should be on the top of the agenda of every regulatory authority, executives at financial services firms of all types, and average investors: How do we fix the credit markets to make sure we do not have such a crisis again? Good friend Michael Lewitt of Hegemony Capital Management gives us his observations, some of which go further than I would personally like to see us go. But this is the conversation that must happen if we are to steer clear of future crises. It is clear to me now that a laissez faire approach to regulating certain financial instruments exposes the entire economy to risks much larger than the loss of a business here or there. While better disclosure is certainly appropriate, it is not enough.
I think that we should seriously consider having an exchange for credit default swaps and other similar OTC derivatives. If Bear Stearns is deemed too big to fail because of the extent of its CDS book, and taxpayers are put at risk in a bailout, which I agree was necessary, then rules must limit taxpayer exposure. Having futures and options trade on an exchange certainly hasn't limited commerce or restrained business, and with instantaneous execution and inexpensive transactions there is little friction from using an exchange.
Getting the rules right in the future is going to be difficult and contentious. But it is something we must begin to do as soon as possible. The footnotes that Michael uses are at the end.
This week's Outside the Box is going to be a little different. I am going to write about the extraordinary action by the NY Fed to foster the Bear Stearns deal with JP Morgan, and give you three brief notes from Michael Lewitt of Harch Capital Management and Bob Eisenbeis (former executive vice-president of the Federal Reserve of Atlanta) of Cumberland Advisors.