The purpose of Outside the Box is to present views which cause us to think through our basic assumptions. This week our old friend Michael Lewitt of Hegemony Capital Management gives us a view as to why the bailout bill going down may not be as bad as I think it might. There is much we agree on, however. And part of our agreement is that a deeper recession is in our future. Let me be clear. Muddle Through is now at risk.
I have talked with my publisher, and for the next few weeks of The continuing Crisis, we are going to send more than one OTB per week, and I may also add some short commentary. These are extraordinary times, and I know a lot of you (as I can tell from phone and emails) are worried and are interested in analysis that is not biased with either a perma-bull or perma-bear stance. I will call it as I see it, as always, and forward you material from my best sources.
That being said, we will get through this, one way or another. Sanity and clarity will return, as it always does after times of crisis. I wish you the best in your situation.
What a momentous weekend. I was pounding the table about the need to move quickly on Fannie and Freddie in my last few letters, and especially this last letter. And then they did it. There are a lot of details that have yet to come out, and it is likely to be far more expensive the Savings and Loan crisis was for the US taxpayer, but it did get done. Hopefully, we can get some real regulation for part of our costs, as well as get rid of the implicit guarantees by US taxpayers so that something like this never happens again. The fact that it did was the fault of the regulatory environment and Congress. They fired the heads of Fannie and Freddie (with multi-million dollar parting gifts), but sadly, the truly responsible parties will be re-elected to perpetrate yet more frauds.
This week in Outside the Box we will look at two essays, one by Paul McCulley, Managing Director of PIMCO (www.pimco.com). The second is a quick shot by Michael Lewitt of Hegemony Capital Management on the Freddie and Fannie nationalization (www.hcmmarketletter.com). They both make points that there is a lot of work still to be done by the authorities. This crisis is not over...
And on that note, I agree with this paragraph from Greg Weldon:
"There is talk that yesterday's 'event' signals an end to the credit crisis ... nothing could be further from the truth. The take over of Fannie and Freddie implies that the credit contraction continues to INTENSIFY, as the government will likely NOT ... EXPAND ... the balance sheets of these two entities. More importantly, the take-over does NOTHING in terms of bank lending standards, which continue to tighten. Nor does it do anything for Ma and Pa Kettle, as it relates to their ability to continue to take on more debt, which continues to worsen in line with intensifying erosion in the housing market and the labor market as was WELL EVIDENCED by ALL the macro-data released last week ... and the horrific labor market report. Indeed, today's markets move might provide the best "FADE" opportunity of the year!!!"
And Now, on to the essays by Paul and Michael.
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.