Monday, September 29, 2008

Failed Bailout Vote!

Failed Bailout Vote! It was never certain that the vote on the bailout would pass. With five weeks to go until election day, and with a large segment of the population mad at the idea of bailing out big business, it was a tough call for the House members. What would have happened if the bill had passed? We don't know. My guess is that, with passage, the value of mortgage loans would rise because the Federal Government would be a ready buyer. As the purchases occurred, cash would flow back into the banking system. If the bailout did not pass, I would expect to see the value of the mortgage loans drop even farther, the stock market retreat because of the unknown, and greater amounts of money flying to US Treasury bills and notes, reducing the interest paid on these instruments to an insignificant amount. For the vast majority of our clients, we have a very heavy position in cash. On September 19, 2008 the Federal Reserve guaranteed these accounts for the full amount in the accounts, both taxable and tax exempt. As I indicated in a recent newsletter, the bonds in our accounts seem good, are paying interest and are paying back the principal when the bonds mature. I believe we have taken a defensive posture that we should maintain even while it appears there are buying opportunities in this market. I am not sanguine about what is happening. I believe that what we have witnessed in the past several weeks is a lack of leadership in Congress and the business community. Usually at times like this the Executive Branch provides the needed leadership, but this administration has lost its credibility for many and must rely on others to move the process along.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

That Nasty Four-Letter Word!

It's a nasty four-letter word that none of us likes to use. Matter of fact, most of us never want to think about it. But it is a word that is always there, hovering in the background, pouncing when least expected. We are tormented with its unspoken presence in the media, our daily discussions with friends and family and in the workplace. The word of course is "FEAR". The idea of fear keeps us in place, like a deer caught in the headlights of a car, unable to move. What should we do? Where should we go? Will we be okay? This past year has been a period of increasing fear for many of us. First we read about subprime mortgages and how people were losing their homes. Then we saw the price of a barrel of oil go up to more than $145. Then we had the crisis with Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac seeming to bring ordinary people's mortgages to the brink and hurting home values. If this was not enough, we heard about three major investment banks going bust, with one being sold by the Federal Reserve for pennies on the dollar, another merging with a major bank and the third going bankrupt. Along with the investment banks we discovered the largest insurance company in the US was being taken over by the government! Fear! To say that this is unprecedented is not idle chatter. It has been compared to the period of the: "Great Depression" and the period just after WWII. Its root cause: greed! Not just plain old greed but a very high level of greed practiced by top executives of very large companies. It makes me MAD that we taxpayers are going to bail out companies who had the audacity to give their executives bonuses of $80 Million or more for their "stellar performance". I have no doubt that Congress, in which both political parties allowed this to go on, will do what they need to do to bring liquidity and an attempt at stability and oversight to the business community. Eventually we will all go back to our "normal lives" and this crisis will pass and be forgotten. The problem is that the solution seems to say to those large companies that took big risks and some of those individuals who took big risks, “we will not let you suffer the consequences.” For the majority of us who have been paying our taxes, doing things "the right way" we now have the privilege to aid those who pursued their greed. I'd like to see the US Government go back to the Chief Executives of Citi Bank, Merrill Lynch, AIG and others and collect back those big outlandish bonuses and terminate those lucrative pensions and give the money back to the taxpayers! Some have FEAR on this occasion. I am just MAD! I do not think we are a greedy society but a society that has some very greedy people who are in a position to hurt our society!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Today the U.S. Government announced that the jobless rate now exceeds 6.1%. This was an unexpected jump, with most analysts believing we would not see 6% until the end of the year. What might this mean? With this jump in unemployment, the Federal Reserve, which has been worried about the economy all summer, will likely leave rates unchanged after their meeting on September 16th. Also we will likely see consumer-spending decrease substantially in the third quarter, after the rise in spending from the incentive tax rebate of the second quarter. All in all, the economy appears to be slowing down and will likely show little growth, or perhaps a downturn, for the balance of the year. Additionally, the sub-prime loan problems have driven interest rates on bonds to recent new highs. Refinancing of the majority of sub-prime mortgage loans should be complete by February and we may see the housing market begin to pick up again this spring. In my opinion, the inflationary effects of the oil price increases will also take until February or March to totally work their way through the economy. When this occurs, we are likely to see prices stabilize. Perhaps the most important issue is that by November, we should know who has been elected President. The stock market likes to know who will be serving in the White House, and this uncertainty is likely to continue to make the market volatile through Election Day.