Seriously,folks, this guy is the president. No Quote of the Day for you, George! That goes to your favorite Congressman Barney Frank, courtesy of the NYT:
“This regimen of total deregulation has essentially allowed the economy to be held hostage to some financially irresponsible actions,” says Rep. Frank. “There is no choice but to pay some ransom.”
How to skin a Bear
The WSJ has a good explanation of how the Fed’s bailout of Bear Stearns could actually affect taxpayers. It took on some of Bear’s junk assets to enable JP Morgan to buy the essentially bankrupt company. The paper quotes a former Fed official saying the central bank will likely lose money on the move, lowering the payments it submits to the Treasury, which last year totaled some $34 billion.
Bloomberg looks at the lack of regulatory prowess at the SEC in the wake of the Bear Stearns collapse. Here’s the lede:
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox was asked on March 11 if he was concerned about the financial condition of Bear Stearns Cos.
“We have a good deal of comfort about the capital cushions at these firms at the moment,” Cox told reporters.
Three days later, the Federal Reserve said it was pumping emergency funds into the 85-year-old securities firm through JPMorgan Chase & Co., the third-biggest U.S. bank by assets
Bear Stearns’s forced sale days after the SEC chief’s reassurances is raising questions about the vigilance of the top U.S. securities regulator, which is charged with making sure Wall Street firms have enough cash to survive a crisis.
What did Bear Stearns CEO Alan Schwartz know and when did he know it, Coxie?
This is good news?
The papers all note the relief that a stock-market crash didn’t happen yesterday.
The Times’ omnipresent Vikas Bajaj has a story on page one headlined “Plunge Averted, Markets Look Ahead Uneasily.” The WSJ’s C1 story leads with “The nightmare scenario didn’t happen” while the Los Angeles Times headline reads confusingly, “Bearishly good news: Stocks don’t fall as far as expected.”
The Dow eked out a 0.2 percent gain (twenty-one points) after dropping nearly 2 percent in early trading. It would have been in the red if not for the big jump in JP Morgan shares on hopes by investors that it got Bear Stearns at a fire-sale price. The S&P 500 dropped 0.9 percent or 11.54 points.
But financial stocks other than JP got drubbed. Options trader MF Global plunged 65 percent, Ohio bank National City fell 43 percent, while Washington Mutual dropped 13 percent. The WSJ says the latter two are high on lists of banks most likely to “face trouble.”
The Journal’s Heard on the Street column says Wall Street stocks have further to fall, based on conservative estimates of what their book values really are.
The FT says money markets “virtually ground to a halt as the weekend’s developments severely knocked confidence and made banks extremely unwilling to lend to each other.”
How to meltdown
The WSJ gives its readers a long A1 walkthrough of the “six days that have shaken American capitalism.”
The paper reports that Bear Stearns CEO Schwartz was “out of pocket” at a media conference in Florida as the crisis began in earnest last week. What is it with these Bear CEOs?
Treasury Secretary Paulson helped speed up the Bear Stearns deal after being hit by calls at his home Saturday morning from panicked CEOs worried about a contagion.
Watch the drama build at JP Morgan world headquarters that day as the deal is plotted:
By 7:30 p.m., hunger pangs had taken hold. Someone ordered Chinese food. A security guard lay out a buffet spread.
The WSJ notes that JP Morgan can’t walk away from the deal even if Bear Stearns business and assets deteriorate further.
Fed wields its scissors, again
In economic news, the papers say markets are expecting the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates today by at least a half a percentage point and as much as 1.25 points. Or as the FT paradoxically puts it, “by as much as a full percentage point or more.”
Bloomberg says the move is likely to be the biggest since 1984 when Paul Volcker dropped the rate by 1.75 percentage points (to a low, low 10 percent). A point-drop now would bring the Fed’s benchmark interest rate to 2 percent, raising yet more concerns about inflation.
(But some key measures of inflation showed major drops yesterday: Crude oil prices fell more than 4 percent to $105.68 a barrel while a Goldman Sachs index of raw-materials prices had its biggest daily drop in three years.)