I've had the safety off and one eye on the driveway all afternoon. I even took Darlene with me to the head a few minutes ago just in case the economic bogeyman jumped out of the shower drain. I know he's coming for me (Hank Paulson and Larry Kudlow told me so), but right now it's quiet. Maybe, too quiet.
I always point out that what traders think and do are two separately-motivated animals, but I'll be darned if it doesn't look to me like the Billionaire Bailout Bill succeeded spectacularly today. Financial firms gained new access to the capital and credit markets, inflation-sensitive commodities fell sharply, and massive amounts of money flowed into safe havens.
Weren't those the goals of the bailout? Of course they were, but you'd never know it from all the hand-wringing tonight.
There is no disputing that financial firms have too much unidentified and unpriced, semi-performing assets on their books. To regain access to the credit and capital markets, all these firms have to do is identify and price those assets. The resulting write-downs will trim the share price and capital will once again flow in. It's that simple, kind of.
You see, these firms don't just want access to the capital markets again, they want it at the share price they can command with those overvalued assets on their books. Hey, I want $30K for my '92 Accord with 200k miles on it, too, but I'm not holding my breath. The Billionaire Bailout scheme, in a round-about fashion, is to force you to take on these overvalued assets at book value or, in most cases, higher thus replacing ??? with cash on the books of financial firms.
When the scheme fell apart this afternoon, the stock market resumed its one-and-only function: discovering the share price at which firms can access capital markets. With no bailout, the financials took another haircut but, and this is key, they have full access to the capital market at these new prices.
But, but, but...there are a lot of 401(k)s and pension funds invested in these financials. So? They should be happy that the firms they are invested in have a new level of solid ground to stand on. Also, they should be happy that hyper-inflation isn't going to wipe out the entire value of their holdings.
The risk of the Billionaire Bailout isn't the $700 billion of new money (the Fed dumped $630 billion this morning without congressional action). Sure, that'll hurt anyone on a fixed income, but it's nothing compared to the blank-check programs that jammed their way into the pipeline this last weekend. By Friday, we would have had a full-on gusher of money creation whereas now we'll be back to fighting this $700 billion bill again.
While the nominal value of your nest egg may have gone down today (and, in subsequent days) it's the real value that counts. So, while the DJIA dropped 7%, you have to recognize that oil dropped 8% while the dollar, hard money, and treasuries were up sharply. If a lower number of dollars will buy you more, what the heck do you care what the number of dollars is? I challenge Jim Kramer, Nancy Pelosi, George Bush, John McCain, or Barak Obama to explain to you how your retirement is in jeopardy when, in all probability, your retirement fund will buy you more tonight than it would last night!
However euphoric I may feel tonight (and urge you to join the euphoria) it is tempered by the recognition that this fight is far from over. When congress resumes later this week, they will attempt once again to be relevant (read, throw more fascistic fuel on the fire), an unbiased CNN journalist, so-called, has proclaimed that anyone who opposes the Billionaire Bailout doesn't understand economics, and another unbiased journalist (so-called) from CNBC likened me to Timothy McVeigh.