Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I have to write about the 700B Bailout

I don't think a taxpayer bailout of financial institutions makes sense. There are several alternatives that are better:

1. Amend the "Value at Market" rules for these derivative instruments that are so toxic. Create a "value to maturity" model and allow the financial institutions to use it for derivatives they intend to hold for more than a year. As defaults in the underlying instruments go up or down, they can use the model to revalue. Companies can use the derivatives for capital requirements on lending. The derivatives are no longer toxic for financial institutions and will regain market value that is much closer to their value if held to maturity. The advantages of the Bail Out with no taxpayer cost or or risk. Save 700 Billion with an accounting rule change.

2. Do #1 or not do #1 and let the chips fall where they may. All these assets (including the homes) need to find their true market value in the new situation. The sooner they do, the sooner recovery can begin. From my point of view, the Lehman version of a "bailout" is going very well. Sell the valuable parts of the insolvent company, bond holders get the cash proceeds and the securities that are hard to value, preferred stockholders get something if the bond holders end up getting paid. The market is freaking now because every company is treated differently by the treasury secretary which creates enormous uncertainty. Maybe Lehman could have been sold intact if everybody wasn't waiting for the high inquisitor treasury secretary to kick-in a few billion of taxpayer dollars like he did for Bear Stearns.

3. If we're going to inject a huge sum of money, why not inject where the root problem is, excess homes and inability to figure out where the bottom of the market is. Subsidize 1st time buyers and small investors who buy foreclosed homes or homes in depressed areas in a sustantial way. And lets not slow down the foreclosures that are needed to get the properities and toxic derivatives valued properly. How about buying up some homes for future public works projects (a lot of deferred road building needs to happen) and demolishing them right away. The people and the money will have to go somewhere.

4. Stabilize the dollar and be clear the Fed is not going to allow any further inflation. No one knows what the Feds going to do to the dollar. Uncertainty about the dollar is killing the market. Inflation has happened already but it is hard to tell how much. The money supply is hard to measure because of de-leveraging. The fed should say those things. "Over the last 2 years we think 9% inflation has happened that will be shaking out in Consumer Price Index and other measurements over the next 3 years. We are not allowing any more inflation than what is has already happened. So, expect measured 3% inflation a year over the next 3 years" Or say we're targeting 1% more than what has already happened. Give money supply targets and tell how you are taking deleveraging into account in your money supply calculations. The Greenspan approach of being the genius who fiddles with the controls in response to events isn't working any more. It was a bad approach to begin with but Greenspan was smart enough to make it work, for awhile. Now we're paying for monetary dial turning. Monetary policy needs to be on zero or near zero inflation autopilot whatever economic events are for at least the next few years.

Those are a start. We can't spend or bail out our way to prosperity. The companies and individuals who took risks they didn't understand need to pay the price and turn over their assets to more prudent operators through sales or bankruptcy.

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