“At junctures of extreme financial stress, the high level of carry trade funding” that hedge funds use during bubbles “results in violent market reversals,” David Stockman writes. “Wholesale funding evaporates and involuntary asset sales cascade into a bidless abyss.” Hence the collapse of 2000–2003 (45%) and 2008–2009 (55%). Now they’re doing it again.
People in the upper income categories, those who don’t have to worry about the price of toilet paper, have seen their incomes rise over the years. The rest are in a downward spiral: median household income, adjusted for inflation, has dropped 7.8% since 2000. The lower end got hit the hardest. For these folks, tissue makers have a special strategy: desheeting.
“As the Fed transformed Wall Street into a casino,” wrote David Stockman, “arrangements for insider speculation took on massive size,” with “hedge fund footings” soaring from $150 billion in 1990 to $3 trillion by the 2007–2008 peak. Trading books of Wall Street banks grew even more explosively. Together, they formed “the fast money complex.”
“A culture of dangerous greed and excessive risk-taking has taken root in the banking world,” said Senator McCain last week. Senator Warren told Wall Street, where failure has been rewarded with bailouts and record bonuses, that “Banking should be boring.” They were pitching the “21st Century Glass-Steagall Act.” Wall Street must have gotten the willies.
CEOs have, in these crazy days of ours, one primary job, it seems: manipulating up the stock of their company. Few master this delicate art like Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, who took his highflyer into the stratosphere on a wing and a prayer. But why are executives worldwide wallowing behind the scenes in 2009-like gloom about the economy’s future?
Unlike mortgage equity withdrawal by households, where the cash windfall was distributed across the middle class, corporate equity withdrawal through buybacks, buyouts, and takeovers resulted in cash distributions to the very top of the economic ladder. Financial engineering: the ATM of the prosperous classes!
The asset bubbles the Fed’s money-printing and bond-buying binge has created are spectacular, the risk-taking on Wall Street with other people’s money a sight to behold. Big winners were mortgage Real Estate Investment Trusts – and those who got fat on extracting fees. But now the pendulum is swinging back, and the bloodletting has started.
“The Fed should have been embarrassed by the M&A frenzy,” writes David Stockman. Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski, Wall Street’s favorite deal maker, put “the rest of the corporate deal junkies to shame.” But “the poster boy for Greenspan’s first stock market bubble and its sudden, violent demise was a wake-up call that was wholly ignored.”
“The Wall Street coddling monetary régime” that Greenspan institutionalized “deeply transformed M&A,” writes David Stockman. It turned a corporate business strategy into “an all-encompassing mechanism for speculative finance” that executives used to build “empires with apparent, if unsustainable, earnings growth” that ended in “spectacular crash landings.”
Tapering bond purchases gets real. New York Fed President William Dudley has spoken. He represents Goldman, where he was a managing director. Goldman owns part of the NY Fed and is one of its 21 “primary dealers.” But it doesn’t want the financial system to blow up. On the theory that you can milk a cow many times, but you can bleed it only once.