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.
Things move quickly at the G-20 when markets go south. The turmoil following Chairman Bernanke’s mere suggestion of a vague and slow taper of the Fed’s multi-year money-printing and bond-buying binge has already incited our illustrious finance gurus and central bankers at the G-20 to buckle – under the weight of the financial lobby.
“All of the checks and balances which ordinarily discipline the free market in money instruments and capital securities were being eviscerated by the Fed’s actions,” wrote David Stockman. “This kind of central bank action has pernicious consequences, however.”
The bond selloff didn’t surprise anyone. Gurus of all stripes had predicted for years that it would happen, that the ridiculously low yields the Fed was imposing weren’t sustainable – only to watch as the Fed opened the spigot even wider. Then the smart money offered a tidbit of immortal wisdom to the euphoric bondholders: “run – do not walk!” And they did.
It was the day when Private Equity firms – the smart money, the great beneficiaries of the Fed’s bond-buying binge – announced their intentions to the rest of the world. The heavy hitters were there, and they let fly some pungent words. In short, they were “selling everything that’s not nailed down.” Turns out, they weren’t kidding.