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Bailout passes, Wall Street falls

Economic growth, Financial Events, Leverage
By Paul Hodges on 04-Oct-2008

‘Buy on the rumour, sell on the news’ is the classic definition of a weak market. So the US stock market’s reaction to the passing of the US bailout is a worrying indication that further problems may lie ahead. On 19 September, the Dow rocketed to 11388 as the bailout was confirmed. Last night, as the bailout passed into law, it closed 9% lower at 10325.

Nor do we yet know all the answers to the 5 key questions that worried the blog when the proposal was first announced last month:

What is the likely total cost? We know the cost has risen by $150bn plus from the original $700bn requested, in order to gain support from the House of Representatives. But as the New York Times points out, the bailout still has to ‘put a dollar value on mortgage related assets that nobody wants’. And previous bailouts in the 1930s and 1990s ended up costing at least twice the number originally proposed.
Is it a done deal? The blog was clearly right to suggest that the bill might well not pass in its original form. And even now it has passed into law, there are serious questions over how it will operate. Will Congress allow tens of $bns to be siphoned off by Wall Street in fees, as apparently proposed by Treasury Secretary Paulson? And will he really be allowed to recruit former colleagues from Goldman Sachs ‘to advise him’?
How will the money be spent? It is being suggested that it will take at least 6 weeks to put the necessary systems in place. But already people such as Alan Blinder, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, are warning that ‘you need to worry about conflicts of interest’ when it comes to ‘determining the bailout’s winners and losers’.
Who will pay the bill? As expected, there are no tax increases planned. So the Treasury will have to borrow from domestic and overseas markets instead. With credit already tight, this may well ‘crowd out’ borrowing by companies and individuals, as happened in the 1970s.
Will it solve the crisis? The final package is clearly an effort to re-start interbank borrowing. But as the blog noted originally, nothing is being done about the underlying cause of today’s crisis, namely ‘the excess supply of homes and the large number of mortgage borrowers in dire straights’. Until this is addressed, it is hard to see how markets, and the ‘real economy’ in which the chemical industry operates, can truly recover.

Against this background, ‘buy on the rumour, sell on the news’ seems an entirely logical reaction.