29 September 2008

Black Monday Round-Up

As I posted over on my LiveJournal before kicking this new site off, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 failed to pass the US House of Represenatives by a vote of 228–205. The bill had the support of about 60% of Democratic members and 40% of Republicans.

The problem, of course, is that for the most part, those who were for the bill were only for the bill because they didn't feel there were any good options ready to hand in the time available. Those who were against the bill were steadfastly against the bill, some as a matter of personal principle and some because their constituents were screaming blue murder at them, and couldn't be budged.

The only people whom I've ever heard come out and say they truly liked the bill were its original proponents, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Jr. and Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke. And actually, now that I think of it, even they were at least playing at being relucatant. In Paulson's case, it's a little hard to believe, because the original proposal put so much power into his hands that nobody is going to believe he didn't really like the idea, even if it's true. But the line they used consistently was essentially, "Yeah, we know this kinda sucks. But we're out of time."

Time, of course, has been a running theme throughout this entire process. Time was of the essence for a myriad of reasons, not least of which the fact that the Congress is already overdue to recess for the election. This is why, for example, we didn't get a real budget this year. None of the standard budget bills passed or were signed into law; only a Continuing Resolution (filled with tasty earmarks) that postpones budgeting for FY2009 until March, making it squarely the problem of a new Congress and a new President.

Adding to the time problem is that Rosh ha-Shana begins at sundown, and there are just enough Jewish members of Congress that no business will be conducted tomorrow in honour of the holiday. At this point, it seems unlikely that we will see another attempt to pass the bill, or one similar to it, before Wednesday.


Meanwhile, the markets started out the day feeling pretty damned uninspired by the news that Citicorp was buying Wachovia before it could collapse. They ended the day with the biggest haemorrhage in twenty years. 

The Dow 30 (aka the Dow-Jones Industrial Average), which measures a weighted average of the stocks of 30 key industrial powerhouses, gave up 777.68 points. The Standard & Poor's 500, a much broader index, gave up 8.77% or and the Nasdaq Composite Index 9%. Oil gave up $10/barrel—the closest thing to good news (at least, for consumers) in a day of red ink and woe.


The pain was not confined to the US. Overseas markets were of course already closed for the day, some long before the House vote was called, but the Citicorp-Wachovia deal had already rattled them pretty hard. On top of that, many banks in Europe are also in the midst of being bailed out by their regulators for similar reasons.

One of the things often lost in the current mire of coverage is that this really is a wider problem than just what we're facing here in the US. We led the way in overleveraging our economy, but Europe and to some degree Asia followed merrily along behind us. England, for example, is swamped with home foreclosures and a credit freeze-up, as well.

China, of course, is doing just fine for the moment, because they were the lender, rather than the borrower. They'd like their payments, of course, but they're not the ones in debt; they're the ones holding a lot of our markers. 


One things most pundits seem to be agreed on is that we have not yet plumbed the depths of this crisis. There are shoes left to drop, and nobody's not quite sure which one will be next. We could, for example, get surprised by the failure of a bank that currently seems sound. The US' bond rating could be cut, making it hard even for the Government to get a loan. Or we could start seeing more signs of the fiscal frostbite, with the failure of companies that are nowhere near the financial industry, but can't get the capital they need to operate. 

Are we having fun, yet?

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