New Jersey Institute of Technology management professor Michael Ehrlich has an interesting premise. A former government arbitrage trader himself, his research and background suggest to him that by announcing that it would make $200 billion available to finance securities from investment banks, the Fed may have unintentionally set off the panic that claimed Bear Stearns.
"I think it's a bad thing for Bear Stearns shareholders, but a brilliant thing for public policy," Ehrlich says. We've established a precedent that they're prepared to bail out firms to protect the little guys ... but that the people responsible bear the costs."
As he says, that means management and the shareholders. I think some of those shareholders often may be little guys, but, realistically, this is capitalism and they continued were holding stock in a company making ever riskier trades because they liked the returns.
The minute the Federal Reserve made the announcement, everyone in the markets started asking whether the Fed knew something that they didn't, which may well have triggered speculation about Bear Stearns - smallest of the investment banks - that turned into "a classic run on the bank," according to Ehrlich.
I keep asking myself the question of whether the Fed's new willingness to lend to investment banks might be handing more money to the very organizations that have proven themselves so tremendously reckless. Ehrlich thinks I'm looking at it the wrong way, and that the effect is to keep the financial system propped up while the shareholders take the brunt of the heat.
But I still feel unconvinced, because I think businesspeople are likely to take this as a tacit guarantee that no matter how stupidly they act, someone will pull their chestnuts out of the fire. All they need to do is keep diversified enough that their estates don't get clobbered like those of the Bear employees.
In any case, Ehrlich also thinks that this is by no view charity on the part of JP Morgan. As he deemed the Fed's move for public policy, so he called the acquisition a "brilliant" move that will probably give the new owner a profit of several billion dollars. Guess I don't see that as something to dissuade behavior in the future - because all the high-powered type A's will assume that they will be the ones coming out on top. We've seen the same behavior in virtually every man-made financial calamity in history, and there's no reason to think that people will act much differently. The only question is how much time it will take them to get back to the usual business.
Labels: credit, finance, investment banks, mortgages