Who really expected the wholesale bailing out of Wall Street? The Sovietisation of the Street by Paulson, the former Goldman Sachs CEO, means that never again will the U.S. be able to preach the advance of free markets to developing countries with authority. These extraordinary times have seen Treasuries bonds with zero-yield, effectively you might as well put the money under the bed.
Anyone familiar with Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged will be able to see the coming consequences, the end of free capital markets. The voters forget at their peril how and who finances the billion-dollar chip manufacturing plants, the satellites, the billion dollar pills from high risk bio-technology that will cure disease, the multi-billion dollar networks that make us such an inter-connected globe. There will be new regulations galore, the taxpayers will be raped as they have never been raped before, it seems this is the price the U.S. authorities think has to be paid to stave off financial meltdown and a recession that could turn into a depression. The latter prospect seems a product of panic rather than reason.
The investment banking model since the 1990s was flawed not by lack of regulation, it was flawed because of poor governance. Traders and management were incentivised to take risk for reward with minimal personal downside. Bank shareholders have lost money hand over fist whilst their hired employees have been paid hundreds of millions. The complex derivative structures that underpinned sub-prime lending were opaque to the point of incomprehensibility.
The banning of short sellers is a side show, it is merely populist politicking. It will make conservative hedging very difficult, it raises the cost of capital to corporates and it will not change the underlying fundamentals. It will also create liquidity problems and a whole host of technical difficulties.
Are banks safer because it is illegal to short them? Has liquidity returned to the money markets? Are mortgage assets recovering? No, no, no. Unless Paulson announces a plan to put U.S. taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars in risky sub-prime mortgages this weekend, this stock rally will come completely unstuck… and Guido will be short stocks again.
Gordon Brown’s Sky interview, where he blamed investment bank’s off-balance-sheet liabilities for the credit crunch, was an unconsciously revealing moment. What is the trillion pounds of debt in PFI contracts and unfunded state pensions if not Gordon’s very own off-balance-sheet liability? Gordon and Ed Balls designed the world’s biggest off-balance-sheet structure to massage the PSBR, it will have to be paid down by generations to come. Brown’s legacy will be that British children, and their children also, will be paying off Gordon’s debt bubble.