Insights & Advice

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Deja Vu

“U.S. stocks opened higher Thursday as the Federal Reserve and four of the world’s other major central banks agreed to make U.S. dollars more readily available in Europe’s struggling financial system.”

“… Early Thursday, investors welcomed the news that the Fed — along with the central banks of England, Switzerland, Japan and the euro zone — is coordinating a program to boost dollar liquidity in the region.”

                                                                           CNNMONEY, September 15, 2011, 9:47 A.M.

            The markets are climbing in celebration that the central banks of the world are combining and coordinating their immense financial power to bolster Europe’s struggling banks. The message the ECB is trying to telegraph to investors is that Europe is not going to allow a Lehman Brothers-type disaster occur within their community. Why then am I so worried?

Keep your eyes on Europe

            After all, over the past week, our markets have soared as European leaders have assured the financial markets that Greece will not default, that the country will not be kicked out of the EU, and that Greece will be able to pay their bills on time. If the Chancellor of Germany says its true than it must be so, right?  Certainly no one can argue with the market’s verdict. Investors scrambled to buy European banks with some French and German banks climbing anywhere from 10% to 22% within minutes of the news.

Something about the news, however, doesn’t seem quite right to me. How can I square this bailout initiative with comments by France’s Finance Minster Francois Baroin who on the same day insisted French banks are solid and do not need to be recapitalized, despite being heavily exposed to Greece’s debts. Baroin said on French radio that the banks aren’t having difficulties accessing liquidity. Yet, the Wall Street Journal and credit agency Moody’s downgrade of French banks on Wednesday, contradicts these statements.

There was something else about Thursday’s ECB statement that struck a disconcerting note within my memory. I went back to the financial crisis of 2008 and found what I was looking for. But before reading further, I ask readers to go back to the top of the page and read the quote from CNNMONEY again. Now read the quote below. Notice the dates.

“The Federal Reserve announced Monday it will offer an unlimited amount of dollars to three other central banks in an unprecedented move to provide liquidity to the global banking system.” “…After they borrow dollars from the Fed, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the Swiss National Bank will provide private financial institutions with one-week, 28-day and 84-day U.S. dollar loans in the latest attempt to unfreeze credit. “

                                                                                         CNNMONEY, Oct. 13, 2008, 9:09 A.M.

Sounds quite similar to this week’s news, doesn’t it? My problem is that while both Europe’s leaders and our own U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are telling us “don’t worry, be happy” it appears the opposite is occurring behind the scenes. Central banks are tripping over themselves to avoid what? I recall in our own country during 2008, the powers to be were saying the same thing about our financial system, just before Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers and AIG imploded.

So what happened to the stock markets during the October, 2008 announcement? The S&P 500 Index climbed from 899 on October 10, 2008 to 1,003 on Monday Oct 13, 2008, an almost 11% gain. Two weeks later the index stood at 848 for a 15% loss. Now, granted, this is not 2008-2009, although the financial problems within Europe could tip over into a full blown crisis if allowed to continue.

As for the U.S., 2011 has its own peculiar set of challenges. The economic data continues to weaken and the past data is being steadily revised downward. Employment seems to have skidded to a halt and we may actually begin to see the jobless rate rise in the months ahead. As a result, companies are beginning to guide revenue and earnings expectations lower as well.

Of course the markets are ignoring all that bad news because investors are convinced that the Federal Reserve will announce some fabulous plan to turn all of this around on August 20th. But, in the meantime this investor will continue to stay defensive and watch Europe closely.

Posted in A Few Dollars More, Macroeconomics