The Noble Ostrich and Other Investment Myths

October 6, 2008 5 comments

While sophisticated bankers and their wealthiest clients continue to take a pass on investments with even the slightest hint of risk, it seems strange that many investment advisers continue to sing the same soothing lullaby to individual investors:  “No need to panic, remember, you’re investing for the long run.  And that is what stocks are for!  If you get out now, you will miss the ups as well as the downs.”

Now I am certainly not advising you to panic (in fact, I am not advising you at all, because I am a mere finance professor, not a certified investment advisor).  But it does seem like a good time to revisit what we know (and don’t know) about personal investments and asset allocation, and to try to reassure you that there is no dishonor in prudence. Read more…

Categories: investment

What Do They Know That We Don’t Know?

September 28, 2008 2 comments

The problem with commenting on the financial rescue plan is that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. have not told us all that they know about the financial crisis. Specifically, we don’t know about the financial health of banks individually or in the aggregate. In this entry I will offer a guess: There is widespread bank insolvency and the point of the rescue plan is to use asset purchases to save banks that are good and, just as important, to facilitate closing banks that are bad. If this is right, the rescue plan is a sensible response to the crisis. In effect the plan has a secret component: widespread and controlled bank closings. Read more…

Categories: bailout, financial crisis

In Paulson We Trust?

September 23, 2008 3 comments

The root cause of the liquidity freeze on Wall Street is clear:  Financial institutions, for various bad reasons that have been discussed at length elsewhere and are beside the point here, made huge bets that house prices would continue to defy gravity.  They didn’t.  Now the losses from those failed bets keep on popping up in unexpected places; no one knows who can be trusted.  For a bailout to solve the trust problem, it has to reveal who just got singed by the housing fallout, and who is still hiding third degree burns.  Until that uncertainty is resolved, investors are going to be justifiably cautious about putting their capital at risk. Read more…

Categories: financial crisis, Treasury

The Week of Living Dangerously

September 21, 2008 Comments off

We seem to have entered a new phase of the credit crisis. We spent a number of months learning just how much house prices would fall and which institutions had exposure to mortgage loans. Now, as credit problems cascade and liquidity remains scarce, events seem to have moved beyond mortgages. Now we are concerned, for example, about which firms are exposed to other firms via credit default swaps.

In this entry I will make some observations about a few of the extraordinary events of the last week, specifically about money market funds, short sales, and the need for centralized clearing of financial products. Read more…

Credit Default Swap Update

September 18, 2008 16 comments

In a blog entry almost six months ago, I suggested that prices for credit default swaps (CDS) would tell us when the financial crisis was winding down. Unfortunately, the data this week tell us that the end is not in sight. This is probably obvious to you given the news headlines of the last few days, but looking at credit default swaps can help us understand how bad things are. Read more…

Categories: CDS, derivatives

Naked Shorting: Do Clothes Make the Trade?

August 5, 2008 2 comments

“In an abusive naked short transaction, the seller doesn’t actually borrow the stock, and fails to deliver it to the buyer. For this reason, naked shorting can allow manipulators to force prices down far lower than would be possible in legitimate short-selling conditions.”

–  “What the SEC Really Did on Short Selling”, by Christopher Cox (SEC Chairman), Wall Street Journal, July 24 2008, P. A15. Read more…

Categories: SEC, short sales

Putting a Price Tag on Bailouts: It’s Time to Make the Fed Accountable Too

August 4, 2008 1 comment

As the debate continues over the wisdom or lack thereof of Congress having given Treasury Secretary Paulson a blank check to keep Fannie and Freddie afloat over the next 18 months, a point that seems largely overlooked is that there was only one realistic alternative. Either Congress could explicitly provide a financial backstop such as the one just enacted, or the Federal Reserve could later ride to the rescue a la Bear Stearns should the need arise. After all, there is widespread agreement that Fannie and Freddie are too big, and at the moment too important, to fail, and that taxpayers are ultimately on the hook. Read more…