Have the Titans of Finance Learned Their Lesson?
It was one year ago that Lehman Bros. went to the great investment bank in the sky. But it was also when the feds arranged the shotgun marriage of a failing Merrill Lynch to a moribund Bank of America. And AIG’s collapse into federal hands was taking shape, if not yet a done deal.
Years of debt and securitization finally caught up to the FIRE (finance-insurance-real estate) sector of the economy. The titans of finance refused to come clean about the real value of the ‘assets’ they sat on…and finally it came time to pay the piper.
Dan Amoss, whose recommendation of Lehman put options generated 462% gains earlier that summer, wrote in this space a year ago, “Think about how much better off Lehman Brothers would be if its management hadn’t put off the process of reporting losses, dumping impaired assets and raising new capital. Would its stock be 26 cents today? Probably not.”
So the heavy-hitters of the finance sector have surely learned their lessons and proceeded to mark down their “assets” to realistic levels over the last year, right?
You wish. Even mainstream economists like the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz say we’re in a worse pickle now. “In the US and many other countries, the too-big-to-fail banks have become even bigger,” Stiglitz told Bloomberg over the weekend. “The problems are worse than they were in 2007 before the crisis. It’s an outrage.”
And how do ordinary people feel about the response their government leaders have made to the crisis? Americans are, as our friend Doug Casey would put it, ‘a bunch of whipped dogs.’ Rather, they’re supremely sanguine, compared to much of the rest of the world.
For all the honeymoon-is-over talk surrounding Obama, we’re struck by how much grumpier people seem to be elsewhere. Americans are as satisfied with the actions of Obama and Congress to the same extent Russians are satisfied with those of the Putinocracy.
We should note here that Russian GDP contracted at a breathtaking 10.9% last quarter, while consumer prices are rising at a better-than-10% clip.