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Obama Fails the Test "We're Owed and They Aren't"

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Too Big To Fail

by Christopher Chantrill
March 20, 2008 at 6:38 pm

WHAT DO we do about institutions, particularly financial institutions, that are “too big to fail?”

In the current credit crunch that becomes a big deal. The government runs around worrying about the bankers. It seems like we let the little guy go to the wall, foreclose on his mortgage, and send him out into the street.

Not one penny, you might say, for the struggling homeowner, but billions for the bankers.

Last weekend, the Federal Reserve bailed out failing investment bank Bear Stearns.

Actually, the Fed didn’t quite “bail out” Bear Stearns. They gave it to JP Morgan Chase for a couple of hundred million. That means that Bear’s stockholders got two cents on the dollar. I don’t think that’s exactly a bailout. It looks to me more like a haircut.

You can tell that the Fed probably did the right thing by reading what Larry Kudlow, an old Bear hand, had to say about it. He wonders if Bear Stearns really had to go down in flames. After noting that the Fed could have let Bear Stearns in at the discount window and telling us that he used to work at Bear, he gives us this:

All of this kind of makes me wonder whether Bear Stearns wasn’t some kind of sacrificial lamb. Did government policy makers hope to convince the public that a big Wall Street firm could indeed fail? Or wouldn’t be bailed out? Listen, they were buried, not bailed out.

The fact is, Bear shareholders got creamed with the $2 per share purchase price. The shareholders include all the men and women who’ve worked there for years, and who own roughly one-third of the firm’s equity.

After the Bear Stearns creaming, the word was that Lehman Brothers might be next. But the Lehman bears got a talking to from the Fed: Keep lending to Lehman, the Fed said. You could translate the message, if you like: If you chaps keep on down this road, the Fed seemed to say, we could end up giving all you chaps a haircut too.

So maybe the Fed isn’t crazy when it makes a sacrificial lamb out of Bear Stearns. Maybe it is sending a message to the sharks: we are loading up with harpoons here at the Fed.

Maybe the Fed is crazy like a fox.

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Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.  His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.


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©2007 Christopher Chantrill