It’s not about fashion, but the state of the economy is still something that concerns everyone and I just thought it would be interesting to have something a little bit different on this blog once in a while. I’m sure I’m not qualified to comment since I probably don’t have nor understand all the facts of the situation, but it never hurts to share some thoughts right? So here are some thoughts on the last tumultuous week.
Personally I was shocked by the events of last Sunday. I knew that Lehman Brothers was in troubled waters, but I thought it was only going to be bought out like Bear Stearns was, by Bank of America or Barclays. Never in a million years did I think that it would go bankrupt (perhaps a strategy by Barclays so then they can buy the Lehman assets they want on the cheap, as they are doing now?). Instead of bailing Lehman out, BofA bought Merrill Lynch instead that night. At that point, I was vaguely aware that ML was not doing so well, but I didn’t know it had reached this stage yet. Apparently a sudden “evaporation of liquidity” (whatever that means), does that to banks. Who knew BofA was so strong? As I recall, they were the first to be hit by the Credit Crunch last year, with their takeover of Countrywide (another Fannie/Freddie-esque home loan bank) and huge write downs and lay-offs. As it turns out, Countrywide might be a good buy after all now that the competition has been weeded out somewhat and BofA is as strong as ever with the financial backing of their commercial banking side. With ML joining their team, their investment banking side is also going to strengthen up- by a lot. All in all, it was quite a traumatizing Sunday. It was like saying that Gucci went bankrupt and Prada got bought out and merged with Coach- all in one day.
Everything went down like dominos after that. The stock markets worldwide went down. AIG and Washington Mutual struggled to stay afloat. It was a good thing that the government stepped in with an 85 billion dollar loan in exchange for 79.9% of AIG, when they did (after Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan balked at the idea). With their wide range of businesses (mutual funds, insurances etc) worldwide, it would’ve been devastating. It would be as if LVMH declared they were in trouble! I’m not sure how I feel about the government using tax payer’s money to save a private institution, but I guess somehow had to do it. Can’t let LVMH fall! As for Washington Mutual (a.k.a. WaMu), I don’t feel too much for them, since they’re not exactly a household name (for me anyway, a bit like not everyone knows who Bottega Veneta is), but they’re currently trying to auction off some parts of itself.
The two remaining independent investment banks, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, were also under attack against their business model this week, even though both posted higher than expected earnings (yes, I mean profits!). It appears that many people now believe that an investment bank cannot survive without a steady cash flow from a commercial banking arm. Throughout the week, both banks said that they were committed to remaining independent, repeating that it is not the business model but the execution that counts. However, Morgan Stanley has been under pressure the most. It is as if because people believe it will fall, they are making it fall by shorting their stock, pushing down their stock prices (and thus the SEC ban on the short selling of selected stocks for two weeks). They are currently in talks with the Chinese government for a large capital infusion (they are going to need a BIG one) and with Wachovia to merge. I think a merger between these two would more aptly epitomize, “Target acquiring Neiman Marcus,” as Leveraged Sellout had used for the BofA and ML merger.
On the other hand, I am a sucker for brand image and I cannot begin to fathom the possibility of GS giving into market pressure and merging with a commercial bank. It’s not as if they are doing very badly. They’ve consistently reported profits throughout the economic turmoil so far- even if it IS less so then years before. At least it’s not a loss! I’m sure that there may be write downs cleverly hidden in their balance sheet (for both banks!), but it cannot be nearly as bad as Lehman and ML right? Yes, I do realize I am beginning to sound a bit naive, but it would be like Hermes giving into market pressure and start mass producing Birkin bags with machines! Besides, shouldn’t it be innocent until proven guilty?
Towards the end of the week, the SEC finally stepped in to temporarily ban the short selling of selected stocks for two weeks (to stop the prices from tumbling down) and the government came up with a plan to deal with this whole toxic debt problem. I’m not sure exactly how this plan is supposed to work but it sounds like they’re going to use $700 billion to buy back all the toxic debts and give financial institutions a fresh start. Sounds like a good idea, they can't bail companies out one at a time as they fall after all, better to target the root of the problem. Not that I know where the government is getting that kind of money from (aren’t they already in debt from the war?) and what they’re going to DO with those bad debt once they buy it. Surely they cannot just dissolve it and let everyone who did not meet their mortgage payments off the hook? Why were people lending money to people who clearly cannot repay the loan to begin with?
Ok, now I’m heading into territory where I really do not have a good grasp on. So I’m going to shut up now and go back to admiring the runways of Milan fashion week. Just thought I’d give financial journalism/blogging a hand.
Scratch that. It seems that Target is not acquiring Neiman Marcus anymore but Hermes is going to start mass producing Birkin bags- in their own way. MS and GS both just got approval from the Fed to switch from being an investment bank to a bank-holding firm i.e. they are now allowed to open up their own commercial banks and take in deposits. MS will probably not need the Chinese capital infusion anymore either. There are now officially no more major independent investment banks in the US. What is it with Sundays and groundbreaking news?