Friday, July 11, 2008

I Believe In Magic

Woke up and put on CNBC this morning like I do every weekday morning.

On Tuesday one of the "perma-bears" on the channel told me the market had bottomed and Tuesday was a wonderful day to buy, buy, buy. Oil was heading downward (it eventually fell from the mid-$140's to the mid-$130's this week), the battered financial sector was ripe for bottom-picking, the market was on the way up and all was well with America.

Yesterday the McCain campaign, echoing the CNBC perma-bears, dismissed the economic problems the country is facing as a "mental recession" and called Americans a "nation of whiners" for not seeing the silver lining in outsourcing, record high oil prices, record high food prices, record high health care costs, soaring inflation, a credit crisis, a tanking stock market, record foreclosures, and a housing market in depression.

You see, the problem is with your mindset, not the Bush financial policies of tax-cut and spend and business deregulation that brought so many of these problems to fruition in the first place.

And yet this morning when I turned on CNBC, all I heard was panic.

Here's why:

Shares of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two pillars of the nation's housing market, continued to plummet yesterday as investors and federal officials contemplated the possibility that the giants of the mortgage business could require a federal bailout.


The failure of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac could be devastating, making it harder for people to buy and sell homes and sending ripple effects through the broader economy.

If Fannie and Freddie go under, you're looking at a trillion dollar taxpayer bail-out that will make the Bear Sterns bailout look small.

If Fannie and Freddie go under and they aren't bailed out, the housing market is REALLY going to get hammered.

The credit crisis has already choked off mortgage money for many borrowers; Fannie and Freddie have picked up the slack - but if they can't lend, then very few people will be able to get home loans.

With home values already down 15% in many areas around the country, the bottom would fall out of the market and you'd have an awful lot of homeowners with upside down mortgages (owe more than the home is worth.)

That really would complicate the foreclosure problem, wouldn't it?

Which would really complicate this "mental recession" so many of us are suffering from.

Couple the Fannie/Freddie panic with spiking oil prices (oil futures are back up to an all-time high - $146.90) and the Dow threatening to fall below the 11,000 support level this morning, and I get why the CNBCers sound so panicked.

But here's what I don't get. Throughout the economic problems of the last year and a half, from the failing hedge funds to the Bear Sterns bailout to the locking up of the credit markets to the dismal job numbers to the soaring commodity prices, so often I hear from the boys and girls who supposedly know about these things is "The worst is over, the markets have bottomed, this economy is the greatest story never told..."

And yet, isn't it becoming increasingly clear that the worst is NOT over for either the main street economy, the housing market or Wall Street?

Now today's CNBC panic may turn out to be nothing - lately every time there is a really bad crisis in the stock market or the economy, money has a funny way of finding it's way where it's needed (think Federal Reserve credit market infusions, think Bear Sterns) so I'm sure Hank Paulson is cranking up the currency printing press and Ben Bernanke is warming up the helicopter to start throwing money at the problem right now.

But what do you think all this newly-minted money is going to do to already record oil and food prices?

You got it - they're going to continue to go up, up, up.

So maybe the CNBC perma-bears have got it right - maybe the worst is over and the market is on an upswing.

All you've got to do is ignore the plummeting home prices, the bear market at the Dow and the S&P, the soaring commodity prices, and the constant news about new write-downs at the banks related to the mortgage crisis which continue to complicate the foreclosure problem.

All you've got to do is believe in magic.
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