Friday, April 18, 2008

Muriel Siebert Discusses the Credit Crisis

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. In addition to the term helicopter economics, we have also coined the term, helicopternomics, to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government and to update the old-fashioned term wheelbarrow economics.

At the January 9, 2008 meeting of the New York Investing meetup, I had the pleasure of interviewing stock market legend Muriel Siebert. In 1967, Siebert became the first woman to have a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. In the mid-1970s, she was appointed Superintendent of Banking for New York State. No bank failed under her tenure. In her more than 50-year career on Wall Street, Muriel Siebert had personally witnessed almost the entire post World War II financial era. She had seen it all and had done it all.

Highlights of the this historical interview with Muriel Siebert have been condensed to three eight minute videos, which can be seen at:

In the interview, Siebert indicated that things had changed considerably since the 1970s, the last period of high U.S. inflation. The U.S. had lost its dominant economic status and emerging economies around the globe were not as dependent on it as that had been previously. She also pointed out how their growth was creating a voracious demand for commodities and the wealth transfer from rising commodity prices enabled the takeover of major U.S. financial institutions by commodity producing countries like the Gulf states. She was not sanguine about the prospects for the U.S. dollar, pointing out that the U.S. needed to cut the deficit considerably to support it and the consequences of doing so would be severe.

Siebert said the she had seen nothing like the subprime crisis during her long career on Wall Street. She thought the abuses had been so extreme and damaging that some people involved in creating the problem should go to jail. Siebert asked, "Where were the regulators?; "Where were the rating agencies?"; and cited mortgage brokers as being key players in generating the large quantity of irresponsible loans. The subprime crisis wasn't the only thing she thought we had to worry about either. She mentioned the collapse of private equity and how this had helped juice the market up and that its loss would cause the stock market to fall.

Siebert pointed out the similarity between how Enron hid its financial activities and the banks had done so in the 2000s by pushing their subprime activities off-shore and off-balance sheet. She stated that under Sarbanes-Oxley that audits should be complete by March 31st and a clearer picture of just how extensive the damage was would begin to emerge. Her opinion was that no one really knew how big the problem was. Siebert mentioned the large amount of derivatives that now exist and the complete lack of regulation for them. She thought the we need global security regulation that should be instituted on a similar model as global banking regulations that are now in place. Siebert thought that there was too much leverage in the system and said this was what really scared her, although she concluded that she didn't see a 'total' collapse of the financial system.

NEXT: Central Bankers Gone Wild

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
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1 comment:


Another crisis is down the road.