Friday, October 3, 2008

No Assurance in Insurance; Wachovia's Deal is Not a Deal

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Apparently you can't rely on anything that U.S. government officials say, whether it comes from politicians or federal agencies. As is the case for those with severe psychological disturbances, reality has no permanence, but can change from moment to moment. Today's illustration of this 'Washington psychosis' comes from the Democratic leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, and the FDIC, the people who are supposed to be protecting your bank deposits. Reid publicly stated that a major insurance company was about to go under and then later backtracked (apparently the amnesia drugs had kicked in by that time). The FDIC announced on September 29th that Wachovia had been purchased by Citibank and provided detailed terms of the transaction. This morning, Wells Fargo announced that it was taking over Wachovia in an all stock deal. This leads to the immediate question of who paid whom a bigger bribe to make this happen.

Reid's statement was, " We don't have a lot of leeway on time. One of the individuals in the caucus today talked about a major insurance company. A major insurance company -one with a name that everyone knows that's on the verge of going bankrupt". Insurance stocks were already down before this comment because of exposure to AIG, Lehman, and Washington Mutual debt, not to mention derivatives. The selling accelerated after Reid spoke. In a very carefully worded statement (note the italics), a spokesman for Reid later stated, "Senator Reid is not personally aware of any particular company being on the verge of bankruptcy. He has no special knowledge about [a bankruptcy], nor has he talked to any insurance company officials." There were four insurance companies, which might be considered household names, that had double digit sell offs on Thursday - Hartford Financial Services (down 32%), MetLife (down 15%), Prudential (down 11%), and Lowes (down 10%). Both Met Life and Hartford released statements that they were not on the verge of bankruptcy (one wonders why they felt a need to do so).

Below is all the U.S. listed insurance companies with a market cap over one billion that had 10% or greater sell offs on Thursday:

Hartford Financial Services (HIG) - down 32%
Principal Financial Group (PFG) - down 16%
MetLife (MET)- down 15%
AXA (AXA) - down 12%
State Auto Financial Corp (STFC) - down 12%
Delphi Financial Corp (DFG) - down 12%
Prudential Financial (PRU) - down 11%
Unitrin (UTR) - down 11%
Everest Real Estate Group (RE) - down 11%
Loews (L) - down 10%
Cincinnati Financial Corp (CINF) - down 10%

The Reid insurance bankruptcy comments were just a moment of truth accidentally slipping out. The takeover of Wachovia by Wells Fargo after there was a done deal with Citibank is far more serious however. This represents a fracturing of the capitalist system in the U.S. Such niceties as contract and property rights no longer seem to be necessary, as indeed is the case in backward, undeveloped economies (which remain backward and undeveloped because these underpinnings for successfully doing business are missing). Of course, things may not actually that bad. This could merely be a case of the FDIC publishing completely false information about its activities and what is going on in the banking system. Well, that's certainly a reassuring thought.

NEXT: The House Caves in, but it's the Market that Collapses

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

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