Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Government Action on Both Sides of the Pacific

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.

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The Japanese are at it again. The Bank of Japan is now instituting yet another program to buy shares of bank stocks. The history of their interference in the Japanese stock market goes way back and has proven to be a failed approach over and over again. Apparently just because something doesn't work is not a good enough reason for the Japanese (or almost any other government for that matter) to abandon it. While the U.S. is close to emulating Japan's disastrous market interference policies, there is a common-sense bill in Congress that would limit Credit Default Swaps. These instruments are more responsible for the financial market collapse worldwide than anything else. The discredited U.S. financial industry of course opposes the bill. Just because it is obvious they have no idea what they are doing, doesn't mean the U.S. government won't follow their suggestions.

When the Japanese government decided it was better than the Free Market in determining stock prices is not clear. It is known that during the 1987 crash, which was less serious in Japan than in other countries, that the Ministry of Finance called all the major brokerage houses to a meeting and told them to buy stocks (with at least a tacit agreement that the government would make good on the losses). After the Nikkei started tanking from its high of 40,000 set the first day of 1990, various schemes were used by the government to funnel money into stock purchases. While these moved the market up for awhile, each one eventually failed, but the market looked like it might have finally hit bottom after a 13 year sell off in spring of 2003 (the Nikkei was in the low 7000s). But this was not the case.

As per usual the Japanese government helped establish the 2003 stock market low by buying banking stocks. This last stock purchase program took place between November 2002 and September 2004. The Bank of Japan began disposing of these holdings in October 2007 (when international stock markets were at their peak). They had to suspend their selling by September 2008 when they still had 1.3 trillion Yen of stock on the books (at least that's the 'official' number). The Nikkei then hit a new 18 year low after that. The Bank of Japan's just released scheme is to buy one trillion Yen of bank shares, but there a plan in the works to add a 20 trillion Yen to that amount. Unfortunately, at some point these Bank of Japan purchased shares will have to be sold, otherwise the Japanese government would eventually wind up owning most, if not all, of the shares of their major banks. It is quite possible any new selling will cause a new market low to be established. If the Japanese government's real objective is to create the longest stock market sell off in history, they might be successful. If it is to fix their financial system, they should realize that they don't know more than the Free Market.

As for the proposed ban on Credit Default Swaps (CDS) in the U.S. This bill would limit the purchase of CDSs to parties that have an underlying economic interest and reduce the size of the market (and associated risk in it) substantially. CDSs, because they allowed huge leverage in the financial system were key components of the implosion that we are currently witnessing. One industry witness testified that this bill could 'collapse' the $31 trillion CDS market. I seem to remember the less than a year ago the CDS market was $62 trillion is size. Looks to me like the CDS market already collapsed by itself.

NEXT: New York Investing Meetup Versus the SEC

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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