Monday, April 6, 2009

Geithner Talks, Market Drops ... Again

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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Treasury Secretary Geithner appeared on Face the Nation on Sunday. Stocks in the U.S. are selling off this morning (even though there was a decent rally in Asia last night). Stock selling seems to be the most likely response whenever Geithner speaks and anyone long the market should worry whenever Geithner's mouth is about to open. The interview dealt with the administration's latest imbroglio, the attempt to force GM into bankruptcy and how well the various current bank bailouts are going. Geithner did state, "we want greater lending". He didn't come up with any reason why this might happen.

When Geithner was asked whether the government will force banks to sell their toxic assets to improve conditions for lending, he said that "banks have a large incentive to clean up their balance sheets." A news item released in Europe (please note that this news was not originally published in the U.S.) last Thursday certainly brings that into question. It was reported that a number of large banks including Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan Chase were considering buying toxic assets to be sold by rivals under the U.S. Treasury’s latest one trillion bailout plan. The purpose of this plan is of course to get toxic assets off the bank's books. Nothing in the law apparently said the banks couldn't participate in the this free money government give away. So of course, they want the goodies too. The result of this congressional oversight could be a huge amount of government spending that results in just moving the toxic assets around the banking system instead of getting them out of it. Geithner also made it very clear in the interview that Treasury's "obligation is to apply the laws passed by Congress".

As for GM, Geithner stated multiple times that "GM is going to be part of this country's future." He followed up with "We want to see a strong automotive industry emerge from this recession," , and added that the government must be sure that GM "can emerge strong enough without having to have government help on an ongoing basis." As to whether GM will have to file for bankruptcy protection, Geithner said "there's a range of options. They've made some progress on restructuring but they're not there yet." What was not stated in the interview is what would the costs be of GM going bankrupt versus it being bailed out.

Bailing out GM will probably be many, many times cheaper than letting it go bankrupt. But hey, when dealing with taxpayer money, why not consider the most expensive option possible. The much higher costs of not bailing out GM are a consequence of the government already having bailed out the banks and the need to increase those bailouts if GM fails. Although the auto companies have been badly managed for years, the idea that the U.S. government knows better about how the auto industry should be run is ridiculous. How they've handled the bank bailouts is a good indication of just how much the government knows about anything to do with business.

NEXT: How to Handle Earnings Season

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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