Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Surgery Done by a Bull in the China Shop

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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Today is the beginning of the spring quarter and the new fiscal year in Japan. Last night, most of Asia rallied and the Nikkei was up smartly (the Nikkei never hit a new low in the market sell off this spring by the way). A bailout plan in Taiwan for semiconductor manufacturers was bullish for tech stocks throughout the region. A Chinese manufacturing report was dismal, although off the low established last November (when the prices of many commodities also bottomed). European bourses are down this morning and the U.S. market indices gapped down after gapping up yesterday. The market is worried about the G20 Meeting tomorrow and the Jobs Report on Friday. The U.S. government possibly forcing GM into bankruptcy has also reared its ugly head again as well.

The government's current handling of GM is incredibly destructive economically. News has been leaked that Obama thinks a 'surgical bankruptcy' is the best option. If so, that surgery is being conducted by a bull in a China shop. A recapitulation of what is going on:

1. The U.S. Economy has been losing its manufacturing base for the last 30 years and has moved increasingly to a FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) economy and this has led to the current implosion of our financial system.
2. Instead of trying to revive manufacturing, the government is trying to drive a top manufacturer into bankruptcy - and somehow this is going to improve things.
3. Sales for automakers are down as much as 50% year over year because of the economy. The U.S. government then tells reluctant car purchasers that we are trying to drive GM out of business and make them worry that if they buy a GM car they will ever be able to get it fixed (this may not be realistic, but it is something that will give the consumer pause and hurt GM sales even more).
4. No one knows how many credit default swaps there are on GM bonds, but the number is probably substantial. A bankruptcy would put them in the money and require that they be paid off. Most of them would have been sold by insurance companies and brokers that are already getting government bailouts and this will require more bailout money (probably many times what it would cost to bailout GM) to make up for the losses.
5. The U.S government just spent $5 billion bailing out auto part suppliers and is undermining that bailout if it forces GM into bankruptcy.
6. There are a large number of current and former employees of the auto industry, its suppliers, its shippers, etc that will be negatively affected by this action.
7. The GM announcement stopped a nascent stock market recovery in its tracks, wiping out billions more from retirement portfolios. The Dow was up over 20% (technically a new bull market) and the government apparently couldn't wait to drive it right back into bear market territory. Treasury Secretary Geithner already caused a major market sell off previously with his handling of Citigroup. If the Obama administration's goal is to keep stock prices down, they are achieving outstanding success.

While I am not a fan of bailouts, I am even more opposed to incompetent business practices combined with unlimited government stupidity. As we have said in this blog before you can bailout no one or you can bail out everyone, but doing some bailouts and not others produces the worst results. What the Obama administration is doing with GM makes no sense on any level - and it does not bode well for the handling of economic matters going forward.

NEXT: The Bull Heard Around the World

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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