Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Market Rallies on Bungled Stress Test News Release


The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.

The Federal Reserve released its stress test results of 19 banks two days early yesterday. JP Morgan Chase forced its hand by making a public announcement that it had passed the test. Although the news was not particularly good, nor the results completely believable, U.S. stocks had their best day all year.

The Fed said on Tuesday that 15 of the 19 banks tested would have enough capital, even if they suffered a financial shock.  Citigroup (C), Ally Financial, SunTrust (STI) and MetLife (MET) failed the test. It should be considered shocking that any bank would fail a stress test after all the lavish government bailout and support programs that have funneled considerable amounts of money to them.  The U.S.  government had to semi-nationalize Citigroup and owned 27% of its stock by the time the Credit Crisis was over. Citi received approximately $45 billion in TARP funds alone and when it started paying them back, it got a $38 billion federal tax credit. And it still can't pass a stress test?

Of course, if Citi did pass a stress test, it might bring too much attention to the test's credibility. The Fed claims it set tough conditions and major banks complained that the tests were made too rigorous by considering a scenario where unemployment reached 13% and housing prices dropped 21% (presumably the Fed meant the official unemployment rate being 13% and not the actual rate). While these conditions sound tough, they aren't comprehensive, nor where the attention should be focused.

What prevented hundreds of U.S. banks from failing in 2008 and 2009 was a government willing to provide an effectively unlimited amount of money to keep them afloat.  The feds also propped up the housing market with minimal interest rates and mortgage relief programs and kept the unemployment rate (at least officially) out of double digits by running trillion dollar deficits. It should be expected that these policies will continue, so how could there be any risk to the U.S. banking system?

The policies themselves are creating the risk. Easy money is inflationary and always has been (and no, things will not be different this time). Inflation devalues financial assets and destabilizes banks.  The Fed however denies that inflation exists and that it will exist, so it is not politically tenable for it to do ever include any realistic inflation scenario in its bank stress tests.

Stress tests do not exactly have an unblemished record as is. The ECB tests in Europe passed Dexia bank with flying colors. Only three months later, it was in serious trouble and then it collapsed. Major Irish banks also passed the test, although Ireland itself had to be bailed out shortly thereafter to prevent its financial system from collapsing. Central bank stress tests are essentially public relations gambits meant to tell the public how good things are regardless of the actual state of affairs.

The release of the U.S. stress test also inadvertently revealed the true relationship between the Federal Reserve and the banking system that it supposedly regulates.  Even though the Fed was scheduled to release the stress test results after the market closed on Thursday, Jamie Diamond  announced that JP Morgan Chase (JPM) has passed the stress tests while the market was still open on Tuesday. He also stated that his bank would be raising its dividend and doing a stock buyback. Shortly thereafter, U.S. Bancorp (USB) and American Express (AXP) raised their dividends and announced stock buybacks. Wells Fargo (WFC) and BB&T (BBT) announced that they would be raising their dividend. 

Diamond's announcement forced the Fed's hand and it had to take emergency measures to move its own announcement up. The imbroglio was described by the mainstream media as a "miscommunication" between the Fed and Jamie Diamond. Oh really?  This is quite difficult to accept considering Jamie Diamond sits on the Board of Directors of the New York Fed. A more plausible scenario is that the big banks do what they want and the Fed follows their lead.  This nicely explains how the Credit Crisis came about in 2008 and why the banks will get into trouble once again.

The market rallied strongly on the news starting around 3:00PM with the Dow Jones industrials closing up more than 200 points. Anyone who knew that the accidental "miscommunication" was going to take place made a lot of money.

Disclosure: None

Daryl Montgomery
Author: "Inflation Investing - A Guide for the 2010s"
Organizer, New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

1 comment:


Interesting post on interest rates.