Sunday, August 26, 2007

James Grant on the Credit Crisis

James Grant has always been one of my favorite economic commentators. He always finds a way to inject a little humor as well as some razor sharp analysis. This editorial appeared in the NYT today. Here's a sample:

Benjamin Graham and David L. Dodd, in the 1940 edition of their seminal volume “Security Analysis,” held that the acid test of a bond or a mortgage issuer is its ability to discharge its financial obligations “under conditions of depression rather than prosperity.” Today’s mortgage market can’t seem to weather prosperity.

He takes the Fed to task for coming to the rescue every time there is a "crisis":

It has not been lost on our Wall Street titans that the government is the reliable first responder to scenes of financial distress, or that there will always be enough paper dollars to go around to assist the very largest financial institutions. In the aftermath of the failure of Long-Term Capital Management, the genius-directed hedge fund that came a cropper in 1998, the Fed — under Alan Greenspan — delivered three quick reductions in the federal funds rate. Thus fortified, lenders and borrowers, speculators and investors, resumed their manic buying of technology stocks. That bubble burst in March 2000.

He also lays the blame for today's crisis right where it belongs - at Alan Greenspan's doorstep:

Under Mr. Greenspan, the Fed set its face against falling prices everywhere. As it intervened to save the financial markets in 1998, so it printed money in 2002 and 2003 to rescue the economy. From what? From the peril of everyday lower prices — “deflation,” the economists styled it. In this mission, at least, the Fed succeeded. Prices, especially housing prices, soared. Knowing that the Fed would do its best to engineer rising prices, people responded rationally. They borrowed lots of money at the Fed’s ultralow interest rates.

I believe that if you place incentives before people they will react to them in predictable ways. If you make money cheap, people will borrow it for all kinds of dubious purposes. And when the bill comes due, we all pay. Read the rest of James Grant for an economic lesson in credit cycles.

No comments: