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Markets Vote Against Obama   February 10th, 2009
Market systematically rejects both financial bailout and stimulus package       

 
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There are days when it seems like things couldn't be more clear. Today is one of those days.

The stock markets effectively and systematically rejected both aspects of President Obama's response to the economic crisis: It dropped 250 points in the half hour following Treasury Secretary Geithner's announcement of his plan to address the financial system, stabilized at that level of loss, and then dropped about another 150 points starting about an hour after the Senate voted to approve the $837 billion stimulus package.


Last night President Obama had his first press conference as president. He sounded forceful and determined but didn't provide any new information on the economy or the stimulus package. When it came to the most important question--how to solve the problem in the financial sector--the response was:

And so tomorrow my treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, will be announcing some very clear and specific plans for how we are going to start loosening up credit once again... I don't want to pre-empt my secretary of the treasury. He's going to be laying out these principles in great detail tomorrow... And beyond that, I'm going to make sure that Tim gets his moment in the sun tomorrow.


So what did Geithner give us today? Nothing clear, nothing specific, and no great details. Nothing which Obama promised the night before. Rather the response to Geithner's "plan" was pretty much unanimous, and in line with:

But observers said the Obama administration's plan is neither well-funded enough to recapitalize troubled banks, nor detailed enough to assure investors that the government can solve the toxic asset problem plaguing banks.

That, in part, is why stocks fell so sharply after the plan was unveiled, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and other major indexes plunging more than 4% in mid-afternoon trading.


Indeed the stock market dropped 381 points (4.6%), the largest drop since December, and shed approximately 250 of those points within 45 minutes of Geithner's speech at 11am. It then stabilized at that post-Geithner level for a little more than an hour. After the Senate approved the stimulus package at noon, the market yawned and then continued its march downwards and shed another 130 points.

Amazingly (or maybe not), some folks over at Democratic Underground were delusional with comments such as "The Republicans and Wall Street brats are taking the market down on purpose" and "Wall Street is selling the market becuase they aren't getting everything they wanted." The first comment demonstrates a lack of understanding of how the market works, but the second comment is right: The market wanted some leadership or, barring that, some indication that the administration had a plan and could tell us what to expect. Between President Obama last night and Treasury Secretary Geithner this morning, it seems neither of them have a clue. When the leaders of our economy make it clear they have no plan, it's not surprising the market's going to panic. In fact, I think we can count our blessings that the market only dropped 4.6%.

Even if the stimulus package could theoretically work, it will be completely useless without a functioning financial system. It will be throwing money down the drain. The response I've heard in recent weeks from liberals is that, "They're working on both the economic and financial crisis simultaneously." It seems that's not the case. There seems to be less than $100 billion of stimulus spending in the "stimulus" package and, today, it seems pretty obvious that they don't have a plan for the financial system. That's not my opinion--it's the opinion of Wall Street. And contrary to the beliefs at Democratic Underground, the market is not throwing away its own money as some kind of protest.

President Obama gave us no reason to feel confident about the economy or his leadership last night. And the Treasury Secretary gave us no reason to feel confident about the government's plan for the financial sector today. In short, between the two of them, it seems like we have quite a few reasons to be nervous. I'm literally more nervous today than I have been in the last year. I wasn't nervous when Obama won the election. I wasn't nervous when he was inaugurated. And I haven't really been nervous in the last few weeks despite his effort to spend a trillion dollars we don't have. Today, I'm nervous.

The revelation of the "financial system plan" today is almost worse than a bad plan... instead, it's the revelation that there isn't a plan. And that's downright scary.

I'm no market genius, but it would seem to me that aside from some occasional run-ups and profit-taking, the market is going to be under downward pressure until someone gives us a clue how they plan to fix some problems. It seems there's really only three things that can potentially give us a sustained upward tendency in the market and the economy: 1) A good and compelling explanation of how the administration plans to fix the financial sector. 2) The economy turning around by itself in spite of an increasingly inept administration. 3) An announcement of some kind of suspension of capital gains taxes.

Lacking that, it would seem to me that the "winter of our hardship" that Obama mentioned in his press conference is only just beginning... and being made colder by his administration.

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