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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

 

belated dawn


having previously decried our collective failure of imagination even while staring depression in the face with barely a glimmer of recognition, i would be remiss if i didn't point out that the dimensions of the problem facing american society are now beginning to dawn on the heads of the financial state.

The economy faces a slump deeper than the Great Depression and a growing deficit threatens the credit of the United States itself, former Goldman Sachs chairman John Whitehead, said at the Reuters Global Finance Summit on Wednesday.

Whitehead, 86, said the prospect of worsening consumer credit woes combined with an overtaxed federal government make him fear that the current slump is far from over.

"I think it would be worse than the depression," Whitehead said. "We're talking about reducing the credit of the United States of America, which is the backbone of the economic system." Whitehead encountered plenty of crises during his 38 years at the investment banking firm and was a young boy during the 1930s. ...

"Before I go to sleep at night, I wonder if tomorrow is the day Moody's and S&P will announce a downgrade of U.S. government bonds," he said. "Eventually U.S. government bonds would no longer be the triple-A credit that they've always been."

There are at least ten "trillion dollar problems," facing the United States, he said, including social security, expanding health insurance, rebuilding infrastructure and increased spending on green energy. At the same time, the public does not want to pay for it.

"The public is not prepared to increase taxes. Both parties were for reducing taxes, reducing income to government, and both parties favored a number of new programs -- all very costly and all done by the government," he said.

Large deficits can weaken the country's credit and increase its borrowing costs, which already constitute a significant part of funding to cover expenses. Whitehead said it could take "several years" for the current problems to be resolved.

Whitehead said he is speaking out on this topic because he is concerned no lawmakers are against these new spending programs and none will stand up and call for higher taxes.

"I just want to get people thinking about this, and to realize this is a road to disaster," said Whitehead. "I've always been a positive person and optimistic, but I don't see a solution here."


this on the heels of merrill chief john thain's rather shocking admission (for a sitting head of a brokerage house) that this is a depression-scale problem. as michael lewis recounted of steve eisman:

“The investment-banking industry is fucked,” Eisman had told me a few weeks earlier. “These guys are only beginning to understand how fucked they are. It’s like being a Scholastic, prior to Newton. Newton comes along, and one morning you wake up: ‘Holy shit, I’m wrong!’ ” Now Lehman Brothers had vanished, Merrill had surrendered, and Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were just a week away from ceasing to be investment banks. The investment banks were not just fucked; they were extinct.

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