Helicopter Hank
Musing on the Markets

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Beyond The Sound Bite

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Have You Seen This?

Have You Seen This?

“It is like if you are in an airplane and the oxygen mask comes down,” said Stefanie Kimball, (Independent Bank’s) chief lending officer. “First thing you do is put your own mask on, stabilize yourself.”

"In Michigan, Bank Lends Little of Its Bailout Funds"
NY Times, January 14, 2009

The above quote and article captures the essence of the TARP money dump by Helicopter Hank in 2008. This is, no doubt, a large part of the dynamic that has investors worried, but not in the way that may seem apparent.

Under Obama and the Democrats, TARP funds will be allocated in a striking different manner. And this fact justifiably has many investors concerned that a significant increase in bank failures will be a part of the economic landscape this year: something that the accompanying chart from the Economist strongly suggests. Moreover, with no political dynamic at work this year, it is hard envision any scenario in which the second wave of TARP money would find its way to undeserving banks and with such poor transparency and regard for the terms under which such money is made available. As a result, investors should expect that banks with shaky balance sheets are headed for the operational dustbin. And with them, the economic consequences of the deleveraging process will continue unabated. 

Investment Strategy Implications

Were it not for the fact that the stock market is deeply oversold, this morning’s 10 to 1 down ratio (both the advance/decline and advance/decline volume) might lead some to conclude that a return to the really bad old days of last year (with 5% + down days, rising VIX levels, banking crisis du jour, and more pain to follow) is underway rather than a second selling climax based on fears well known, defined, and, yes, manageable. 

On the assumption that the plethora of money already doled out and what’s in the monetary and fiscal pipeline (including the Fed’s acquisition of selected “toxic assets” and the prospects for bank “write ups”) will have the desired effect of injecting into the US economic body enough juice to trigger the badly needed multiplier effect on corporations and households beginning in the second half of the year, a cautiously optimistic view of equities does seem warranted - at least for the next several months. 

Helicopter Hank did what he did and in a manner that only he fully appreciates*. In short order, his actions will be perceived as they should be – a prelude to the real work of restoring the US and global economy to a more balanced era of growth and stability.

*A more conspiratorial mind might suspect there was a political dimension to his largess as 2008 was a presidential and congressional year. Providing “walking around money” to banks who did not qualify under the agreement that healthy banks should receive TARP funds does make one wonder just what was Helicopter Hank thinking?

Posted 01-14-2009 7:30 PM by Vinny Catalano, CFA