Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Psychological Prescription

This crisis is now fundamentally about psychology.

Trust is the oil in the engine of capitalism, without it, the engine seizes up.

Confidence is like the gasoline, without it the machine won't move.

Trust is gone: there is no longer trust between counterparties in the financial system. Furthemore, confidence is at a low. Investors have lost their confidence in the ability of shares to provide decent returns (since they haven't).

This is now a PSYCHOLOGICAL problem. That's what Frank and I do - manage psychology, so here is my prescription:

1. A show of financial force is needed. Confidence has been lost in the ability of any one institution or government to solve this crisis. Now, to restore order, EVERY major central bank in the world needs to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and say: "We won't let this system fail." What? I didn't hear you... "WE WON'T LET THIS SYSTEM FAIL!!!" That's what the business community in the world needs to hear. That's how confidence is restored. It has to be a HUGE intervention and very credible.
2. I've said for a while that if the bailout plan had passed the first time, it may not have needed to be spent. Sometimes just the idea of a price floor is enough. That requires action to demonstrate that there is a buyer of last resort who will establish that floor. Sadly, we've seen the weakness and pettiness of U.S. political leadership, which has terrified investors. And so the credit crunch continues.... Only coordinated action by governments with their hands on the money spigot can pour enough financial oil into the engine now.
3. We need to believe that a BIG entity or institution or consortium is in control, or plans to take control of sorting out the crisis. Otherwise the fear and credit contraction will continue.

That means that when the coordinated action happens, it can't be watered down, and it needs to include the sentiment EVERYTHING will be done to fix this. Less than urgent STRONG action is not enough. Everyday huge amounts of wealth and growth potential are being eroded. It doesn't have to be this bad, but it will if no one steps up to the plate.

Unfortunately, I'm concerned (as is the market), that no one with the power has the leadership drive or political will to get this done. There are huge political risks to this, and sometimes explaining the psychology of what you're doing is enough to undermine it. For that reason, the final solution will need to sound very mechanistic, but the fundamental effect will be psychological.

The implications of a huge coordinated bailout/buyout will be hard to swallow for many people, on philosophical grounds. They might say, "but how can you advocate what is essentially a worldwide regulator or central banking system?" To which I say, "would you prefer a worldwide depression?" This credit crunch and the current market panic is THAT serious. And it needs the appearance of such an entity, for restoration of global confidence.

We need a coordinated, BIG, credible, active, and absolutely forceful response that demonstrates who is in control (and it has to be a unity of governments and central banks with a strong leader). Maybe the IMF and Worldbank will come up with something at their annual meetings this weekend? Maybe...


DISCLOSURE: I'm net short equities.

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