Crudele: Alan, save the market!

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Fri Oct 13 15:10:49 PDT 2000

[what a hoot]

New York Post - October 13, 2000



IS the stock market getting set to crash?

There's no Ouja board on my desk. But I do see a few things that'll have to happen in order to avoid the chance of a full-scale panic on Wall Street.

First, Alan Greenspan must step in and save the market if this slide is going to stop. And an active rescue effort is the simplest and most effective way out of the equities market's current predicament, although it is also extremely dangerous and controversial. Greenspan must get the Treasury to buy futures in the Dow and S&P indexes this morning if those indices continue to decline. A further drop is a very real possibility, especially if the nation's Producer Price Index for September is worse than the 0.5 percent jump that the experts expect. A Fed official back in 1989 suggested that buying index futures - rather than pumping liquidity into the banking system - was the way to avert a disaster. He knew what he was talking about.

Second suggestion: The Fed has to stop making covert attempts to help the market, as it did this week. That effort, like past ones, failed miserably when Greenspan added liquidity to the banking system on Tuesday by doing billions in so-called repos and coupon passes. The more the Fed fails in these secret efforts, the less confidence people will have in its ability to avert disaster.

The Fed's goal here should be singular - step in front of the troubled market so that investors know a rescue effort is in place. That's what the Fed has done in the past for several large Wall Street firms, and small investors deserve no less.

And the timing is very important.

Greenspan has to stop the bloodletting before small investors lose the faith they've had in stocks these past 10 years. If prices continue to dive like they did yesterday, small investors will not only lose faith; they will panic.

Then there will be a crash.

Americans have entrusted more money to Wall Street than ever before. Retirement, college, vacation plans, home-ownership goals - are now all riding with the stock market.

There is no room for error. No time for cute solutions. No more second chances. This column warned its readers at the beginning of the month that October was not to be trusted, especially when stock prices were still in bubble territory, and people had become downright complacent about the past record of crashes.

And I even warned you that the Clinton administration's politically inspired dip into the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve might lead to unexpected problems - like increased Middle East tension just as we were getting nearer the presidential election.

Am I psychic? No.

But when you are rolling a bubble through the calendar while pretending it's a solid ball, you'd better be very careful about bumping into sharp objects like jinxed months, irresponsible political moves and ominous chatter about corporate profits.

A lot of things are going wrong for the stock market right now.

Corporate profits are down because of inflation and higher borrowing costs. International companies are having earnings problems because of the extraordinary weakness of the euro.

And little of the cliched "bargain hunting" seems to be occurring, no matter how low stock prices fall.

Worse, the quick-fix that the Clinton administration attempted on oil prices has backfired. Crude oil dropped for a short while but an orchestrated pick-up in Mideast tensions quickly got the tab back up to $36 a barrel - just two bucks short of the record. And there are no more tricks left.

You get the idea - a lot of problems.

But investor confidence is what this is all about. Lose that and all is lost.

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