Oil Surges $25/Barrel — A Discussion on the US Economy, its Stakeholders, and the Next Financial Era


Below, I just posted a piece by Richard Vague, a finance expert and businessman, on the subject of whether and when the U.S. government should bail out large firms. Now I am posting another guest post by colleague and international finance expert, Douglas Rediker, who serves as Co-Director of the New America Foundation Global Strategic Finance Initiative.
I asked Rediker to respond to the news that the dollar was on the skids and oil had shot up $25/barrel.
douglas rediker twn.jpgRediker responded:

I suspect that the markets are reacting not to the general idea of the bailout plan – which, after all was announced last week and was met with great applause by the market, but rather to the uncertainty of whether the plan will be enacted and how much political influence will creep into the final plan and implementation.
That leads to increased uncertainty, which, in turn leads to lower stock prices, higher interest rates and a lower dollar, which leads to higher commodity prices (priced in dollars). Yes, the plan will increase the US deficit, but that didn’t change between Friday and today.
What changed was the perception on Friday that Hank Paulson was firmly in charge and that he knew what he was doing. Today, the fear is that Paulson has to grapple with politicians and doesn’t have sweeping authority – that scares markets. Also, Paulson’s only got a few more months in office and no one knows who will replace him. That adds another layer to market uncertainty.

hagel richard vague daniel yergin 2.jpgRichard Vague just sent me this response to Rediker’s note:

What is also true is that a $700 billion buyout plan means $700 billion in “newly printed money” in circulation and thus a correspondingly weaker dollar. More dollars chasing the same amount of goods means that each dollar is worth less relative to commodities and other currencies.

Vague also referred me to a relatively tepid temperature-read of the economic situation from JPMorgan Chief Investment Officer Michael Cembalest’s “Eye on the Market” newsletter:

Martin Wolf at the Financial Times and editors at the Wall Street Journal apparently consider [this] the end of an era, writing things like “the day the dream of global free-market capitalism died”, and “10 days that changed capitalism”.
I disagree with them. This is how it has always worked. Sir Robert Peel, Britain’s Prime Minister in the 1840s, made it clear in the Bank of England’s charter debate: while it was important to set out rules of operation for financial markets that minimized moral hazard, it was equally important that the central bank suspend those rules to take action when necessary.
As only an Englishman could write, “while the charter is well-designed and while we are taking all precautions which legislation can prudently take against the recurrence of a monetary crisis, a crisis may occur in spite of our precautions. If it does, and if it be necessary to assume grave responsibility for the purpose of meeting it, I dare say men will be found willing to assume such responsibility”.
The Federal Reserve and the Treasury are acting the same way the Bank of England always did.
The events of the last week are bad for absolutists, since the U.S./U.K. model has always been about flexibility: a primary reliance on market mechanisms, but with a heavy dose of central planning and intervention in crisis. Not everything British was discarded in 1776; just the monarchy, and more fortuitously, the food.

But this not so sanguine context-setting comment came to me from businessman and Obama economic advisor Leo Hindery, who serves as Chair of the new Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation and is speaking at a forum we are organizing in the U.S. Senate tomorrow (Douglas Rediker and Richard Vague will both be there).
hindery naf twn.jpgHindery offers (from a set of prepared remarks he is giving tomorrow):

As we all know, the Bush administration is asking Congress to let the government buy $700 billion in troubled mortgages, which would raise the statutory limit on the national debt to $11.3 trillion from $10.6 trillion. This $700 billion is over and above the $85 billion already committed to AIG, the $29 billion related to Bear Stearns, and the very conservative $25 billion associated with the bailouts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The solutions being proposed are the most expensive combined bailout in the nation’s history and will sharply curtail the ability of the next president to push for tax cuts or new spending. And yet I believe they are not nearly enough, since they do not adequately cover the exposure associated with leveraged loans and, especially, the credit-default swaps market which has ballooned to a nearly unimaginable $45.5 trillion, from $900 billion in 2001.
This credit-default swaps market, which was developed by financiers who hired the best lobbyists they could to keep regulators away, is essentially nothing more than insurance on debt, but because there are now many more credit-default swaps outstanding than there are bonds for them to cover, it could potentially be a black hole of distress at least as large as the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Tens of trillions of dollars ago these swaps became nothing more than a way to gamble with almost no money down.
Alan Blinder suggested over the weekend that “the root cause of all of [our credit problems] is declining house prices”, and he is correct – but his observation ignores the fact that to this particular root ball were grafted a lot of other financial instruments which have together grown into one heck of a tree.
Senators Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan and Richard Shelby of Alabama, and others, were more right than wrong when they said last week that more than likely “we’re talking about a trillion dollars.”

I think that we are talking more than a trillion, and I suspect Leo Hindery thinks the same.
This is a real indictment of the laissez-faire, manically neoliberal political economic order that we have had in place during the Clinton and Bush eras, and the excesses that the U.S. engaged in are staggering. But I don’t favor overthrowing everything — and I don’t favor a massive new over-regulated regime, but the combination of negligence as policy, turning a blind eye as policy, absence of regulation as policy — all combined a toxic ideology — has to be ended definitively.
As mentioned, tomorrow morning, I will be helping to chair a half day conference in the US Senate (Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 124) on the current economic turmoil. I am not sure we will be able to Live Stream the meeting, but check back. If we can, we will. If not, it will be available later by video file and posted here.
This session which is sponsored by the New America Foundation Smart Globalization Initiative and Next Social Contract Initiative as well as the Economic Strategy Institute will feature former AT&T Broadband Networks CEO and Obama economic advisor LEO HINDERY, Congressman WALTER JONES (R-NC), former Senator ERNEST “FRITZ” HOLLINGS (D-SC), emerging markets experts and New America Foundation colleagues HEIDI CREBO-REDIKER and DOUGLAS REDIKER, National Journal columnist BRUCE STOKES, Washington Post columnist and American Prospect editor-at-large HAROLD MEYERSON, International Strategy and Investment Group Senior Managing Director and frequent Nightly Business Report guest TOM GALLAGHER, Federal Home Loan Finance Board Member ALLAN MENDELOWITZ, former IBM Director of Research and SVP for Science and Technology RALPH GOMORY, author and Manufacturing Policy Project Director PAT CHOATE, American Way of Strategy author and New America Foundation colleague MICHAEL LIND, New America Foundation Economic Growth Program Director Sherle Schwenninger, among others.
The session is open to the public if you would like to drop by.
More soon.
— Steve Clemons


9 comments on “Oil Surges $25/Barrel — A Discussion on the US Economy, its Stakeholders, and the Next Financial Era

  1. Rita Kennedy says:

    Can step mother poison her step daughter/son?
    It is true that we haven’t met face to face or communicate with each other before. Well, my names are Rita Kennedy (an orphan) and my parents died three years back when I was just 19yrs, and my late father married another wife four years ago. And a year after he married the lest wife my father died together with my mom, the last wife is my step mother and when she find out that my father had a deposit of money in the bank here in this country. My name as the beneficiary of the big amount and my step mother wasn’t happy with me, after we had little quell over the fund that was when she have evil mind against me.
    She started making friend with me like never before, so that I may forget our misunderstanding and without me knowing that she had evil plans against me. Well to cut the long story short, she gave me food poison and I wake-up in the hospital in next two days. And I am now in the hospital writing you with tires and sorrow seeking for your assistance because my doctor told me that I have few months to leave on earth. I have made up my mind to offer my inheritance to the and people of Haiti. Because anything may happen to me and I have no right to touch the fund based on agreement reached between my late father and the bank authorities.
    It is after his death, at my age of 25yrs that is when I shall have the right to handle the fund. And I am now 22yrs still underage for the fund and my health condition is too bad, I can not make it. Now my question, are you ready to receive my inheritance on my behalf as new beneficiary and ready to go through the little process until you receive the money? It is better you handle my inheritance to help me assist Haiti people and others in need, than that evil step mother to use the fund ungodly ways when I die.
    Well if you are ready, kindly send across to me your full details like, your full names, full address, direct phone number and any copy of your identity card. As soon as I receive those things from you and without wasting time, it shall enable me for the changing of ownership in your name as the new beneficiary of my inheritance. After that, you receive the full document of the fund and direct bank contacts, so that you will start communicating with them, while I will be waiting for my death to come.
    God bless you, for your understanding as I am expecting to hear from you soonest, because time is not on my side.
    Urgent please.
    Miss. Rita Kennedy.
    St. Joseph central hospital,
    Bp 01 rue 201 Abobo-Abj,
    Cote d’Ivoire


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  3. Kathleen says:

    I’ve been too profoundly disillusioned to say much these days but did want to pass along this from PEN, the Peoples’ Email Network…Tell Congress To Help Homeowners, Not Bail Out Crooked Corporations
    Help Distressed Homeowners Instead Of More Crooked Corporations
    Congress MUST refuse to grant Bush the $700 billion gift he’s asking for. They’ve been frightened and intimidated like they were when Bush threatened them with the blame if Saddam used WMDs – when they approved Bush’s request for permission to go to war. Not This Time!
    The Democratic leaders must take control and demand that fresh, strong economists look at the “financial meltdown disaster capitalism stories” Paulson and Bernanke are selling and they must not allow themselves to be stampeded into passing legislation like they did when they allowed Bush to take us into war.
    Any legislation passed must instead DIRECTLY assist the American homeowners who are the ultimate victims of the mortgage and housing economic problems facing America, for that is the real and only way to save the banks as well.
    Action Page: http://www.usalone.com/help_people_instead.php
    And after you submit the action page above to send your message to all your members of Congress at the same time, you can watch the new impeachment play for free on the return page, and request a copy of the actual DVD if you have not done so already. And there is no donation required, so every progressive at heart needs to have one.
    How about this? People must have an opportunity to refinance their homes at what they are REALLY worth, for otherwise they will just be sold at an every GREATER loss to the American taxpayer. But if we can keep them in their houses we can save the whole economy at the same time. And if the homes then appreciate again, the U.S. taxpayer gets to recoup the balance in some way. Is that a fair proposal or not?
    We need to tell the leaders of congress and our own legislators that we’re watching them. We remember how they failed us before the Iraq war and we won’t let it happen again.
    OpedNews, the premier source of progressive opinion and news, is getting a bumper crop of article submissions on this issue right now. Here are some of their hottest stories. We need all of our blogger participants to talk these issues up on their blogs and propagate the links below also.
    WMDs and Financial Meltdown — Related Threats? Related Dem Congress Failure?
    Welcome to the final stages of the coup…
    Sen. Bernie Sanders: Billions for Bailouts! Who Pays?
    THROW Them Out Don’t Bail Them Out
    The Point of No Return
    Rob Kall: How Dare They Spend Trillions on Corporate Welfare, Without…?
    Please take action NOW, so we can win all victories that are supposed to be ours, and forward this alert as widely as possible.
    If you would like to get alerts like these, you can do so at http://www.usalone.com/in.htm
    Or if you want to cease receiving our messages, just use the function at http://www.usalone.com/out.htm
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    Copyright 2008, Patent pending, All rights reserved


  4. David says:

    Gotta go with Carroll’s comment.
    Also, thanks Steve for doing everything you can to help Washington Noters navigate this cataclysm.


  5. Carroll says:

    “Alan Blinder suggested over the weekend that “the root cause of all of [our credit problems] is declining house prices”, and he is correct – but his observation ignores the fact that to this particular root ball were grafted a lot of other financial instruments which have together grown into one heck of a tree. ”
    Pardon me but Alan Binder is full of crap or stupid, take your pick….the ROOT cause is not declining house prices.
    The “ROOT cause” was the easy borrowing and lending credit for both developers and buyers that created a bubble in the housing and mortage market… accompanied by the stripping and cooking of all these loans into numerous debt packages of varying risk to be bought by investors.
    Saying that “declining house prices” are the root cause of this mess is like commenting on the little pimple that suddenly appeared on top of the cancerous tumor.


  6. Ben Rosengart says:

    I have no doubt that the combined brain-power of Washington,
    D.C. can repair the financial system, if they have an unbounded
    amount of money with which to do it.
    What concerns me is that they seem inclined to place the entire
    burden on the tax-paying (middle) classes. I would like to see
    the banking and governing classes take some responsibility for
    what they have wrought.
    I hope that my representatives in D.C. — currently Boxer,
    Feinstein and Barbara Lee — are not allowing alarmist
    technocratic talk to distract them from their political
    responsibility to the nation and their constituents. If they think
    there will be economic hell to pay if they don’t give
    Bush/Paulson a blank check, I would like to remind them that
    there may be political hell to pay if they do cut that check.


  7. WigWag says:

    Oil will almost cerrtainly close lower tomorrow than it did today. Who knows where it is going in the next few months.
    In my opinion, the best way to play all of this (other than buying gold which is a no brainer)is to buy the Canadian dollar. Unlike the EU and the USA, Canada has no national budget deficit. Other than the Bank of Montreal, it’s other large banks have almost no exposure to any of this mess. While Canadian economic growth has been somewhat weaker than growth in the US and Europe over the past quarter, with everything happening on Wall Street (and in London)that will probably change. Inflation in Canada has been about the same as in the EU and USA but with the inflationary pressures resulting from the Treasury plan, inflation in the US will probably accelerate.
    The Canadian economy is heavily dependant on oil and other natural resources. If oil gets stronger it wil help Canada tremendously.
    Over the past year the Candian dollar has been as high as 113 and as low as 92. It closed today at 97. My bet is that it will break par within a week or so.
    The Euro and th Yen both increased more than the Canadian Dollar today. But my bet is on the loonie


  8. JohnH says:

    Having Hank Paulson in charge of the bail-out is kind of like using arsonists as fire fighters. In this administration of corporate cronies, who use their government positions to further their private interests, you have to wonder who Paulson is really working for. If he were truly working for we the People, we would get much more than trash for the $700 Trillion.


  9. Greg P says:

    On the point about oil being up $25 today — most of the movement in oil broadly is a result of the sharp fall in the dollar, but the October WTI contract everyone in the media is citing was a bit of a fluke. Today is the last day the October WTI contract is traded on the NYMEX, and someone, apparently a very large player or a few large players, needed to cover a substantial short position. That’s the only rational reason I can see for it. The rest of the forward curve (November 2008 WTI et. seq.) was up $6.00 or so, but the sharper spike in October was clearly an outlier.
    Anyway, some very weird things happen when so much in the financial markets is coming unglued…


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