Thoughts from an Unusual Quarter

by Chris Sturr | October 21, 2008

Poor performance on markets in New York, despite movement in money and commericial paper markets (and oil down another 4%!). Anna Schwartz, former co-author with Milton Friedman, of all people, has some interesting thoughts on why this may be so (Hat tip to Marginal Revolution):

From The Wall Street Journal “Weekend Interview,” October 18, 2008

By Brian M. Carney

…To understand why, one first has to understand the nature of the current “credit market disturbance,” as Ms. Schwartz delicately calls it. We now hear almost every day that banks will not lend to each other, or will do so only at punitive interest rates. Credit spreads — the difference between what it costs the government to borrow and what private-sector borrowers must pay — are at historic highs.

This is not due to a lack of money available to lend, Ms. Schwartz says, but to a lack of faith in the ability of borrowers to repay their debts. “The Fed,” she argues, “has gone about as if the problem is a shortage of liquidity. That is not the basic problem. The basic problem for the markets is that [uncertainty] that the balance sheets of financial firms are credible.”

So even though the Fed has flooded the credit markets with cash, spreads haven’t budged because banks don’t know who is still solvent and who is not. This uncertainty, says Ms. Schwartz, is “the basic problem in the credit market. Lending freezes up when lenders are uncertain that would-be borrowers have the resources to repay them. So to assume that the whole problem is inadequate liquidity bypasses the real issue.”

Read the rest of the article

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