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Banks May Still Clutch Pursestrings


Borrowing could still be difficult post-bailout.

We're asking Hank Paulson to get great prices on assets that currently fetch nothing. If the smartest and most lethal investors in the market are willing to abandon these assets, why should we buy them? Oh, right: We (taxpayers) are going to buy those assets on the cheap and hope banks open their wallets.

But I doubt that banks are going to suddenly start making loans. At the rate that people are losing their jobs, who could qualify for a loan? Standards and collateral requirements are higher and anxiety is through the roof. Paulson has to keep the delicate balance of not paying too much for loans that will see greater defaults in the weeks and months ahead, and also not driving too hard a bargain, such that banks choose to hold onto the assets and let the chips fall where they may.

It's a delicate situation, to be sure, but make no mistake: There's only one man in charge, and he can do what ever he wants. But I'm not afraid of his power - I'm afraid of him falling flat on his face. When the market began to fall on Friday even before the ink dried on the new law, it may have been the wakeup call we needed.

It was a sobering week, to say the least, beginning with abject fear on Monday and finishing with universal dismay on Friday. The rescue package was airdropped on America, then landed with a thud. There has to be more. Not just cash: FAS 140 has to be amended now, the issue of off-balance-sheet accounting needs to be taken off the table, mark-to-market accounting has to be abandoned, and the Federal Reserve will have to make an emergency rate cut of 50-basis points.

There's something else that has to happen, too. There's a place the economy and the market has to go, and no matter how often we intervene, it's likely that point (and it's down) will be reached. I guess we could make the actual decline more palatable, if only by giving ourselves a softer landing.

We may be able to make the recession go away sooner rather than later, too. If monies are used the right way, the US could emerge stronger - though there will be lingering distrust for generations to come.
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