“I looked at my 401K and it’s now a 201K ba-dum-bum-CHING!" So, the joke goes today, but, don’t look now, it’s a 177K based on the S&P 500 as shown below. If you were able to buy the inverse of the change in the National Debt during the same period, your 401K would be a 485K. Interestingly, invested in gold it would be about the same, 498K, and with the 30 year Treasury bond you’d have a 544K for the same period. So much for hindsight, but much to be said about asset allocation.
The water torture nature of the decline in equity values, without the capitulation everyone has been waiting for, as well the disappearance of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and the implosion of AIG, Bank of America, Citi, GM and, now, even GE, speaks worlds about the gravity of the situation. AIG has become a bottomless pit into which we have dumped $170 billion in taxpayer’s money and now have 79.9% ownership of an asset that seems destined to become a black hole of unknown proportions. While President Obama’s sincerity in following through on promises for health care reform and other social issues is applauded – and highly trumpeted on the government’s new web site http://www.recovery.gov/ -- if our financial institutions entirely fail, everything else becomes meaningless.
Paul Volcker gave one of the clearest explanations as to how we got to this point in a speech he gave in Canada a couple of weeks ago, saying “this phenomenon can be traced back at least five or six years. We had, at that time, a major underlying imbalance in the world economy. The American proclivity to consume was in full force. Our consumption rate was about 5% higher, relative to our GNP or what our production normally is. Our spending – consumption, investment, government — was running about 5% or more above our production, even though we were more or less at full employment. You had the opposite in China and Asia, generally, where the Chinese were consuming maybe 40% of their GNP – we consumed 70% of our GNP.”
Full text: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2009/02/paul-volcker/
He argued, “in the future, we are going to need a financial system which is not going to be so prone to crisis and certainly will not be prone to the severity of a crisis of this sort.” In effect the Glass-Steagall Act that had been enacted during Depression 1.0 separating commercial and investment banks -- and had been repealed in 1999 thanks to Phil Gramm and other deregulation zealots– needs to be reinstated during this Depression 2.0. Where is Paul Volcker to lead the way back to the 401K?