Investors Get a Rate Cut, But Wonder What's Next
A round of coordinated interest rate cuts failed to reassure global stock markets, fueling speculation that governments will have to do even more to tackle the credit crisis.
"I hope this is enough but I wouldn't be 100 percent sure," said Rainer Singer, a macroeconomic analyst at Erste Bank in Vienna.
From Europe to the US, the uncertainty was palpable in the wake of rate cuts by the central banks in the US, European Union, Switzerland, Canada, Sweden, England and others.
US stocks swung wildly between negative and positive territory all day, while European stocks sank to nearly a five-year low. Asian stocks plunged before the central bank action was announced.
The rate cuts followed a spate of stunning moves this week to shore up financial institutions and add liquidity to frozen credit markets.
On Wednesday, Britain announced a $87-billion plan to partially nationalize its banking sector.
In separate moves Monday and Tuesday, the Federal Reserve said it would pay interest on bank deposits and support the commercial paper market.
""I just think that there's a sense that they keep running out of bullets," said Jim Paulson of Wells Capital Management.
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"It's very difficult at this stage to call a bottom in equity markets or to say when the trust in the financial sector will return," says David Fenderzande, head of investments at Theodoor Gilissen Bankers in Amsterdam.
In the US, that may not happen until the start-up of the Treasury Department's highly-anticipated bailout fund, where the government will buy distressed mortgage securities from private sector firms. Expectations are that the $700 billion fund, which Congress approved last week, won't begin operating for several weeks.
In Europe, though countries have already instituted or increased guarantees on bank deposits, investors and taxpayers alike may need tosee more bank recapitalization plans by national governments or a broader one by the European Union rather than a case-by-case, bailout approach as seen in Germany, Britain, Ireland and Belgium.
Some have already proposed a recapitalization plan for the US. Others say its premature but aren't ruling it out, especially if the bailout fund disappoints.
Still others are calling for simpler, more fundamental measures.
"We need to suspend mark-to-market accounting," says Robert McTeer, a former president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, now at the National Center for Policy Analysis, referring to the accounting requirement that a security be valued at its current market price, not expectations of its eventual value. In the current environment, that generally means a depressed price, which is hurting balance sheets and trade.
The same legislation that authorizes the Treasury bailout fund gives securities regulators the authority to suspend the mark-to-market rule if it is in the interest of investors and taxpayers.
Given Washington's innovative—and increasingly aggressive—approach to the credit crunch, it's hard to rule that out. But the Treasury bailout fund is expected to help restore pricing and value to the mortgage debt market.
But since that's several weeks away, investors will need to show some patience, while lenders may have to apply some courage or faith in resuming lending.
Government leaders will have another chance to instill confidence later this week, when members of the Group of Seven nations gather in Washington for their regularly scheduled meeting.
The recovery process of the debt hangover will take time, which may be the one thing that is most needed but also most unwelcome.
"We have really serious global issues that are working their way into the market," said Don Putnam of Grail Partners. "The economic issues will take "24 to 36 months" to work out.
--This story was reported by Albert Bozzo, Kim Khan and Antonia Oprita.