WHEN: Today, Wednesday, March 18, 2020
WHERE: CNBC's "Squawk Alley"
The following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and CNBC's Jim Cramer on CNBC's "Squawk Alley" (M-F 11AM – 12PM) today, Wednesday, March 18th. The following is a link to video of the interview on CNBC.com: https://www.cnbc.com/video/2020/03/18/watch-cnbcs-full-interview-with-treasury-secretary-steven-mnuchin.html.
All references must be sourced to CNBC.
CARL QUINTANILLA: I want to get back to headquarters this morning. Our Jim Cramer is joined by the Treasury Secretary. Hey, Jim.
JIM CRAMER: So great to see you, Carl. And Mr. Secretary, are you with us?
SEC. STEVEN MNUCHIN: I am indeed. Good to be with you.
JIM CRAMER: Thank you, Secretary Mnuchin. Alright, let's get right to it. I know you're -- you and I talked many times. The working people, 100 million people at jeopardy, trying to figure out how to put meals on the table, clothe, house. What is your message to them?
SEC. STEVEN MNUCHIN: Well, the message is the President is taking all his actions and working very closely with the Senate and the House to make sure that we help hardworking Americans, that we help small businesses and that we help industries that are particularly impacted by this. And people are doing what the President has said, which is we are closing down parts of the economy to make sure we destroy this disease. And we will. We will get through this. Americans should know we have the best medical professionals, we have the best medical system and we will conquer this disease. But in an effort to stop the spread, the President has asked certain businesses not to – you know, restaurants, bars, things like that, at no fault of their own, we're telling people not to go to those businesses. And we're going to deliver assistance. I think Jim, you know, yesterday at the President's direction, I announced what is really a $1.3 trillion program. 300 billion of it is deferred tax payments. We had previously announced that. At the president's direction, we increased that from 200 billion to 300 billion. We're about to put out an IRS press release. Again, I want to emphasize to tax payers, we're not moving the April 15th date, but we're moving is the date you need to pay the money. So, for lots of people, they will get refunds. For those of you who want to file, please do so. For those who don't you can request the normal extension, that's 300 billion of liquidity. We're going to Congress. I've been in discussions with the Senate and the house for another trillion dollars, that's a combination of programs. It's small business interruption loans that we want to get out right away. It's economic impact payments to the American public. When I said checks in the mail, that was a metaphor. The IRS has a lot of information for taxpayers for direct deposit. And where we don't, we're working with direct payment providers. So, that is money we can get to hardworking Americans right away. And the last will be an injection into the exchange stabilization fund so we can make critical loans to the airline industries, the hotel industries, the travel industries, and other businesses that will have great cash flow coming out of this but need loans now.
JIM CRAMER: Well, Mr. Secretary, you used a number and quoted maybe 20% people laid off. That's FDR, the great depression not the great recession. When you say that, it sends trembles through so many hardworking Americans. Is there a way to cut that down? I mean, we know --you know we're going to beat this and we don't want to get a situation where those people are off and can't get the jobs back.
SEC. STEVEN MNUCHIN: Jim, I want to be very clear because I've seen that number in the press, Jim, and I didn't in any way say I think we're going to have that. If we follow the President's plan we will not have it. What I said is just a mathematical statement, which is 40% of the people employed in the private workforce are employed by companies, 500 people and less. It was just a mathematical statement to say if half these people were to lose their jobs, this is what it would be. But we're not going to let that happen. The president has said we're going to make sure that companies have money so they can continue to pay those employees. It's no fault of theirs. And by the way, you know, this U.S. economy is going to come roaring back once we conquer this disease. This isn't like the financial crisis, there will be an end in sight.
JIM CRAMER: Well, Mr. Secretary, would you think about – as you've been saying you can't think big enough, doing something like making sure that the American people actually do well here by investing, say, social security money, maybe a new entity entirely, like what maybe Secretary Morgenthau would have created-- I know you're a student of history of the Treasury Department. A new entity to make it so we buy stakes. The American people buy stakes in Boeing and suddenly Boeing becomes no issue, off the table. And the American people benefit. Would we ever be that creative? I know, that would require Congress, just like it would require Congress for the Fed to be able to by corporates, and I know you know trading better than anyone we've had in your position. Is it possible to be that creative—that big think, because it really would take a lot of pressure off the markets?
SEC. STEVEN MNUCHIN: You know, I think the President has been very clear. We're going to do whatever we need to take. We have certain actions we're using. The actions we don't have, we're working with Congress. I have a lot of confidence there's going to be bipartisan support. The Senate already has three task forces working on different things. So, I have a lot of confidence that, you know, we have a great economy, we're doing certain things, we'll bounce back. Yesterday, you know the Fed took very significant actions. I did approve them. Fed Chair needed our approval. Yesterday, you know, this announcement was important, a trillion dollars of support for the A1 P1 commercial paper market. We saw issues in those markets the fed reacted quickly, we reacted quickly. And we're going to make sure we continue reacting quickly.
JIM CRAMER: When you take a breather, I know you haven't had one because you've worked all weekend, do you think about the great Secretaries of Treasury who really fought huge, think about Morgenthau with FDR who recognized we have to take fear in fear itself, and also we have to clothe and we have to house. Are you thinking of these models? Because I do think, Mr. Secretary, this is a historic time, and we would love to know if you and the President are thinking: You know what? Trillion, it doesn't matter. Whatever it takes to make sure 100 million working people feel like I have nothing to fear.
SEC. STEVEN MNUCHIN: Absolutely. You know, the President has said, let's think big. You know, Congress understands what we need to do. Again, we are going to protect American workers, because we're doing these things because of this virus. And again, there is an end in sight, Jim. And you know, the medical professionals are doing a great job. We're getting more and more testing out. But we're going to provide whatever economic aid we need to this economy.
JIM CRAMER: Well, it does – look, the stock market we know is smaller than the bond market. I know we'd all feel good if there's no freeze up, the Federal Reserve can do what -- gets congressional approval to buy, and Treasury Secretary, to be able buy the corporates. One thing we see because we watch our screens. And you know, we've worked in this business for years. We see the bank stocks go down every minute, we see the transports go down every minute, we see Boeing, which we know is faced with a liquidity problem and says they need 60 billion for the – the entire supply line, not just Boeing. What do we say to the people who say I give up, I'm selling Boeing, I'm selling the banks, this whole thing is falling apart? And you know what, call me when we solve the virus.
SEC. STEVEN MNUCHIN: Jim, as I have said before, I can't predict the market on a daily basis. It's going to go up, it's going to go down. What I can predict is, there were a lot of companies that were great companies a month ago. They're going to be great companies six months from now, three months from now, whatever it is. And we're going to make sure if there are great companies that need liquidity that we're going to work with them for liquidity. But let me also emphasize, there are a lot of small businesses out there. And the President is also determined, our priority is not just big businesses, our priority is small businesses, workers, this is why he wants to get money into people's pocket quickly. So that Americans can feel confident. That they know, they can stay home, that we can get through this, and our great businesses will be better than ever.
JIM CRAMER: Alright, well, let's clarify that, then. We talk about business interruption insurance. What you sound like you're talking about worker interruption insurance, too. Because we know the people we lay off at our bars and restaurants, the hairdressers of the world, the people that work at our gyms, they're scared, they're also afraid that what's going to accrue goes to the owner of the businesses and will never get to them. What you're saying is that categorically, you're saying that's not the case.
SEC. STEVEN MNUCHIN: Yes, Jim. And we prefer that small businesses do not lay off those people. We want to make sure that small businesses have the liquidity that they can continue to pay those people. Look, during the financial crisis we had loan modifications. For borrowers who couldn't make payments, banks and the government modified those payments and gave forgiveness. So, you know, think of this as the opposite situation. We need to make sure that small businesses have liquidity so that they're comfortable that they continue paying people. And we're working with -- I can tell you I spoke to Marco Rubio this morning, he's running a task force, I think I saw him on TV with you guys this morning. But we're constantly on the phone with people. We're going to come out with programs quickly. And I can assure you the President is determined to make sure we provide the liquidity to the U.S. economy.
JIM CRAMER: Does the President need a task force run by you like the Vice President's task force, Pence? Because I think people are starting to feel better. I know the numbers are going to go up, I'm not trying to reassure anybody falsely. But we have Dr. Fauci who stands for America. And there's no doubt that 79-year old brilliant man is making us feel like the tests going through the system, one of the vaccines is going to work, something is going to work. Do we need a task force? Okay, listen -- we know the workers need the money. We also know the small to medium size businesses need the money. We're not going to stick to 1.2 trillion. What we are going stick to is whatever it takes. Does the president have whatever it takes attitude?
SEC. STEVEN MNUCHIN: I can assure you he does. We have effectively an economic task force. You know the economic team works closely together. Larry Kudlow and I and the entire economic team is either on the phone with the president daily or in the Oval office several times a day. The president is very involved in the details of this, and we have a lot of people working not only in Treasury, not only the White House, but all the other agencies, let me assure you. Whether it's the Department of Labor, I was on with Secretary Chow this morning with the president and the airlines, Larry Kudlow is now on the phone with the president and the Business Round Table. The entire administration and the entire economic team is working around the clock and we're also working around the clock with Congress. So, we're going to get things done and make sure the U.S. economy has the liquidity it needs.
JIM CRAMER: You have a great working relationship with Saudi Arabia. We protect that nation. We do everything it takes to keep that regime in power. We don't want higher gasoline prices. But can we not guestimate energy independence? Are we going to let them take oil to wherever it goes to destroy all those jobs in the Permian? And you know people are being laid off right now. Are we going to call them and say you know what guys, one day you need us, and if you drive our industry out of business, wait to see what happens when you need us? Can we make that phone call?
SEC. STEVEN MNUCHIN: Look, Jim, as you know, the energy sector is a big part of the U.S. economy, and we are energy independent. And unfortunately, this is pretty bad timing for the energy markets in what's going on, on top of the coronavirus. And I want to be careful commenting on specific conversations, but I assure you the President, I, and others have been in communication and we understand these issues.
JIM CRAMER: That's important because we know if we can stem layoffs from aerospace and stem layoffs from oil and gas, and then deal with the workers in the restaurant business, the hotel business, the travel and leisure, we will have a bridge, Mr. Secretary, to when we beat this scourge.
SEC. STEVEN MNUCHIN: Agree with you, Jim. So, thank you for having me on and we'll stay in touch.
JIM CRAMER: Let's win.
SEC. STEVEN MNUCHIN: We will win, Jim.
JIM CRAMER: Thank you very much. Secretary Treasury Steve Mnuchin. Thank you, Carl. Sorry to interrupt the show.
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