‘It’s going to be a really tough year’
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Stacey Vanek Smith: This is a lot to digest on a Monday morning. So to get a little perspective, we thought we’d check in with Christopher Low at FTN financial. Chris, help us out, here. What is going on?
Christopher Low: I’d say we’re right now at the moment of truth. The companies that were in the worst shape are now out of the picture. And the question is whether people are so nervous about taking positions that funding starts to dry up for better, healthier financial organizations. So, the Fed has come in, done what they can. They’ve eased lending conditions for other financial firms, but it’s near impossible to raise capital now. And, for that reason alone, we’re in sort of uncharted territory. If companies do have difficulty financing, it’s not clear how they are going to do it.
Vanek Smith: What do you think of the Fed basically deciding it’s not going to bail Lehman out the same way that it bailed out Bear Stearns?
Low: I think that one of the concerns of the Fed is that by back-stopping the Bear Stearns deal, they may have actually increased systemic risk by encouraging other firms not to clean up their act and make sure that they had adequate funding and so on. So by taking a step back here, the fed is trying to signal that everyone has to look out for themselves now.
Vanek Smith: What about Bank of America? I mean, it’s getting enormous.
Low: Bank of America did not get into mortgages in a big way and that means that they’ve got resources that these other firms just don’t have. So, to be a healthy bank and a big bank in this climate is going to mean big growth and market share.
Vanek Smith: Everyone now is, of course, looking to who is going to fail next or possibly be bought out next.
Low: There’s no question. This morning, what everyone is talking about is AIG, which has hired JP Morgan to look into options. I think what has people on the Street scratching their heads is why has the Fed and Treasury insist on putting these deadlines in place that are near impossible to meet. That was another aspect of the Lehman story. They were told to find a buyer or go out of business by Sunday.
Vanek Smith: What do you expect to see for the next six months?
Low: More of the same. More pressure on financial firms and, you know, until funding eases up, it’s going to be a really tough year.
Vanek Smith: Chris Low is the chief economist with FTN Financial. Chris, thank you for talking with me.
Low: You’re welcome.
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