Marketplace Scratch Pad

The cat that got the cream

Paddy Hirsch Jul 24, 2009

Fed Chair Ben Bernanke said today that about 25 financial companies are “systemically important.” Too big to fail, in other words.

What? 25?

First thought: I knew some banks would inevitably be too big to fail. JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, certainly. Wells Fargo, maybe. But I thought we were talking about a handful of banks, not a truckload.

Second thought: beware the empire builder! Bernanke seems intent on expanding the powers of the Fed, which already has oversight of many of the megabanks that are presumably on his list of 25. Corralling the whole lot into his jurisdication would be a sweet power play. Perhaps that explains the smile on the face of the tiger.

Third thought: buy banks! (This isn’t financial advice, by the way, just my gut reaction. Which I have not acted upon.) If 25 banks are too big to fail, that means the government won’t let them fail, which means they won’t fail. Right? Implicit guarantee? Sounds to me like a bulletproof investment on the debt side, if not on the equity side. No wonder private equity firms are interested in getting involved in the banking sector. With a guarantee like that, it would be worth a little hassle from the FDIC.

Here’s a strategy: snap up four or five banks, power up your balance sheet with cheap government money and MAKE yourself too big to fail.

Still not acting on that gut reaction.

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