As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Meltdown Or No Meltdown?

Paul Kanjorski caused a stir this week when he recounted a tale of what happened on September 15, shortly after Lehman Brothers collapsed and a key money market fund "broke the buck."

On Thursday Sept 15, 2008 at roughly 11 AM The Federal Reserve noticed a tremendous draw down of money market accounts in the USA to the tune of $550 Billion dollars in a matter of an hour or two.

Money was being removed electronically.

The treasury tried to help with $150 Billion.

But could not stem the tide. It was an electronic run on the banks.

The treasury intervened but had they not closed down the accounts they estimated that by 2 PM that afternoon. Within 3 hours. $5.5 Trillion would have been withdrawled and collapsed and within 24 hours the world economy.

This sounds like a perfectly horrible story. Thing is, according to Felix Salmon, it's not true:

With the Kanjorski Meme still spreading (see Ben Smith, Andrew Leonard, Moldbug, and more), I think I'm finally able to squash it with some hard figures: there never was a $500 billion outflow from any asset class in the space of a couple of hours or even weeks, and the Fed never shut down or froze any money-market accounts [...]

Substantially all of the outflows came from institutional accounts: retail investors never panicked. If you look at the weekly data for bank savings deposits, including money market deposit accounts, they stood at $3,167.4 billion on the 15th, and rose to $3,191.4 billion on the 22nd.

So where does the $500 billion outflow number come from? Would you believe: the Sunday New York Post, which on September 21 published a story headlined "Almost Armageddon" featuring this paragraph:

According to traders, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, money market funds were inundated with $500 billion in sell orders prior to the opening [on Thursday]. The total money-market capitalization was roughly $4 trillion that morning.

Remember where we're at here: the end of the longest week in financial-market history, when no one -- traders, reporters, Congressmen, you name it -- was getting much if any sleep. Simple errors can easily be made, numbers can get fuzzy, everything was moving very fast and confusingly [...]

This is all, frankly, fiction, and it's not clear where most of it came from, although maybe Kanjorski's "friends" on Wall Street are the same people as Michael Gray's sources at the New York Post. Thinking back to that crazy week it's easy to get details wrong, especially when you're speaking off the cuff on a call-in show. But let's stop treating it as though there's any substance to it. Please.

The question is whether Kanjorski got this from "sources" like the New York Post and Wall Street sources, or whether he got it from that meeting with Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke, who were clearly trying to scare Congress as a means of fleecing them. Certainly we saw the Bush Administration use unfounded fear on many occasions. Why wouldn't they do the same to try and get a windfall for the banks?

Alternatively we could believe Rush Limbaugh and conclude that George Soros did it.

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