Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bloodbath Continues

Last week has been a watershed week in many ways. So overwhelming have been the events that all of us have been taken in by surprise and shock. This will definitely serve as turning point in the history of finance.

Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have been converted to banks, WaMu seized, Wachovia disappeared, Money market funds at below par and the saviour $700BN package getting rejected by senate. It’s tough to digest so much so quickly. Haven’t added the European seizures. For sure it will get real nasty before it gets any better.

The crisis is not only the crisis of credit and liquidity, but of trust and confidence as well.

Corporates and Individuals both are in bad shape. Corporates are not getting money to run their day-to-day operations, forget long term, where borrowing costs are touching the sky. Return hurdles for lenders have gone up. One wants to lend very very safe. Individuals are in bad shape, with retirement savings, education savings and health savings gone. Shares are worth pennies, dividends being cut drastically, Mutual funds way below par, what does one do with the money? Where does one invest or rather keep?

How long with this mayhem continue? How deep and nasty would this massacre be? Till then one is subjected to daily torture and the grind of washing machine.

The land of opportunities no more looks attractive rather looks vulnerable? Their external relations screwed up, their internal situation mussy. I think it will require the leadership of the likes of early US presidents to pull them out of this mess. The greats who have built America will guide as guardian angels and help them come out of this state of confusion and disorderliness.

Suddenly it looks so much better to be in Asia.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bull Lynched

There are some events which happen once in a lifetime. They leave their mark for ever. This week saw one such event in the world of finance - the stunning collapse of Lehmann Brothers and Meryll Lynch and AIG teethering and can drown anytime unless Fed steps in. Wall St, never had it so bad and raging bull in front of it, watching it helplessly.

The decline started with collapse and fire sale of Bear Stearns. The tsunami of sub-prime has swept away everyone on its way. The top five investment banks have been reduced to two and who knows how long will even they survive. Goldman Sachs, which looked stronger till recently, suddenly looks vulnerable. Rumours are that even Morgan Stanley is not safe and may merge with GS. These firms were mecca of high finance and every MBA worth his salt dreamt to work there.

The collapse has sent the world markets into tizzy. Every country has been affected. Markets opened with trepidation and fear. Central banks of all nations are having sleepless nights and are working in a co-ordinated fashion to prevent the contagion and save the world from plunging into a major financial crisis. That its happening in front of eyes is unbelievable.

Thousands of jobs are at stake. Banks who have exposures on these entities, firms who have taken big punts based on commitments from these firms...all are at risk. Catastrophy of this magnitude and the speed of collapse is spectacular or should I spectacularly shocking.

Markets are squeezed dry. No one wants to lend...money market has evaporated..no one believes the other, trust gone..faith gone...back to treasury bonds. Isn't this scary. No liquidity has further aggravated the problem and will acclerate the (in)solvency.

What next - how bad can it go, has it bottomed out ? Is it at 50%, or worst - is it still tip of iceberg ? AIG has just been bailed out by Fed, by pumping in $85BN ( 50% of India's budget ) for 80% stake. America, the land of capitalism is in tatters, pride gone, standing with head down in shame, reputation tarnished, probably paying for reckless greed, primarily driven by few names. Makes me feel sad. I love that country. It shouldn't have happened. It probably could have been managed better. How come land of intellectuals and nobel laurettes let it happen. What went wrong ? In some way, was it greed, that was responsible. Appears everything was overlooked or justified in the name of big money.... companies showing bulgy bottomlines and executives fatter paychecks.

Wasn't it common sense...then why was it allowed to go unchecked, unabated...to allow the entire economy to be put at risk...their own taxpayers money to be used to bail out greedy investors and shareholders. If it is sub-prime, it had to go wrong...some day...trees don't grow up to the skies. In the name of financial innovation..basics were overlooked...derivatives, covenant lites ( I find this funny as well ) were the tools used to wreak this havoc and were rightly called weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Well rumour mill is on...it is being said that that some more US banks are in line - Wells Fargo, Washington Mutual,Countrywide gone, Alt-A, credit card, European banks -UBS etc, currency derivatives, yen carry trade. Sheer thought leaves me in shudders.

Well I hope there are lessons learnt and we avoid repeating same mistakes. Let the bull rage again, let wealth be created. Let the fear go, let the smiles be back on faces of employees, families and investors. Long live the free market.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Run for Fitness

Exercise is a great addiction – and this one, I am sure we don’t mind getting hooked to. These days, in addition to gym routine – treadmill, cross trainer, 4 station, abs machine and bench, I have take a liking to running.

Me and my pal Aman recently participated in community running. This was organized by ‘running and living ’, a group which promotes running. I somehow managed to complete the 5 Km run leaving my muscles stretched and cramped.

To our surprise couple of days later, we found ourselves splashed in an Indian Express article on ‘running for fitness’ in living section of the daily. I was quite surprised but liked it. That we appeared in the newspaper, we had to clear the ‘newspaper test’.

A month of preparation, I felt extremely proud yesterday when I ran full 5 Kms, non-stop in 30 mins. What an experience and the elation of achieving it.

It reinforces my belief that it’s all about setting up a goal and working towards it. It’s achievable. This one took just 20 days of preparation and it was possible. Of course I had the gym routine to back as well. So different from the school days when I used to shirk running. And here I was running after ‘running’ and enjoying it. Obviously other benefits include burning calories, toned up body and a good heart.

Do want to pen my appreciation for Rahul Verghese for selflessly promoting running for fun. You could visit www.runningandliving.com to understand nuances of running.

So, run for fitness.