Sunday, July 19, 2009

20/20 Hindsight

Last week, I watched as Hank Paulson was grilled by legislators about his actions last year as Treasury Secretary during the most frightening part of the Crash. Red-faced and obviously uncomfortable, it was clear he did not want to be there. I actually felt sorry for him. He was thrust into an unforeseen crisis last year that was different from anything we’d ever seen before. While I’m confident he would, of course, do some things differently with 20/20 hindsight, we were still fortunate to have him.

One of the reasons I remain so concerned about investing in Europe is that Eurozone banks are still more highly leveraged today than US banks were last year, but it does not have a unified banking regulator. Sure, it has the ECB or European Central Bank which sets rates but does not regulate the banks of each member country. Early in the last U.S. Administration, five banks were allowed to increase their leverage from 12:1 to 30:1. Three are now gone, i.e., Bear Stearns, Lehman, and Merrill Lynch. The other two, JPMorgan and Goldman, survived only because they were saved by the taxpayers. Many European banks now have 45:1 leverage, a recipe for collapse, and they have no Hank Paulson . . .