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So much isn't seen out there. Last week's conference call with
told the story better than most. While it is possible to argue that, with gasoline and heating bills down (despite the frigid weather across the country) and with mortgage rates coming down, there are so many behind-the-scenes crises that it is difficult to believe anything good can happen.
David Viniar, the excellent CFO of Goldman, tried to put everything in context when reviewing just the last quarter alone. Some of it was just plain frightening to read. To wit:
In 90 days, the value of investment grade bonds fell so fast that that it implies one in five issues will default.
The commercial real estate index implies that 60% of commercial mortgages will default before they come due.
Credit indices in general fell 34% in the fourth quarter alone.
Those kinds of declines in one 90-day period are not only unprecedented; you could argue if unchecked they will simply destroy any banking system. Who can lend in that environment? If it is likely that you get those kinds of defaults, who can possibly lend out the money the government gave these banks? How can the money
Now, the really difficult part of all of this is that you are only seeing the commercial side. Given the escalating unemployment you are going to see the same kind of collapse occurring in the consumer debt markets (credit cards, auto loans, student loans), so the asset-backed bonds in existence will crater, and there will be no new loans in those areas. The posted mortgage rates will be unrealistic for most people to attain unless the U.S. basically guarantees all debt or insures all debt.
Ironically, Goldman Sachs, which has no consumer debt to speak of but was hit hard this past quarter, should not have deepening problems in this environment. The firm's counseling business and its brokerage business will probably be strong as it was this past quarter. It will be the Main Street banks --
Bank of America
in particular -- that will suffer unless President-elect Obama makes his stimulus plan so huge that it can stem unemployment.
These are things people don't see. They are the reasons why the stock market, I believe, will do little to make people money in 2010 if nothing changes. I write this because over the weekend
polled many managers, and, to a person, they predicted good to great returns for the
The banks don't have enough, even after TARP, to make loans, especially if the collateral against the loans keeps going down.
Yet there is no Main Street TARP, just bank TARP, so it is obvious right now that without still another injection of money into banks, it's pretty hopeless. At a minimum, they have to guarantee more debt than they have.
Meanwhile, solid businesses can't borrow in this environment. One look at the problems with all of the utilities tells you that. They are great businesses, the most steady in the world, but they can't raise money at anything other than exorbitant prices.
As we know from the Goldman call, all of these have gotten worse by the day, not better.The notion of the credit markets thawing in this declining environment, seems pretty unlikely, despite the decline in LIBOR and some scattered debt deals to outfits such as
, although the latter paid, 13% which quickly turned into 16% as there were few takers for the paper.
So, common stocks can have a Christmas rally, but in this environment, it is hard to see much else happening until we see greater stability in
asset class. We have not seen it yet, and in the first part of 2009, I am not counting on it.
I like the near term, but I think all of those money managers who are thinking the S&P 500 can go up 200 points are just too bullish; it is almost like they simply aren't looking at the other side of the ledger, the credit ledger.
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At the time of publication, Cramer was long Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase. Jim Cramer is co-founder and chairman of TheStreet.com. He contributes daily market commentary for TheStreet.com's sites and serves as an adviser to the company's CEO. Outside contributing columnists for TheStreet.com and RealMoney.com, including Cramer, may, from time to time, write about stocks in which they have a position. In such cases, appropriate disclosure is made. To see his personal portfolio and find out what trades Cramer will make before he makes them, sign up for
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