The Dow Jones Industrial Average soared more than 900 points Monday, the largest one day move in history. So what. It is easy to get drawn into a daily drama of the stock market, especially the Dow index. But remember the Dow is only 30 companies out of the thousands of publicly traded equities. In the grand scheme of things, it is not the best barometer for the health of the market. Conversely, Libor rates and commercial paper volume are virtually unknown to casual observers of Wall Street, but provide a far more important measure of the underlying health of the credit markets, the lifeblood of the financial system. In a healthy financial system, banks happily lend to one another without fear about whether competitors will continue to be viable institutions. The London interbank offer rate, or Libor, is the amount that the banks charge one another to borrow. If this figure moves up, banks are indicating their unwillingness to lend. Three-month Libor has been hovering around 4.75% a full 3% ahead of where it was prior to 2007. If this number begins to come down, it is a good indication that banks are beginning to see fear subside.
The Federal Reserve has been pumping huge amounts of cash into the banking system in the hopes of sating cash-hungry banks and encouraging lending. That hasn't solved the problem. Now the federal government is mulling a plan similar to the U.K.'s decision Monday to inject 37 billion pounds ($64 billion) to boost their Tier-1 capital ratios of Royal Bank of Scotland ( RBS), HBOS and Lloyd's TSB. In exchange the British government will take equity positions in the banks.