After the stock market crash of 1987, The Federal Reserve embarked on a path that led to the biggest debt bubble in the history of the world. The day after the 1987 crash (Oct. 20, 1987) Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Fed, announced to the world that The Fed stood ready to provide whatever liquidity was needed by the banking system to prevent the crash from turning into a systemic financial crisis. That was the day the Fed “put” was born.
A put is an option that allows its owner to sell a specified amount of a particular asset at a predetermined price by a specific date. As an example, if an investor had a February 90 put on Apple’s stock that investor would have the right to sell 100 shares at 90 a share until the third Friday in February when the option expired. An investor would only exercise that put if Apple’s stock price dropped below 90 a share before expiration. As it stands Apple’s stock price is 94.02 as of Friday’s close so no rational investor would exercise that put. But if on Monday Apple’s stock crashed and was trading 60 a share than the investor would exercise his put and gladly sell his stock at 90 a share to the person who sold him the put. So in effect after 1987 The Fed was acting as a giant put for the financial markets, a role it had heretofore not played.
In September of 1998 Long Term Capital Management, a highly leveraged high profile hedge fund, sustained losses that threatened its solvency. The fund with a few billion in equity had $80 billion in assets and all of its trades were going against the firm. LTCM’s equity was going to be wiped out within days. Warren Buffet and a consortium of investors offered to bail out the fund by paying fire sale prices for the assets and shutting down the fund. LTCM’s management balked and looked to The Fed for a better solution. The Fed engineered a bailout by numerous banks that left LTCM’s management in place with some of their wealth to spare. Once again, The Fed intervened in a market calamity and this time bailed out an extremely reckless hedge fund that should have been allowed to fail. The Fed’s put engendered moral hazard in the hedge fund community by allowing reckless and destabilizing behavior to go unpunished.
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