Thursday, May 8, 2008

Quick Takes: Is the Financial Crunch over? More heads rolling

A slew of articles have appeared recently that the housing-driven credit crunch is over. Merrill Lynch’s Thain is the latest executive to make this claim. Are the financials about to recover or are these characters simply “talking their book” – to state it in Wall Street terms? Thain states that the upcoming losses at banks will be reduced moving forward even though the consumer will exert a drag on the U.S. economy over the next 6-12 months.

Coupled with the Wall Street Journal headline “The Housing Crisis Is Over” – it provides investors with hope that the worst may be in the rear view mirror. Housing may have hit the bottom according to some analysts. “A bottom does not mean that prices are about to return to the heady days of 2005. That probably won't happen for another 15 years. It just means that the trend is no longer getting worse, which is the critical factor.”

Of course there are pundits who take the other side of the coin, presenting an outlook for housing that shows another 20-30% drop in prices nationwide. This will be coupled with a drop in consumer spending that drives the next wave of the credit crunch further causing chaos at the banks.

Most likely the reality over the next couple years will be situated between the two extremes of rosy forecasts and dismal down-siders. Despite the recent recovery of financial stocks, most investors do not feel confident buying into this sector – most believing that the bounce-back is temporary.

Heads Rolling

The boxes continue to be dropped off in corner offices. The president of bond-rating firm, Moodys, has been sent packing. Brian Clarkson, is viewed as a casualty in the complicity of credit-rating firms in the sub-prime meltdown.

“The resignation comes amid heightened scrutiny by investors, regulators and lawmakers into the role of Moody's and its rivals in the meltdown of complex mortgage-related securities, many of which received top triple-A ratings from the credit raters, only to be downgraded sharply in the past 12 months when the housing downturn worsened.”