Sherry Cooper, Chief Economist at BMO Capital Markets
GLENN: Let me go to Sherry Cooper. She's a chief economist at BMO Capital Markets. Sherry, how are you?
COOPER: Well, I'm fine but this is really a rough day, I can tell you. Markets have sold off very sharply and there's great concern about what has turned out to be the most pervasive financial crisis in decades.
GLENN: You know, I said I don't know when, a long time ago we could be facing something that is akin to the Great Depression if there is significant downward pressure on a market this fragile and everybody says it's crazy. Now Alan Greenspan comes out where he says that this could be the biggest financial crisis since World War II. Well, gee, that's awfully darn close.
GLENN: To where we were.
COOPER: Even the Fed has been doing research into the Great Depression and what actions could have been taken by the Federal Reserve at that time to have mitigated the situation, and one of the reasons that the Fed is doing what it's doing in terms of providing liquidity now for securities dealers is because the Fed estimates that about a third of all the banks that went under during the Depression actually would not have disappeared if there had been a lending facility available to them.
GLENN: But Sherry, here's the problem. I mean, first of all, socialism is socialism. The second thing is, you know, everybody says that, oh, there just has to -- CNBC today they're saying, "Oh, well, gee, you know, every bubble has to have one big purge and Bear Stearns was it." Last week, at this time last week nobody even was recognizing that Bear Stearns has a problem. There was whispers of it but it wasn't --
COOPER: No, absolutely. I mean, what we saw is there had been rumors about Bear, Bear denied the rumors which turned out to be true, but there really hadn't been a material change in their balance sheet but rumors become self-fulfilling when they cause a run on the bank. And what had happened is their customers absolutely wanted their money back. And when that happens, there's no institution that can survive it unless they can go to the Central Bank and borrow the money to meet with interest.
GLENN: So here's my question. Last week there was just rumors about Bear Stearns and it -- I mean, Bear Stearns just doesn't collapse, and it did. All of these institutions say, oh, no, we're fine. You've got extra fear in the market now. These are all dominoes.
GLENN: Right next to each other. What is to prevent us or what is to give us any reassurance that there are a lot more dominoes to fall?
COOPER: The Fed. That's exactly what they did last night. What they said was that anybody who wants their money back, be it from Lehman Brothers or Merrill Lynch, the Fed is going to make sure they get their money back and so they have a less likelihood therefore of actually demanding their money back. It's psychology. Will it work? We're about to see.
GLENN: Okay. Then tell me what the means. I'm reading, this is in London Telegraph and it says Asian Mideast European investors stood aside at last week's auction, ten-year U.S. Treasury notes saying this is a disaster. We may be close to the point where uglier consequences of benign neglect towards the currency are revealed. Rightly or wrongly, the view has taken hold that Washington is cynically debasing the coinage hoping to export its day of reckoning through beggar thy neighbor policies. What is Europe afraid? What does this mean?
COOPER: Well, we've seen a surge in the Euro and the Yen, not the Canadian dollar interestingly. And that's going to be very difficult for those economies. Those economies as well that are pegged to the U.S. dollar like China are experiencing enormous inflation. The U.S. dollar is falling. The Fed is running the risk of triggering significant inflation pressure down the road. But at this stage they are -- they consider that to be secondary risk. Their number one concern right now is to the lender of last resort to prevent a global financial crash.
GLENN: And when you're saying that, are you saying a global market crash akin to the Great Depression?
COOPER: Well, I mean, of course. Now, there are a lot of things that have changed since then. For example, there is deposit insurance. As well commercial banks, particularly Canadian charter banks have very strong capital positions. They are regulated very highly and so it is very unlikely that we would see depositors go to institutions with deposit insurance and demand their money back. There's no need to. Their money is fine.
GLENN: Right. But their dollar may be worthless.
COOPER: Well, our dollar isn't worth less but the U.S. dollar has declined for sure.
COOPER: And for good reason. Look what's going on in the U.S. The U.S. economy is in recession, the U.S. has enormous trade and current account deficits and foreigners have been financing this.
COOPER: And there is a real question as to how much more foreign money is going to move into the U.S. Government bond market to help finance these deficits.
GLENN: Okay. Sherry, let me ask you this one more question and then this may be the dumbest question, all of these questions may be the dumbest questions that you receive all day, but I just last week took my money and I went for the index and I'm betting on the down because I just, I think we're in real, real trouble. What made me break out into a cold sweat today is that there's so much fear in the market, what would stop people from short-selling banks? What would stop people from trying to make money on the down side --
COOPER: That's what people are doing. That's exactly what people are doing. They are preying on the weakest institutions and public companies. And that's not just banks, by the way. Ford Motor Company is a great example. People -- there is a concept of insurance against declining prices of stock.
COOPER: And that's called a credit defense swap. It's just an insurance policy that you can buy to pay off any loss that you would have in owning a particular company. Well, we can look at those credit default spreads which is really the premium to see how risky the market is perceiving a company to be. Well, there are a number of companies that have seen enormous increases in this premium just in the last couple of weeks.
GLENN: Can you give me the top couple?
COOPER: Well, the only one I can remember right now is Ford, but no doubt, you know -- I mean, these lists are available. They're out there. It's public information. And what's happening is investors, mostly hedge funds and institutional investors, are shorting these stocks, which means that, as you say in capitalism, people prey on the weakest of companies and that just makes those companies even weaker still. It drives down the price of their stocks even further.
GLENN: I just, I was --
COOPER: And even more selling.
GLENN: Right. I was concerned in particular about the financial institutions this week because, you know, I mean, that's what the Fed is really trying to -- I mean, they can't have the financial institutions break down and have another run on the bank. I mean, how long, how long can you keep going with dominoes falling before the Fed says, okay, I've got no more money, before our money really is worth less?
COOPER: Well, it is worst less but it's not worthless, if you know what I mean.
GLENN: I do.
COOPER: We have more to go but will it work is the question. I think it will work. I don't think the world's coming to an end. I don't think there's going to be literally a significant global Depression but for sure there's a recession in the U.S. and there's a risk that it could be quite deep and long.
GLENN: Okay. Thank you very much. Sherry, appreciate it. Sherry Cooper, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.