Now raising intellectual capital
Earlier today the Fed’s commercial paper data caught my eye – the nearly $70 billion surge in short-term borrowing in the latest week was hard to miss. At $1.3 trillion, the CP market is still a shadow of its former self. It peaked at $2.2 trillion in the summer of 2007 right before the bottom fell out of credit markets.
But that’s a good thing. Much of the growth during the boom came in the asset-backed part of the market, which subprime mania infected during the boom. When money market managers woke up to the fact that they may have exposure to subprime, they bailed, helping to spark a run on short-term markets that only buckets of liquidity from the central banks stopped.
It will be worrying if the surge in CP continues indefinitely, though, since we all know how dangerous it can be when companies become too addicted to cheap short-term borrowing. But for the moment, it doesn’t seem excessive. Even with the $234 billion expansion since the end of July, the market is still smaller than where it stood in 2003 at $1.35 trillion.
It’s often said on Wall Street that the more liquidity there is in a given market, the better things are for investors trading stocks, bonds or commodities. And while there’s a lot of truth to that, there are times when too much liquidity can be just the wrong tonic.
After all, Wall Street’s churning-out of one subprime-mortgage backed security after another pumped a lot of liquidity into the U.S. housing market, and that simply encouraged a lot of reckless — even fraudulent — lending.