Albert Edwards: Why We Are Destined To Repeat The Mistakes Of The Past

With everyone and their grandmother opining on the 10 year anniversary of the start of the global financial crisis, it was inevitable that the strategist who predicted the great crash (and according to some has been doing the same for the past decade) - SocGen's Albert Edwards - would share his thoughts on what he has dubbed the "10th anniversary of chaos."

In it, the SocGen skeptic slams the trio of Bernanke, Geithner and Paulson who have been not only penning op-eds in recent days, but making the media rounds in a valiant attempt to redirect the spotlight from the culprits behind the crisis, writing that "they just never recognized beforehand that the economy was a massive credit bubble, just like it is now" and points to central bank arrogance as the "main reason why we should still be scared."

Of course, just like 10 years ago, as long as the market keeps going up, nobody is actually "scared" and instead everyone is enjoying the ride (just as the legion of crypto fans who are no longer HODLing). The "fear" only comes when the selling begins, and by then it's always too late to do anything about the final outcome as yet another bubble bursts.

Below we excerpt some of the observations from Edwards' "A thought on the 10th anniversary of chaos"

Central Bank arrogance is one of the main reasons why we should still be scared. As a former official at the NY Fed, Peter Fisher, recently noted, “The Fed has acknowledged no failures. All the experiments have been successful, every one: no failures, no negative side-effects, no perverse consequences, only diminishing returns.”

Most press outlets are looking back ten years to the anniversary of the bankruptcy of Lehman's and the ensuing financial crisis. To be sure, those were torrid times. Maybe it was because it was only two weeks before my wedding that I didn't see Lehman's bankruptcy as quite as important as most other commentators. Maybe I was a bit distracted.

Without doubt, the Lehman's bankruptcy caused the financial system to seize up and for many this was the cause of the ensuing deep downturn and hence the focus on this one high profile event. But I have always found this explanation disingenuous and often an ex-post justification for those who had drunk the kool-aid and never foresaw the financial crisis and economic slump - and that includes policymakers.

For even before the Sept 15 Lehman bankruptcy, the US economy had already collapsed into deep recession. In September 2008 we now know US payrolls declined 443,000 after a fall of 277,000 in August, and an average 190,000 decline in Q2. Although these numbers have been revised down, even at that time the Sept 2008 was reported as a fall of 159,000 - having already lost 600,000 jobs that year (September's 2008 survey was taken the week before the Lehman's bankruptcy, so was unaffected by the fallout).

I was amused to read the NY Times op-ed, co-authored by the three leading US policy makers at the time of the crisis (Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner and Henry Paulson). In a piece entitled “What We Need to Fight the Next Financial Crisis” they lament the fact that "Congress has taken away some of the tools that were crucial to us during the 2008 panic. It's time to bring them back (link)."

Tools! Apparently, they always need more tools. Rubbish, they had all the tools necessary. They just never recognised beforehand that the economy was a massive credit bubble - just like it is now. It was worse than that. In 2005 Bernanke had even derided an interviewer who asked him about the possibility that the housing bubble could burst. And I also remember Shelia Bair, who headed up the FDIC (the Federal bank liquidator) at the time, and had successfully seized and closed many banks during that period, including the massive Washington Mutual, lamenting that she had not even been consulted about Lehman's.

Regulation...if only the policymakers had more regulation... I invite you to re-read this seminal note from my former colleague, Dylan Grice, which explains how more bank regulation since the crisis has merely succeeded in giving us an illusion of safety - link.

I also like Jim Grant's riposte to the above cited NYT op-ed (H/T Zero Hedge, link). Grant quotes Peter Fisher, formerly a senior official at the NY Fed (see quote above in bold). Speaking last year at Grant's conference, Fisher offered a commanding critique of the crisis-era response led by the authors of the NYT op-ed. I think the quote above just about sums up the despair many like me feel about our policymakers and why they are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past.