In the old days — from the Venetian Republic to, oh, the Bear Stearns rescue — if you wanted to get rich, you did it the Warren Buffett way: You learned to read balance sheets. Today you learn to read political tea leaves. If you want to make money on Wall Street (or keep from losing your shirt), you do it not by anticipating Intel’s third-quarter earnings but by guessing instead what side of the bed Henry Paulson will wake up on tomorrow.
By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
Today’s extreme stock market volatility is not just a symptom of fear — fear cannot account for days of wild market swings upward — but a reaction to meta-economic events: political decisions that have vast economic effects.
As economist Irwin Stelzer argues, we have gone from a market-driven economy to a politically driven economy. Consider seven days in November. On Tuesday, Nov. 18, Paulson broadly implies that he’s using only half the $700 billion bailout money. Having already spent most of his $350 billion, he’s going to leave the rest to his successor. The message received on Wall Street — I’m done, I’m gone.
Facing the prospect of two months of political limbo, the market craters. Led by the banks (whose balance sheets did not change between Tuesday and Wednesday), the market sees the largest two-day drop in the S&P since 1933, not a very good year.