29 September, 2008

US House defeats Bailout Bill. Markets plunge.

The controversial $700Billion bailout plan being pushed into the House today was to be the tipping point for the US economy and financial markets. With optimism swirling on the weekend that agreements had been finally reached on the bill, the one thing left to do was the most important. Vote on it.

The vote they did, the elected House narrowly defeated the bill, sending markets into a selling frenzy by mid-day. As traders learned of the tallying votes against the bill, sellers rushed through the electronic order desks and buyers were heading for the exits. The Dow fell 700 points during the early afternoon while the Nasdaq led all decliners (off about 7% at the bottom of the session).

With politicians on both sides of the spectrum resonating the importance of the bailout package with regards to the fragile nature of the US economy, it is crucial lawmakers do something substantial soon. President George W. Bush urged for the passing of the bill, as did Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, but their pleas fell on a deaf House. Democrats did not get the overwhelming show of support they needed and Republicans held firm with their ideas and showed virtually little support even when implored by their President and House leaders. The final tally stood at about 60% of Democratics voting to pass the bill, along with about 30% of Republicans. Pitting the vote at 228 against, 205 for. Ending a tumultuous debating session in Washington that will surely leave politicians scrambling to draft a more "commonly-acceptable" solution soon.

The key is of course, that chances to rescue the financial system in America are few, and with another bank on the bubble, having to sell its banking assets, the focus has shifted from Bailout optimism to, who is next on the chopping block.

JP Morgan Chase (JPM) salvaged Washington Mutual in what became the biggest banking failure in US history, and today Citigroup (C) bought the banking assets of Wachovia (WB). Citigroup has insurance from the FDIC against Wachovia losses if they exceed $42Billion. A truly remarkable number, that will stretch Citi's already thin resources in the coming quarters. The company had to issue another set of preferred shares to the FDIC, as well as slash its own dividend down to $0.16/share.

As the day drew up a close the Dow continued to drift lower falling over 600 points just after 3pm. The Nasdaq continued to be the biggest decliner of over 160 points and the S&P followed suit down 90 points.

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