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REGS CLAMP DOWN ON NAKED LONGS!
September 26, 2021
FINANCIAL authorities in America and Europe took sweeping powers yesterday to avert a financial crisis by imposing restrictions on markets. In their sights are a peculiar brand of speculators known as “long-buyers” who buy assets not to live off the income they generate but to profit from rising prices.
“Some of these people buy homes that they have no intention of living in,” said Lord Poohbah, chairman of Britain’s Financial Services Authority, “and others buy shares they plan to own for just days or weeks, rather than the prudent time period of several years.” Their actions force prices up above fundamental valuation levels, critics say, causing some British tabloid newspapers to call leading fund managers “greedy pigs”.
Particular criticism has been reserved for people dubbed “naked long-buyers”, those who try to buy homes without putting up a deposit. “Such people are in effect renters with a free call option on rising house prices,” said one financial analyst, “but they expect to be bailed out by taxpayers when house prices fall.”
Not only is this a clear case of moral hazard (the encouragement of irresponsible risk-taking) but their activities drive up house prices, putting them beyond the reach of hard-working families who have diligently saved up to put down a deposit. Also in the speculative category are “buy-to-letters” who buy a string of houses with borrowed money in the hope of making outsize gains.
In America rising house prices have pushed up the level of inflation in recent years. The Labour Department was forced to include a proper measure of house prices in the inflation data by the Alan Greenspan memorial act, passed by Congress in 2020.
In the stockmarket long-buyers often buy shares after inadequate analysis of a company’s balance-sheet because they believe a “greater fool” will purchase them at a higher price. This happened in the so-called dotcom bubble of the late 1990s, leading to massive losses that destabilised the economy and eventually prompted the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates.
In addition, naive long-buyers pushed up the shares of financial companies, such as banks, in the mid-2000s, prompting the banks to indulge in irresponsible lending that led to the housing bust of 2007-10, an event that awakened fears of a repeat of the 1930s Depression.
“We cannot let the long-buyers destabilise the markets again,” said the American treasury secretary. He accordingly took powers to limit the scope of future price rises, including the creation of a so-called “Revolution Trust Corporation” that will issue a trillion dollars worth of shares in financial companies that will subsequently be sold in the market. The proceeds of the sale will be used to pay down the national debt, swollen by the costs of previous bail-outs of the financial system.
The plan to cap house prices will involve the introduction of capital-gains tax on housing profits. “If taxpayers have to subsidise house-price losses, it is only fair they should share in the gains,” the secretary said. Homeowners may protest at the details of the plan but the sweeping powers taken to govern the financial system by the former Hank Paulson (now King Henry I of America) mean there is little they can do about it.
Industry analysts said that some of the damage done by long-buyers might have been prevented had a now defunct practice called “short-selling” been permitted. By speculating on falling prices, short-sellers could in theory prevent bubbles from being formed. However, their scope to trade was always limited by regulations and the tactic was killed off during the crisis year of 2008. “It drove us out of business,” recalled George Soros, a former hedge-fund manager, speaking in Central Park yesterday, before adding, “Do you want some ketchup with that?”
Before that crisis, the standard rubric on financial products said “Warning: share prices may go down as well as up.” Afterwards, the clause “but not if the authorities have anything to do with it” was added at the end. The result was the decade-long boom in house and share prices that prompted the authorities to step in yesterday.
Asked if he was blaming speculators for the inadequacy of American monetary policy, the treasury secretary abruptly ended the news conference.