Echoes of CNBC commentator Rick Santelli's rant against President Obama's new anti-foreclosure plan yesterday are still reverberating around the Internet, and with good reason. Mr. Santelli managed to make the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange look like the inside of a General Motors plant, with gruff, put-upon workers booing the unfair burden with which the federal government had shouldered them. But as bankers and traders awoke this morning and saw some bank stocks close to 20-year lows, the contradiction in Mr. Santelli's thinking was evident.
Fear of bank nationalization continues to swell, and it is driving a vicious cycle of share devaluation and sinking capital levels at the country's biggest financial institutions. Shareholders are bailing out before the wipeout. Mr. Santelli and his crew would hate it if Bank of America and Citigroup fell to the hands of the Treasury Department. But they don't seem to see that government intervention in the housing slump could prevent that from happening.
"If the anti-foreclosure effort is successful this will at least help soften the decline in housing prices, as well as save the banks some money in avoiding all the foreclosure costs," said Lawrence White, a professor of economics at New York University's Stern School of Business. "This alone won't stop [home prices] from dropping but it will slow down the decline, help us find whatever bottom we're going to find sooner, and that has to be good news for the banks because it is the decline in housing prices that has caused all of the mortgage difficulties that have caused so much trouble for the banks. It is of direct value to the banks. Some of whom employ the commodities traders."
There it is, the interconnectedness that CNBC's fiery fearmonger missed when he shouted, "This is America!" Meaning that average Americans hate the new plan to stop foreclosures.
"There are many sides to this issue and there are many categories of borrower, and clearly some were irresponsible, some were duped, some borrowed in good faith," Prof. White added. "On one hand I can understand how there's unhappiness. Why should I, the trader on the Chicago commodities floors, have to pay money to bail out the irresponsible borrower? But there's a lot more complexity to that than just, 'Hey they were irresponsible.' "
It isn't clear what the public thinks about the foreclosure plan yet. It has gotten endorsements from generally reserved sources, but perhaps there are more categories of people out there who think like Mr. Santelli.
They need to reassess the situation. "This is just collective action that is going to have wide benefits beyond just the individual borrowers that are being helped," Prof. White said. "I understand the anger, but it is shortsighted and not productive."