Bush convenes Plunge Protection Team
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business Editor, London Telegraph
Bears beware. The New Deal of 2008 is in the works. The US Treasury is about to shower households with rebate cheques to head off a full-blown slump, and save the Bush presidency.
On Friday, Mr Bush convened the so-called Plunge Protection Team for its first known meeting in the Oval Office. The black arts unit - officially the President's Working Group on Financial Markets - was created after the 1987 crash.
It appears to have powers to support the markets in a crisis with a host of instruments, mostly by through buying futures contracts on the stock indexes (DOW, S&P 500, NASDAQ and Russell) and key credit levers. And it has the means to fry "short" traders in the hottest of oils.
The team is led by Treasury chief Hank Paulson, ex-Goldman Sachs, a man with a nose for market psychology, and includes Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and the key exchange regulators.
Judging by a well-briefed report in the Washington Post, a mood of deep alarm has taken hold in the upper echelons of the administration. "What everyone's looking at is what is the fastest way to get money out there," said a Bush aide.
Emergency measures are now clearly on the agenda, apparently consisting of a mix of tax cuts for businesses and bungs for consumers. Fiscal action all too appropriate, regrettably.
We face a version of Keynes's "extreme liquidity preference" in the 1930s - banks are hoarding money, and the main credit arteries of the financial system remain blocked after five months.
"In terms of any stimulus package, we're considering all options," said Mr Bush. This should be interesting to watch. The president is not one for half measures. He has already shown in Iraq and on biofuels that he will pursue policies a l'outrance once he gets the bit between his teeth.
The only question is what the president can manage to push through a Democrat Congress.
The Plunge Protection Team - long kept secret - was last mobilised to calm the markets after 9/11. It then went into hibernation during the long boom.
Mr Paulson reactivated it last year, asking the staff to examine "systemic risk posed by hedge funds and derivatives, and the government's ability to respond to a financial crisis", he said.
It seems he failed to spot the immediate threat from mortgage securities and the implosion of the commercial paper market. But never mind.