I am, of course, talking about the "Perfect Storm" Bubble.
Has anyone else noticed this? It seems that the people who babble endlessly in the financial media have grabbed hold of the world's most facile description of what's going on in the global credit markets. Yep, you guessed it: It's a perfect storm.
My colleague Seth Jayson pointed out that Washington Mutual's (NYSE: WM ) CEO, Kerry "don't call me Kittles" Killinger, called the housing market's condition the result of a "perfect storm" of delinquencies, declining liquidity, and sunspots (or somesuch). Seth was dead-on in his commentary: Sure -- the situation in housing is horrid and deplorable. But it's not a "perfect storm." That implies that it was also a surprise or was otherwise unforeseeable. A monkey could tell you that lending huge amounts of money to large numbers of people with poor credit histories at a 2% teaser rate would end badly. Many monkeys did just that. They couldn't say when it would happen. But if? No problemo.
It's a storm! And it's perfect! And, it's a storm!
The "perfect storm" bromide insinuates that the victims are blameless. Reality suggests that such thinking will relieve your conscience but do nothing to refill your wallet. Nor will it help you avoid the next "perfect storm" that isn't. The failures and maimings of American Home Mortgage, New Century, NovaStar, Accredited Home Lenders, WCI, and a host of other lenders and builders was caused by the "perfect storm" of idiotic lending standards -- nothing more. Same goes for the problems faced by the big banks like UBS (NYSE: UBS ) , Citigroup (NYSE: C ) , and Merrill Lynch (NYSE: MER ) .
See how easy an explanation that is? Credit crunch? Perfect storm. Falling dollar? Perfect storm. Bad hygiene? Perfect storm. World's tallest man? Perfect storm. Carrot Top's nearly inexplicable career? Perfect storm.
Storms as far as the eye can see
Killinger isn't the only person pointing to a perfect storm, and housing isn't the only place that is being lauded for its perfection. Last year, when I took a quick perusal of the headlines, I found perfect storms in:
The Alberta pork industry: Its very existence is threatened. By a perfect storm. Moving on.
Gold: Hey look! The gold "perfect storm" is a good thing! Who knew? Must be another part of the conspiracy.
Asthma: Specifically, Canadian asthma.
Wheat: Prices hit all-time highs. Apparently it was due to a "perfect storm." Apparently, also, that storm didn't even include the fact that the American government has encouraged farmers to turn thousands of acres of cropland over to growing corn as an overpriced source of fuel. Not perfect.
The great Atlanta golf grass perfect storm: Starring "The great Atlanta golf grass perfect storm."
If you're getting the feeling that I'm mocking the perfect storm of "perfect storm" overuse, then you're smarter than the average bear. This term is a zeitgeist whose zeit has come.
You could always blame Canada
The trouble I have with the perfect storm Killinger mentions is that it lets a whole lot of people off the hook for their own actions. The financial market is unforgiving to those who know not what they do. There is no doubt in my mind that thousands of people were put into home loan products without their consent. But their numbers pale in comparison to those who used lax lending standards to speculate on a booming housing market -- and the same folks are being buried under their debts today. Just the same, neither the lenders that made the loans -- like Countrywide (now part of Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) ) -- nor the investors who pushed for them and bought securities by the boatload in chase of yield -- like the now-kaput funds at Bear Stearns (now part of JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) ) -- deserve to be bailed out.
The key word isn't "perfect." It isn't "storm." It's "speculate." And sometimes speculation comes with a price that must be paid in full. I'd call it the "perfect storm of reaping what you sow."
But I won't.
More Bill Mann: