The collapse of Lehman Brothers set into motion a chain of events that seems unbelievable, even in hindsight. Even the nationalization of Fannie and Freddie had a historical precedent -- they started out as government entities, then came to be quasi-governmental entities in the 1960s, and now have returned home.
But Lehman's fall was a turning point. What had been a housing slump, general recession, and bear market turned into the biggest financial story in at least 50 years. The Great Depression wasn't being name-dropped before Lehman's demise; now it's mentioned with great frequency.
What happened next was gruesome: Markets plunged. Once-proud companies like Wachovia were gobbled up for prices that a year ago would have seemed like a felony. AIG nearly failed, then was given government aid. Automakers like General Motors put their hands out for Uncle Sam's quarters.
Underlying all this is unprecedented U.S. government involvement in the financial markets, the likes of which our country has never seen before, and is never likely to see again.
Ordinary retail investors were left in the lurch. The plunging market made for ghastly paper losses (especially painful for retirees or near-retirees). Jobs were lost. Homes were foreclosed upon.
The Motley Fool responded to the financial crisis by turning over our flagship website, Fool.com, to "Panic 2008." Our programming initiatives were designed to cover the news as it came out, but, more importantly, to analyze the impact for readers. Our talented design team created a banner with the impossible-to-miss "Panic 2008" heading.
There were critics of the editorial and design changes. They argued that rather than adding to the analysis, Fool.com was adding fuel to the fires of panic.
We would like to point out that what happened from mid-September to the present was indeed a panic. Furthermore, the word panic in our context was a noun and not a verb -- we were not intimating that people actually pull their hair, run in circles, and, in fact, panic.
Nonetheless, we have decided to adapt to the times. As of last night, Fool.com is no longer descriptive, describing the Panic of 2008. It is prescriptive, and so "Opportunity 2008" reflects our belief that now is a great opportunity to take advantage of prices that undervalue many stocks. It's also a great opportunity to rebalance your 401(k), reassess your risk tolerance and time horizon, and tweak (or develop!) your financial plan.
We agree with Warren Buffett, who recently wrote:
I don't like to opine on the stock market, and again I emphasize that I have no idea what the market will do in the short term. Nevertheless, I'll follow the lead of a restaurant that opened in an empty bank building and then advertised: "Put your mouth where your money was." Today my money and my mouth both say equities.
We'll be following Buffett's advice, in both our premium newsletter services and on Fool.com. Care to join us?