Stock Market Manipulation - The secret maneuverings of the Plunge Protection Team (PPT) :: The Market Oracle :: Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting Free Website
The Working Group on Financial Markets, also know as the Plunge Protection Team, was created by Ronald Reagan to prevent a repeat of the Wall Street meltdown of October 1987. Its members include the Secretary of the Treasury, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, the Chairman of the SEC and the Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Recently, the team has been on high-alert given the increased volatility of the markets and, what Hank Paulson calls, "the systemic risk posed by hedge funds and derivatives.”
Last Tuesday's 416 point drop in the stock market has sent tremors through global system. An 8% freefall on the Chinese stock exchange triggered a massive equities sell-off which continued sporadically throughout the week. The sudden shift in sentiment, from Bull to Bear, has drawn more attention to deeply rooted “systemic” problems in the US economy. US manufacturing is already in recession, the dollar continues to weaken, consumer spending is flat, and the sub-prime market in real estate has begun to nosedive. These have all contributed to the markets' erratic behavior and created the likelihood that the Plunge Protection Team may be stealthily intervening behind the scenes.
According to John Crudele of the New York Post, the Plunge Protection Team's (PPT) modus operandi was revealed by a former member of the Federal Reserve Board, Robert Heller. Heller said that disasters could be mitigated by “buying market averages in the futures market, thus stabilizing the market as a whole.” This appears to be the strategy that has been used.
Former-Clinton advisor, George Stephanopoulos, verified the existence of The Plunge Protection Team (as well as its methods) in an appearance on Good Morning America on Sept 17, 2000. Stephanopoulos said:
“Well, what I wanted to talk about for a few minutes is the various efforts that are going on in public and behind the scenes by the Fed and other government officials to guard against a free-fall in the markets….perhaps the most important the Fed in 1989 created what is called the Plunge Protection Team, which is the Federal Reserve, big major banks, representatives of the New York Stock Exchange and the other exchanges and they have been meeting informally so far, and they have a kind of an informal agreement among major banks to come in and start to buy stock if there appears to be a problem. They have in the past acted more formally… I don't know if you remember but in 1998, there was a crisis called the Long term Capital Crisis. It was a major currency trader and there was a global currency crisis. And they, with the guidance of the Fed, all of the banks got together when it started to collapse and propped up the currency markets. And, they have plans in place to consider that if the markets start to fall.”
Stephanopoulos' comments have never been officially denied. In fact, as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the U.K. Telegraph notes, Secretary of the Treasury, Hank Paulson has called for the PPT to meet with greater frequency and set up “a command centre at the US Treasury that will track global markets and serve as an operations base in the next crisis. The top brass will meet every six weeks, combining the heads of Treasury, Federal Reserve, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and key exchanges”.
This suggests that the PPT may have been deeply involved in last Wednesday's “miraculous” stock market rebound from Tuesday's losses. There was no apparent reason for the market to suddenly “go positive” following a ruinous day that shook investor confidence around the world. The editors of the New York Times summarized the feelings of many market-watchers who were baffled by this odd recovery:
“The torrent of bad news on housing is only worsening, with a report yesterday that new home sales for January had their steepest slide in 13 years...Manufacturing has already slipped into a recession, with activity contracting in two of the last three months. How is it then that investors took Mr. Bernanke's words as a “buy” signal?”
How indeed; unless other forces were operating secretly behind the scenes?
“Gaming” the system may be easier than many people believe. Robert McHugh, Ph.D. has provided a description of how it works which seems consistent with the comments of Robert Heller. McHugh lays it out like this:
“The PPT decides markets need intervention, a decline needs to be stopped, or the risks associated with political events that could be perceived by markets as highly negative and cause a decline; need to be prevented by a rally already in flight. To get that rally, the PPT's key component — the Fed — lends money to surrogates who will take that fresh electronically printed cash and buy markets through some large unknown buyer's account. That buying comes out of the blue at a time when short interest is high. The unexpected rally strikes blood, and fear overcomes those who were betting the market would drop. These shorts need to cover, need to buy the very stocks they had agreed to sell (without owning them) at today's prices in anticipation they could buy them in the future at much lower prices and pocket the difference. Seeing those stocks rally above their committed selling price, the shorts are forced to buy — and buy they do. Thus, those most pessimistic about the equity market end up buying equities like mad, fueling the rally that the PPT started. Bingo, a huge turnaround rally is well underway, and sidelines money from Hedge Funds, Mutual funds and individuals' rushes in to join in the buying madness for several days and weeks as the rally gathers a life of its own.” (Robert McHugh, Ph.D., “The Plunge Protection Team Indicator”)
If a secret team is interfering in the stock market, it presents serious practical and moral issues. For one thing, it disrupts natural “corrections” which are a normal part of the business cycle and which help to maintain a healthy and competitive slate of equities.
More importantly, outside intervention punishes the people who see the weaknesses in the stock market and have invested accordingly. Clearly, these people are being ripped off by the PPT's back-channel manipulations. They deserve to be fairly compensated for the risks they have taken.
Moreover, artificially propping up the market only encourages over-leveraged speculators and smiley-face Pollyanna's who continue to believe that the grossly-inflated market will continue to rise. Rewarding foolishness only stimulates greater speculation.
The tinkering of the PPT is sure to erode confidence in the unimpeded activity of capital markets. It's astonishing to think that, after years of singing the praises of the “free market” as the ultimate expression of God's divine plan; these same conservative ideologues and “market purists” favor a strategy for direct intrusion. The actions of the Plunge Protection Team prove that it's all baloney. The “free market” is merely a public relations myth with no basis in reality. Saving the system will always take precedent over ideology; just as the “invisible hand” will always be overpowered by the manicured and mettlesome fingers of banking elites and Wall Street big wigs. It's their system and they're not going to let it get wiped out by some silly commitment to principle.
The free market system is supposed to be “self cleansing” through cyclical purges of over-inflated equities and over-extended speculators. Do we really want “central planning” from an unelected, Market-Nanny that re-jiggers the system according to its own economic interests?
The Plunge Protection Team may wrap itself in pompous rhetoric, but it operates like a Fiscal Politburo inserting itself into the market in way that promotes the narrow interests of its own constituents. It's an outrage.
Besides, the market is so fragile it trembles every time someone halfway around the world sells a fistful of equities. It needs a good shakedown.
The years of deregulation have taken their toll. The market is resting on a foundation of pure quicksand. Collateralized debt, rickety hedge funds, shaky sub-prime equities, and an ocean of margin debt are just a few examples of deregulation's excesses. These untested debt-instruments are presently bearing down on Wall Street like a laser-guided missile. It'll take more than Hank Paulson and his PPT “plumber's unit” to prevent the implosion.
Wall Street needs to regain its lost credibility with more regulation and stricter laws. The system needs a major face-lift. Still, even as the markets rumble and shake, Paulson rejects any move towards greater government supervision. According to the New York Times:
“Henry Paulson and top financial regulators said the government need not — and should not — provide greater oversight for the $1.4 trillion hedge fund industry, or, by extension, the trillions of dollars more in complex derivative transactions spawned by the industry. That stance is mostly free-market ideology run amok. But it is also based on the unproven assumption that unregulated investing, which dispersed risk and reduced volatility as markets surged, will continue to do so when markets tank.
The upshot is a one-sided bet for investors. They have explicit assurances from regulators and policy makers that almost anything goes when the markets are hot, and implicit assurances — based on past experience — that the Fed would lower interest rates to contain a financial crisis should one erupt. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that easing up on rates would have the same powerful effect in a future crisis as it had in the past.
The next crisis appears to be building around weakness in the United States, not in Russia or Asia or South America. That means money could flow out of the country if markets were rattled. That would weaken the dollar and require speedy and complex remedial action by the world's central banks — not just a rate cut by the Fed.” (NY Times)
The Times is right, Paulson's “hands off” attitude is a classic example of “free-market ideology run amok”. A meltdown in the Hedge funds industry or the derivatives market would bring the entire economy crashing to earth. Paulson's Plunge Protection Team is a band-aid approach to a much more serious dilemma. It's time for the government to get involved and protect the small investor.
Paulson has shown that he understands the problem; he simply resists the solution. Just a few months ago he opined, “We need to be vigilant and make sure we are thinking through all of the various risks and that we are being very careful here. Do we have enough liquidity in the system"?
No, we don't. And Paulson knows it; that's why there's a plan to fiddle the system and try to “cheat the Reaper”. But it won't work. This is the biggest equity bubble in history. Neither increasing the money supply nor lowering interest rates will fend off the impending catastrophe. We need to address the mushrooming risk that has arisen from lending hundreds of billions in sub-prime loans, and from overexposure in the hedge funds and derivatives markets. These things need to be confronted immediately as they pose a “clear and present danger” which could set off a chain reaction of defaults and bankruptcies.