In a few hours, the SEC will lift its ban on short-selling of 900 stocks. That is well and good, except that it appears that hedge funds will also be permitted to resume abusive naked short selling – offloading stock that they do not possess in order to dilute supply and drive down prices.
Given that naked short selling precipitated the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which triggered global panic, it seems fair to say that the resumption of naked short selling could precipitate the collapse of another big bank, which will fuel still more panic, and then we will really be screwed.
Say what you will about Lehman’s balance sheet, that company was not going out of business until its stock price hit rock bottom, making it impossible to raise capital, and triggering a run on the bank. The stock price hit rock bottom because it was bombarded by naked short selling and false rumors.
Some financial media have been cheering the imminent lifting of the short-selling ban. According to these journalists, the ban did not prevent the stock market turmoil of the last couple weeks. Therefore, lifting the ban should not make things worse and short-selling is good for the markets and blah blah blah.
The media never cease to astound on this issue. The fact that markets have been bad does not mean they wouldn’t have been a whole lot worse without the ban. And if short-selling is good for markets, this is fully besides the point. The point is that naked short selling is most definitely not good for the markets, and, as of tomorrow, that very not-good-for-the-markets activity is going to be allowed to resume with the full acquiescence of the SEC and the financial media.
Look, on September 16, Morgan Stanley was trading around $26. On September 17, it hit a low of $11. The stock was slashed in half in less than a day. That tends to happen when a company is under a full-scale attack by naked short sellers.
On the day after Morgan Stanley was slashed in half, the SEC banned short selling. It is fair to say that if the SEC had not acted, Morgan Stanley would not be with us today.
After the SEC banned short selling, hedge funds stopped circulating false rumors about the companies they had been attacking. Today, in anticipation of the short selling ban coming to an end, hedge funds began circulating false rumors about Morgan Stanley – the most damaging being that Mitsubishi had pulled out of an agreement to inject $9 billion of capital into the bank.
What happens tomorrow when those rumor-mongering hedge funds resume naked short selling?
As one prominent economist said, forebodingly, “We will see.”