The government is putting its printing press into overdrive. Congress passes new legislation every week that either bails out auto companies or bails out banks; the Federal Reserve has lowered its rates to zero and opened up the borrowing window; and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has increased the amount of insurance it allows each bank account to be insured for.
In your own life, when confronted by a budget crunch, don’t you look for some free ways to alter your lifestyle to make things better? Our government can do the same. Here are two suggestions as to how the government can make the playing field fairer, and help alleviate the credit crisis without spending a penny.
First, they need to bring back the “uptick rule” to the stock market. The uptick rule was part of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934. It allowed traders to sell a stock without owning it, but only after a slight rise in the price of the stock. The rule stopped raids from happening on stocks for 74 years. After being repealed on July 6, 2007, shorting could and still can be done without waiting for any upward movement in the price of the stock. Just sell the stock, hope the price action goes your way, and make money buying it back. Short sellers can be merciless. If there is enough selling pressure, a frenzied run on the stock can ensue. Investors are either forced to sell because of margin calls, or sell to save any profit they have left in the stock. If there is enough selling pressure, a run on the stock can start as investors sell to cover losses or take profits. It has been alleged that hedge funds colluded to attack different bank stocks.
Our nation’s stock exchanges are a public market where capital is raised for business. Of course, you can make money there speculating and investing. However, the primary role of this marketplace is for businesses to raise equity stakes to create cash for their balance sheets and continuing operations. By framing the role of the marketplace in this manner, having rules on speculative short selling provides proper regulatory control of the marketplace. Short selling would still be allowed, but the short seller would have to assume a little extra risk by selling into a higher price. Shorting stock does provide an invisible hand, as it keeps companies and investors honest. Call options writers would have special rules with regard to shorting stock. We have to limit the way short selling can occur because its misuse has brought detriment and dislocation to the marketplace. This change in regulation costs nothing.