The nerve of it is a wonder to behold. The US airline industry has spent a decade shoving itself into harm’s way by strip-mining their balance sheets to fund share buybacks and goose top executive stock options.
For crying out loud – the reckless irresponsibility of it is mind-boggling. That’s because for decades upon decades this has been a highly cyclical industry – vulnerable to global dislocations caused by recessions, storms, wars, terror and more. Accordingly, airline companies absolutely need deep equity balance sheets and ample standby liquidity, even at the expense of short-term earnings.
Needless to say, the Big Four US airlines – Delta, United, American, and Southwest – were having none of financial rationality, prudence and common sense. As Wolf Richter properly pointed out:
“These stocks are now getting crushed because they may run out of cash in a few months, yet they would be the primary recipients of that $50 billion bailout, well, after they wasted, blew, and incinerated willfully and recklessly together $43.7 billion in cash on share buybacks since 2012 for the sole purpose of enriching the very shareholders that will now be bailed out by the taxpayer.”
We say nothing doing!
If the Big Four Airlines can’t raise enough cash in the high cost long term debt markets or by issuing highly dilutive preferred stock or equity, there is only one solution – and that is chapter 11. Holy moly, that’s why we have this legal protection procedure.
The airlines will have precious little business for the duration of the great COVID spring break anyway. So let the court-appointed trustees operate with the same skeleton crews that the airlines will be running even if they get the bailout. The level of customer service and employment will be essentially the same in either case.
More importantly, let the gamblers and so-called investors who piled into these stocks get their just deserts. That is, a 100% loss on their gambling stakes because that’s all it ever was when the Big Four’s combined market cap hit $130 billion compared to just $43 billion now.
Even more importantly, let these bankrupt shareholders file class action suits against the idiots and clowns in the C-suites and on the boards of directors who made such foolish decisions in the first place. Hopefully, these cats would be legally stalked and harassed to the ends of the earth as an object lesson in the personal cost of imperiling corporate balance sheets to feather their own stock options nest.
Of course, the airlines are only the poster boy for this long overdue moment of truth. The problem is universal because today’s rotten regime of Keynesian central banking has caused the entire financial system and main street economy to become riddled with rank speculation and reckless disregard for financial discipline and prudence.
And the crime starts right in the Eccles Building where over the last several decades an inbred posse of PhDs and Washington apparatchiks have taken it upon themselves to destroy honest price discovery in the money and capital markets in the name of levitating financial asset prices and thereby fostering more growth, jobs, incomes and spending than the main street economy would allegedly produce on its own.
Self-evidently, main street didn’t need no stinkin’ help from a wanna be 12-member monetary politburo. They have created serial bubbles that have gotten more inflated with each cycle, leaving the main street economy exposed to increasingly brutal episodes of correction when the proverbial Black Swan, or Black Bat, as the case may be, makes its grim appearance.
Still, the very idea that agents of the state could have enough information and wisdom to best the work of millions of traders, investors, speculators and dealers was ridiculous from the start; and the further idea that financial assets prices falsified by the FOMC to the second decimal point could cause main street to produce more output, jobs, efficiency and real living standard gains than would be the case under market determined financial asset prices was even more ludicrous.
Self-evidently, the only thing Keynesian central bankers have accomplished has been to fuel egregious speculations in the canyons of Wall Street; drain main street businesses of real productive investment; and leave businesses and households living hand-to-mouth and therefore vulnerable to even short-run interruptions of cash flow.
So we will say it again: Hand-to-mouth economics is not the natural modality on the free market; it is a malignant product of bad money and the debt-fueled speculative manias that are the consequence of Keynesian central banking.
Left to their own devices on the free market, households save and provide for rainy days, regardless of income level or social status.
By David Stockman via Lew Rockwell