Market Watchers Unsure How to Read Treasury Sec. Mnuchin’s Reassurances

‘The Secretary of Treasury calling the nation’s top bankers on a Sunday to confirm they have cash to lend. Not exactly confidence inspiring…’

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Steve Mnuchin/IMAGE: FoxBusiness/YouTube

(Ros Krasny and Saleha Mohsin, Bloomberg News) Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin looked to quash big-bank worries over recent plunging stock markets and reports that President Donald Trump might move on his Federal Reserve chief by reassuring the financial community on Sunday that market liquidity is in good shape.

Some market participants, however, questioned why Mnuchin answered a question that no one seemed to be asking.

By confirming there was ample liquidity to stave off any shocks to the system, was he suggesting that liquidity has in fact become an issue?

Mnuchin tweeted late Sunday afternoon that he’d called the chief executive officers of the nation’s six largest bankswho “confirmed they have ample liquidity available for lending to consumer, business markets, and all other market operations.”

Mnuchin also planned to convene a call on Monday with the President’s Working Group on financial markets.

With U.S. stock markets on the skids in recent weeks, many in the liberal media echo chamber have sounded the alarm, saying that the slowdown of the economic boom—due in part at least to the Fed’s increases in interest rates—might in fact signal a looming crash.

Such declarations, if they impact consumer confidence, could in fact become a self-fulfilling prophesy, which is why Mnuchin must reassure market watchers, especially as the federal government entered into what may be a lengthy partial shutdown on Saturday.

Even so, the announcements left a few wondering whether there is something more systemic going on that they hadn’t realized.

“My initial instinct is this isn’t necessarily a positive thing because it portrays that there’s worries that there is a bigger, broader issue than what I think is just typical re-positioning toward the end of the year,” said Nathan Thooft, Manulife Asset Management’s head of global asset allocation.

“When you see it and investors look at it, I don’t think they’re going to view it as, ‘Oh, this is the saving grace of what’s going to cause the catalyst to turn markets around.'”

Mnuchin’s calls—and announcement of a Monday meeting—capped a chaotic weekend that started with plunging markets and got a jolt from a report that Trump was discussing firing Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

Mnuchin had issued a statement by Twitter Saturday evening quoting the president as saying he wouldn’t fire Powell and disavowing authority to do so.

A Treasury spokesman said Mnuchin initiated the calls with the bankers because he felt that having conversations with major market participants, as well as holding the Working Group call, was prudent given considerable market volatility.

The group, which includes officials from the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, was created after the 1987 U.S. stock market crash by an executive order signed by President Ronald Reagan.

The group worked overnight during the global financial crisis of 2008—in October of that year it issued a statement saying it was taking multiple actions to stabilize the financial system.

But even after recent market losses—the S&P 500 fell 7.1 percent last week, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index entered a bear market—a liquidity squeeze or a fresh financial crisis hadn’t been on the market’s mind.

“The Secretary of Treasury calling the nation’s top bankers on a Sunday to confirm they have cash to lend. Not exactly confidence inspiring,” said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group.

According to the Treasury, the chief executives Mnuchin spoke with on Sunday were: Brian Moynihan of Bank of America, Michael Corbat of Citi, David Solomon of Goldman Sachs, Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase, James Gormanof Morgan Stanley and Tim Sloan of Wells Fargo.

A spokesman for Goldman Sachs, as well as spokeswomen for Citigroup and Wells Fargo, declined to comment.

A spokesman for JPMorgan Chase & Co., the nation’s biggest bank, who was contacted before Mnuchin’s tweet, also declined to comment. Representatives from Bank of America and Morgan Stanley didn’t immediately return requests for comment.

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