Bill Fleckenstein: PPT lets outsiders in to quell market-rigging suspicions

Section:

By Bill Fleckenstein
MSN Money
Monday, October 1, 2007

http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Investing/ContrarianChronicles/Rece...

... What I expect to unfold is a recession and severe weakness in the equity market. To get a sense of the timing, I was therefore eager to hear the comments of noted speakers last week at a New York conference held by Jim Grant of Grant's Interest Rate Observer. To my surprise, it seemed most of them were not too terribly concerned about the stock market or the economy.

That is not to say everyone felt that way. But I think it accurately encapsulates the opinion of investor Sam Zell, who was downright bullish on world gross-domestic-product growth. He seemed to think that we'd most likely muddle through and that the recent hiccups in liquidity and the markets would not lead to anything very troubling or long-lasting. (Though he just concluded a $40 billion sale of commercial real estate, he didn't sound too bearish on that asset class, either.)

Mohamed El-Erian, Harvard's former endowment chief who is now moving to Pimco as a co-head, was similarly sanguine. But he felt that we would see plenty of volatility in the future and that folks had better learn how to manage risk. He thought the innards of the financial system hadn't quite caught up to all the changes in the world and indicated that would continue to raise issues for folks.

I guess GMO Chairman Jeremy Grantham came the closest to being downright bearish. He was unequivocal in his belief that housing prices will revert to the mean. Likewise profit margins in corporate America (which are at a record) and price-earnings ratios -- implying stock prices were going down a fair amount or, as an asset class, would generate negative real returns for an extended period. Obviously, if he is right about housing prices, I don't see how the trouble I envision is going to be avoided.

An item that I felt folks would find most newsworthy is that the president's working committee on financial markets, known by some as the PPT, or Plunge Protection Team, now has about 20 outsiders who attend certain meetings to advise the committee. One of them is none other than noted short-seller Jim Chanos, who left Grant's conference early last Tuesday to attend a PPT meeting. In response to my question as to why the committee had chosen him and others, he cited one reason: that the panel was worried about adverse publicity and wanted to communicate that there was no nefarious buying of S&P futures, as is constantly rumored.

This is a story that I'm sure will have legs. Though not an earthshaking development, given all the emotion that the PPT evokes, it's a fact worth knowing. ...

* * *

Join GATA here:

New Orleans Investment Conference
Sunday-Thursday, October 21-25, 2007
New Orleans, Louisiana
http://www.neworleansconference.com

* * *

Help Keep GATA Going

GATA is a civil rights and educational organization based in the United States and tax-exempt under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. Its e-mail dispatches are free, and you can subscribe at http://www.gata.org/.

GATA is grateful for financial contributions, which are federally tax-deductible in the United States.