Friday, October 28, 2011

Why Wall Street should pay attention to Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street is now a favorite subject for the media. They seem to vacillate between admiration and disdain. Certainly Fox News leans more towards disdain while MSNBC is more open to examining their complaints. I hope that Wall Street is paying attention. Whether you like them or not, Occupy Wall Street is one symptom of a greater issue – falling confidence.

Each month consumer confidence is reported as an indicator of expected future economic performance. Confidence in the value of the dollar is evidenced by foreign currency exchange rates. Confidence in the Federal Government is reflected in surveys with the general public and by investors with the yield rates on treasury bills. Confidence is a valuable indicator and positive economic outcomes in the long run require confidence – the confidence to spend, the confidence to borrow, he confidence that you will have a job and the confidence to invest.

The Occupy __ (fill in your city) movement is, fundamentally, about fairness; the belief that the economic system is not fair to most people in the United States. Protestors believe that if you work hard to get an education and a job, that you should be able to prosper. The reality they see is that people in finance who game the system have prospered enormously while following the rules may leave you jobless and in debt. They believe that if you should start to get ahead, the financial system is set up to fleece small investors while the powerful prosper at the rest of society’s expense. That is, they have lost confidence in our economic system.

As long as that loss of confidence is limited to scattered encampments in large cities around the country (and world) the protestors are merely a noisy distraction to Wall Street, and perhaps a tourist draw for the curious.

But surveys taken since the beginning of the protests indicate that the OWS movement is the true cutting edge of a wave of dissatisfaction with the direction of our country. TEA Party groups blame the government for their dissatisfaction, while OWS blames greed and the influence of money on the political process.  Both groups know something is wrong, and the OWS movement has been growing in influence.

Our stock markets require investor confidence to attract capital. No investor will send money to his broker with the expectation that he will be fleeced. As more investors examine the arguments of the OWS movement, they may come to agree that the system is rigged against them. If this results in dollars slowly being pulled out of the market, then Wall Street ignores the complaints of the OWS movement at its peril. This loss of confidence will likely not result in a run on the markets, rather is would be evidenced by a slow decline as individuals come to the conclusion that the American dream does not flow through Wall Street.

Is Occupy Wall Street the tip of the iceberg or an annoyance to the wealthy? The public is now focusing on the growing income gap and time will tell.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Bob!

    Seems to me there is a third leg to this wobbly stool of confidence that we stand on that has yet to feel this wave of disdain. Besides Washington and Wall Street there is also Madison Ave. Madison Ave is the icon for the folks that attempt, and usually succeed, in shaping our view of prosperity and success.

    While three legs are more stable than four, they still can't be too far out of balance or we fall down.

    Perhaps the upcoming holiday buying season will send the first ripples of the wave to the shores of Madison Ave?