As of 2007, the bottom 50% of the U.S. population owned only one-half of one percent of all stocks, bonds and mutual funds in the U.S. On the other hand, the top 1% owned owned 50.9%.
From the San Francisco Chronicle:
Half of America has only 0.5% of the stocks and bonds
Source: Institute for Policy Studies
(Of course, the divergence between the wealthiest and the rest has only increased since 2007.)
As I noted in January:
We've never seen this before – such a huge rally, and the little guy is out.
In other words, the stock market rally is due almost entirely to hedgies, pension funds, banks and other institutional investors, and not every day investors.
TrimTabs notes that small investors pulled out $14 billion net from stock mutual funds from the beginning of last year through mid-December, on top of a net $245 billion withdrawn in 2008.
Given that, at the end of September, individuals held 80% of the $19 trillion in stock in U.S. companies, both private and public - according to the Federal Reserve (see this, for example)- recovery will not happen so long as the little guys are sitting on the sidelines.
TrimTabs notes that most of $592 billion taken out of money market mutual funds last year has gone into bond and bond-hybrid funds instead.
No wonder David Rosenberg is saying:
- People have been lured into two bubbles seven years apart, and for a lot of them it's over."
- "The bulls say if the market is up this much without retail investors, just watch when they come in, but it isn't going to happen."
- Investors who have not been spooked or angered by the market are probably too poor to buy anyway.
Many people say that keeping the stock exchange up is important to maintaining people's wealth. But since the bottom 50% of Americans don't have much skin in the game, and the giant prop desks are probably doing most of the trading, the stock market really doesn't affect most Americans very much.
After Hank Paulson initially asked for $700 billion to bail out the banks, Congress refused. Then the stock market tanked (and Paulson said there would be martial law unless TARP was approved), and Congress gave Paulson his bailout. They said they had to do it, because their constituents were being hurt by the stock market downturn.
As I pointed out last November, there are a lot of millionaires in Congress:
A report by University of California, Berkeley economics professor Emmanuel Saez concludes that income inequality in the United States is at an all-time high, surpassing even levels seen during the Great Depression.
The report shows that:
- Income inequality is worse than it has been since at least 1917
- "The top 1 percent incomes captured half of the overall economic growth over the period 1993-2007"
- "In the economic expansion of 2002-2007, the top 1 percent captured two thirds of income growth."
As others have pointed out, the average wage of Americans, adjusting for inflation, is lower than it was in the 1970s. The minimum wage, adjusting for inflation, is lower than it was in the 1950s. See this.
Of the 535 members of Congress, over 44% - 237 to be exact - are millionaires. Fifty have net worths of at least $10 million, and seven are worth more than $100 million. By comparison, around 1% of Americans are millionaires. There is no other minority group that is as overrepresented in Congress. See this.
Indeed, Herbert argues that the real reason that Congress approved the TARP bailouts is that their money was on the line. In other words, they had a lot of skin in the game, and so they voted to bail out their own assets. But they just pretended it was for the good of the American people.
Whether or not Herbert is right (Paulson did pull a bait-and-switch), the information discussed above makes for valuable background for looking at the Goldman prosecutions and the stock market.
Specifically, I'm already hearing Goldman defenders say, "See, when you go after Goldman, the market tanks! Back off, or it will hurt the American people!"
Don't believe it ...
The economy can only be stabilized if the people who committed fraud are prosecuted.
And given the primary dealers' alleged ability to manipulate the market (see below), Goldman itself could crash the market and blame it on the "investors".
Note: Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said in September that giants like Goldman are using their size to manipulate the market:
"The main problem that Goldman raises is a question of size: 'too big to fail.' In some markets, they have a significant fraction of trades. Why is that important? They trade both on their proprietary desk and on behalf of customers. When you do that and you have a significant fraction of all trades, you have a lot of information."
Further, he says, "That raises the potential of conflicts of interest, problems of front-running, using that inside information for your proprietary desk. And that's why the Volcker report came out and said that we need to restrict the kinds of activity that these large institutions have. If you're going to trade on behalf of others, if you're going to be a commercial bank, you can't engage in certain kinds of risk-taking behavior."
The giants (especially Goldman Sachs) have also used high-frequency program trading which not only distorted the markets - making up more than 70% of stock trades - but which also let the program trading giants take a sneak peak at what the real (aka “human”) traders are buying and selling, and then trade on the insider information. See this, this, this, this and this. (This is frontrunning, which is illegal; but it is a lot bigger than garden variety frontrunning, because the program traders are not only trading based on inside knowledge of what their own clients are doing, they are also trading based on knowledge of what all other traders are doing).
Goldman also admitted that its proprietary trading program can "manipulate the markets in unfair ways". The giant banks have also allegedly used their Counterparty Risk Management Policy Group (CRMPG) to exchange secret information and formulate coordinated mutually beneficial actions, all with the government's blessings.