Mark Hines made a great point on the impact of consumer credit delinquency in another article. I can't agree more.
What has happened since last August is very typical in the banking industry, and happens about every 5 years on average. Each time the headline is totally different. In 1987, it was the program trading. In 1991 it was S&L, 1998 belonged to LTCM and Asian crisis, and 2001 was the burst of internet bubble. This crisis revolves around the word "credit" which is the lifeblood of all financial markets and involves all parties and products.
Once credit goes bad, everything goes bad. When blood stops, everything dies. Without it, counterparty risk goes to infinity. Without it, there is no liquidity, no market, no pricing, and value of financial products goes to zero. This is why I agree with George Soros' statement and assessment that this is the worst financial crisis in 60 years.
It is not like the crises in 1987, 1991 etc. when we heard one shoe dropping and had to wait forever for the other one to drop. Those were more unique, isolated cases, regions and sectors. These days, we are hearing shoes dropping left and right across the board and globally. When it rains, it pours. A month ago, when everyone thought Lehman had dodged the bullet on subprime, who would have heard ARS (auction rate securities)? Then concerning Goldman, which had a nice profit last quarter, and was the infallible king of all kings, we are now hearing about VIE (variable interest entities) trouble, with possibly $11B writedowns for Goldman.
Who knows how many more skeletons are in the closet? What will be the next shoe to drop? By the time we finish this in a few years, it will probably rotate through and cover the whole spectrum of all financial products. Of all products, I still maintain CDS (credit default swap) is the most abusive one, and much bigger trouble is to come, due to layers of layers of unknown counterparty risk, impossible to unwind. As Warren buffet said "large amounts of risk, particularly credit risk, have been concentrated in the hands of relatively few derivatives dealers, who in addition trade extensively with one another. The trouble of one could quickly infect the others".
It is a slow-moving train wreck. There is no way Citi will make $2.91 this year. Actually, the latest 2008 earnings estimate from Meredith Whitney of Oppenheimer is $0.75, concerning which she even feels "optimistic". Who knows next year? Maybe still $3.66, but with a negative sign in front of it. By the way, Whitney's target for Citi now is below $16. A few months ago, I heard a few traders betting Citi will eventually go to single digit. That could be stretching it, but I still feel two of My "Ten Predictions for 2008" stand a good chance of coming true this year: a credit card delinquency crisis for banks and Citi going to the teens.
Disclosure: No Positions