Friday, October 3, 2008

The Bailout: Corporate Treasurers Report In

According to the team at the Baseline Scenario, the treasurers at America's leading corporations got together to share their current experiences in the credit markets.

The picture is not good:
almost 100 corporate treasurers held an emergency conference call yesterday to discuss the challenges they are facing rolling over lines of credit with their banks. In some industries, lines of credit are the lifeblood of even completely healthy companies. They operate like home equity lines of credit: you draw down money when you need it (like to make payroll), and you pay it back when your customers pay you back. (In most business-to-business transactions, money changes hands some time after goods are delivered; hence the pervasive need for short-term credit.)

Now, however, banks are demanding much higher interest rates, lower limits, and stricter terms when lines of credit expire, or are even pouncing on forgotten clauses in contracts to force renegotiations of terms... The banks aren’t doing this because they think their borrowers are in any danger of not paying them back; they’re doing it because they want to hold onto the money because they are afraid of liquidity runs...

This is how fear in the banking sector translates very quickly into higher costs and less cash for healthy companies in the real economy.

I am not even sure when the last time that 100 corporate treasurers took the time to get on the phone to speak to one another like this. It sounds like they're sharing information more freely than I could ever imagine at the usual trade association meeting. That this call even occurred should clue policy makers into understanding what's happening in American businesses (which, by the way employs the taxpayers about whom so many profess concern).

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