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Meredith Whitney Scares Us All -- Again

Posted by: Ben Steverman on May 20, 2008

The credit crisis made Oppenheimer (OPY) analyst Meredith Whitney a star. Today demonstrated she’s still a force to be reckoned with.

Last fall, as credit markets froze up and big banks reported huge, unexpected losses, Wall Street had a credibility problem: Its fancy securitized products were self-destructing. Into that credibility vacuum stepped Whitney, the loudest of the analysts predicting disaster for Citigroup (C) and other financial giants.

Now, however, many believe the financial crisis is easing. Financial stocks have bounced back from the Bear Stearns (BSC) debacle.

Others might be optimistic, but Whitney hasn’t changed her tune. Today she released another gloomy prediction on the financial sector: “We believe the current credit crisis is far from over,” she wrote. “In fact, we believe that what lies ahead will be worse than what is behind us.”

The culprit, she says, is the breakdown in the securitization market, which ultimately will cause huge losses for banks on consumer loans. Large banks were hit with $70 billion in losses since July, but she thinks more than $170 billion in losses could be coming. The credit crisis could extend through 2009 and beyond, she said.

Pessimists like Ian Cooper saw the report as confirmation that market bulls have gotten ahead of themselves recently.

But let’s hope Whitney is wrong. She’s predicting some very tough times ahead for a large portion of the U.S. stock market.

And, yes, Whitney could be wrong: Just because someone was right in the past doesn’t mean she’ll be right in the future. After so much success predicting the worse, Whitney might be losing her ability to look on the bright side of things. Maybe the banking industry will catch some breaks, like a strong economic recovery.

And yet the market still certainly listens when Whitney speaks. On the day her report was released, banking stocks fell 3.6%.

That’s the kind of power you wield when you’ve earned investors’ trust.

Reader Comments


May 20, 2008 7:41 PM

When you hear of the widespread fraud that banks, ratings agencies and other financial institutions have heaped on the American Investor, you have no choice but to listen to analysts who have an accurate track record. Banks have been terrible investments, from BAC, UBS, BS, WB and others of there ilk. I've never owned a US bank stock, but I'm glad to see the derivative sham is finally being exposed.

Clyde Williford

May 20, 2008 8:13 PM

I believe she is absolutly right. As a small business owner I fight with "Very High" interest rates on credit card. The Banks are relentless on charging higher & higher rates and the people get behind on their dills and it won't much longer before everything will be coming down. Folks will just walk away from the debt same as a large number of home owners. I had to sell my home of 14 years to pay my bills and try to earn a income to live on. At 62 it's hard to find a job to pay what is needed to live on here in Silicone Vally.
Banks, Credit Card Co. etc. are in my opinion are cutting their own throats, and for me it couldn't happen to a "nicer" group.


May 20, 2008 9:24 PM

Hmm. Eh, why bother with the finance sector? For the last several months, metal industries, like copper and steel, have done very well. For the last several *years* energy has done just fine. I'm glad my stock screens, courtesy of the Motley Foot Mechanical Investing discussion board, have done me as well as could be expected.


May 20, 2008 11:01 PM

From the post: "After so much success predicting the worse, Whitney might be losing her ability to look on the bright side of things."

Are you a psychoanalyst as well as a business reporter?


May 20, 2008 11:03 PM

Understanding derivitaves, I can understand what she's saying and it's true.


May 21, 2008 7:20 PM

If what she say is fundamentally correct and sound. there is no reason for it not to happen. Law of cause and effect always applies


May 26, 2008 11:55 AM

With the ratio of "economic assets(including OTC contracts) to "Tier 1 reserve capital assets" at 5/1 to 8/1 for the major banks and investment houses
,isn't it obvious that the banks will need 5 to 8 times as much capital as they have on their books to cover the risk in their portfolios? The banks have only recognized a small portion of losses that eventually must be recognized.


June 11, 2008 3:39 PM

you say, "After so much success predicting the worse, Whitney might be losing her ability to look on the bright side of things."

It is now 20 days after Meridith's prediction, and she is right as usual. How did you conclude that she "might" be losing her ability? Wishful thinking, eh!


June 18, 2008 10:20 AM

So here it is, Wednesday June 18, and Ms.Whitney's prognostications about the financial sector debacle continue to be incredibly prescient. She has been the only analyst who has seen with her own eyes and exclaimed, "The Emporer has no clothes!" She is that rare economic analyst that can be TRUSTED!

u paid what?

July 4, 2008 1:44 PM

C has about $2Trillion in diversified assests- that makes anything less than $100Bn a rounding error.

C is likely going lower after they cut the dividend- i see a worst case low of about $12ish.

markets reflexively overshoot in either direction- this has been true since before the tulips and now will b no different.

get nice while u can.


September 17, 2008 12:18 PM

Based on the events of the past week (Freddie, Fanny, Lehman, AIG) I think she has nailed it...and it aint over...


October 9, 2008 4:05 PM

It's too bad she's been so right and analysts like Tom Brown at so, so wrong for so, so long. I doubt if even she originally thought it would get this bad and still no real sign of let-up.


November 5, 2008 3:58 PM

Meredith Whitney is selling her
book. She only appears when the market is down over 400 points, and at the end of the day to pound the financials stock.

It is very easy to sell umbrellas when it is raining.


Neocon 4 Jesus

December 16, 2008 4:10 PM

Today she predicts that housing prices will drop another 20%.

Goody Goody, 2009 looks like another great year for real estate.

Don't forget, there is never a better time to buy a house and housing prices never go down. lmao.


June 11, 2009 7:27 PM

Whitney, has been right more than anyone and she is still right! She knows that the next leg down in all of this is commercial real estate, less credit card profits, plummeting profit from securitization of mortgages which is now illegal. She knows that the banking model has to go back to basics meaning basic profits! Ultimately, the US Federal Reserve is now caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to US Bonds. They want to print more money, they need to print more money to carry out debt monetization but they are afraid that the Chinese and Sovereign wealth funds will not tolerate any more printing! Whitney knows too that the worst is still yet to come and that the "bulls" are going to experience a second round of wealth destruction in the third and fourth quarters for their clients, because they will not be able to react to the sudden reverberations in the mine fields they are wandering around in!


June 20, 2009 10:00 AM

Ben Steverman needs to give his brain a chance; instead of responding to some very substantial points with simplistic clichés such as:

1. … But let’s hope Whitney is wrong. She’s predicting some very tough times ahead for a large portion of the U.S. stock market…
2. …Just because someone was right in the past doesn’t mean she’ll be right in the future.
3. After so much success predicting the worse, … might be losing her ability to look on the bright side of things.

Instead of dismissing all findings that don’t fit the paradigm of an optimist, how about a little investigative reporting that says acknowledges that “continuous improvement” is what we all should be targeting.

Although "hope" has its place, life experiences show us that when we place blind hope in a person with an addiction we will see damage to them and us. In this case it is career politicians with the addiction - - to spending (wasting) money.

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Bloomberg Businessweek’s Ben Steverman focuses on the latest moves in financial markets and emerging trends in stocks, bonds, and funds, always with an eye toward giving readers a better understanding of the sometimes confusing and often chaotic world of money. Standard & Poor’s senior index analyst Howard Silverblatt will also provide his take on companies’ finances and the markets. Voted one of the “Top 100 Finance Blogs” in 2007.

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