Sep 16, 2018

What Lehman wrought

Felix Salmon, author of Edge

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

No one saw the ZIRP* boom coming. When Lehman Brothers was allowed to go bankrupt, it was clear that the crisis was entering a new and much more dangerous phase and there would be a lot of financial carnage.

The big picture: But bears didn't make the really big money. Bulls did. Central banks slashed the cost of capital to zero and kept it there for the best part of a decade, encouraging capital-intensive investment. Austere governments demurred, but the private sector made trillions of dollars.

One sector outperformed everything else: companies with slim or negative cashflows, which need extended investment on their way to multibillion-dollar valuations. Some of the biggest examples:

  • Tesla raised $19 billion and has an enterprise value of $67 billion.
  • Uber raised $22 billion on its way to a $72 billion valuation.
  • Ultra-luxury residential construction boomed around the world.
  • The entire fracking industry was built on cheap capital. As Amir Azar of TD Securities wrote in a 2017 report:

The real catalyst of the shale revolution was ... the 2008 financial crisis and the era of unprecedentedly low interest rates it ushered in.

The bottom line: We may never again see rates this low for this long — and frankly, we should have reaped greater benefits. Still, many thanks to WeWork (funding: $9 billion, valuation: $35 billion) for the delicious coffee at Axios NYC!

*(Zirp = zero interest rate policy, for non-econowonks).

Go deeper

Inside Trump's antifa tweet

President Trump at Cape Canaveral on May 30. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

As recently as Saturday night, senior administration officials told me that the designation of a violent cohort of far-left activists, antifa, as a terrorist organization was not being seriously discussed at the White House. But that was Saturday.

Behind the scenes: The situation changed dramatically a few hours later, after prominent conservative allies of the president, such as his friend media commentator Dan Bongino, publicly urged a tough response against people associated with antifa (short for "anti-fascist").

U.S. enters 6th day of nationwide protests over George Floyd's killing

A protest in Philadelphia on May 31. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Protests continued across the country for the sixth day in a row on Sunday, as demonstrators called for justice in response to the deaths of George Floyd, EMT Breonna Taylor, jogger Ahmaud Arbery and countless other black Americans who have suffered at the hands of racism and police brutality.

What's happening: Protestors in D.C. broke one police barricade outside the White House on Sunday evening after reportedly demonstrating for several hours. The atmosphere was still largely peaceful as of 6pm ET.

Trump privately scolded, warned by allies

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Over the past couple of days, numerous advisers both inside and outside the White House have urged the president to tone down his violent rhetoric, which many worry could escalate racial tensions and hurt him politically.

Behind the scenes: The biggest source of internal concern was Trump's escalatory tweet, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." Some advisers said it could damage him severely with independent voters and suburban women.