On Sept. 29, Citigroup announced it was acquiring Wachovia's assets for the equivalent of about $1 per share. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 777 points that day.
Panic seeped into conversations. People were scared. They felt out of control. Between the trouble in the financial markets and the gas shortage in Charlotte, clouds of doom gathered.
As a financial adviser, I've spent nearly every waking hour allaying fears and reminding clients that the straw that broke the camel's back was part of a large bale. There is no one cause.
When we open the bale, we will find everything that contributed to the situation and thus learn how to avoid the same mistakes again.
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The economy is not a force of nature like Hurricane Ike, which interrupted the gas supply from battered Galveston and Houston. The economy is our own creation, a collection of both our genius and ignorance. While political candidates make hay blaming Wall Street's greed, we need to remember that we are not without our own personal responsibility. Simply put, we vote at the ballot box and at the cash register.
Presumably, we elect officials to do our bidding; to carry out a particular platform. But how many of us bother to read a candidate's platform? As Congress fiddled with the bailout package, I asked clients how their Congressional representatives voted. Most couldn't even tell me who represented them – much less how they voted.
Is it any wonder the regulatory framework and oversight we expected from our officials disappeared? They were supposed to watch the economy, but we were supposed to watch them.
By Oct. 3, Wachovia had a new suitor – Wells Fargo – and never was a community more overjoyed to see that wagon trundling down Tryon Street. Even if it carried straw, it was straw we could spin into gold with time.
Meanwhile, down the street, Bank of America corralled the Thundering Herd of bullish Merrill Lynch stockbrokers acquired in another last-ditch deal that would likely make Mssrs. Glass and Steagall spin in their graves. (The 1933 Glass-Steagall Act established the regulatory framework that separated investment banks from commercial banks. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 dismantled many of the barriers established in the earlier act.)
So, after a long day Oct. 3 of calming jittery investors, I finally headed home. Preoccupied, I drove along a tree-lined road until it gave way to an open field crowned with a gorgeous sunset streaked in glowing peach clouds.
Suddenly, it occurred to me that the setting sun would not be nearly as spectacular if not for the clouds. Not every cloud is one of doom. The sun will set and rise again. We will work our way out of this financial tangle as a city, a state, and a nation. We will, because we must.