I just watched Neel Kashkari, the Treasury guru in charge of the multi-facted rescue effort, explain on CNBC what is going on and what the government is up to. A couple of points are clear: the purchase/auction of mortgage-backed securities, which was at the heart of the bailout, is only one of many tools. Itseems to be receding in importance. The emphasis now is clearly on the direct purchase of equity in financial institutions. And second, they haven’t really begun to do anything. It is a massive task to build the rules, gather information, and staff up seven different groups charged with everything from homeownership preservation plans to government oversight. It is not surprising that the markets haven’t reacted, since we are not yet out of the start-up phase.
Bottom line: There are a lot of very smart people trying lots of different things. The goal is to loosen credit and restore confidence. And there is reason to believe the coordinated efforts of the European banks in cutting rates and pursuing parallel plans to take equity stakes in banks may help. But make no mistake: This will take a long time to get up and running.