If it wasn’t serious, you’d be amused and bewildered as more and more companies are appealing to stockmarket regulators to be placed on the anti-shorting list, and those same regulators are scurrying to appease these fine upstanding free enterprise giants.

Reports from the US this morning say General Motors and General Electric have been placed on the list and are now protected against those nasty shorts.

And, in the ultimate of ironies, a hedge fund company named GLG Partners made a similar appeal, which was granted.

When the poachers and shorts don’t have the guts to go it alone and follow their free market convictions, you know that the financial sector doesn’t need protecting, it needs cleaning out and a few victims found to appease growing anger amongst ordinary Americans.

What is even more appalling is the US Securities and Exchange Commission has given the various stock exchanges control of the protected species list, and another 96 companies were added to the list today.

Wall Street tumbled anyway without the shorts playing a major role: the US banking sector fell 11% thanks to weakness across the board. Investors know a sick sector in denial. And you can bet GE and GM will be looking to sell dodgy loans of all types into the $US700 billion Bush garbage fund in Washington.

GE Money has lost billions in poor subprime mortgage loans and investments and the creation of the reviled CDO and other securities, such as credit default swaps. It has also been caught with billions of dollars exposed to commercial and business loans that are going sour.

GM sold 51% of its finance arm, GMAC, to Cerberus Capital (which owns Chrysler and is doing it tough). GM has 49%. GMAC recently was forced to recapitalise, close 200 offices and sack thousands of workers after a subsidiary called ResCap lost an estimated $US4.3 billion in subprime mortgage loans and other dodgy deals.

GE says it asked to be placed on the list, GM said it didn’t, but hasn’t asked to be taken off . (“Phew,” the board said. “Made it!”)

Almost unnoticed in the last few months of trading confusion is the plain fact that GE, the biggest industrial company in the US, has been selling off what it calls “underperforming assets” from both sides of the business to try and boost performance. It’s a form of self liquidation, a term not used at the company. But that has now come to a halt as prospective buyers for the bits and pieces find it hard to raise the loan funds to buy.

But as damning as these situations are, the most worrying news was reported by Bloomberg early today, when it reported McDonald’s as saying that the Bank of America had stopped lending to its franchises for normal business expansion finance. McDonald’s had told some US franchisees to seek other ways to finance store improvements after Bank of America Corp. declined to increase lending.

When that happens, you know the US economy is heading steadily towards recession and a nasty one at that.

Peter Fray

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