Fear Hits CD Market

I just heard an interesting story from a colleague (a former Wall Street lawyer who decided to become a lecturer at my university after retiring from his former career). I'm sure I'll be using it in class as an example of overreaction for the next few years (hey - I still talk about the Carter Years.

My colleague opened up his brokerage statement and noticed something verrrrry interesting (as Arte Johnson would have said).

He had two negotiable CDs - one from Washington Mutual and one from Lehman Bank. They originally had a 5-year maturity, but now had roughly 6 months until expiration, and were both under the FDIC limit. Here's the kicker - they were quoted at 92 and 93. In other words, you could buy them at 92% of face value, and would receive the full face amount at maturity 6 months later. This works out to a compound annual return of over 18% for the one quoted at 92, and about 15 1/2% for the one at 93. And this is for an FDIC-insured instrument.

So, he called his broker to see if there was an error. He was told that a significant number of people panicked when they saw the WAMU or Lehman name, and wanted to get out of their CDs at all costs. So, although the brokerage firm didn't advertise the fact, if my friend wanted to buy more CDs, he could have them at that price.

It's quite a story, and it illustrates how many people overreact in times of stress. 18% in a federally-insured instrument.

Simply amazing.