The Last Days of Morgan Stanley

If Morgan Stanley was in distress back in mid-September, it’s much worse today, trading as low as $12.50 a share: that’s just 40% of its stated book value. For all the denials coming out of the bank, clearly the market is very skeptical that the injection of cash from Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group is going to happen — or that even if it does happen, it will be sufficient to stave off insolvency. After all, even $85 billion wasn’t enough for AIG, and MUFG is putting much less than that into Morgan Stanley, which has a similarly-sized balance sheet to AIG.

It looks like we’re getting close to one of the market’s vicious syllogisms here: without the market’s trust, Morgan Stanley is nothing. The market doesn’t trust Morgan Stanley. Therefore, Morgan Stanley is, well, toast.

My guess is that at some point over the weekend, Hank Paulson will announce that he’s using his new authorities under the TARP to effectively nationalize Morgan Stanley, following Gordon Brown’s lead in the UK. And Morgan Stanley will only be the first of many banks to suffer such a fate.

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