Wall Street begins playing again with the same matches that burned the economy in 2008 From the New York Times: "The banks that created risky amalgams of mortgages and loans during the boom — the kind that went so wrong during the bust — are busily reviving the same types of investments that many thought were gone for good. Once more, arcane-sounding financial products like collateralized debt obligations are being minted on Wall Street. " (View article on a single page) [more inside]
First the Bubble. Then the Short. Now the Long.
Some neighborhoods in Oakland are as devastated as any of the worst hit regions across America — Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix. Now the morphing of the housing bust and foreclosure epidemic into a lucrative multi-billion dollar opportunity for major investors is also uncannily centered upon Oakland and the greater Bay Area, where companies flush with hedge fund cash are buying up homes by the thousands. The entire sweep of the US housing bubble, financial crisis, and foreclosure wave can therefore be told by looking at persons and companies with intimate links to Oakland and the Bay Area. What follows is one account.
What did Michael Milken, Enron, and Goldman Sachs have in common? Not only were they at the centers of three of the biggest financial scandals of the last 30 years, but it turns out they all used the same financial instrument to help pull off their plans. A Transactional Genealogy of Scandal: from Michael Milken to Enron to Goldman Sachs [more inside]
Betting Against the American Dream. In 2005, just as Wall Street started to get cold feet about the housing market, the Magnetar hedge fund helped create a new wave of billion-dollar mortgage-backed securities, pushed bankers to include riskier sub-prime mortgages, and then shorted the securities, making millions when the bubble finally burst. Traders on both sides of the deals pocketed enormous fees even if their banks went under when the securities failed. Pulitzer Prize-winning ProPublica, This American Life, and NPR's Planet Money track down some of the big winners in the housing/financial crisis. No time to read or listen? It seemed so much like a scheme from The Producers, they even recorded a show tune to explain it all. (Previously, 2, 3)
Last week the House Committee on Financial Services approved legislation to regulate derivatives. Some critics contend that the legislation does not go far enough, and there is fear that there are too many exemptions to the rules: reforming the $42 trillion market for credit swaps is crucial if taxpayers are to be protected from future rescues of institutions deemed not only too big but also too interconnected to fail. [more inside]
Nationalize. Reorganize. Decentralize. anewwayforward.org wants you to organize a protest on April 11th to express your frustration and disapproval with how our elected officials have handled the economic crisis.
"A striking feature of the New Wall Street System business model was its relentless drive to expand balance sheets, maximizing the asset and liabilities sides. The investment banks used their leverage ratio as the target to be achieved at all times rather than as an outer limit of risk to be reduced where possible by holding surplus capital ... One explanation is that they were doing this in line with the wishes of their shareholders (once they had turned themselves into limited liability companies) ... But there is also another possible explanation for borrowing to the leverage limit: the struggle for market share and for maximum pricing power in trading activities," Against mainstream accounts, Peter Gowan argues that the origins of the global financial crisis lie in the dynamics of the New Wall Street System that has emerged since the 1980s. Contours of the Atlantic model, and implications—geopolitical, ideological, economic—of its blow-out.
Synthetic CDO's are complex little known financial instruments (insurance contracts) that are on the brink of triggering "the most colossal rights issue in the history of the world, all at once .. mandatory." If, out of a list of several hundred major companies, any nine go bankrupt, the CDO's are in default, which would mean a mass transfer of cash (real money) from unsuspecting investors around the world goes into the banking system. How much? Nobody knows, but it’s many trillions. Banks will be flush with cash, perhaps ending the credit crisis, while many investors (individuals, charities, municipalities) will be wiped out. Alternatively, the triggering of default on the trillions of synthetic CDOs could be a disaster that tips the world from recession into depression. Nobody knows, but it won’t be a small event. Thus far the count is six: three Icelandic banks, Countrywide, Lehman and Bear Stearns.
This American Life gives you Another Frightening Show About the Economy.. The guys who brought us The Giant Pool of Money (previously) explain the credit crunch and why it's so scary. And not in the Halloween fun-to-be-scared sense.
A graphical, animated explanation of how collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) work, by Felix Salmon, Maryanne Murray, Jeffrey Cane, Jacky Myint, and Shazna Nessa. The collapse in CDO valuations and the resulting losses to investors played a major role in the recent banking crisis. Via Paul Krugman.