|giandujakiss (giandujakiss) wrote,|
@ 2011-11-07 06:51 am UTC
...because I've already posted about them and I figure everyone who cares has already seen it, but just in case
What caused the financial crisis? The Big Lie goes viral.
One group has been especially vocal about shaping a new narrative of the credit crisis and economic collapse: those whose bad judgment and failed philosophy helped cause the crisis.
Rather than admit the error of their ways — Repent! — these people are engaged in an active campaign to rewrite history. They are not, of course, exonerated in doing so. And beyond that, they damage the process of repairing what was broken. They muddy the waters when it comes to holding guilty parties responsible. They prevent measures from being put into place to prevent another crisis.
Here is the surprising takeaway: They are winning. Thanks to the endless repetition of the Big Lie.
A Big Lie is so colossal that no one would believe that someone could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. There are many examples: Claims that Earth is not warming, or that evolution is not the best thesis we have for how humans developed. Those opposed to stimulus spending have gone so far as to claim that the infrastructure of the United States is just fine, Grade A (not D, as the we discussed last month), and needs little repair.
Wall Street has its own version: Its Big Lie is that banks and investment houses are merely victims of the crash. You see, the entire boom and bust was caused by misguided government policies. It was not irresponsible lending or derivative or excess leverage or misguided compensation packages, but rather long-standing housing policies that were at fault.
Indeed, the arguments these folks make fail to withstand even casual scrutiny. But that has not stopped people who should know better from repeating them.
The Big Lie made a surprise appearance Tuesday when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, responding to a question about Occupy Wall Street, stunned observers by exonerating Wall Street: “It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. It was, plain and simple, Congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp.”
What made his comments so stunning is that he built Bloomberg Data Services on the notion that data are what matter most to investors.
To be clear, no single issue was the cause. Our economy is a complex and intricate system. What caused the crisis? Look:
●Fed Chair Alan Greenspan dropped rates to 1 percent — levels not seen for half a century — and kept them there for an unprecedentedly long period. This caused a spiral in anything priced in dollars (i.e., oil, gold) or credit (i.e., housing) or liquidity driven (i.e., stocks).
●Low rates meant asset managers could no longer get decent yields from municipal bonds or Treasurys. Instead, they turned to high-yield mortgage-backed securities. Nearly all of them failed to do adequate due diligence before buying them, did not understand these instruments or the risk involved. They violated one of the most important rules of investing: Know what you own.
●Fund managers made this error because they relied on the credit ratings agencies — Moody’s, S&P and Fitch. They had placed an AAA rating on these junk securities, claiming they were as safe as U.S. Treasurys.
● Derivatives had become a uniquely unregulated financial instrument. They are exempt from all oversight, counter-party disclosure, exchange listing requirements, state insurance supervision and, most important, reserve requirements. This allowed AIG to write $3 trillion in derivatives while reserving precisely zero dollars against future claims.
● The Securities and Exchange Commission changed the leverage rules for just five Wall Street banks in 2004. The “Bear Stearns exemption” replaced the 1977 net capitalization rule’s 12-to-1 leverage limit. In its place, it allowed unlimited leverage for Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. These banks ramped leverage to 20-, 30-, even 40-to-1. Extreme leverage leaves very little room for error.
●Wall Street’s compensation system was skewed toward short-term performance. It gives traders lots of upside and none of the downside. This creates incentives to take excessive risks.
● The demand for higher-yielding paper led Wall Street to begin bundling mortgages. The highest yielding were subprime mortgages. This market was dominated by non-bank originators exempt from most regulations. The Fed could have supervised them, but Greenspan did not.
● These mortgage originators’ lend-to-sell-to-securitizers model had them holding mortgages for a very short period. This allowed them to get creative with underwriting standards, abdicating traditional lending metrics such as income, credit rating, debt-service history and loan-to-value.
● “Innovative” mortgage products were developed to reach more subprime borrowers. These include 2/28 adjustable-rate mortgages, interest-only loans, piggy-bank mortgages (simultaneous underlying mortgage and home-equity lines) and the notorious negative amortization loans (borrower’s indebtedness goes up each month). These mortgages defaulted in vastly disproportionate numbers to traditional 30-year fixed mortgages.
●To keep up with these newfangled originators, traditional banks developed automated underwriting systems. The software was gamed by employees paid on loan volume, not quality.
●Glass-Steagall legislation, which kept Wall Street and Main Street banks walled off from each other, was repealed in 1998. This allowed FDIC-insured banks, whose deposits were guaranteed by the government, to engage in highly risky business. It also allowed the banks to bulk up, becoming bigger, more complex and unwieldy.
●Many states had anti-predatory lending laws on their books (along with lower defaults and foreclosure rates). In 2004, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency federally preempted state laws regulating mortgage credit and national banks. Following this change, national lenders sold increasingly risky loan products in those states. Shortly after, their default and foreclosure rates skyrocketed.
Bloomberg was partially correct: Congress did radically deregulate the financial sector, doing away with many of the protections that had worked for decades. Congress allowed Wall Street to self-regulate, and the Fed the turned a blind eye to bank abuses.
And now for a case in point
As Regulators Pressed Changes, Corzine Pushed Back, and WonAnd right on cue
Months before MF Global teetered on the brink, federal regulators were seeking to rein in the types of risky trades that contributed to the firm’s collapse. But they faced opposition from an influential opponent: Jon S. Corzine, the head of the then little-known brokerage firm.
As a former United States senator and a former governor of New Jersey, as well as the leader of Goldman Sachs in the 1990s, Mr. Corzine carried significant weight in the worlds of Washington and Wall Street. While other financial firms employed teams of lobbyists to fight the new regulation, MF Global’s chief executive in meetings over the last year personally pressed regulators to halt their plans.
The proposed rule would have restricted a complicated transaction that allowed MF Global in essence to borrow money from its own customers. Brokerage firms are allowed to use customers’ money to earn interest, not unlike banks, but this rule would have outlawed using customer funds for a loan to the firm itself.
While such financing is not unknown on Wall Street, it carries substantial risk. An outside lender would require a firm like MF Global to produce strict accounting for a loan. Without that oversight, regulators worried that firms could use such internal customer money inappropriately, including bolstering the business in hard times. The proposed rule would have affected several dozen other financial firms.
Regulators are now examining whether these transactions explain the missing money at MF Global, according to people briefed on the investigation.
Congressman Warns Against More Regulation After MF Global
Rep. Michael Grimm (R., N.Y.) cautioned Thursday against expanding financial regulation in reaction to the failure of broker-dealer MF Global Holdings Ltd.
“I’d like to caution my Democratic colleagues who may seek to use MF Global as an excuse to expand Dodd-Frank and impose further job-killing restrictions on the financial sector,” Grimm said in a statement.
Grimm said that “if MF Global did actually steal or illegally comingle funds, they committed a criminal act that all the regulations in the world wouldn’t have stopped.”
Grimm said that high leverage and lack of enforcement contributed to the downfall of MF Global, and were, along with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the causes of the financial crisis.
To sum up, Pet Who Wants to Kill Itself of the Day