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Ch. 4: Securitization: The Insecurity of It All 
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Post Ch. 4: Securitization: The Insecurity of It All
Ch. 4: Securitization: The Insecurity of It All

Please use this thread for discussing Ch. 4: Securitization: The Insecurity of It All.



Mon Dec 22, 2008 12:35 am
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Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

This is my favourite Peter Sellers film. There is a wonderful scene at the end of the film when Slim Pickens rides the missile waving his cowboy hat as the world heads toward destruction. This is the image that went through my mind as I read this chapter. Particularly revealing I thought was the expansion of the relatively unregulated investment banking industry where the Slims of the world could make their gains without pesky regulators looking over their shoulders.



Thu Jan 22, 2009 7:14 pm
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where the Slims of the world could make their gains without pesky regulators looking over their shoulders.


But who are the Slims? I think there is this idea that there are this group of money hungry 'rich' investors who make all the money and cause all the problems. There were many factors that came into play here and some of the people making money from the stock market. The deregulation that happened in 1999 (I think) allowed many more to jump into the financial sector, but that was also encouraged because of the desire to boost the economy and allow lower income Americans to own houses. These are noble ideas. The subprime borrowers can be blamed somewhat for not making their payments, home owners taking second and third mortgages can be blamed for overextending themselves, ... we can blame just about everyone, but it does not help to fix the problem.



Thu Jan 22, 2009 7:59 pm
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Doesn't it though? Not even a little bit? What about enforced accountability, what about legality, what about justice?

:book:



Thu Jan 22, 2009 8:05 pm
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Doesn't it though? Not even a little bit? What about enforced accountability, what about legality, what about justice?


Yes, yes...to enforced accountability and justice. Yes, to regulation. Yes, to exposing those corporate high rollers who misuse the system. Sorry about that that post I was just beginning and meant to say much more, then I ran out of time and was not going to post it but did by mistake.

To sum up what I meant to say was that in this case there were problems at every level and it is always easiest to blame just a few at the top, but I did not mean to say that those in positions of authority who have misused that authority should not be held accountable. There are many rich investors who made millions buying and selling, but did not do anything legally wrong according to the system in place, and morally, well that is a matter of opinion.



Fri Jan 23, 2009 12:29 pm
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But who are the Slims?


I see the Slims as the movers and shakers in the wealth management industry as Phillips calls it, not necessarily money hungry rich investors. And really I think it is more of a cavalier attitude and a way to circumvent regulation by powerful corporate interests rather than the plotting of a handful of rich guys. I think he describes hedge funds and investment banks, for example, as playing at the edge of the rules. When it comes to prosecution of those who play fast and easy with the rules, who ride the missile wearing their cowboy hat, I say aim well and throw the book at them.



Fri Jan 23, 2009 7:48 pm
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In the previous chapter, Phillips told us how bullnomics came about. It was through an alliance between academia, Washington, and, interestingly, the Democratic party. He credits (if that is the word) Clinton with making the Democratic party very friendly to the financial industry.



Sat Jan 24, 2009 12:23 am
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Obviously referencing Slim, Phillip's starts the chapter saying that "lenders applauded the opportunity to sell loans quickly and get them off their books, to spread the institutional risk of the weaker loans, and to collect most of their payment up front, obtaining the wherewithal to make even more loans." Who else fits the Slim archetype but the predatory lenders?

Describing the process in a way that lends a sense of now past normalcy to the standard operating procedures for the sector, it still seems to me that the market theorist should have been able to extrapolate on what they were seeing: many who were pushing the most nefarious "ninja" loans knew that something wasn't right yet this apprehension didn't seem to rise much higher up the ladder of influence in any meaningful way. Greenspan remained as confident as a economist seems capable until the end of his influential career. Despite his assumed levity about the American situation "financial insecurity was a bona fide public apprehension," where "the average citizen could sense what was happening, but not fully explain it." And somehow a security can be developed out of this using the financial systems supposed enhanced situational awareness, backed by highly complex statistical models making full use of high end computational processors. The result is that "thanks to the way that their debt's have been securitised and sold globally," a massive debt-fueled-boom-structure of growth has collapsed into uncertainty and "triggered chaos in the world's credit markets as asset-holders struggle to re-evaluate their risk."

:book:



Sat Jan 24, 2009 11:40 pm
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grim

Quote:
"the average citizen could sense what was happening, but not fully explain it." And somehow a security can be developed out of this using the financial systems supposed enhanced situational awareness, backed by highly complex statistical models making full use of high end computational processors


I think you are quite correct in highlighting the importance of this point raised by Phillips. The sheer complexity of the financial instruments that fueled the bubble contributed significantly to the problem. The average investor would have no access to these statistical models and even if they did, would not likely grasp their meaning. This creates two classes of investors, the powerful minority in the know and all the others. If investment instruments are so complex and are really understood by a relatively small, elite group, what is the likelihood that regulatory agencies will succeed in constraining the 'slims' of the crowd?

The conventional relationship of the backing of an investment with "security", an asset that has some market value and liquidity that can be determined and can be relied upon should the need arise, fell away and was obscured by statistical model fog. Even more sophisticated investors may not have access to the information necessary to make an informed investment decision. They would have to rely on investment advisors who supposedly assessed the risk. Their advice would be only as good as their information and their understanding of the model leaving the hapless investor at their mercy.

One point that I have not noticed in Phillips book so far is the influence of competition. Firms in the financial industry are competing for investors business and so they are driven to seek out ever higher returns if they can rationalize them with appropriate risk calculations and justify the investment. Firms that fail to compete successfully will lose market share and slide into unprofitability. This is a systemic factor in a capitalist economy that drives firms to operate at the edge of the legal/regulatory framework. Competition is generally perceived as a positive factor but there is a flipside to the impact of competition if the regulatory environment gives just a bit too much free reign.



Sun Jan 25, 2009 10:13 pm
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Other villains, and a partial explanation of why investors bought these securities.:

"Securitization and mortgage resale through mortgage-backed securities appeared to push risk far enough out the distribution chain to make it somebody else's problem. The ratings agencies--Standard & Poor's, Moody's and Fitch--were collaborative (some said complicit) in bestowing high safety classifications that are in hindsight almost mind-boggling....[there were] bonds backed by delinquent credit card accounts in which up to 40 percent of the accounts in the security were rated AAA." "



Sun Jan 25, 2009 10:37 pm
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Quote:
The average investor would have no access to these statistical models and even if they did, would not likely grasp their meaning. This creates two classes of investors, the powerful minority in the know and all the others.


I don't think the this is necessarily true. There are some huge investment firms that have crashed with well trained financial experts on staff, I think the problem comes from the decision makers wanting to believe only the advice that points to growth and success (look at Enron). As you said here:

Quote:
Firms in the financial industry are competing for investors business and so they are driven to seek out ever higher returns if they can rationalize them with appropriate risk calculations and justify the investment. Firms that fail to compete successfully will lose market share and slide into unprofitability. This is a systemic factor in a capitalist economy that drives firms to operate at the edge of the legal/regulatory framework



Mon Jan 26, 2009 3:39 pm
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giselle wrote:
This is a systemic factor in a capitalist economy that drives firms to operate at the edge of the legal/regulatory framework. Competition is generally perceived as a positive factor but there is a flip side to the impact of competition if the regulatory environment gives just a bit too much free reign.


Yes. Phillips notes that:
"Corporations facing Darwinian markets and globalization pressures have spared few efforts to curb defined-benefit pension obligations, minimize wages, and reduce employee and retiree health costs."
An excellent example of the modern corporate response: cost-cutting.

However, competition does not describe blindness or greed. I don't see how competition is related to deregulation as you describe it. You are forgetting that those involved in the system are in no position to judge. I don't feel that competition in a market sense can be an attributable factor to what we are describing when those involved would essentially be in competition with everything about what they were doing. To compete in a sense that Phillips would include in the book would mean an individuals or a corporations competition with the very financial system. An event I lack example for.

As Phillips says:
"Unfortunately, it is entirely relevant to note the greed factor."
An explanation for why things are they way they are.

Competition - uncomfortable changes you are forced into making to survive
Greed - accumulation of a surplus for no other apparent reason than to reinforce the intensity of the surplus, wholly unmindful of present or future consequences to others or, in extreme examples, to yourself

:book:



Wed Jan 28, 2009 7:12 pm
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Welcome to the club? :(



Mon Feb 02, 2009 7:56 pm
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thanks, its a wonderful club, isn't it? I really liked "so opaque and complex that only a coterie of elite mathematicians understood it" ... between the high stakes gamblers (with someone else's money) and the mathematicians, what hope does the little guy have?



Mon Feb 02, 2009 8:23 pm
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giselle wrote:
thanks, its a wonderful club, isn't it? I really liked "so opaque and complex that only a coterie of elite mathematicians understood it" ... between the high stakes gamblers (with someone else's money) and the mathematicians, what hope does the little guy have?

And what hope does the little guy have of understanding the advice that continues to pour out from the economists? It's mystifying. We have a crisis, one of whose causes was our tolerance of incurring debt. Just now, though, we're being told that our recent penchant for saving money, incurring less debt, is causing the economy to tank. Thrift is a good practice for the individual, they tell us, but it's bad for the whole economy. Egads! So what I must do now is to go out and ensure that goods continue to fly off the retailers' shelves (spending money that I don't have or that I should spend on other things such as college tuitions)? We talk about rationality a lot on these forums. Isn't there someone who can recommend a rational approach to us?



Mon Feb 02, 2009 9:02 pm
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