Headwaters of Disaster

“If each and every CDO [manager] was pressured to mark to market their subprime holdings, it would be – well, I can’t suppose of a sturdy adequate word to describe what it would be,”

US policymaker quoted in ft.com June 28, 2007

Thomas Midgley Jr. is not a identify properly recognized to those in the world of finance. But Midgley shares a big difference with a identify the paper boys do be aware of well–Drexel Burnham Lambert–the US investment financial institution that sold billions of greenbacks of junk bonds to buyers which grew to become out to be, after all, junk.

Midgley’s reputation came from inventing leaded gasoline–which raised degrees of lead in our blood 625 times greater than regular and for inventing CFCs, freon gas, now acknowledged to be accountable for burning a hole in the earth’s ozone layer and accelerating world warming (CFCs produce 10,000 instances extra greenhouse fuel than carbon dioxide).

Sometimes, any person will do some thing ensuing in dire consequences. Rarely, however, will any individual do some thing terrible twice. Thomas Midgley Jr’s contribution of each leaded gasoline and CFCs is one such instance. Drexel Burnham Lambert is another.

As an funding bank, Drexel Burnham Lambert specialized in debt and debt is the very basis of the contemporary banking system. Prior to the introduction of current banking, cash was once not based on debt as it is today. Money was based on financial savings and represented a universally frequent shape of value, either gold or silver.

With the advent of cutting-edge banking, debt replaced savings as the foundation of money. As pointed out in my previous article–D Is For Dominance, Debt, and Depression–debt-based money gave governments an magnificent advantage in financing their navy ambitions. England, in fact, parlayed this advantage into a world empire.

The cost, however, of a debt-based money device is, of course, debt. When debt-based cash is issued through a government, over time debt naturally accumulates; and, as the glide of debt-based money continues and increases, so too does the total quantity of debt.

This technique mirrors the body’s production of free-radicals. As the body metabolizes needed energy, free-radicals are produced by using the physique a lot as carbon dioxide/greenhouse gases are produced through gasoline-powered engines.

And simply as greenhouse gases pose a very real hazard to the earth’s ecosystem, the production of free-radicals threatens the well-being of the body–the result of a lifetime buildup of free-radicals in the body is death.

While debt is natural result of our modern-day banking system, debt’s actual function in the modern banking economic system is that of a parasite. Debt, in and of itself, can’t exist, it desires to be connected to some thing in order to survive; and, in modern-day banking, the host-body to debt is productivity and savings.

Eventually in a debt-based system, the increasing accumulation of debt, like free-radicals in the body, overwhelms the host-body and the system collapses. This is where the financial system is today–the tipping point the place the debt driven destruction of productiveness and savings is gaining momentum.

Modern banking, i.e. capitalism, first emerged in England in the 18th century, later joined with the aid of the US and other countries whose leaders quickly identified that state-of-the-art ambitions could be funded through tomorrow’s debts, leaving future taxpayers careworn with modern day charges plus tomorrow’s compounding interest.

In the modern parlance of politics, this is a win-win scenario because prices come due in the future to be borne by means of the as yet unborn; and, like the reputation of the automobile, the advantage of governmental issuance of debt-based money quickly spread, pushing aside productiveness and savings-based economies.

Despite warnings, after a lengthy congressional battle, in 1913 the US authorities transferred its power to coin money to a new entity, the Federal Reserve Bank, a semi -autonomous government organisation owned by personal banks that now had the strength to difficulty debt-based cash in the US.

Since 1913, the introduction of so a whole lot debt in the US has, of course, created problems. It additionally created opportunities. As the amount of debt grew, the repayment of money owed grew to be a fundamental factor–until funding banks figured out a way to promote the speedy gathering debts to others

Investment Banks
Merchants of Debt

Sellers of debt began promoting repackaged debt as “investments”, consequently the self-described term “investment bank”. Debts no longer had to be repaid and retired, alternatively they may want to be rolled over, reissued as new money owed and bought to those desiring to guarantee themselves of future revenues, i.e. producers and savers.

In savings-based economies, producers and savers are rewarded for producing and saving. In debt-based economies, they are penalized due to the fact in debt-based economies the price of money declines as growing amounts of debt cash are continuously created; diluting and debasing the fee of cash held through producers and savers while benefiting these closest to credit.

While debt-based cash looks and acts the same as financial savings based totally money, it is not. Debt-based cash can be leveraged many times its unique value by way of funding banks. This is why modern-day banking is on the verge of collapse today. Investment banks, those closest to the spigots of credit, have leveraged their proximity to deposit with the aid of such excessive multiples that the international financial system is now inclined to systemic risk.

It is right here the investment financial institution Drexel Burnham Lambert joined Thomas Midgley Jr. in contributing not as soon as but twice to our collective detriment. Drexel Burnham Lambert not solely brought about conservative customers to stampede to junk bonds in the 1980s, it invented a new debt package deal that twenty years later in 2007 is threatening the very balance of the international economy.

Drexel Burnham Lambert’s mispricing of risk in the Eighties was once an exquisite feat of miscalulation. The funding financial institution had apparently observed an anomaly in the pricing of junk bonds in regards to proper risk. But Drexel Burnham Lambert’s math turned out to be essentially flawed.

The market’s historical valuation of junk bonds subsequently proved correct; but, via then, customers of debt had succumbed to Drexel Burnham Lambert’s bad math. At one point, Prudential Life Insurance – “safe as the rock of Gibraltar” – used to be the greatest holder of junk bonds in the world.

Shortly after its incorrect undervaluation of threat catapulted Drexel Burnham Lambert to the forefront of investment banks, scandal and dwindling profits soon forced the financial institution into bankruptcy; however no longer before it was to make its most important contribution to our collective problems.

Three years prior to its dying in 1990, Drexel Burnham Lambert invented a new debt vehicle, plenty like the AIDS virus with whom it shares an ability to unfold threat unbeknownst to others; that now in 2007 is bringing economic destruction to these it exposed.

Who Cut The Prime?

While cutting-edge science is unable to pinpoint the actual genesis of the AIDS virus, the provenance of the collaterized debt obligation, the CDO, is clear. It was invented in 1987 by way of Drexel Burnham Lambert as a way of promoting risky substandard debt as secure particularly rated debt. The collateral for the CDO used to be to be a mixture of both volatile and safe debt labeled as the latter.

This is akin to mixing USDA cutter or canner (lowest grade) floor pork with USDA prime, and promoting the whole package deal as USDA high floor beef. How much USDA cutter or canner grade was once allowed to be blended with prime if the ground beef was to be offered as prime?

The answer: The percentage of subprime debt in AAA rated CDOs sold in 2005-2006 is believed to be as excessive as 45 %.

Subprime Debt
The E-Coli of Collateral
Why Would Anyone Buy It?

For years, Drexel Burnham Lambert’s CDOs languished, producing little interest amongst investors. It was clear the CDO’s higher yield carried a greater degree of risk, even if the ranking given via credit ranking groups implied otherwise.

In 2002, however, the debt markets changed dramatically. From $84 billion of CDOs issued in 2002, sales sextupled to $503 billion in 2006, and in the 1st quarter of 2007 reached $251 billion–an annualized charge of $1 trillion.

In 2002, a disaster in the US debt-based economy had compelled generally conservative buyers of debt to abandon regular investments and turn to Drexel Burnham Lambert’s misleadingly packaged CDOs for returns they had been unable to acquire elsewhere.

The Squeeze Was On
Liquidity Leads to Liquefaction

In 2001, the US Federal Reserve Bank, the spigot of deposit in America’s debt-based economy, significantly slashed its interest quotes eighty four %, from 6.5 p.c in 2001 down to 1 p.c in 2002. The Fed did so due to the fact the collapse of the dot.com bubble in 2000 had so damaged US monetary markets (the NASDAQ fell by using 80 %) the Fed feared a melancholy may want to result.

The dot.com give way in 2000 was the biggest give way of a financial bubble on account that 1929, the cave in which led to the Great Depression of the 1930s. A similar collapse in Japan in 1990 had plunged Japan into a deflationary spiral so severe Japan slashed interest fees in 1999 to 0 percent with little wonderful effect.

The 2000 collapse of the US markets threatened a repeat of the 1930s melancholy and the Fed responded by using liquefying the markets with, in effect, free cash at 1 % (real inflation used to be going for walks higher than 1 %).

The sudden availability of 1 p.c money had two effects: (1) It created the biggest real estate bubble in history, and (2) with US Treasury debt yielding solely 1 %, high yielding AAA and AA CDOs now regarded attractive.

Given the requisite cowl of AAA and AA scores granted by credit rating agencies, buyers of debt–pension funds, banks, and insurance companies–flocked to CDOs; and, even though the AAA assurance of deposit rankings was as false as the credit score worthiness of the underlying mortgages, the credit score markets had been determined for returns.

When the Fed flooded the markets with cash from 2002-2005 most of it was once transformed into subprime mortgages which fueled the US real property bubble. This, however, led to a problem: What have been the investment banks going to do with all the risky subprime loans they created?

This used to be the perfect time for Drexel Burnham Lambert’s CDOs. At the top of the CDO frenzy, over a trillion dollars of subprime debt used to be mixed in with excessive grade debt and sold as high rated debt to pension funds, insurance plan companies, banks, and mutual funds. Do you understand the place your bank, insurance plan company, pension fund or mutual fund’s cash is invested today?

Death In The Tranches

The threat in CDOs is split among “tranches”, the riskiest tranches returning the best possible returns. But with subprime foreclosures going for walks at ancient highs, hoped for returns are being more and more replaced by way of outright losses.

Among those buying CDO fairness tranches, the tranches most inclined to loss, are the California Public Employees Retirement System, the Teachers Retirement System of Texas, the European Insurance conglomerate AXA, and some of the biggest banks in the world, in Asia, Europe, and the US.

And Now
Ladies & Gentlemen
The Losers Are…

Those who bought fairness tranches misplaced more than an opportunity to increase returns. In many cases, they will lose their investments as well. Adjustable fee loan resets, the trigger event for subprime foreclosures, will continue via 2011; and in the interim as extra subprime CDOs fail, monetary losses will rise.

The real losers, however, are no longer the pension funds, banks, insurance plan businesses or mutual cash that invested in CDOs; the real losers are you, the investors, producers, and savers that use banks, pension funds, insurance companies, and mutual cash to protect your savings against the erosion in the fee of cash that occurs in debt-based economies.

Your losses are now paper losses however this will soon change. Should these now owning CDOs (banks, pension funds, insurance plan companies, mutual funds, etc) be forced to mark to market their CDOs (value their CDOs at market value, now not vendor ascribed value), your losses would turn out to be comfortably apparent. But, it will not be so. The smoke and mirrors that deliberately creates opacity in location of transparency is designed to useful resource investment banks, not these who purchase their investments.

But as your losses from CDOs come to be greater vast and America’s banks, pension cash and insurance plan groups begin to falter, buyers and savers will seem to be to the government for help. Look no further. Save your breath. You’re too late.

The fox is already in the henhouse. The modern head of the US Treasury is none different than investment banker Henry Paulson, the former head of Goldman Sachs, the giant US funding bank and predominant player in modern debt markets.

And though in the 1990s, US taxpayers gave Goldman Sachs $4 billion gratis to cover their losses on Mexican bonds, do now not count on the prefer to be returned. Investment banks stay off of producers and savers, now not the different way around.

If the forces of anti-globalization have been to take aim at contemporary global monetary edifice, they may want to now not have aimed as well, or have created a extra wonderful time bomb than Drexel Burnham Lambert’s CDOs.

One of the world’s pinnacle financial strategists expected that brand new mostly unregulated monetary markets are going to come to an abrupt end. That self-regulation is no more viable with bankers in search of billions in bonuses than with young adults in search of sex in the returned seat of cars.

He envisioned that America would react with swift vengeance and draconian rules when they woke up and realized their previous savings and future desires have been bet and lost through the boys on Wall Street.

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