How Wall Street Knowingly Created The Crisis

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 28 2012 @ 11:20am

The always-interesting Francis Fukuyama has a great interview on the financial crisis. Money quote:

What I thought was most interesting about Michael Lewis's book, "The Big Short," was that there is, to this day, a view about the whole pathology of collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) – these highly complex, packaged mortgage securities – as well as the credit default swaps – the insurance contracts written on those securities – that Wall Street created them and they simply got out of hand. They didn’t anticipate it would be hard to value them, how they would be misused, and so forth. What Michael Lewis points out very forcefully is that they were deliberately created by Wall Street banks in order to produce non-transparent securities that could not be adequately evaluated by the rating agencies, which then could be sold to less sophisticated investors, who would buy the idea that this junk debt actually had triple A ratings. So what this book does quite brilliantly is show that there was actually a high degree of intentionality in creating the crisis.

The worst of all these securities are the so-called synthetic CDOs. A CDO is a bond that represents maybe a couple of thousand mortgages; a synthetic CDO is a group of hundreds of CDOs, all packaged into a single security. When you get to that level of complexity, no one can evaluate what this thing is worth. You can come up with sophisticated rationales for why this might actually follow some kind of market logic, but I think Lewis shows that the reason this happened is that they didn’t want anyone to be able to rate it.