Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Economic Crisis Answers

From what I've been reading, there are not many commentators who have an answer to the present crisis. Today's financial markets are so complicated that it's difficult to know how best to respond.

I've just read this article in Time which says that the failing mortgages should be protected but let the financial instruments based on them fail. This makes sense to me at a layman's level - if the mortgages are guaranteed or picked up by the government, then do not the instruments based on them also survive? Unless, of course, that's not the only reason that they are failing.

Do not be fooled. The $700 billion (ultimately $1 trillion or more) bailout is not predominantly for mortgages and homeowners. Instead, the bailout is for mortgage-backed securities. In fact, some versions of these instruments are imaginary derivatives. These claims overlap on the same types of mortgages. Many financial institutions wrote claims over the same mortgages, and these are the majority of claims that have "gone bad."

At this point, such claims have no bearing on the mortgage or housing crisis; they have bearing only on the holders of these securities themselves. These are ridiculously risky claims with little value for society. It is as if many financial institutions sold "earthquake insurance" on the same house: when the quake hits, all these claims become close to worthless — but the claims are simply bets disconnected from reality.

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