This MSN Money Central story (http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Investing/SuperModels/AreWeHeadedForAnEpicBearMarket.aspx)further describes the melt down going on in the mortgage/housing/credit industry/stock market. Unlike many articles, however, it names those responsible for the current debacle and how the mess came to be. One can only hope that remedial measures are taken as soon as possible to minimize the economic fallout. Given the magnitude of the problem, one would think the GOP and Christianists would be better served worrying about the economy as opposed to having vapors over gay marriage and gays in the military. But then, the GOP's failure to focus on what really counts as opposed to pandering to religious zealots is part of the reason the current mess is about to come crashing down on us all. Here are some story highlights:
I started by asking [Satyajit Das, author of a 4,200-page reference work on the subject] the Calcutta-born Australian whether the credit crisis was in what Americans would call the "third inning." This was pretty amusing, it seemed, judging from the laughter. So I tried again. "Second inning?" More laughter. "First?" Still too optimistic. Das, who knows as much about global money flows as anyone in the world, stopped chuckling long enough to suggest that we're actually still in the middle of the national anthem before a game destined to go into extra innings. And it won't end well for the global economy. He thinks we're on the verge of a bear market of epic proportions. The cause: Massive levels of debt underlying the world economy system are about to unwind in a profound and persistent way.
[H]e foresees hard times as an optimistic era of too much liquidity, too much leverage and too much financial engineering slowly and inevitably deflates. Like an ex-mobster turning state's witness, Das has turned his back on his old pals in the derivatives biz to warn anyone who will listen -- mostly banks and hedge funds that pay him consulting fees -- that the jig is up.
[H]e points a finger at three parties: regulators who stood by as U.S. banks developed ingenious but dangerous ways of shifting trillions of dollars of credit risk off their balance sheets and into the hands of unsophisticated foreign investors; hedge and pension fund managers who gorged on high-yield debt instruments they didn't understand; and financial engineers who built towers of "securitized" debt with math models that were fundamentally flawed. "Defaulting middle-class U.S. homeowners are blamed, but they are merely a pawn in the game," he says. "Those loans were invented so that hedge funds would have high-yield debt to buy."
Here's how it worked: In olden days, like 10 years ago, banks wrote and funded their own loans. In the new game, Das points out, banks "originate" loans, "warehouse" them on their balance sheet for a brief time, then "distribute" them to investors by packaging them into derivatives called collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, and similar instruments. In this scheme, banks don't need to tie up as much capital, so they can put more money out on loan. The more loans that were sold, the more they could use as collateral for more loans, so credit standards were lowered to get more paper out the door -- a task that was accelerated in recent years via fly-by-night brokers now accused of predatory lending practices. Buyers of these credit risks in CDO form were insurance companies, pension funds and hedge-fund managers from Bonn to Beijing. Because money was readily available at low interest rates in Japan and the United States, these managers leveraged up their bets by buying the CDOs with borrowed funds.
Now it may seem hard to believe, but much of the past few years' advance in the stock market was underwritten by CDO-type instruments which go under the heading of "structured finance." I'm talking about private-equity takeovers, leveraged buyouts and corporate stock buybacks -- the works. So to the extent that the structured finance market is coming undone, not only will those pillars of strength for equities be knocked away, but many recent deals that were predicated on the easy availability of money will likely also go bust, Das says. That is why he considers the current market volatility much more profound than a simple "correction" in prices. He sees it as a gigantic liquidity bubble unwinding -- a process that can take a long, long time.