How It All Worked . . . The Ponzi Scheme:
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.
So if you follow the bouncing ball, borrowed money bought borrowed money. And then because they had the blessing of credit-ratings agencies relying on mathematical models suggesting that they would rarely default, these CDOs were in turn used as collateral to do more borrowing.
In this way, Das points out, credit risk moved from banks, where it was regulated and observable, to places where it was less regulated and difficult to identify.
Turning $1 into $20
The liquidity factory was self-perpetuating and seemingly unstoppable. As assets bought with borrowed money rose in value, players could borrow more money against them, and it thus seemed logical to borrow even more to increase returns. Bankers figured out how to strip money out of existing assets to do so, much as a homeowner might strip equity from his house to buy another house.
These triple-borrowed assets were then in turn increasingly used as collateral for commercial paper -- the short-term borrowings of banks and corporations -- which was purchased by supposedly low-risk money market funds.
According to Das' figures, up to 53% of the $2.2 trillion commercial paper in the U.S. market is now asset-backed, with about 50% of that in mortgages.
When you add it all up, according to Das' research, a single dollar of "real" capital supports $20 to $30 of loans. This spiral of borrowing on an increasingly thin base of real assets, writ large and in nearly infinite variety, ultimately created a world in which derivatives outstanding earlier this year stood at $485 trillion -- or eight times total global gross domestic product of $60 trillion.
Without a central governmental authority keeping tabs on these cross-border flows and ensuring a standard of record-keeping and quality, investors increasingly didn't know what they were buying or what any given security was really worth.
Continue reading here:
I knew about that stuff back in 2003. It's all old news to me.
But those CDOs contained multiple levels of bad paper disguised as A+ or AAA paper. Toxic waste was thrown in with good paper, making everything rancid.
But take note of this: Garbage loans were repackaged again and again and again and again and again. And then sold and resold and resold and resold and resold on Wall Street.
Nobody is talking in print about this scam for what it really is. The truth lies buried in tons of garbage paper.
But rumors are rampant on Wall Street. In a few years, people will be yelling for heads on spikes. Angry mobs may show up at some lenders offices demanding that well-known criminals be frog-marched out in handcuffs. It may get that bad, if people really knew the truth.