By Andrew McCoy
I have read all I can (Yeesh my head hurts) on the current financial crisis. Especially interesting to me is all the partisans blaming everyone else for it. Here’s my thought’s.
The roots of the issue lie all the way back after the first S&L Crisis in the late 80’s. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac hired a bunch of people and gave out lots of money to both parties to ensure they had the best possible regulations (for them to make money). They had the best of both worlds, they could loan whatever they wanted, and have very little cash reserves.
Then came the wild 90’s. The Clinton administration decided home ownership was especially important and encouraged banks to make loans to marginal candidates and they would get tax breaks for doing so.
Things were going swimmingly in the late 90’s for the homes market. Inevitably though, a slow down was happening. There is a market saturation point after all.
Then something else was thrown into the mix. Phil Gramm ,as a senator in Dec 2000, put an addendum on a spending bill that allowed companies to package up mortgages and sell them as securities (CDS’s), the best part of this bill (for wallstreet) was that it was a totally unregulated market. This allowed a lot… no, massive amounts of capitol to be injected into the mortgage market.
Well, now there was all this money
and not a lot of demand. So interest rates were lowered and people started taking out 2nd mortgages, buying up houses they could barely afford, etc. These were packaged into CDS’s, and since it was an unregulated item, sold as AAA investments. Wall street made billions selling these, banks were rolling in value (not cash, it was lent out).
Sometime, in the 2002 timeframe, state attorney generals started noticing these loans were becoming more and more predatory, so started asking for regulations on these loans. In response US Government (Bush administration) did this
“In 2003, during the height of the predatory lending crisis, the OCC (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency) invoked a clause from the 1863 National Bank Act to issue formal opinions preempting all state predatory lending laws, thereby rendering them inoperative. The OCC also promulgated new rules that prevented states from enforcing any of their own consumer protection laws against national banks”. Which by the way all 50 state AG’s and banking superintendents were totally against.
Ensuring that predatory lenders were completely protected from the states.
In 2004, Republicans on the banking committee wanted to look into Fannie and Freddie and the Democrats threatened a filibuster to the discussion so it was tabled. But, the same year, the SEC (bowing to pressure from the republicans) allowed investment companies to have greater than a 12 to 1 debt to cash ration. This means that prior to 2004 if Lehman Bros. had 120 billion in debt, they would have to have 10 billion in cash to cover any shortfalls. After 2004 they could have a 30 to 1 or even 40 to 1 debt to cash ration. So that same 10 billion would allow them to have 300 billion (or 400 billion) in debt. This ensured their competitiveness, really.
So we fast forward a few years and the AAA rated debts (remember, they’re AAA because we said so, no regulation involved) started faltering. Normally the banks and investments houses would have a lot of cash on hand to cover these issues, but now don’t thanks to the SEC, so start taking major losses. They don’t have the cash and when these items hit 50-60% of their previous values they have to revalue them/ sell them for a value much lower than what they said it’s worth (that value set arbitrarily, remember).
My solution is as follows:
The government nationalized fannie and freddie a few months ago. So if we (they) bought all the housing loans under 500k made since 2003, chopped 25% off the amount owed, then made the people pay back the rest at say 4% interest. That would take the “bad debt” out of the CDS’s that were sold and help the banks. It would also help people due to them being able to afford their houses and not defaulting on them. We, the tax payers, would still take a bath financially, but we would do it at least helping people, not just big corporations.
If the treasury secretary and the financial houses don’t like this it’s because they are hiding something other than mortgages on their balance sheets and shouldn’t be bailed out.
Then, the long term fixes. Stop letting corporations pay elected officials, and by that I mean donate to their campaigns, for really good helpful legislation. Second, if you want fannie mae/ Freddie mac to exist, either completely nationalize it, or make it completely private, no in between. Third, don’t let wall street trade in un-regulated items. And fourth, go back to the 12-1 debt to cash ration for Wall Street companies.