The World Financial System and the Subprime Crisis

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The World Financial System Is Affected

Following a period of economic boom, a financial bubble—global in scope—has now burst.

A collapse of the US sub-prime mortgage market and the reversal of the housing boom in other industrialized economies have had a ripple effect around the world. Furthermore, other weaknesses in the global financial system have surfaced. Some financial products and instruments have become so complex and twisted, that as things start to unravel, trust in the whole system started to fail.

While there are many technical explanations of how the sub-prime mortgage crisis came about, the mainstream British comedians, John Bird and John Fortune, describe the mind set of the investment banking community in this satirical interview, explaining it in a way that sometimes only comedians can.

Securitization And The Subprime Crisis

The subprime crisis came about in large part because of financial instruments such as securitization where banks would pool their various loans into sellable assets, thus off-loading risky loans onto others. (For banks, millions can be made in money-earning loans, but they are tied up for decades. So they were turned into securities. The security buyer gets regular payments from all those mortgages; the banker off loads the risk. Securitization was seen as perhaps the greatest financial innovation in the 20th century.)

As BBC’s former economic editor and presenter, Evan Davies noted in a documentary called The City Uncovered with Evan Davis: Banks and How to Break Them (January 14, 2008), rating agencies were paid to rate these products (risking a conflict of interest) and invariably got good ratings, encouraging people to take them up.

Starting in Wall Street, others followed quickly. With soaring profits, all wanted in, even if it went beyond their area of expertise. For example,

• Banks borrowed even more money to lend out so they could create more securitization. Some banks didn’t need to rely on...
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