November 20, 2012

Caveat emptor, regulators regulating!

Sir, I refer to Shahien Nasiripour and Tom Braithwaite’s report “Credit Suisse faces NY lawsuit” November 20, in order to comment on the temptations that existed (and still exist) for someone doing wrong, when awarding and packaging mortgages to the subprime sector. 

The natural incentive: If you convinced risky Joe to take a $300.000 mortgage at 11 percent for 30 years and then, with more than a little help from the credit rating agencies, you could convince risk-adverse Hans that this mortgage, repackaged in a securitized version, and rated AAA, was so safe that a six percent return was quite adequate, then you could sell the mortgage for $510.000 and pocket immediately a tidy profit of $210.000. 

The regulatory incentive: If banks invested in such AAA rated securities, or lent against it as collateral, then according to Basel II, they needed to hold only 1.6 percent of a very loosely defined capital, which amounted to allowing banks a mind-blowing 62.5 to 1 leverage of its very loosely defined capital. 

And the combination of these two incentives to create “The Infallible” proved too irresistible for many, like for Credit Suisse. Only Europe, over just a couple of years, invested over a trillion dollars in these securities. I am not clearing mortgage originators, mortgage packagers, security credit raters and investment banks of any of their responsibility, but are not those regulators who provided the irresistible temptations also at fault? 

The sad part of the story is that the possible cost of this sort of lawsuits will now have to be paid including by those who bear no blame for the disaster, like “The Risky”, like the small business and entrepreneurs, those with interest earning bank deposits, and taxpayers. 

From now on, besides notices on the door indicating a bank to be insured, we might also need to put up a sign stating “Caveat emptor, regulators regulating!”