August 03, 2013

Fabrice Tourre has been duly scalped, but where is the SEC’s mea culpa?

Sir, I have no doubt whatsoever that the prime responsible for the current financial mess were dumb bank regulators. That’s is why I dislike so much reading when Tracy Alloway and Kara Scanell report “SEC elated after claiming Tourre’s scalp.” August 3.

The whole story can either begin with the little guy, the mortgage underwriter underwriting bad mortgages to the subprime sector; and those bad ingredients were then sold by underwriter bosses to security packagers, who packaged these bad mortgages into very bad subprime sausages; but who were are able to turn these into valuable delicacies, only because of the high credit ratings these received from human fallible credit rating agents. And then the story could end with those selling the sausages to the investors, and some of them, like Goldman Sachs, even taking bets on that these would make their buyers puke. And all involved in the bad sausage chain made huge profits… and should all be ashamed, some more than others.

Or the story can begin with bank regulators, the Basel Committee, who with its Basel II of June 2004 authorized banks to hold AAA rated sausages on their books against only 1.6 percent in capital (equity), which meant they authorized banks to leverage their capital a mindboggling 62.5 to 1 times with these sausages; and who with this created the irresistible profit motivations that induced all humans previously mentioned to break all the rules.

Fabrice Tourre’s own word “More and more leverage in the system, the whole building is about to collapse any time now” says it all. Those directly responsible for that leverage were the bank regulators. Without the explicit blessing of regulations which allowed it, the system would never ever have been able to leverage as much. And the SEC was all in agreement with is, as can be read in its Open Meeting records of April 28, 2004.

Yes, Fabrice Tourre and all others involved in the subprime sausage chain are guilty and should be held responsible. But, if we allow regulators to get away, feeling elated, without even a mea culpa, then we truly have not learned the lessons we most need to learn from this crisis.