A few months back Minyanville wondered whether this subprime mess would end up as a cancer or a car crash. Guess we know the answer now. The question is - should we be at all surprised? Some smart folks have been warning for a long time. Warren Buffett famously called derivatives financial weapons of mass destruction.
I think a good litmus test of the mental and moral quality at any large institution [with significant derivatives exposure] would be to ask them, "Do you really understand your derivatives book?" Anyone who says yes is either crazy or lying.
It was a particularly foolish mess. We talked about an idiot in the credit delivery grocery business, Webvan. Internet based delivery service for groceries -- that was smarter than what happened in mortgage business. I wish we had those Webvan people back.
It is crazy to allow things to get too big to fail, run with knavery. As an industry, there is a crazy culture of greed and overreaching and overconfidence trading algorithms. It is demented to allow derivative trading such that clearance risks are embedded in system. Assets are all “good until reached for” on balance sheets. We had $400m of that at general re, “good until reached for”. In drug business you must prove it is good. It is a crazy culture, and to some extent an evil culture. Accounting people really failed us. Accounting standards ought to be dealt with like engineering standards.
There are distinct parallels between phishing / retail payments, and the bigger investment mess. In both cases, banks would argue these are core business. In both cases, they have applied risk-based security models, and accepted some loss. In both cases, they have the ability to apply substantial experience to the monitoring, allocating and absorbing risks and losses.
In both cases, they watched and did nothing as the risks started from low, and migrated upwards. Are we at the point where regulation has killed the ability of banks to apply their (arguable) one core skill, to whit, risk-based analysis? Are banks that far out of banking that they no longer have it?