The Subprime Mortgage Crisis in Context
Economist Nouriel Roubini wrote in January 2009 that subprime mortgage defaults triggered the broader global credit crisis, but were part of multiple credit bubble collapses: "This crisis is not merely the result of the U.S. housing bubble’s bursting or the collapse of the United States’ subprime mortgage sector. The credit excesses that created this disaster were global. There were many bubbles, and they extended beyond housing in many countries to commercial real estate mortgages and loans, to credit cards, auto loans, and student loans.
There were bubbles for the securitized products that converted these loans and mortgages into complex, toxic, and destructive financial instruments. And there were still more bubbles for local government borrowing, leveraged buyouts, hedge funds, commercial and industrial loans, corporate bonds, commodities, and credit-default swaps." It is the bursting of the many bubbles that he believes are causing this crisis to spread globally and magnify its impact.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke summarized the crisis as follows during a January 2009 speech:"For almost a year and a half the global financial system has been under extraordinary stress--stress that has now decisively spilled over to the global economy more broadly. The proximate cause of the crisis was the turn of the housing cycle in the United States and the associated rise in delinquencies on subprime mortgages, which imposed substantial losses on many financial institutions and shook investor confidence in credit markets. However, although the subprime debacle triggered the crisis, the developments in the U.S. mortgage market were only one aspect of a much larger and more encompassing credit boom whose impact transcended the mortgage market to affect many other forms of credit. Aspects of this broader credit boom included widespread declines in underwriting standards, breakdowns in lending oversight by investors and rating agencies, increased reliance on complex and opaque credit instruments that proved fragile under stress, and unusually low compensation for risk-taking. The abrupt end of the credit boom has had widespread financial and economic ramifications. Financial institutions have seen their capital depleted by losses and writedowns and their balance sheets clogged by complex credit products and other illiquid assets of uncertain value. Rising credit risks and intense risk aversion have pushed credit spreads to unprecedented levels, and markets for securitized assets, except for mortgage securities with government guarantees, have shut down. Heightened systemic risks, falling asset values, and tightening credit have in turn taken a heavy toll on business and consumer confidence and precipitated a sharp slowing in global economic activity. The damage, in terms of lost output, lost jobs, and lost wealth, is already substantial."
Thomas Friedman summarized the causes of the crisis in November 2008:Governments are having a problem arresting this deflationary downward spiral — maybe because this financial crisis combines four chemicals we have never seen combined to this degree before, and we don’t fully grasp how damaging their interactions have been, and may still be. Those chemicals are: 1) massive leverage — by everyone from consumers who bought houses for nothing down to hedge funds that were betting $30 for every $1 they had in cash; 2) a world economy that is so much more intertwined than people realized, which is exemplified by British police departments that are financially strapped today because they put their savings in online Icelandic banks — to get a little better yield — that have gone bust; 3) globally intertwined financial instruments that are so complex that most of the C.E.O.’s dealing with them did not and do not understand how they work — especially on the downside; 4) a financial crisis that started in America with our toxic mortgages. When a crisis starts in Mexico or Thailand, we can protect ourselves; when it starts in America, no one can. You put this much leverage together with this much global integration with this much complexity and start the crisis in America and you have a very explosive situation.
Read more about this topic: Subprime Crisis Background Information
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... (who were primarily thrifts) bore the credit risk on the mortgages they issued ... for lenders to sell the right to receive the payments on the mortgages they issue, through a process called securitization ... The resulting securities are called mortgage backed securities (MBS) and collateralized debt obligations (CDO) ...
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