All about metal by Norman Colton

By Norman Colton

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When the bank sold a pool of mortgages to a special purpose vehicle, it would get either cash, or government bonds in return. From the point of view of the bank’s balance sheet, there would have been a swap of a risky asset—the mortgage—for a nonrisky asset—the cash. The capital-to-asset ratio would thus be improved. How to Circumvent the Basle Rules Following is a simple example of how a bank could avoid the restrictions of the Basle rules. In this case, the ratio of capital to assets is 10 percent (capital divided by total riskweighted assets)—comfortably above the Basle minimum of 8 percent.

Why did no one come up with the idea earlier of hedging bonds outside the official insurance market? The answer lies in financial mathematics. In the past, it was not possible to determine a price for products such as CDSs and, as a result, they could not be traded. Similar reasoning applies to stock options. That market developed after mathematicians discovered how to compute stock options in the 1970s. CDSs were even more complicated than options, so that a new mathematical quantum leap was necessary.

He blamed the rating agencies. There has been a lot of finger-pointing in all directions. But the question of how much personal blame Greenspan bears for the situation should be addressed somewhat more critically than has been the case until now. The argument of Greenspan’s critics is as follows: The attacks of September 11, 2001 prompted an overreaction in both economic policy and the American political arena. Interest rates were lowered too far, to 1 percent, and were then allowed to remain at this level for too long.

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