Page |1 It is hard to predict what could have happen if government regulation did not get in the way of financial markets in the current crises. Nor is it possible to predict what could have happen if the government did not get involved during the Great Depression. The only thing that is certain is facts and statistics that we can look at to draw our own conclusions. To compare two scenarios where financial markets are regulated versus unregulated, we have to look at the facts. An unregulated financial market is one in which banks and other financial institutions are free to make loans to whomever they please and under any terms that are mutually agreeable between them and the borrower. The government also doesn’t get involved if a bank and other financial institution makes bad loans and loses money. A regulated financial market is one in which the government gets involved by setting policies and passing acts and other legislation to mandate the bank to take certain actions that it otherwise would not take. As “The Housing Boom and Bust” by Thomas Sowell puts it, congress passed legislation to subsidize or guarantee loans made under lower standards. The unregulated financial markets produce the most efficient allocation of investible funds. Banks are allowed to make loans to whomever they choose. Banks in an unregulated market, and any other market for that matter, will try to maximize profit. To that end, in an unregulated market, Banks will try to make the least risky loans in an attempt to assure that the borrower is able to repay the loan. On the other hand, banks would not make subprime loans with borrowers who show signs that they are not able to repay the loan. Furthermore, banks would not negotiate with these borrowers to make “creative” loans such as giving out low introductory “teaser” interest rates, and adjustable-rate mortgages, known as ARMs, in which the borrower had the option to pay less than the amount of the interest in some months during the interest-only period. “While convenient for dealing with temporary financial problems, these option ARMs meant that paying less than the interest in some months meant that the unpaid interest was added to the principal, so that the home buyer who used that option could end up owing more than the original amount of the mortgage.” (p. 19) Page |2 The unregulated financial market is the best solution for financial institutions; however, I would argue that some regulation, which is not politically motivated, is the best possible solution. The whole notion that unregulated financial institutions will make the best possible risk-free decisions based on the fact that there will be no one to bail them out if they fail is absurd. Banks are run by humans. Humans gamble. Gambling involves taking risks. Banks should not be bailed out. Bank CEOs should be aware at all times that their decisions could lead to a bank failure. However, I also believe that there should be a system in place to prevent over-the-top risky decisions. One can call this minimalistic regulation in which the government has no say in which group of people deserves to buy a house even if they can’t afford it. In general, the nature of regulation upsets the normal operation of the market, and creates problems which can be very costly to the tax payer, and can cause problems to the overall stability of the economy. The FDIC is one example where the government stepped in to prevent bank panics. Although the FDIC is an entity that guarantees the money deposited in a bank, it is still a form of regulation. Furthermore, although the FDIC was designed to prevent bank panics, it creates moral hazard and asymmetric information problems. Because the government will step in and cover any losses, the normal incentives the owners of any business face are now perverse incentives. With FDIC in place, bank management is rewarded if they gamble more than they usually would. Eventually, the government places so much regulation on top of banks and other financial institutions, that in the end we are faced with the current financial crises. The unregulated financial market is the best scenario for borrowers and potential homeowners. Although one can argue that regulated financial markets are better because government can make all sorts of guarantees and incentives for banks to redistribute incomes and engage in social engineering, is in fact the opposite that is true. In a regulated market, a low income family can indeed more easily get into a low monthly payment mortgage. But what good is that mortgage if you cannot afford to make the payments after the initial teaser rate expires and you end up on the streets? “In 2004, Josh Rosner, an Page |3 analyst at Medley Global Advisors in New York, said, ‘The move to push home ownership on people that historically would not have had the finances or credit to qualify could conceivably and ultimately turn Fannie Mae’s American dream of homeownership into the American nightmare of homeownership where people are trapped in their homes.’ He added: ‘If incomes don’t rise or home values don’t keep rising, or if interest rates rose considerably, you could quickly end up with significantly more people underwater with their mortgages and unable to pay.’” (p. 46) In “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis, tells a story of people who made a ton of money during the subprime mortgage crisis. These people found wealth in tricky ways by realizing facts that no one else was able to see. The subprime mortgage crisis was a result of many poor decisions starting with the government and its lax policies towards lending and homeownership. They even had a name for it – “the interest-only negative-amortizing adjustable-rate subprime mortgage. You, the home buyer, actually were given the option of paying nothing at all, and rolling whatever interest you owed the bank into a higher principal balance. It wasn’t hard to see what sort of person might like to have such a loan: one with no income.” (p.37) It was rather clear why Banks were making such loans. They weren’t keeping them. They sold them to Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanely and Wells Fargo and the rest, which packaged them into bonds and sold them off. The subprime mortgage bonds had various floors, or tranches. There were the riskiest floors, or the ones that would flood first, and then there were the higher floors which were made of triple-A bonds. Big banks and other financial institutions would take the lower level bonds and repackage them into CDOs – Collateral Dept Obligations which were rated by Moody’s and Standard & Poor as triple-A. The people in “The Big Short” were able to identify certain attributes about these bonds, the fact that the rating agencies were not aware of the underlying foundation of these bonds. That these bonds were, at the end of the day, made up of crappy mortgage loans that would soon default. Michael Burry, a market investor, got an idea: credit default swaps on subprime mortgage bonds. “A credit Page |4 default swap was confusing mainly because it wasn’t really a swap at all. It was an insurance policy, typically on a corporate bond, with semiannual premium payments and a fixed term.” (p.38) At first it was difficult to find sellers of this type of insurance, but in the end the sellers that he did find, mainly Goldman Sachs not only sold him insurance on the pool of bad loans, but sent him a little note “congratulating him on being the first person” to buy insurance on this type of item. Goldman Sachs had made it clear to Burry that it wasn’t the ultimate seller. It turned out that the party on the other side of Burry’s bets against subprime mortgage bonds was a triple-A-rated insurance company AIG – American International Group, Inc. One of the big problems that led to the current financial crises was that banks and other financial institutions were making bets against bonds that had good ratings. Why should these subprime mortgage bonds default? So what if the foundation, or the bottom floor, trenches defaulted. The rest of the bond, especially the higher floors were all triple-A. What most of these banks did not know was that Moody’s and S&P did a horrible job rating these bonds. “Moody’s and S&P asked the loan packagers not for a list of the FICO scores of all the borrowers but for the average FICO score of the pool.” (p. 94) To give an accurate rating, you need to know all the FICO scores not the average. If you have a pool of FICO scores with half being 550 and the other half 680 averaging out at 615, it would be more likely to default than a pool of all FICO scores at 615. Each CDO contained pieces of a hundred different mortgage bonds which in turn held thousands of different loans. It was impossible to find out which pieces belonged where. Even the rating agencies, that were supposed to be the most informed sources, hadn’t a clue. Since the banks were making bets based on the ratings of Moody’s and S&P, at the end of the day, it was the rating agencies to blame for this financial crisis. The rating agency people were all underpaid. “The smart ones leave for Wall Street firms so they can help manipulate the companies they used to work for. There should be no greater thing you can do as an analyst than to be the Moody’s analyst. It should be, ‘I can’t go higher as an analyst.’ Instead it’s the bottom! No one gives a fuck if Page |5 Goldman likes General Electric paper. If Moody’s downgrades GE paper, it is a big deal. So why does the guy at Moody’s want to work at Goldman Sachs? The guy who is the bank analyst at Goldman Sachs should want to go to Moody’s. It should be that elite.” (p. 139) The credit agencies were the prime reason behind bad decisions on the bank’s end. The whole system behind bonds is so convoluted that no bank analyst would ever even look into what a CDO was made of. They all relied on the rating agencies to provide solid and sound ratings. The people in “The Big Short” all got rich because they identified a major flaw in the American financial system. They identified the fact that they can buy highly insurance on highly rated CDOs that looked bullet proof but in reality were worthless. They identified the fact that these CDOs, in its fundamental state, were all simply bad subprime mortgage loans that were doomed from the start. They all knew that when the teaser rates expired at the end of the 2 year period, the borrowers would default causing the collapse of the entire market. It was then that they can cash in on their insurance (credit default swaps on subprime mortgage bonds) that they knew from the start would pay off sooner or later.