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Weekly Commentary: Nobody Thinks It Would Happen Again

Weekly Commentary: Nobody Thinks It Would Happen Again

WSJ: “Ten Years After the Bear Stearns Bailout, Nobody Thinks It Would Happen Again.”

Myriad changes to the financial structure have seemingly safeguarded the financial system from another 2008-style crisis. The big Wall Street financial institutions are these days better capitalized than a decade ago. There are “living wills,” along with various regulatory constraints that have limited the most egregious lending and leveraging mistakes that brought down Bear Stearns, Lehman and others. There are central bank swap lines and such, the type of financial structures that breed optimism.

March 17, 2008 – Financial Times (Gillian Tett): “In recent years, bankers have succumbed to the idea that the credit world was all about numbers and complex computer models. These days, however, this assumption looks ever more of a falsehood. For as anyone with a classical education knows, credit takes its root from the Latin word credere (“to trust”) And as the current credit turmoil now mutates into ever-more virulent forms, it is faith – or, rather, the lack of it – that has turned a subprime squall into a what is arguably the worst financial ­crisis in seven decades. Make no mistake: what we are witnessing right now is not just a collapse of faith in one single institution (namely Bear Stearns) or even an asset class (those dodgy subprime mortgage bonds). Instead, it stems from a loss of trust in the whole style of modern finance, with all its complex slicing and dicing of risk into ever-more opaque forms. And this trend is not just damaging the credibility of banks, but the aura of omnipotence that has enveloped institutions such as the US Federal Reserve in recent years.”

Gillian Tett was the preeminent journalist during the waning mortgage finance Bubble period. She was seemingly alone in illuminating the degree of excess in subprime Credit default swaps and structured finance more generally. By March 2008, she had already recognized “the worst financial crisis in seven decades,” while Wall Street was trapped in denial. Ms. Tett also appreciated the damage being done to Federal Reserve credibility. Yet no one could have anticipated the evolution of policy measures adopted by the Fed and global central bankers over the following decade. Credibility’s New Lease on Life.

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