Expert on Structured Finance and Derivatives: Rampant Fraud and Ponzi Scheme Caused Crisis

Janet Tavakoli is one of the foremost experts on structured finance and derivatives.

Tavakoli made an outstanding presentation to the IMF last week on the fraud which led to the financial crisis.

Tavakoli was kind enough to send me a summary of the IMF presentation (and to give me permission to reprint the summary).

Making many of the same points that William K. Black (senior S&L regulator and professor of law and economics) has made about fraud and the big picture of what has occurred in the current as well as the S&L crisis – see this and this – Tavakoli told the IMF:

Wall Street gave mortgage lenders large credit lines (similar to credit card debt) and packaged the loans into private-label residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS). Most of the RMBS was rated “AAA” … But many RMBSs were backed by portfolios comprising risky fraud-riddled loans. Most of the “AAA” investment was imperiled, and subordinated “investment grade” components were worthless. Wall Street disguised these toxic “investments” with new value-destroying securitizations and derivatives.

Meanwhile, collapsing mortgage lenders paid high dividends to shareholders (old investors) and interest on credit lines to Wall Street (old investors) with money raised from new investors in doomed securities. New money allowed Wall Street to temporarily hide losses and pay enormous bonuses. This is a classic Ponzi scheme…

A large share of certain banks’ tax-subsidized profits is due as reparation to unsophisticated investors, the U.S. taxpayers...

By the end of 2006, public reports of implosions of large mortgage lenders eliminated CEOs’ plausible deniability. By January 2007, many (including me) publicly challenged the failure to account for losses. Instead, toxic securitization accelerated in the first half of 2007—classic malfeasance as a Ponzi scheme collapses…

In the spring of 2007, the Fed and the U.K.’s FSA reported that the degree of leverage in the global financial system was less than at the time of Long Term Capital Management, but in reality it was much greater. They are now repeating their mistakes. Winston Churchill said we must alert somnolent authority to novel dangers; but our regulators are complacent, and the dangers are not novel.[Remember: Tavakoli is an expert on various forms of leverage, such as securitization and derivatives. So if she is warning about too much leverage, we should take her seriously]

Wall Street supplies a swinging door of jobs for its financial regulators, and—in the case of many members of Congress and our Presidents—campaign contributions. This dependence is known as “capture,” and the result is that instead of reigning in Wall Street, dependent thinking enables mayhem.

In the recent Ponzi scheme only the agents—mortgage lenders, rating agencies, fund managers, securitization professionals, CFOs, CEOs, and other fee or bonus beneficiaries—prospered. Controls and risk management were undermined. The financial institutions and their shareholders, for which these agents are failed stewards, collapsed. Investors in toxic securitizations lost money. Had regulators done their jobs, they would have shut down Wall Street’s financial meth labs, and the Ponzi scheme would have quickly choked to death from lack of monetary oxygen.

After the Savings and Loan crisis of the late 1980’s, there were more than 1,000 felony indictments of senior officers. Recent fraud is much more widespread and costly. The consequences are much greater. Congress needs to fund investigations. Regulators need to get tough on crime.

Troubled financial entities should be put into receivership and restructured. Old shareholders will be wiped out. Debt-holders will take a haircut (discount) along with a debt for new equity swap to recapitalize the entity. But the job won’t be complete until we separate high risk activities from traditional banking in a return to a Glass-Steagall like structure with regulators that indict fraudsters, snuff out systemic fraud, and allow honest bankers to prosper.

The fact that many U.S. banks stuck to traditional banking and protected shareholders during this crisis is under-publicized, but their prudence worked.

We have the solutions. We need the will to implement them.

And if you haven’t yet watched it, here is Tavakoli’s must-see interview with Max Keiser:


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