by Dasarathi Mishra
In the preface of his bestseller “FREEFALL- America, Free Markets and Sinking of the World Economy” ( 2010), Joseph E Stiglitz, a noted economist and Nobel Laureate succinctly put, “In the Great Recession that began in 2008, millions of people in America and all over the world lost their homes and jobs”.
It is hard to pinpoint when the financial crash of 2007 began in USA. Its roots arguably trace back a good 12 years. It was in 1995 that Bill Clinton’s administration delivered a laudable affordable-housing agenda through amendments to the Community Reinvestment Act.
To fuel its rapid growth it spurned the traditional, hard-grind funding method of gathering deposits, relying instead on fashionable new “securitisation” structures, which wrapped up parcels of mortgages for resale to Wall Street investment banks and, in turn, to investors around the world. The market for mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and even more complex “collateralised debt obligations” (CDOs) boomed.
Before the crisis, in 2005 Jackson Hole Conference Dr Raghuram Rajan, then IMF Chief Economist presented a paper titled “ Has Financial Development Made the World Riskier?”. He pointed out to “Credit Default Swaps” which act as insurance against bond defaults could be immensely painful if default occurs. He questioned an ubiquitous practice why did financial firms make loans to people who had no income, no jobs and no assets ( NINJA) loans ?
New Century was America’s biggest independent subprime mortgage lender, granting tens of billions of dollars of mortgages a year. To fuel its rapid growth it spurned the traditional, hard-grind funding method of gathering deposits, relying instead on fashionable new “securitisation” structures, which wrapped up parcels of mortgages for resale to Wall Street investment banks and, in turn, to investors around the world. The market for mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and even more complex “collateralised debt obligations” (CDOs) boomed.
So great was investors’ appetite for these high-yielding MBSs and CDOs that mortgage companies lowered their underwriting standards to feed the securitisation sausage machine. Fatally, as loan quality was deteriorating, the Federal Reserve was simultaneously raising interest rates amid concern about consumer inflation. Soon subprime borrowers were defaulting en masse.
If there was one moment when Wall Street knew that a crisis was looming, it was on April 2, 2007, when New Century filed for bankruptcy. Over the months that followed, a wildfire spread around the world. Funds set up to invest in the securitisations — so-called structured investment vehicles, or SIVs had to be bailed out by the banks that had created them.
Market nervousness turned to panic. Banks stopped their usual practice of lending to each other overnight, unsure of who held what on their balance sheets. They found themselves unable to issue new securitisations or even mainstream bonds. And with that, the fate of Northern Rock, which relied for an unprecedented 70 per cent of its funding on these “wholesale markets”, much of it very short-term money, was sealed.
In its financial stability report, the Bank of England highlighted Brexit, excessive consumer debt and China as risks to beware. Governor Mark Carney sees China, where the total debt-to-GDP ratio has soared above 300 per cent, as a serious danger. “It is the biggest risk to financial stability,” says one expert , pointing out that many of the pre-crisis practices in the west, such as the creation of Sivs to invest in high-risk assets, are commonplace in China today.
The Institute of International Finance said in June that global debt hit a record $217 trillion , up by $70 trillion in a decade, with much of the growth centred on China and other emerging markets. At the same time, investors are seeking “yield” wherever they can find it, pushing up the value of a range of investments. So-called asset bubbles are everywhere as a result.
When the 2007 crisis broke, fingers of blame were pointed in all directions. At subprime mortgage companies for selling loans inappropriately; at borrowers for taking on too much debt; at investment bankers for creating and marketing irresponsible products. And at policy makers for presiding over an environment of low interest rates and lax regulation that allowed a crisis to ferment.
CRISIS and INDIA
According to Dr YV Reddy, former Governor, Reserve Bank of India “ India has undoubtedly, emerged stronger and more resilient after the crisis. Perhaps, it is good that the crisis happened before India went irrevocably in the direction of excesses in the financial sector. The macro-balances that were judiciously maintained and pragmatic policies that were adopted, have earned appreciation globally”. ( Page 17 : Global Crisis , Recession and Uneven Recovery”, 2011).
Mr. Dasarathi Mishra is a former Chief General Manager, Reserve Bank of India. He had got extensive exposure to the banking regulations, supervision, international banking, foreign exchange, WTO agreement in financial services, regulation of NBFCs and core central banking functions. He is a founder and Managing Partner of ‘Abhyutthana Financial Learning Centre’ with objective of spreading financial education in schools/colleges.