Monday, March 31, 2008

That's more like it

Good article on Bloomberg today... some of the better tidbits:

``The sad truth,'' [Charles R. Morris] writes, ``is that subprime is just the first big boulder in an avalanche of asset writedowns that will rattle on through much of 2008.''

Expect the landslide to cascade through high-yield bonds, commercial mortgages, leveraged loans, credit cards and -- the big unknown -- credit-default swaps, Morris says. The notional value for those swaps, which are meant to insure bondholders against default, covered about $45 trillion in portfolios as of mid-2007, up from some $1 trillion in 2001, he writes.

It goes on to talk about how we got into this mess, and looks at possible responses. That's actually the best part of the article:
Morris points to two previous episodes of lost market confidence.

The first was the 1970s inflationary trauma that prompted investors to suck money out of the stocks and bonds that finance business. Confidence returned only after Fed chief Paul Volcker slew runaway inflation by ratcheting up interest rates.

The other precedent is the popped 1980s Japanese asset bubble. In that case, politicians and finance executives tried to paper over their troubles. Two decades later, Japan still hasn't recovered, Morris writes.

We should be as bold as Volcker, he suggests: Face the scale of the mess, take a $1 trillion writedown and shore up regulatory measures. His recommendations include forcing loan originators to retain the first losses; requiring prime brokers to stop lending to hedge funds that don't disclose their balance sheets; and bringing the trading of credit derivatives onto exchanges.

What he fears is that the U.S. will instead follow the Japanese precedent, seeking to ``downplay and to conceal. Continuing on that course will be a path to disaster.''

He's right... we need to take the lumps, sooner rather than later. But, it doesn't seem likely to happen. BOHICA.