Why Another Financial Crash is Certain

Wednesday, February 9, 2011
By Paul Martin

By MIKE WHITNEY
CounterPunch.org

On August 9, 2007, an incident took place at a bank in France that touched-off a financial crisis that that would eventually wipe out more than $30 trillion in capital and thrust the world into the deepest slump since the Great Depression. The event was recounted in a speech by Pimco’s managing director Paul McCulley, at the 19th Annual Hyman Minsky Conference on the State of the U.S. and World Economies. Here’s an excerpt from McCulley’s speech:

“If you have to pick a day for the Minsky Moment, it was August 9. And, actually, it didn’t happen here in the United States. It happened in France, when Paribas Bank (BNP) said that it could not value the toxic mortgage assets in three of its off-balance sheet vehicles, and that, therefore, the liability holders, who thought they could get out at any time, were frozen. I remember the day like my son’s birthday. And that happens every year. Because the unraveling started on that day. In fact, it was later that month that I actually coined the term “Shadow Banking System” at the Fed’s annual symposium in Jackson Hole.

“It was only my second year there. And I was in awe, and mainly listened for most of the three days. At the end….I stood up and (paraphrasing) said, ‘What’s going on is really simple. We’re having a run on the Shadow Banking System and the only question is how intensely it will self-feed as its assets and liabilities are put back onto the balance sheet of the conventional banking system.’”

BNP had been involved in credit intermediation, that is, it was exchanging bonds made up of mortgage-backed securities (MBS) for short-term loans in the repo market. It all sounds very complex, but it’s no different than what banks do when they take deposits from customers and then invest the money in long-term assets. (aka–”maturity transformation”) The only difference here was that these activities were not regulated, so no government agency was involved in determining the quality of the loans or making sure that the various financial institutions were sufficiently capitalized to cover potential losses. This lack of regulation turned out to have dire consequences for the global economy.

The Rest…HERE

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