Friday, June 29, 2007

What if modern finance doesn't know how to price mortgage derivatives?

DeLong reassures us that there will be vast transfers of money between winners and losers, but that this won't cause systemic disruption:

Grasping Reality with Both Hands: Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: CDOs: Mark-to-Model and Donner-Party Economics

[quoting from the Finacial Times:]

...Until recently, when late payments and defaults on these mortgages spiked higher, the problem drew little attention. This was because, through the magic of so-called structured finance, risky assets such as subprime mortgages could be packaged into attractive investment products. These elaborately constructed securities, called collateralised debt obligations (CDOs), are designed to yield juicy returns while also carrying high credit ratings. They have proved popular with hedge funds as well as with longer-term investors such as pension funds and insurance companies, many of which have bought billions of dollars of such securities in recent years – thus providing the liquidity that was then channelled into mortgage loans.

But heavy losses incurred at the two Bear Stearns hedge funds as a result of such financial haute couture have prompted fears that the CDO emperor may turn out to have no clothes. Such a revelation could threaten the value of investor portfolios around the globe – not just in the mortgage sector but in the way many sorts of company fund themselves. This is because unlike stocks listed on an exchange or US Treasury bonds, CDOs are rarely traded. Indeed, a distinct irony of the 21st-century financial world is that, while many bankers hail them as the epitome of modern capitalism, many of these new-fangled instruments have never been priced through market trading...

We all hope Brad is right. All the same, it's good to have a working theory to explain what may happen soon ...

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