...mortgage underwriting changed beyond recognition between 1998 and 2006, as First American Financial recently reported:
* Adjustable rate mortgages as a percentage of new mortgages rose from 0.7% to 69.5%;
* Negative Amortisation loans - where the principal owed actually increases over time - rose from 0% to 42.2% of the market;
* Interest Only home loans - where the borrower only has to cover the interest due, leaving the principal for repayment sometime in the far future - rose from 0.1% to 35.6%;
* Silent Seconds, issued on the back of outstanding loans to the most vaguely-related people, rose from 0.1% to 38.7%;
* Low Documentation - where the greater the lie, the greater the loan - rose from 57% to 79.8%.
In short, the US mortgage market switched from cautious Fixed-Rate borrowing to head-in-the-sand ARMs...while the underlying debt was left untouched or actually grew larger...as borrowers struggled to meet just the interest alone after fudging the numbers to bag a loan they could never repay.
Most shocking of all, as Robert Rodriguez of First Pacific Advisors has noted, "is that the origination volumes for the last two years, when the most egregious deterioration in underwriting standards occurred, total more than the previous seven years of originations combined."
And this poor-quality debt has been sold to pension funds, very carefully staying just under a crucial limit:
"24% of all the hyper-leveraged assets managed by large hedge funds (US$1 billion or more) internationally, belong to pension funds and endowments," says a June 18 report from Greenwich Associates, as quoted by Paul Gallagher in the Executive Intelligence Review. "This average is just below the 25% limit at which an individual hedge fund, under the [US] Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) as modified in 2006, becomes an investment advisor with fiduciary responsibility for the pension fund doing the investing - something hedge funds obviously do not want to do."
More than that, pension funds have also stumped up one-fifth of the money held in 'hedge funds of funds', the aggregating super-funds run by many large banks. In first-half 2007, around 40% of current flows into the hedge fund industry has come from pension funds. And "as pension fund money is coming in," says Gallagher, "it's allowing 'smart' money to get out."
...Numerous reports, including a new one from Chicago-based Hedge Fund Research, Inc., have shown 'high net-worth individuals' reducing their net hedge fund investments by half, between 2006 and 2007 - investing instead into real property and stocks. They now account for only about 20% of the assets of hedge funds, which were supposedly made for them."
Instead of high-net-worth billionaires, it's now Joe Public left holding this junk, thanks of course to his well-paid retirement fund managers...
Giving control of your money to a financial "expert" might indeed prove the most foolish decision of all.
To me, this is outrageous. I've written earlier about a brokers' meeting I attended in 1999, where a rep from a technology fund burbled enthusiastically about the "super-boom" to come, and how I felt that the smart money was looking to use us to sell their holdings to suckers. And I think the same happened with the Lloyds of London scandal - advisers were encouraged to help their clients get a seat on what they thought was the gravy train, when the insiders knew it was the vinegar bottle. Now it seems we've seen effectively a raid on pension funds.
I sometimes suspect that the money system is not for storing wealth, but for stealing it.
The authorities should be busting the offenders, not bailing them. We should pay off depositors so they can put their savings elsewhere, re-educate naive financial advisers and institutional fund managers, and bankrupt the swindlers.
Here in England, London's Central Criminal Court has a motto above the entrance:
"Defend the Children of the Poor & Punish the Wrongdoer"
If I were an American, I'd be asking questions about justice and the rule of law: does the nation still protect the weak against the strong? Meanwhile, now that you know how the game is played, find a way to win honourably.
.................... A South Sea Bubble playing card