History of the Current Credit Crisis
Excerpts below from an article in the WSJ about the current credit crisis gives an excellent summary of the crisis and its origins over the last 20 years. The article is long with lots of graphs, but it is worth the time (it is on the front page of 8/7/07 edition if you cannot access the online version). Ya’ know – you don’t know where your at until you know where you have been.
An extraordinary credit boom that created many first-time homeowners and financed a wave of corporate takeovers seems to be waning. Home buyers with poor credit are having trouble borrowing. Institutional investors from Milwaukee to Düsseldorf to Sydney are reporting losses. Banks are stuck with corporate debt that investors won't buy. Stocks are on a roller coaster, with financial powerhouses like Bear Stearns Cos. and Blackstone Group coming under intense pressure.
The origins of the boom and this unfolding reversal predate last year's mistakes. They trace to changes in the banking system provoked by the collapse of the savings-and-loan industry in the 1980s, the reaction of governments to the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, and the Federal Reserve's response to the 2000-01 bursting of the tech-stock bubble.
When the Fed cut interest rates to the lowest level in a generation to avoid a severe downturn, then-Chairman Alan Greenspan anticipated that making short-term credit so cheap would have unintended consequences. "I don't know what it is, but we're doing some damage because this is not the way credit markets should operate," he and a colleague recall him saying at the time.
Now the consequences of moves the Fed and others made are becoming clearer.
Low interest rates engineered by central banks and reinforced by a tidal wave of overseas savings fueled home prices and leveraged buyouts. Pension funds and endowments, unhappy with skimpy returns, shoved cash at hedge funds and private-equity firms, which borrowed heavily to make big bets. The investments of choice were opaque financial instruments that shifted default risk from lenders to global investors. The question now: When the dust settles, will the world be better off?