Monday, November 10, 2008

The Seeds of Credit Crisis Started at J.P. Morgan

Editor's Note: Interesting piece about a misunderstood subject - the rise of credit derivatives - sophisticated securities that allow the transfer of credit risk. Former WSJ alum Jesse Eisinger tells an interesting story of how these complicated financial securities got their start. - MT

by Jesse Eisinger - Portfolio Magazine - The roots of this year’s financial crisis go back to a small team of bankers at J.P. Morgan in New York. Now, their invention—credit derivatives—has helped bring down Wall Street and has left Morgan with its biggest exposure of all.

Credit derivatives aren’t, of course, solely to blame for the pandemic that has helped bring down Wall Street. They didn’t single-handedly force Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers to bulk up on toxic debt, dooming them to collapse. But they made the financial world more complex and more opaque. Ultimately, they have exacerbated the market panic, as financial firms and regulators have belatedly come to grips with the enormity of the problems. Merrill Lynch ultimately capitulated to a sale because investors had no confidence that the firm had a handle on what its problems were. When the federal government took over A.I.G. in September, it was largely because of the insurance behemoth’s exposure to credit-default swaps, a type of derivative that flourished in the wake of Demchak and his team’s creations. By mid-September, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson was forced into proposing the largest bailout in U.S. history. Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Christopher Cox (S.E.C. No Evil, October) called for regulating credit derivatives.

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