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The term financial crisis is applied broadly to a variety of situations in which some financial institutions or assets suddenly lose a large part of their value. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, many financial crises were associated with banking panics, and many recessions coincided with these panics. Other situations that are often called financial crises include stock market crashes and the bursting of other financial bubbles, currency crises, and sovereign defaults. Financial crises directly result in a loss of paper wealth; they do not directly result in changes in the real economy unless a recession or depression follows.

The US subprime mortgage crisis was one of the first indicators 2008-2009, characterized by a rise in subprime mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures, and the resulting decline of securities backing said mortgages.

Approximately 80% of U.S. mortgages issued to subprime borrowers were adjustable-rate mortgages. After U.S. house sales prices peaked in mid-2006 and began their steep decline forthwith, refinancing became more difficult. As adjustable-rate mortgages began to reset at higher interest rates, mortgage delinquencies soared. Securities backed with mortgages, including subprime mortgages, widely held by financial firms, lost most of their value. Global investors also drastically reduced purchases of mortgage-backed debt and other securities as part of a decline in the capacity and willingness of the private financial system to support lending. Concerns about the soundness of U.S. credit and financial markets led to tightening credit around the world and slowing economic growth in the U.S. and Europe

The immediate cause or trigger of the crisis was the bursting of the United States housing bubble which peaked in approximately 2005–2006. Already-rising default rates on "subprime" and adjustable rate mortgages (ARM) began to increase quickly thereafter. As banks began to increasingly give out more loans to potential home owners, the housing price also began to rise. In the optimistic terms the banks would encourage the home owners to take on considerably high loans in the belief they would be able to pay it back more quickly overlooking the interest rates. Once the interest rates began to rise in mid 2007 the housing price started to drop significantly in 2006 leading into 2007. In many states like California refinancing became more difficult. As a result the number of foreclosed homes began to rise as well.
Share in GDP of U.S. financial sector since 1860

Steadily decreasing interest rates backed by the U.S Federal Reserve from 1982 onward and large inflows of foreign funds created easy credit conditions for a number of years prior to the crisis, fueling a housing construction boom and encouraging debt-financed consumption.The combination of easy credit and money inflow contributed to the United States housing bubble. Loans of various types (e.g., mortgage, credit card, and auto) were easy to obtain and consumers assumed an unprecedented debt load.As part of the housing and credit booms, the number of financial agreements called mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and collateralized debt obligations (CDO), which derived their value from mortgage payments and housing prices, greatly increased. Such financial innovation enabled institutions and investors around the world to invest in the U.S. housing market. As housing prices declined, major global financial institutions that had borrowed and invested heavily in subprime MBS reported significant losses. Falling prices also resulted in homes worth less than the mortgage loan, providing a financial incentive to enter foreclosure. The ongoing foreclosure epidemic that began in late 2006 in the U.S. continues to drain wealth from consumers and erodes the financial strength of banking institutions. Defaults and losses on other loan types also increased significantly as the crisis expanded from the housing market to other parts of the economy. Total losses are estimated in the trillions of U.S. dollars globally.

While the housing and credit bubbles built, a series of factors caused the financial system to both expand and become increasingly fragile, a process called financialization. U. S. Government policy from the 1970s onward has emphasized deregulation to encourage business, which resulted in less oversight of activities and less disclosure of information about new activities undertaken by banks and other evolving financial institutions. Thus, policymakers did not immediately recognize the increasingly important role played by financial institutions such as investment banks and hedge funds, also known as the shadow banking system. Some experts believe these institutions had become as important as commercial (depository) banks in providing credit to the U.S. economy, but they were not subject to the same regulations. These institutions, as well as certain regulated banks, had also assumed significant debt burdens while providing the loans described above and did not have a financial cushion sufficient to absorb large loan defaults or MBS losses.These losses impacted the ability of financial institutions to lend, slowing economic activity. Concerns regarding the stability of key financial institutions drove central banks to provide funds to encourage lending and restore faith in the commercial paper markets, which are integral to funding business operations. Governments also bailed out key financial institutions and implemented economic stimulus programs, assuming significant additional financial commitments.

The U.S. Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission reported its findings in January 2011. It concluded that "the crisis was avoidable and was caused by: Widespread failures in financial regulation, including the Federal Reserve’s failure to stem the tide of toxic mortgages; Dramatic breakdowns in corporate governance including too many financial firms acting recklessly and taking on too much risk; An explosive mix of excessive borrowing and risk by households and Wall Street that put the financial system on a collision course with crisis; Key policy makers ill prepared for the crisis, lacking a full understanding of the financial system they oversaw; and systemic breaches in accountability and ethics at all levels."

Growth of the housing bubble
Main article: United States housing bubble
A graph showing the median and average sales prices of new homes sold in the United States between 1963 and 2008 (not adjusted for inflation).

Between 1997 and 2006, the price of the typical American house increased by 124%.During the two decades ending in 2001, the national median home price ranged from 2.9 to 3.1 times median household income. This ratio rose to 4.0 in 2004, and 4.6 in 2006.This housing bubble resulted in quite a few homeowners refinancing their homes at lower interest rates, or financing consumer spending by taking out second mortgages secured by the price appreciation.

In a Peabody Award winning program, NPR correspondents argued that a "Giant Pool of Money" (represented by $70 trillion in worldwide fixed income investments) sought higher yields than those offered by U.S. Treasury bonds early in the decade. This pool of money had roughly doubled in size from 2000 to 2007, yet the supply of relatively safe, income generating investments had not grown as fast. Investment banks on Wall Street answered this demand with the MBS and CDO, which were assigned safe ratings by the credit rating agencies. In effect, Wall Street connected this pool of money to the mortgage market in the U.S., with enormous fees accruing to those throughout the mortgage supply chain, from the mortgage broker selling the loans, to small banks that funded the brokers, to the giant investment banks behind them. By approximately 2003, the supply of mortgages originated at traditional lending standards had been exhausted. However, continued strong demand for MBS and CDO began to drive down lending standards, as long as mortgages could still be sold along the supply chain. Eventually, this speculative bubble proved unsustainable.

The CDO in particular enabled financial institutions to obtain investor funds to finance subprime and other lending, extending or increasing the housing bubble and generating large fees. A CDO essentially places cash payments from multiple mortgages or other debt obligations into a single pool, from which the cash is allocated to specific securities in a priority sequence. Those securities obtaining cash first received investment-grade ratings from rating agencies. Lower priority securities received cash thereafter, with lower credit ratings but theoretically a higher rate of return on the amount invested.

By September 2008, average U.S. housing prices had declined by over 20% from their mid-2006 peak.As prices declined, borrowers with adjustable-rate mortgages could not refinance to avoid the higher payments associated with rising interest rates and began to default. During 2007, lenders began foreclosure proceedings on nearly 1.3 million properties, a 79% increase over 2006. This increased to 2.3 million in 2008, an 81% increase vs. 2007. By August 2008, 9.2% of all U.S. mortgages outstanding were either delinquent or in foreclosure. By September 2009, this had risen to 14.4%.

Many economists have offered theories about how financial crises develop and how they could be prevented. There is little consensus, however, and financial crises are still a regular occurrence around the world.- Source Wikipedia

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