Unhinged: When Concrete Reality No Longer Matters to the Market (and What to Do About It)
by Zeus Yiamouyiannis, Ph.D.
Exhibit 3: The Double Whammy Scam: Profiting from Designed Failure and Placing Bets Backed by Counterfeit Value
A recent government suit alleges that Goldman Sachs colluded with a billionaire short seller, John Paulson, to defraud investors and “construct a package of mortgage linked derivatives designed to blow up” so Paulson could make a fortune.
Continuing from AP reporter, Bernard Condon’s, article in the Washington Post, (Does Goldman Case Tarnish Cassandras of the Crash? April 21, 2010):
So-called short sellers, like Paulson, profit when stocks, mortgages or other assets they bet against lose value. In other words, the game of guessing which way prices would go was allegedly rigged in this case. That sounds bad enough. But some Wall Street veterans say the real tarnish on our erstwhile housing heroes is the package itself - regardless of whether it was designed to fail. By just linking to mortgages but not actually containing any, the Paulson package and others marketed by banks upped bets on housing to more than even the mortgages in existence, making the overall losses much bigger now that boom has turned to bust. "Normally short sellers add rationality to a runaway marketplace," says Charles Smith, who oversees $1 billion at Fort Pitt Capital Group. "But in this case they were adding rocket fuel to the fire." The fuel here is devilishly difficult to understand. Called synthetic collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), these packages contained a series of wagers on whether thousands of homeowners would continue to pay their loans.Did you catch that? This language confirms the divorce of concrete reality and the market: 1) “Linking to” mortgages but not containing any, 2) not actually owning any mortgages but being able to bet on them, 3) making “reference” to real mortgages to determine which side of the wager wins, 4) wagering bets not “limited” by material assets. The last point could theoretically involve an infinite number of bets and infinite returns on those bets.
The key thing to grasp about them, and the part that explains how they magnified housing losses, is that they don't actually own any mortgages and so aren't limited by the number of such loans. Instead, these investments merely make "reference" to real mortgages to determine which side of the wager wins. (my emphases)
This is well analyzed except for one point: The core of this dealing is deceptively simple, even if the instruments themselves are deliberately complex. Industry bettors simply concoct counterfeit value by leveraging their own abstract, self-assigned-value assets between themselves in a ping-pong ascending scale beyond the value of the underlying concrete assets.
The bet has both replaced and exceeded the thing it refers to. There is no “there” there. Real money is siphoned in fees from the “marks,” the pension funds who are told they are investing in highly rated, stable instruments, and then the U.S. taxpayer is asked to take up trillions of dollars of real debt in order to cover a counterfeit, undisclosed bidding/betting war.
Should I be able to make a “reference” to the Bank of England, or food, or oil, simply collect billions of real money if I bet right, and lose my never-there-to-begin-with counterfeit wealth if I don’t?
Who is the “house” in this casino in which someone can wage a series of bets on assets that actually exceed the value of the assets themselves? It’s always going to be the American taxpayer, the public, bailing out an unregulated, morally and financially reprehensible private market. Usually when someone says, “You really hate America,” it’s a disgruntled conservative with a chip on his shoulder.
Well, these profiteers actually make huge sums of money by destroying America, robbing it blind, and then sticking the American citizen with the check for any downside bets. Now let’s see why very little is currently being done to correct this.
Read the rest here