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Posts Tagged ‘financial reform legislation’

America must face up to the dangers of derivatives

George Soros | Financial Times | April 22, 2010

The US Security and Exchange Commission’s civil suit against Goldman Sachs will be vigorously contested by the defendant. It is interesting to speculate which side will win; but we will not know the result for months. Irrespective of the eventual outcome, however, the case has far-reaching implications for the financial reform legislation Congress is considering.

Whether or not Goldman is guilty, the transaction in question clearly had no social benefit. It involved a complex synthetic security derived from existing mortgage-backed securities by cloning them into imaginary units that mimicked the originals. This synthetic collateralised debt obligation did not finance the ownership of any additional homes or allocate capital more efficiently; it merely swelled the volume of mortgage-backed securities that lost value when the housing bubble burst. The primary purpose of the transaction was to generate fees and commissions.

This is a clear demonstration of how derivatives and synthetic securities have been used to create imaginary value out of thin air. More triple A CDOs were created than there were underlying triple A assets. This was done on a large scale in spite of the fact that all of the parties involved were sophisticated investors. The process went on for years and culminated in a crash that caused wealth destruction amounting to trillions of dollars. It cannot be allowed to continue. The use of derivatives and other synthetic instruments must be regulated even if all the parties are sophisticated investors. Ordinary securities must be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission before they can be traded. Synthetic securities ought to be similarly registered, although the task could be assigned to a different authority, such as the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

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