scope labs
scope labs
The Usual Suspects - The Causality Crew
Alan Greenspan

picThe Federal Reserve chairman continual, habitual, process of lowering interest rates during a long economic financial boom helped the debt crisis to develop early on. His long-standing disdain for regulation are now held up as leading causes of the mortgage crisis. The maestro admitted in an October congressional hearing that he had "made a mistake in presuming" that financial firms could regulate themselves.

Ben Bernanke

picBernanke gave a now somewhat infamous speech about what central banks could do to fend off deflation even after short-term interest rates hit zero. The Fed could target longer-term interest rates, he argued. It could buy private securities, not just Treasuries. It could, figuratively speaking, drop money out of helicopters.

Jimmy Cayne

picPlenty of CEOs screwed up on Wall Street. But none seemed more asleep at the switch than Bear Stearns' Cayne. He left the office by helicopter for 3 ½-day golf weekends. He was regularly out of town at bridge tournaments and reportedly smoked pot. (Cayne denies the marijuana allegations.) Back at the office, Cayne's charges bet the firm on risky home loans. Two of its highly leveraged hedge funds collapsed in mid-2007. But that was only the beginning. Bear held nearly $40 billion in mortgage bonds that were essentially worthless. In early 2008 Bear was sold to JPMorgan for less than the value of its office building. "I didn't stop it. I didn't rein in the leverage," Cayne later told Fortune.

Bernie Madoff

picHis alleged Ponzi scheme could inflict $50 billion in losses on society types, retirees and nonprofits. The bigger cost for America comes from the notion that Madoff pulled off the biggest financial fraud in history right under the noses of regulators. Assuming it's all true, the banks and hedge funds that neglected due diligence were stupid and paid for it, while the managers who fed him clients' money — the so-called feeders — were reprehensibly greedy. But to reveal government and industry regulators as grossly incompetent casts a shadow of doubt far and wide, which crimps the free flow of investment capital. That will make this downturn harder on us all.

Angelo Mozilo

picMozilo co-founded Countrywide in 1969 and built it into the largest mortgage lender in the U.S. Countrywide wasn't the first to offer exotic mortgages to borrowers with a questionable ability to repay them. In the wake of the housing bust, which toppled Countrywide and IndyMac Bank(another company Mozilo started), the executive's lavish pay package was criticized by many, including Congress. Mozilo left Countrywide last summer after its rescue-sale to Bank of America. A few months later, BofA said it would spend up to $8.7 billion to settle predatory lending charges against Countrywide filed by 11 state attorneys general.

Phil Gramm

picAs chairman of the Senate Banking Committee from 1995 through 2000, Gramm was Washington's most prominent and outspoken champion of financial deregulation. He played a leading role in writing and pushing through Congress the 1999 repeal of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial banks from Wall Street. He also inserted a key provision into the 2000 Commodity Futures Modernization Act that exempted over-the-counter derivatives like credit-default swaps from regulation by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Credit-default swaps took down AIG, which has cost the U.S. $150 billion thus far.

Chris Cox

picThe ex-SEC chief's blindness to repeated allegations of fraud in the Madoff scandal is mind-blowing, along with his lack of enforcement. Cox says his agency lacked authority to limit the massive leveraging that set up last year's financial collapse. In truth, the SEC had plenty of power to go after big investment banks like Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch for better disclosure, but it chose not to. Cox oversaw the dwindling SEC staff and a sharp drop in action against some traders.

Hank Paulson

picWhen Paulson left the top job at Goldman Sachs to become Treasury Secretary in 2006, He ended up almost single-handedly running the country's economic policy for the last year of the Bush Administration. He has saved friends and colleagues while letting large creditors of his inner circle, along with competitors fail. Much of his swift action was without much forethought, oversight, or committee. The three main gripes against Paulson are that he was late to the party in battling the financial crisis, letting Lehman Brothers fail was a big mistake and the big bailout bill he pushed through Congress has been a wasteful mess.

Joe Cassano

picAs a founding member of AIG's financial-products unit, Cassano, who ran the group until he stepped down in early 2008, knew them quite well. In good times, AIG's massive CDS-issuance business minted money for the insurer's other companies. But those same contracts turned out to be at the heart of AIG's downfall and subsequent taxpayer rescue. So far, the U.S. government has invested and lent $150 billion to keep AIG afloat.

Ian McCarthy

picAs CEO of Beazer Homes since 1994, McCarthy has become something of a poster child for the worst builder behaviors. An investigative series that ran in the Charlotte Observer in 2007 highlighted Beazer's aggressive sales tactics, including lying about borrowers' qualifications to help them get loans. The FBI, Department of Housing and Urban Development and IRS are all investigating Beazer. The company has admitted that employees of its mortgage unit violated regulations — like down-payment-assistance rules —at least as far back as 2000. It is cooperating with federal investigators.

Kathleen Corbet

picBy slapping AAA seals of approval on large portions of even the riskiest pools of loans, rating agencies helped lure investors into loading on collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) that are now unsellable. Corbet ran the largest agency, Standard & Poor's, during much of this decade, though the other two major players, Moody's and Fitch, played by similar rules. How could a ratings agency put its top-grade stamp on such flimsy securities? A glaring conflict of interest is one possibility: these outfits are paid for their ratings by the bond issuer. As one S&P analyst wrote in an email, "[A bond] could be structured by cows and we would rate it."

Dick Fuld

picThe Gorilla of Wall Street, as Fuld was known, steered Lehman deep into the business of subprime mortgages, bankrolling lenders across the country that were making convoluted loans to questionable borrowers. Lehman even made its own subprime loans. The firm took all those loans, whipped them into bonds and passed on to investors billions of dollars of what is now toxic debt. For all this wealth destruction, Fuld raked in nearly $500 million in compensation during his tenure as CEO, which ended when Lehman did.

Marion and Herb Sandler

picIn the early 1980s, the Sandlers' World Savings Bank became the first to sell a tricky home loan called the option ARM. And they pushed the mortgage, which offered several ways to back-load your loan and thereby reduce your early payments, with increasing zeal and misleading advertisements over the next two decades. The couple pocketed $2.3 billion when they sold their bank to Wachovia in 2006. But losses on World Savings' loan portfolio led to the implosion of Wachovia, which was sold under duress late last year to Wells Fargo.

Bill Clinton

picPresident Clinton's tenure was characterized by economic prosperity and financial deregulation, which in many ways set the stage for the excesses of recent years. Among his biggest strokes of free-wheeling capitalism was the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, a cornerstone of Depression-era regulation. He also signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which exempted credit-default swaps from regulation. In 1995 Clinton loosened housing rules by rewriting the Community Reinvestment Act, which put added pressure on banks to lend in low-income neighborhoods. It is the subject of heated political and scholarly debate whether any of these moves are to blame for our troubles, but they certainly played a role in creating a permissive lending environment.

George W. Bush

picFrom the start, Bush embraced a governing philosophy of deregulation. That trickled down to federal oversight agencies, which in turn eased off on banks and mortgage brokers. Bush did push early on for tighter controls over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but he failed to move Congress. After the Enron scandal, Bush backed and signed the aggressively regulatory Sarbanes-Oxley Act. But SEC head William Donaldson tried to boost regulation of mutual and hedge funds, he was blocked by Bush's advisers at the White House as well as other powerful Republicans and quit. Plus, let's face it, the meltdown happened on Bush's watch.

Stan O'Neal

picMerrill Lynch's celebrated CEO for nearly six years, ending in 2007, he guided the firm from its familiar turf — fee businesses like asset management — into the lucrative game of creating collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), which were largely made of subprime mortgage bonds. To provide a steady supply of the bonds — the raw pork for his booming sausage business —O'Neal allowed Merrill to load up on the bonds and keep them on its books. By June 2006, Merrill had amassed $41 billion in subprime CDOs and mortgage bonds, according to Fortune. As the subprime market unwound, Merrill went into crisis, and Bank of America swooped in to buy it.

John Devaney

picDevaney and other hedge-fund managers made it profitable for lenders to make questionable loans and then sell them off. Hedge funds were more than willing to swallow the risk in exchange for the promise of fat returns. Devaney wasn't just a big buyer of mortgage bonds — he had his own $600 million fund devoted to buying risky loans — he was one of its cheerleaders. Worse, Devaney knew the loans he was funding were bad for consumers. In early 2007, talking about option ARM mortgages, he told Money, "The consumer has to be an idiot to take on one of those loans, but it has been one of our best-performing investments."

Lew Ranieri

picMeet the father of mortgage-backed bonds. In the late 1970s, the college dropout and Salomon trader coined the term securitization to name a tidy bit of financial alchemy in which home loans were packaged together by Wall Street firms and sold to institutional investors. In 1984 Ranieri boasted that his mortgage-trading desk "made more money than all the rest of Wall Street combined." The good times rolled: as home ownership exploded in the early '00s, the mortgage-bond business inflated Wall Street's bottom line. So the firms placed even bigger bets on these securities. But when subprime borrowers started missing payments, the mortgage market stalled and bond prices collapsed. Investment banks, overexposed to the toxic assets, closed their doors. Investors lost fortunes.


Is the prospect that a party insulated from risk may behave differently from the way it would behave if it were fully exposed to the risk. Moral hazard arises because an individual or institution does not bear the full consequences of its actions, and therefore has a tendency to act less carefully than it otherwise would, leaving another party to bear some responsibility for the consequences of those actions.

scope labs   scope labs