Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Change, Yes. But Hope ?: The Road to Reform on Wall Street

Facing a virtual meltdown of large segments of the financial, banking and investments industries, a Wall Street consortium led by Goldman Sachs managing partner E. Gerald Corrigan recommended new standards Wednesday for monitoring and managing risk. The report issued by the study group indicated that the financial industry must be better equipped to contain the potential for apocalyptic aftermaths potentially caused by irrational exuberance. (I said that, they didn't.)

The group's report, addressed to Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Mario Draghi, chairman of the international Financial Stability Forum, suggested that big investment houses regularly perform "liquidity stress tests" to measure their expected flexibility in the face of a crisis. It also urged firms to make sure they have accurate snapshots of their exposures to institutional trading partners, with the ability to compile detailed reports within hours if necessary. The report suggests that this will likely require extensive expenditures on "infrastructure" (i.e., human capital and technology)on the part of the financial industry which will no doubt be good news for many in the industry who have found themselves on the street (or, rather off The Street) following this chaotic financial year.

One cherce nugget: "...As discussed elsewhere in this Report, throughout the credit market crisis, the behavioral characteristics of several classes of structured credit instruments have accounted for a significant fraction of the write-downs and losses incurred by large integrated financial intermediaries, hedge funds, specialized financial institutions and other market participants. Moreover, there is almost universal agreement that, even with optimal disclosure in the underlying documentation, the characteristics of these instruments and the risk of loss associated with them were not fully understood by many market participants. This lack of comprehension was even more pronounced when applied to CDOs, CDOs squared,4 and related instruments, reflecting a complex array of factors, including a lack of understanding of the inherent limitations of valuation models and the risks of short-run historical data sets. As a consequence, these instruments displayed price depreciation and volatility far in excess of levels previously associated with comparably rated securities, causing both a collapse of confidence in a very broad range of structured product ratings and a collapse in liquidity for such products."

Translation: Despite all of the legal gobbedlygook issued by financial firms in support of some of the complex equity and investment products issued in the past several years, investors were not fully aware of the level or potenial of risk that these items faced. Like the ads that promise results, accompanied by a counterpuntal voice saying "Prior experience does not guarantee future earnings". But it was a bull market. You have to be in it to win it, etc. Until it fails. Irrational exuberance indeed.

The bottom line? Addressed as it is to Treasury Secretary Paulson and Mario Draghi of the "Financial Stability Forum," it seems Reform is the Better Part of Valor. Or, the mantra on Wall Street, for now, Better to Self-Regulate Than Be Regulated.

One wonders how the outcome of the November 2008 elections will further determine the future direction of regulation on Wall Street, and how that might impact individual and institutional investors, borrowers, and the near term and future growth of the American economy and the global economy at large.

To whit, the decision by some banks and investment firms to freeze home equity loans for customers deemed to be at risk of default (see link below).

Containing Systemic Risk: The Road to Reform here:

Wall Street Advises on New Risk Regulations (Washington Post):

Some Banks, Equity Firms, freeze Home Equity Withdrawals:

The Late Dr. Bruce Ivins: Not the Anthrax Suspect ?

A very sobering article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal suggests that the late government scientist Dr. Bruce Ivins, was not in fact "Dr Anthrax", despite the fact that he was believed to have committed suicide because the FBI was closing in on him as the chief suspect in the anthrax letter attacks that frightened the country in December 2001. In addition to making Dr. Ivins, who may or may not according to subsequent press accounts have been marginally but non-lethally loony, an Enemy of The State, the investigation, as the article states, does not appear to add up. Clearly, this also raises questions as to the identity of the actual perpetrators, and whether they are still At Large.

Paging "V for Vendetta", "The Matrix", Jean Baudrillard, Slavoj Zizek, and all of those other sub-textual analyses of politics, totalitarianism, terror and reality. As the Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City in 1995 and the Unibomber showed, enemies of American democracy are homegrown as well as foreign. However, perhaps The Disjuncture in American Life, both subtle and profound, that the September 11, 2001 attacks represented, seemed to create a brief vacuum, a window of opportunity.

A Pandora's Box that creeped open with terror attacks on U.S. personnel and embassies for the past several decades, opened wide on 9/11, unleashing all manner of extremists. If the analyst's article is correct, what is most sobering and clear is that with the death of Dr. Ivins the anthrax killings may be far from over,

Wall Street Journal on the Dr. Bruce Ivins Story:

Significant Terror Incidents: 1961-2003

Current Reading

  • Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War- Tony Horwitz
  • A Sultan in Palermo - Tariq Ali
  • Hitch-22: A Memoir - Christopher Hitchens
  • Negropedia- Patrice Evans
  • Dead Funny: Humor in Nazi Germany - Rudolph Herzog
  • Exile on Main Street - Robert Greenfield
  • Among the Truthers - A Journey Among America's Growing Conspiracist Underworld - Jonathan Kay
  • Paradise Lost - John Milton
  • What Is Your Dangerous Idea? Thinking the Unthinkable - John Brockman
  • Notes from the Edge Times - Daniel Pinchbeck
  • Fringe-ology: How I Can't Explain Away the Unexplainable- Steve Volk
  • Un Juif pour l'exemple (translated as A Jew Must Die )- Jacques Cheesex
  • The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
  • Pale King - David Foster Wallce
  • David Bowie: Starman bio - Paul Trynka
  • Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat - Andrez Bergen
  • The Future of Nostalgia -Svetlana Boym
  • Living in the End Times - Slavoj ZIzek
  • FIrst as Tragedy Next as Farce - Slavoj Zizek
  • How to Survive a Robot Uprising - Daniel Wilson
  • Where is My Jet Pack? -Daniel Wilson
  • Day of the Oprichniks - Vladimir Sorokin
  • Ice Trilogy - Vladimir Sorokin
  • First Civilizations
  • Oscar Wilde -Andre Maurois
  • The Beats - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • SDS - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • The Unfinished Animal - Theodore Roszak
  • Friends of Eddy Coyle
  • Brooklands -Emily Barton
  • Abraham Lincoln - Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahme-Smith - Entertaining and historical
  • Dictionary of the Khazars - Pavic
  • Sloth-Gilbert Hernandez
  • War and Peace- Leo Tolstoy
  • Charles Addams: An Evilution
  • Life in Ancient Greece
  • Time - Eva Hoffmann
  • Violence - S. Zizek
  • Luba - a graphic novel by Gilbert Hernandez
  • Life in Ancient Egypt
  • Great Apes - Will Self - riveting and disturbing
  • Lost Honor of Katherina Blum - Heinrich Boll - could not put it down
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed (author deserving of new wide readership)
  • Living in Ancient Mesopotomia
  • Landscape in Concrete - Jakov Lind - surreal
  • 'There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor's Baby'-Ludmilla Petrushevskaya - creepy stories - translation feels literarily "thin"
  • Mythologies - William Butler Yeats (re-read again & again)
  • How German Is It ? - Walter Abish
  • The Book of Genesis - illustrated by R. Crumb - visionary
  • "Flags" - an illustrated encyclopedia - wish I could remember all of these. Flag culture
  • Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Ubik - Philip K. Dick
  • Nobody's Fool - Richard Russo
  • Hitler's Empire - Mark Mazower
  • Nazi Culture - various authors
  • Master Plan: Himmler 's Scholars and the Holocaust - Heather Pringle
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem - Hannah Arendt
  • Living in Ancient Rome
  • Traveling with Herodotus -R. Kapuszynsky
  • Oblivion - David Foster Wallace - Some of his greatest work
  • Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace - still wrestling with this great book
  • Netherland - Joseph O'Neill - staggeringly great read
  • Renegade - The Obama Campaign - Richard Wolffe
  • Mount Analogue - Rene Daumal
  • John Brown
  • Anathem - Neal Stephenson - love Stephenson but tough slogging first few chapters
  • 7 Deadly Sins
  • ALEX COX - Alex Cox
  • FIASCO by Thomas Ricks
  • I, Fellini - Charlotte Chandler & Federico Fellini
  • Best of 20th century alternative history fiction
  • Judah P. Benjamin - Eli Evans - Confederacy's Secretary of State & source of the W.C. Field's exclamation
  • Moscow 2042 - Vladimir Voinovich - Pre-1989 curiosity & entertaining sci fi read; love his portrayal of Solzhenitsyn-like character
  • Gomorrah - Roberto Saviano - Mafia without the It-Am sugar coating. Brutal & disturbing
  • The Sack of Rome - Celebrity+Media+Money=Silvio Berlusconi - Alexander Stille
  • Reporting - David Remnick - terrific journalism
  • Fassbinder
  • Indignation - Philip Roth
  • Rome
  • Let's Go Italy! 2008
  • Italian Phrases for Dummies
  • How to Pack
  • Violence - Slavoj Zizek
  • Dali: Painting & Film
  • The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight - Jimmy Breslin
  • The Good Rat - Jimmy Breslin
  • Spook Country - William Gibson
  • A Blue Hand - The Beats in India - Deborah Baker
  • The Metaphysical Club - Louis Menard
  • Coast of Utopia - Tom Stoppard
  • Physics of the Impossible - Dr. Michio Kaku
  • Managing the Unexpected - Weick & Sutcliffe
  • Wait Til The Midnight Hour - Writings on Black Power
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed
  • Burning Down the Masters' House - Jayson Blair
  • Howl - Allen Ginsberg
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Palace Thief - Ethan Canin
  • John Adams - David McCullough
  • The Wooden Sea - Jonathan Carroll
  • American Gangster - Mark Jacobson
  • Return of the King - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Gawker Guide to Becoming King of All Media
  • Jews and Power - Ruth Wisse
  • Youth Without Youth - Mircea Eliade
  • A Team of Rivals - Doris Goodwin
  • Ghost Hunters -William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death - Deborah Blum
  • Dream -Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy - Stephen Duncombe
  • Love & Theft - Eric Lott
  • Exit Ghost - Philip Roth
  • Studio A - The Bob Dylan Reader

Current Listening

  • Alexi Murdoch Wait
  • Wilco Summer Teeth
  • Wilco The Album
  • Carmina Burana - Ray Manzarek (& Michael Riesmann)
  • Polyrock - Polyrock
  • 96 Tears - Garland Jeffries
  • Ghost of a Chance Garland Jeffries
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra
  • Mustang Sally Buddy Guy
  • John Lee Hooker
  • Black and White Years
  • Together Through Life - B. Dylan
  • 100 Days 100 Nites - Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
  • DYLAN: 3 disc Greatest...
  • Glassworks - Philip Glass
  • Wild Palms - Soundtrack -Ryuichi Sakamoto
  • Dinah Washington - Best of..
  • Commander Cody& His Lost Planet Airmen Live at Armadillo