Simon Johnson (Continuación)

Santa Claus came early this year for four former executives of Washington Mutual (WaMu), a large US bank that failed in fall 2008. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) had brought a lawsuit against the four, actions that included taking huge financial risks while “knowing that the real estate market was in a ‘bubble.’” The FDIC sought to recover $900 million, but the executives have just settled for $64 million, almost all of which will be paid by their insurers; their out-of-pockets costs are estimated at just $400,000.

To be sure, the executives lost their jobs and now must drop claims for additional compensation.…  Seguir leyendo »

On the surface, at least, the situation in the eurozone today and South Korea in the fall of 1997 look very different. Both are cases of severe economic crisis, to be sure. But the eurozone’s problems stem from high levels of government debt, while South Korea faced massive capital flight and a collapsing currency – and almost all of the debt was in the corporate sector.

Nevertheless, the eurozone could learn from the experience of South Korea, which came through its crisis more quickly than anyone expected, combining sensible reforms with a rapid recovery. The key to the South Korean turnaround was a large depreciation of the currency, the won.…  Seguir leyendo »

Participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement are right to argue that the big banks have never properly been investigated for the mortgage origination, aggregation, and securitization behavior that was central to the financial crisis – and to the loss of more than eight million jobs. But, thanks to the efforts of New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, and others, serious discussion has started in the United States about an out-of court mortgage settlement between state attorney generals and prominent financial-sector firms.

Talks among state officials, the Obama administration, and the banks are currently focused on reported abuses in servicing mortgages, foreclosing on homes, and evicting their residents.…  Seguir leyendo »

European leaders are convinced that bank capital is “expensive,” in the sense that raising capital requirements would slow economic growth. But the latest developments in the Greek crisis show that the exact opposite is true – it’s European banks’ lackof capital that threatens to derail European and global growth.

Banks’ “capital” simply refers to their equity funding – how much of their liabilities are owned by shareholders rather than being owed to creditors as some form of debt. The advantage of equity capital is that it is “loss-absorbing,” meaning that only after losses wipe out all of the equity do they need to be apportioned between creditors.…  Seguir leyendo »

It is increasingly common to hear prominent American and European central bankers proclaim, with respect to the crisis of 2008-2010, the following verdict: “We did well.” Their view is that the various government actions to support the financial system helped to stabilize the situation. Indeed, what could be wrong when the United States Federal Reserve’s asset purchases may have actually made money (which is then turned over to the US Treasury)?

But to frame the issue in this way is, at best, to engage in delusion. At worst, however, it creates an image of arrogance that can only undermine the credibility on which central banks’ authority rests.…  Seguir leyendo »

Estados Unidos sigue desgarrado por un acalorado debate sobre las causas de la crisis financiera de 2007-2009. ¿Hay que echarle la culpa al gobierno por lo que salió mal? Y, si fuera así, ¿de qué manera?

En diciembre, la minoría republicana en la Comisión de Investigación de la Crisis Financiera (FCIC, por su sigla en inglés) intervino con una narrativa de disenso preventiva. De acuerdo con este grupo, las políticas equivocadas del gobierno, destinadas a aumentar la cantidad de propietarios de viviendas entre la gente relativamente pobre, empujó a demasiada gente a contraer hipotecas de alto riesgo que no podían pagar.…  Seguir leyendo »

Given the panic in Washington over the financial markets, it is virtually certain that Congress will soon pass some form of the bailout plan the Treasury put forward last week. This is not an ideal proposal, particularly since it does not address the underlying problem with mortgages and negative housing equity. No troubled mortgage holders would benefit directly, and key commercial banks might still end up undercapitalized.

However, no legislator wants to risk allowing the economy to collapse on his or her watch, and, according to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, that is what's at stake.

Within these political realities, there is a key issue on which lawmakers should focus, quickly, in designing this legislation: governance.…  Seguir leyendo »