financial crisis

April 5th, 2008

Credit Default Swap


The seeds of today’s disaster were sown in the 1980s, when financial services began a pattern of growth that may only now have come to an end. In a recent study Martin Barnes of BCA Research, a Canadian economic-research firm, traces the rise of the American financial-services industry’s share of total corporate profits, from 10% in the early 1980s to 40% at its peak last year (see chart 1). Its share of stockmarket value grew from 6% to 19%. These proportions look all the more striking-even unsustainable-when you note that financial services account for only 15% of corporate America’s gross value added and a mere 5% of private-sector jobs. link »

This process has turned investment banks into debt machines that trade heavily on their own accounts. Goldman Sachs is using about $40 billion of equity as the foundation for $1.1 trillion of assets. At Merrill Lynch, the most leveraged, $1 trillion of assets is teetering on around $30 billion of equity. In rising markets, gearing like that creates stellar returns on equity. When markets are in peril, a small fall in asset values can wipe shareholders out. link »

– from The financial system | What went wrong | via