Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Alpha Iota Gamma

NPR had a story (embedded below) this morning on the parallels between the unfolding financial crisis in Europe and the U.S. situation of late 2008.

Namely, that many banks purchased Greek debt that is now in doubt of ever being paid back and this threatens the solvency of the banks. So the European Central Bank and European Governments have stepped in with money to buy up the Greek debt, which has become Europe's own toxic asset.

While the bailout may directly help Greece, it will surely help it's counterparties, that is, the people who lent it money. This is not unlike the bailout of banks like Goldman Sachs and others, some of whom are also exposed heavily to Greek debt, that was funneled through AIG. The insurance company that couldn't make good on the policies it wrote.

There are really two problems here. The first being the Greek fiscal situation and the second is that the banks have done a terrible job is assessing credit worthiness. This is from the NPR story:

MIT Professor Simon Johnson is the former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund. He recently wrote a book about the banking bailout in the U.S., and he says basically the Europeans are making the same mistakes that policymakers here made - namely, they're rewarding the very banks that helped to create the problem.

Professor SIMON JOHNSON (MIT): The cost in terms of distorted incentives is huge because the banks are taking away from this the message that they can lend to anyone and get bailed out.

Since we went first with the bailout, I would hope that we would also be the first to address this particular problem. As of yet, I'm not convinced that has happened.

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