Best of the Week
Most Popular
1. Investing in a Bubble Mania Stock Market Trending Towards Financial Crisis 2.0 CRASH! - 9th Sep 21
2.Tech Stocks Bubble Valuations 2000 vs 2021 - 25th Sep 21
3.Stock Market FOMO Going into Crash Season - 8th Oct 21
4.Stock Market FOMO Hits September Brick Wall - Evergrande China's Lehman's Moment - 22nd Sep 21
5.Crypto Bubble BURSTS! BTC, ETH, XRP CRASH! NiceHash Seizes Funds on Account Halting ALL Withdrawals! - 19th May 21
6.How to Protect Your Self From a Stock Market CRASH / Bear Market? - 14th Oct 21
7.AI Stocks Portfolio Buying and Selling Levels Going Into Market Correction - 11th Oct 21
8.Why Silver Price Could Crash by 20%! - 5th Oct 21
9.Powell: Inflation Might Not Be Transitory, After All - 3rd Oct 21
10.Global Stock Markets Topped 60 Days Before the US Stocks Peaked - 23rd Sep 21
Last 7 days
Best AI Tech Stocks ETF and Investment Trusts - 19th Oct 21
Gold Mining Stocks: Will Investors Dump the Laggards? - 19th Oct 21
The Most Exciting Medical Breakthrough Of The Decade? - 19th Oct 21
Prices Rising as New Dangers Point to Hard Assets - 19th Oct 21
It’s not just Copper; GYX indicated cyclical the whole time - 19th Oct 21
Chinese Tech Stocks CCP Paranoia, VIES - Variable Interest Entities - 19th Oct 21
Inflation Peaked Again, Right? - 19th Oct 21
Gold Stocks Bouncing Hard - 19th Oct 21
Stock Market New Intermediate Bottom Forming? - 19th Oct 21
Beware, Gold Bulls — That’s the Beginning of the End - 18th Oct 21
Gold Price Flag Suggests A Big Rally May Start Soon - 18th Oct 21
Inflation Or Deflation – End Result Is Still Depression - 18th Oct 21
A.I. Breakthrough Could Disrupt the $11 Trillion Medical Sector - 18th Oct 21
US Economy and Stock Market Addicted to Deficit Spending - 17th Oct 21
The Gold Price And Inflation - 17th Oct 21
Went Long the Crude Oil? Beware of the Headwinds Ahead… - 17th Oct 21
Watch These Next-gen Cloud Computing Stocks - 17th Oct 21
Overclockers UK Custom Built PC 1 YEAR Use Review Verdict - Does it Still Work? - 16th Oct 21
Altonville Mine Tours Maze at Alton Towers Scarefest 2021 - 16th Oct 21
How to Protect Your Self From a Stock Market CRASH / Bear Market? - 14th Oct 21
The Only way to Crush Inflation (not stocks) - 14th Oct 21
Why "Losses Are the Norm" in the Stock Market - 14th Oct 21
Sub Species Castle Maze at Alton Towers Scarefest 2021 - 14th Oct 21
Which Wallet is Best for Storing NFTs? - 14th Oct 21
Ailing UK Pound Has Global Effects - 14th Oct 21
How to Get 6 Years Life Out of Your Overclocked PC System, Optimum GPU, CPU and MB Performance - 13th Oct 21
The Demand Shock of 2022 - 12th Oct 21
4 Reasons Why NFTs Could Be The Future - 12th Oct 21
Crimex Silver: Murder Most Foul - 12th Oct 21
Bitcoin Rockets In Preparation For Liftoff To $100,000 - 12th Oct 21
INTEL Tech Stock to the MOON! INTC 2000 vs 2021 Market Bubble WARNING - 11th Oct 21
AI Stocks Portfolio Buying and Selling Levels Going Into Market Correction - 11th Oct 21
Stock Market Wall of Worry Meets NFPs - 11th Oct 21
Stock Market Intermediate Correction Continues - 11th Oct 21
China / US Stock Markets Divergence - 10th Oct 21
Can US Save Taiwan From China? Taiwan Strait Naval Battle - PLA vs 7th Fleet War Game Simulation - 10th Oct 21
Gold Price Outlook: The Inflation Chasm Between Europe and the US - 10th Oct 21
US Real Estate ETFs React To Rising Housing Market Mortgage Interest Rates - 10th Oct 21
US China War over Taiwan Simulation 2021, Invasion Forecast - Who Will Win? - 9th Oct 21
When Will the Fed Taper? - 9th Oct 21
Dancing with Ghouls and Ghosts at Alton Towers Scarefest 2021 - 9th Oct 21
Stock Market FOMO Going into Crash Season - 8th Oct 21
Scan Computers - Custom Build PC 6 Months Later, Reliability, Issues, Quality of Tech Support Review - 8th Oct 21
Gold and Silver: Your Financial Main Battle Tanks - 8th Oct 21
How to handle the “Twin Crises” Evergrande and Debt Ceiling Threatening Stocks - 8th Oct 21
Why a Peak in US Home Prices May Be Approaching - 8th Oct 21
Alton Towers Scarefest is BACK! Post Pandemic Frights Begin, What it's Like to Enter Scarefest 2021 - 8th Oct 21
AJ Bell vs II Interactive Investor - Which Platform is Best for Buying US FAANG Stocks UK Investing - 7th Oct 21
Gold: Evergrande Investors' Savior - 7th Oct 21
Here's What Really Sets Interest Rates (Not Central Banks) - 7th Oct 21

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

How to Protect your Wealth by Investing in AI Tech Stocks

Wall Street Numbers Game Played at High Speed by Powerful Computers Trading Complex Derivatives

Politics / Derivatives Apr 07, 2012 - 01:18 PM GMT

By: Douglas_French

Politics

Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleThere's plenty of blame for the financial crisis being spread around. Those on the left say Wall Street wasn't regulated enough, while those on the right claim government mandates required lenders to make bad loans. The argument is made that the Federal Reserve was too loose, while the other side says Bernanke wasn't loose enough. Some blame greed. Others blame Wall Street's investment products. And then there's mathematics.


Wall Street has become a numbers game played at high speed by powerful computers trading complex derivatives utilizing even more complex mathematical modeling. Writing for the Huffington Post, Théo Le Bret asks the reader to

Take the Black-Scholes equation, used to estimate the value of a derivative: it is actually no more than a partial differential equation of the financial derivative's value, as a function of four variables, including time and "volatility" of the underlying asset (the derivative being a 'bet' on the future value of the asset). Differential equations are well-known to physicists, since such fundamental properties of nature as the wave equation or Schrodinger's equation for quantum mechanics are given in the form of differential equations, and in physics their solutions seem to be very reliable: so why is this not always the case in finance?

Mr. Le Bret quotes Albert Einstein for his answer: "as far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality."

Murray Rothbard put it another way:

In physics, the facts of nature are given to us. They may be broken down into their simple elements in the laboratory and their movements observed. On the other hand, we do not know the laws explaining the movements of physical particles; they are unmotivated.

Rothbard goes on to make the point that human action is motivated and thus economics is built on the basis of axioms. We can then deduce laws from these axioms, but, as Rothbard explains, "there are no simple elements of 'facts' in human action; the events of history are complex phenomena, which cannot 'test' anything."

Using the models that work so well for physicists, mathematicians on Wall Street got it spectacularly wrong in the mortgage and derivatives markets, just as mathematical economists can never predict the future with any accuracy. Motivated human behavior cannot be modeled.

But the mathematicians or "quants" underscore all of Wall Street's financial engineering, a process that takes a few pieces of paper and folds their attributes together to make new products, most times hoping to avoid taxes and regulation. Author Brendan Moynihan describes this engineering in his book Financial Origami: How the Wall Street Model Broke.

Origami is the traditional Japanese art of paper folding wherein amazing shapes and animals are created with just a few simple folds to a piece of paper. Moynihan cleverly extends the metaphor to the financial arena, pointing out that stocks, bonds, and insurance are pieces of paper simply folded by the Wall Street sales force into swaps, options, futures, derivatives of derivatives, and the like.

The author is adept at describing derivatives in terms a person can understand. Health-insurance premiums are a call option to have the insurance company pay for our medical care. Auto insurance premiums are like put options, allowing the insured to sell (put) his or her car, if it's totaled, to the insurer at blue-book value.

Nobel Prize winners have played a big hand in the creation of derivatives. Milton Friedman's paper on the need for futures markets in currencies paved the way for that market in 1971. But as Moynihan points out, it was Nixon's shutting of the gold window that created the need to mitigate currency and inflation risk.

Nobel Laureate Myron Scholes was cocreator of the Black-Scholes-Merton option-pricing model. He and cowinner Robert Merton used their model to blow-up Long Term Capital Management.

But it was little-known economist David X. Li's paper in the Journal of Fixed Income that would provide the intellectual foundation for Wall Street's flurry into mortgages. "On Default Correlation: A Copula Function Approach" became "the academic study used to support Wall Street's turning subprime mortgage pools into AAA-rated securities," writes Moynihan. "By the time it was over, the Street would create 64,000 AAA-rated securities, even though only 12 companies in the world had that rating."

Robert Stowe England, in his book Black Box Casino: How Wall Street's Risky Shadow Banking Crashed Global Finance, says Li's model "relied on the price history of credit default swaps against a given asset to determine the degree of correlation rather than rely on historical loan performance data."

"People got very excited about the Gaussian copula because of its mathematical elegance," says Nassim Nicholas Taleb, "but the thing never worked." Taleb, the author of The Black Swan, claims any attempt to measure correlation based on past history to be "charlatanism."

Subprime mortgages were bundled to become collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs), which are a form of collateralized debt obligation(CDO). CDOs weren't new; the first rated CDO was assembled by Michael Milken in 1987. But instead of a mixture of investment-grade and junk corporate bonds, in the housing bubble, CDOs were rated AAA based upon Li's work.

Mr. England wryly points out, "A cynic might say that the CDO was invented to create a place to dump lower credit quality or junk bonds and hide them among better credits."

England quotes Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short: "The CDO was, in effect, a credit laundering service for the residents of Lower Middle Class America." For Wall Street it was a machine that "turned lead into gold."

Wall Street's CDO mania served to pump up investment-bank leverage. England explains that if level-3 securities were included (level-3 assets, which include CDOs, cannot be valued by using observable measures, such as market prices and models) then Bear Stearns sported leverage of 262 to 1 just before the crash. Lehman was close behind at 225, Morgan Stanley at 222, Citigroup at 212, and Goldman Sachs was levered at 200 to 1.

Leverage like that requires either perfection or eventual government bailout for survival.

The CDO market created the need for a way to bet against the CDOs and the credit-default-swap (CDS) market was born. Bundling the CDS together created synthetic CDOs. "With synthetic CDOs, Wall Street crossed over to The Matrix," writes England, "a world where reality is simulated by computers."

It's England's view that the CDO market "was the casino where the bets were placed. Wall Street became bigger and chancier than Las Vegas and Atlantic City combined — and more." According to Richard Zabel, the total notional value of the entire CDS market was $45 trillion by the end of 2007, at the same time the bond and structured vehicle markets totaled only $25 trillion.

So the speculative portion of the CDS market was at least $20 trillion with speculators betting on the possibility of a credit event for securities not owned by either party. England does not see this as a good thing. It's Mr. England's view that credit default swaps concentrated risk in certain financial institutions, instead of disbursing risk.

In "Credit Default Swaps from the Viewpoint of Libertarian Property Rights and Contract Credit Default Swaps Theory," published in Libertarian Papers, authors Thorsten Polleit and Jonathan Mariano contend, "The truth is that CDS provide investors with an efficient and effective instrument for exposing economically unsound and unsustainable fiat money regimes and the economic production structure it creates."

Polleit and Mariano explain that credit default swaps make a borrower's credit risk tradable. CDS is like an insurance policy written against the potential of a negative credit event. These derivatives, while being demonized by many observers, serve to increase "the disciplinary pressure on borrowers who are about to build up unsustainable debt levels to consolidate; or it makes borrowers who have become financially overstretched go into default."

Mr. England concludes his book saying, "We need a way forward to a safer, sounder financial system where the power of sunlight on financial institutions and markets helps enable free market discipline to work its invisible hand for the good of all."

Polleit and Mariano explain that it is the CDS market that provides that sunlight.

The panic of 2008 was the inevitable collapse of an increasingly rickety fiat-money and banking system — a system where the central bank attempts to direct and manipulate the nation's investment and production with an eye to maximize employment. In a speech delivered to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Jim Grant told the central bankers that interest rates should convey information. "But the only information conveyed in a manipulated yield curve is what the Fed wants."

Wall Street's math wizards convinced the Masters of the Universe that their numbers don't lie, believing they could model the Federal Reserve's house-of-mirrors market. Maybe the numbers don't lie, but the assumptions do.

Advising about mathematical economics, Rothbard wrote, "ignore the fancy welter of equations and look for the assumptions underneath. Invariably they are few in number, simple, and wrong." The same could be said for Dr. Li's model and Scholes's model before him.

Until the era of unstable fiat-money regimes ends, the search for scapegoats will continue — because the crashes will never end.

Douglas French is president of the Mises Institute and author of Early Speculative Bubbles & Increases in the Money Supply. He received his masters degree in economics from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, under Murray Rothbard with Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe serving on his thesis committee. See his tribute to Murray Rothbard. Send him mail. See Doug French's article archives. Comment on the blog.

© 2012 Copyright Ludwig von Mises - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.


© 2005-2019 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in