Subprime fallout: Who's stuck with $400 billion in losses?
How asset-backed securities tied to risky mortgages and US consumer debt are affecting investors around the world.
Wall Street sometimes calls the subprime mortgage packages and other risky investments troubling the world's financial system "toxic waste." Analysts estimate foreigners own a quarter to a third of this dangerous stuff.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Losses on subprime-related investments alone could reach $400 billion, the finance ministers of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations were told earlier this month at a meeting in Tokyo. If so, banks and other investors in Europe and elsewhere participating in the global financial market could suffer losses of perhaps $100 billion to $133 billion.
Often these investments had been characterized as AAA, or quite safe, by the leading American agencies that rate bonds and more complicated investments known as derivatives and asset-backed securities.
Is that fair?
But as Mr. Williamson and others see it, the issue is not simply black and white, bad guys versus good guys.
For one thing, today's financial mess seriously affects most people around the world today and possibly for years to come. Credit markets have frozen to considerable degree not only in the US but also in Europe. Banks and other financial firms can no longer sell to investors what Washington consulting economist Harald Malmgren calls "trust-me securities." These fancy security packages, assembled by Wall Street investment banks, included mortgages on residential and commercial properties, auto loans, and even credit-card debts.
"The entire market for asset-backed securities is dead in the water," says Mr. Malmgren. They are only sold on money markets at huge discounts, ranging from 15 cents off the dollar of face value to 75 cents off. "This problem will not go away quickly. It affects every human being."
For individuals, getting a mortgage or car loan has become difficult. Those struggling to make credit-card payments or reaching their credit limit face stiffer penalties and less flexibility from credit-card companies. Retirees may also be affected as thousands of pension funds around the world, private or government, have found their assets shrinking from toxic holdings of asset-based securities.