sat8dec2007—49w342d93%— 08h08m00s—0utc

For those armchair observers of the breathtaking world of quants and structured finance, as myself, Technology Review’s current issue carries a wonderfully didactic and gripping introduction, The Blow-Up: (pesky but FREE registration required).

“How many think spreads will widen?” she asked.

The hands of about half the smartest people on Wall Street shot up.

“And how many think they’ll narrow?”

The other half — equally smart — raised their hands.

“Well,” she said. “That’s what makes a market.”

If they didn’t know, nobody could.

Focused only in securitization, When it goes wrong, from The Economist (YubNub’s “”http://yubnub.org/kernel/man?args=eco">eco"), is also a good overview and glimpse:

..it is hard to overstate the effect that securitisation has had on financial markets. Until the early 1980s, finance hewed to an “originate and hold” model. Banks generally held loans on their balance sheets to maturity; some debts were sold on loan-by-loan, but this market was small and lumpy. This began to give way to an “originate and distribute” model after America’s government-sponsored mortgage giants issued the first bonds with payments tied to the cash flows from large pools of loans.

Wall Street built on this innovation, and securitisation took off soon after, then paused before exploding in the 1990s.. It was given a lift by America’s savings-and-loan crisis, which encouraged mortgage lenders to jettison their riskier loans, and by new technologies, such as credit-scoring, that facilitated loan-pooling. Around 56% of America’s outstanding residential mortgages were packaged in this way, including more than two-thirds of the subprime loans issued in 2006. Thanks largely to securitisation, global private-debt securities are now far bigger than stockmarkets.

Answers.com (YubNub’s “”http://yubnub.org/kernel/man?args=a">a"), btw, is invaluable in navigating jargony fields like finance.

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