TA: Bloomberg’s got a ton of people on bonds, but I’ve said before that a part of why the business press failed here was that it has so many times more people covering equities than debt. And debt markets are many, many times the size of the equity markets. That’s kind of a major problem right there, right?
MP: It is huge. Most reporters, it’s shocking how few of them actually understand the difference between price and yield. Hardly any business journalist actually covers the financing. If you cover a company and all of a sudden their borrowing costs go from 100 (basis points) over to 250 or 300 over [meaning investors believe the risk has increased substantially], and no one asks a question. There’s a problem there when that happens and nobody asks a question. I think we have training issues in a huge way in our profession. We brought a knife to a gunfight.
TA: Does there need to be regulation just to simplify things to where it makes sense to more people?
MP: If it was all transparent the complexity wouldn’t matter. If the CDO market had had publicly available prospectuses with the contents of the CDO disclosed, we wouldn’t have this issue, because Bloomberg probably would have made fun of anybody who bought anything like this. But there was this enormous shadow banking system going on. We did a series about that, too. A lot of times people don’t see what we do.
TA: That’s one of the problems I’ve noticed. We’ve consciously tried at The Audit to make sure people are reading your stuff. I don’t think it’s become a habit for a lot of people even in the biz to go over to Bloomberg.
MP: It kinda bums you out, because you want to do things that have big (impact) because that’s why you’re in the business. And public policy would work a lot better if they actually understood what the hell was going on.
TA: Like adding up the total number of trillions that the government is on the hook for in this bailout. Nobody else is doing that but you. Why not?
MP: Because it’s a big pain. You start off with whatever you can remember off the top of your head—oh, they’re doing this, they’re doing that—you start writing it down on a piece of paper and you go “Wow, this is real money.” It starts adding up.
The thing that people don’t realize is that the Fed is now the “bad bank.” That’s just something that people don’t understand. They’ve taken collateral, and they refuse to tell us how they valued it…
We have numerous banks— dozens, maybe hundreds that are insolvent. And they become more insolvent every day because more people quit paying their mortgage loans, and more guys move out of the shopping center, and more people quit paying their credit cards. But nobody wants to have the adult conversation…We need to be honest about what the problem is here, how big it is, and how we’re going forward to clean it up, and who’s going to pay for it.
TA: Basically the charade that’s going on here is that they haven’t marked these assets down yet because that would show they’re insolvent.
MP: But a lot of [the assets] have gone to the Fed, though, as collateral for loans. They’re still on their balance sheet, but you borrowed against them. We don’t know if those are cracked CDO’s or prime RMBS…
TA: That’s what you guys are suing (the Federal Reserve) for—to find out what the collateral is.
MP: Yeah, and that’s the secret part of the story that nobody wants to let you know.
TA: Because it’s worth pennies on the dollar or dimes on the dollar.
MP: Yeah, and then everybody’s going to go “Oh my God, we’re lending ninety cents on something that’s worth twenty or thirty?”
TA: They say they don’t want to disclose it because it would interfere with the markets, is that right?