Audit Notes: Forbes Dissent, MBS Fight, Incestuous CDOs

I ripped Forbes last week for putting Dinesh D’Souza’s pile of awfulness on the front page of its magazine (and for comparing Obama to Vlad Lenin).

And while there’s no excuse for that, I will applaud Forbes for being open enough to allow its bloggers, including some staff members, to criticize it on its own site. Daily Finance’s Jeff Bercovici finds a couple of examples, including one by Craig Silver, who’s a copy editor and book reviewer there:

Many staffers were dismayed to learn our pages were going to be turned over to a propagandist hack from the far-right fringe for what turned out to be a stupefyingly inane, quasi-racist bomb-toss at our president. Perhaps because the article was so utterly devoid of intellectual probity and indeed was for the most part absurd–imputing that the president, embroiled in an exceedingly difficult war abroad, is in effect on the other side–we thought and hoped this ugly unpatriotic rant wouldn’t be taken seriously or barely be noticed. Alas, it proved hard to ignore, having appeared, like bad breath and rotten teeth, in places like dentist offices across the land, as the White House noted.

A hearty tip of the cap to Silver for having the stones to write that—and (a somewhat less hearty) one to Forbes for allowing him to. That’s no small thing.

The Wall Street Journal reports that mortgage-backed-securities investors are trying to get some of their money back by claiming in court that banks snowed them with fraudulent products. It shouldn’t be too hard to win some of those cases. And even if it is, we all could benefit from them:

In any case, analysts say the efforts could force banks to disclose difficult-to-obtain information about the loans, such as how poorly they might have been originated or are being managed.

And we’re talking big bucks:

In the latest effort, a group of investors in 2,300 mortgage securities worth roughly $500 billion is seeking to force several banks that originated or are now servicing faulty subprime-mortgage loans to repurchase or modify them.

It’s too bad this story was relegated to Money & Investing. There was a spot on A1 that would have worked just fine.

— ProPublica has a follow-up to its superb investigation (with Planet Money) on how the CDO hustlers “created fake demand” to keep that toxic market going once the fundamentals started driving real buyers away. It’s created an interactive graphic , by Jeff Larson and Karen Weise, to show the incestuous (their word, and an apt one) CDO market worked.


And if you didn’t catch the piece back then (here’s Dean Starkman’s thoughts on it), here’s a summary of what if found:

As our story noted, we found 85 instances during 2006 and 2007 where two CDOs bought pieces of each other’s unsold inventory. These trades, which involved $107 billion worth of CDOs, approximately a fifth of the market, underscore the extent to which the market lacked real buyers. Often the CDOs that swapped purchases closed within days of each other.

The incestuous trades made the CDOs more intertwined and thus fragile, accelerating their decline in value that began in the fall of 2007 and deepened over the next year.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.