Wednesday Links: SEC and CDOs, Meyerson, Wasted Crisis

Here’s more ammo for the just-blow-up-the-SEC-and-start-again crowd:

NPR’s Planet Money and ProPublica report on a questionnaire sent to CDO market participants known as collateral managers by the SEC asking “basic questions about what happened.”

Securities experts say the letter indicates that the agency is still gathering basic information about the CDO market, despite its centrality to the banking crisis.

But zero in on the fact that the questionnaires were sent to collateral managers. CDOs weren’t static things. These managers were constantly trading assets in and out of them. Even if the SEC should have been on this long ago—and there’s no doubt about that—maybe it knows something about an area that’s very much worth looking into.

— Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post digs into a little economic history and a revealing split between the people and the elite:

America’s production of goods no longer received the level of investment that had made it the engine of our economic growth from the mid-19th century through the 1970s. The change began at the outset of the Reagan years, when the percentage of corporate profits retained for new investment dropped sharply. A report from the International Labor Organization published last week shows where the money went: to shareholder dividends, disproportionately benefiting the wealthy. In the prosperity years of 1946 to 1979, dividends constituted 23 percent of profits. From 1980 to 2008, they constituted 46 percent…

The problem is that America’s economic elites have thrived on the financialization and globalization of the economy that have caused the incomes of the vast majority of their fellow Americans to stagnate or decline. The insecurity that haunts their compatriots is alien to them. Fully 85 percent of Americans in that CFR-sponsored poll said that protecting U.S. jobs should be a top foreign policy priority, but when the pollsters asked that question of the council’s own members, just 21 percent said that protecting American jobs should be a top concern.

John Gapper of the Financial Times, reviewing the TARP, says the U.S. “has wasted the financial crisis.”

Tarp may have achieved its financial aims but, in terms of systemic risk, it has failed. By propping up banks indiscriminately, on soft terms, Tarp not only outraged voters but also magnified moral hazard in the financial system and made effective reform harder.

Good column.

— Gapper points to a great story from yesterday’s FT reporting on the secondary bubble that’s under way.

Distressed debt – defined as a bond trading at less than 50 cents on the dollar – is rapidly disappearing from US financial markets as yield-hungry investors push up the prices for even the most beaten-down securities….

The intense demand for once-distressed bonds is stirring the debate about whether investors are acting wisely or piling into junk bonds because of a lack of opportunities elsewhere in the fixed-income markets.


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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.