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Sub-Prime Fallout: Why Such A Big Deal?

May 16, 2008
The recent sub-prime crisis is unlike any faced by the financial system before in one dubious distinction: Its effects are exacerbated by globalization to an unprecedented degree. Recent developments help illustrate exactly how this credit crunch can be differentiated from others, such as the savings and loan scandals of the 1980's, by its fundamentally larger scale and complexity.

To explain the sub-prime crisis adequately, first the causes must be clearly identified. Like the savings and loan problems, predatory lending on the part of real estate brokers and agents, combined with a fair amount of financial fan-dangling, many banks loaned out more money than they normally were allowed to. By keeping these loans off their balance sheets, they were able to loan out much more than the rule-of-thumb ten times their deposits. If you consider that the sub-prime fallout is considered by most to be over $250 billion dollars, then the loans made could be in the trillions. The vehicles in which the debt was stored were basically invented for the purpose of deceiving potential investors into believing that they were sound investments, not risky sub-prime mortgages.

The savings and loan crisis took a similar tact, and ended in similar levels of indignation, consumer despair, and regulation. As the years have gone by, those who cried for deregulation in order to help the already unprecedented economic growth skyrocket higher still have gotten their wish, but at a price: now that the Fed has instituted more clear standards for informed consent for borrowers, a crisis like this will likely not emerge again for some time. However, this is a lone consolation for the amazing amount of debt that has yet to be declared throughout the financial system.

The reason this crisis is so much larger is because the repackaged sub-prime debt was sold not just to other Americans, or even Canadians and Europeans. It was sold all over the world, to China and India and many other countries. This means that the problem increases in complexity, as differing international regulations for the timetable on debt declaration and a financial system that has turned a boom into a spider's web of uncertainty contribute to higher risk to any institution that lends money. This, in turn, places a de facto cap on the amount of economic growth that can happen.

But the problem is also much, much larger because the entire world has some degree of stake in it. Now European central banks are cutting their interest rates as well, in order to combat a problem that won't even really exist in a measurable form until two million Americans default on their mortgages in the new year. When the fallout was limited to the US, as was the case with the savings and loan banks, the turnaround time was a matter of two years, give or take. Now, the sub-prime crisis has been high on the international public radar for well over a year, but less than a tenth of the lowest estimates on the total debt have been acknowledged by lending companies. This means that recession is a much more likely outcome of this global problem than it seemed even three months ago.
About the Author
Living in Austin Ki works for a small realty company focused on Austin real estate . They provide information about the market on their blog about Austin real estate news along with a allowing users to start searching for Austin homes online through the Austin MLS.
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