Friday, July 27, 2007

Death Bonds

BusinessWeek, writes about "death bonds", 30 July. They are created by pooling life insurance policies and selling shares in them, like CMOs on mortgages. Like CMOs, the Wall Street purveyors of this junk seek ratings from Moody's and S&P to show that they are relatively riskless yet will yield 8%.

We've seen this story before with CMOs and other securitized cash flow streams. Janet Tavakoli, a Chicago financial consultant, said "the same kinds of missteps [like with CMOs] are bound to happen with death bonds". Amen! Who would buy this garbage? Will Moody's & S&P refuse to rate death bonds until they have a 10-year track record? Will pigs fly?

"In an attempt to put even more distance between Wall Street and the old viatical crowd, six investment houses, inlcuding, Bear Stearns, Credfit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, and UBS, in March formed a trade group called the Institutional Life Markets Assn., to lobby for 'best practices' and 'appropriate regulation'." "Round up the usual suspects" said Claude Rains as Captain Renault in Casablanca (1942). This smells like the AICPA, which for 30+ years has not done anything to make the Big 87654 accounting firms do better audits, just harass smaller CPA firms.

What is "appropriate regulation"? Whatever limits Wall Street houses liability selling death bonds. What are "best practices"? Whatever the large Wall Street houses do by definition.

For extra credit: read C. Walton Hamilton's Politics of Industry (1957) about how regulation really works.

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