EppsNet Archive: Finance

Get Rich Making Dumb Decisions

31 Mar 2014 /

The people on the short side of the subprime mortgage market had gambled with the odds in their favor. The people on the other side — the entire financial system, essentially — had gambled with the odds against them. Up to this point, the story of the big short could not be simpler. What’s strange and complicated about it, however, is that pretty much all the important people on both sides of the gamble left the table rich. . . . The CEOs of every major Wall Street firm were also on the wrong end of the gamble. All of them, without exception, either ran their public corporations into bankruptcy or were saved from bankruptcy by the United States government. They all got rich, too.

What are the odds that people will make smart decisions about money if they don’t need to make smart decisions — if they can get rich making dumb decisions?

— Michael Lewis, The Big Short

EppsNet Book Reviews: The Big Short by Michael Lewis

10 Nov 2013 /

I worked in the information technology department of a mortgage bank in the run-up to the 2007 implosion of the subprime mortgage market . . .

Given that it was fairly evident at the time that complicated financial instruments were being dreamed up for the sole purpose of lending money to people who could never repay it, it’s remarkable that very few people foresaw the catastrophe and that even fewer actually had the nerve to bet on it to happen.

Long story short, the major rating agencies — Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s — were incompetent in their rating of subprime mortgage bonds, giving investment-grade and, in some cases, triple-A ratings to high-risk instruments. A lot of people took the ratings — which implied that subprime mortgage derivatives were no riskier than U.S. Treasury bonds — at face value and acted accordingly.

But there were also some interesting psychological factors in play, not specific to the investment arena:

  1. Nothing really bad had ever happened in the subprime mortgage market. Every tiny panic was followed by a robust boom. Since nothing really bad had ever happened (albeit over a short and statistically insignificant period of time), nothing really bad ever would happen.
  2. The collapse of the subprime mortgage market would be a national catastrophe, and was unlikely precisely because it would be such a catastrophe. Nothing that bad could ever actually happen.

Academically Speaking, I’ve Still Got the Geedus

28 Jan 2013 /

I took a Computational Finance midterm over the weekend on Coursera. I’ve taken a few Coursera classes before — they had quizzes, problem sets, programming assignments, essays — but none of them had a midterm or final exam.

It’s the first academic exam I’ve taken in at least a couple of decades, and the first exam ever in which — because it was online — I was able to participate in the company of my life partner, Wild Turkey.

Here’s my result:

Computational Finance midterm results

I lost the one point on this question right here:

Question 22

If you understand the question, it’s obvious which one of the four I missed, but it may not be obvious what the right answer is. It wasn’t to me, anyway.

My wife asks, “Did you see the grading curve?”

“No, but when you score 149 out of 150, you leave it to others to worry about the curve.”


Will Financial Regulation Make a Difference?

26 Jun 2010 /

Banks are expected to find ways to offset the impact of the new financial regulations on their earnings, though they face a potentially complex process of adapting to the new requirements, analysts said on Friday.

The share prices of some of the biggest United States banks, including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, were higher in afternoon trading, hours after a House-Senate conference committee completed work on a bill that would toughen financial regulations.

Analysts pored over the specifics of the deal as they emerged on Friday and expressed a wide array of views about the impact it would have. Some saw the bill as more of a political statement than a practical measure that could prevent another financial meltdown. Others said banks’ costs would increase, but banks would pass the increased costs along to consumers.


Goldman Sachs

18 Apr 2010 /
Lights are on but is anyone there

I was shocked and dismayed –I think we all were- to learn that Goldman Sachs had been involved in whatever it was they did. I had always ranked them with unlicensed boxing promoters and taxi drivers in Cairo, as people who inspire one with absolute confidence.