Posts filed under “Really, really bad calls”
Terrific l o n g article in the Sunday Times Magazine by Joe Nocera, titled Risk Mismanagement. Its all about how Wall Street developed and still uses VaR — Value at Risk.
The application of VaR remains hotly debated today. Did it contribute to the credit crisis — or was it ignored/misapplied/distorted, and THATS what was a key factor.
Risk managers use VaR to quantify their firm’s risk positions to their board. In the late 1990s, as the use of derivatives was exploding, the Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that firms had to include a quantitative disclosure of market risks in their financial statements for the convenience of investors, and VaR became the main tool for doing so. Around the same time, an important international rule-making body, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, went even further to validate VaR by saying that firms and banks could rely on their own internal VaR calculations to set their capital requirements. So long as their VaR was reasonably low, the amount of money they had to set aside to cover risks that might go bad could also be low.
Given the calamity that has since occurred, there has been a great deal of talk, even in quant circles, that this widespread institutional reliance on VaR was a terrible mistake. At the very least, the risks that VaR measured did not include the biggest risk of all: the possibility of a financial meltdown. “Risk modeling didn’t help as much as it should have,” says Aaron Brown, a former risk manager at Morgan Stanley who now works at AQR, a big quant-oriented hedge fund. A risk consultant named Marc Groz says, “VaR is a very limited tool.” David Einhorn, who founded Greenlight Capital, a prominent hedge fund, wrote not long ago that VaR was “relatively useless as a risk-management tool and potentially catastrophic when its use creates a false sense of security among senior managers and watchdogs. This is like an air bag that works all the time, except when you have a car accident.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the best-selling author of “The Black Swan,” has crusaded against VaR for more than a decade. He calls it, flatly, “a fraud.” . . .
What will cause you to lose billions instead of millions? Something rare, something you’ve never considered a possibility. Taleb calls these events “fat tails” or “black swans,” and he is convinced that they take place far more frequently than most human beings are willing to contemplate. Groz has his own way of illustrating the problem: he showed me a slide he made of a curve with the letters “T.B.D.” at the extreme ends of the curve. I thought the letters stood for “To Be Determined,” but that wasn’t what Groz meant. “T.B.D. stands for ‘There Be Dragons,’ ” he told me.
Best line in the article: “When Wall Street stopped looking for dragons, nothing was going to save it.”
I particularly loved the graphics and illustrations that were part of it:
Paul Krugman asks: Unusually, I’m having a vocabulary problem. There has to be some word for the kind of person who considers his mild discomfort the equivalent of torture, crippling injury, or death for other people. But I can’t think of it. What brings this to mind is this from Alberto Gonzales: I consider myself…Read More
Special Schadenfreude edition: In case you missed it, here is our updated collections of the worst predictions for how 2008 would turn out: • The 10 Worst Predictions for 2008 (Foreign Policy) • The Worst Predictions About 2008 (Businessweek) • 2008 Investment Guides Are HILARIOUS (New York Magazine) • Famous Last Words (CNBC) • The…Read More
Via New York Magazine, comes this amusing collection of bad forecasts for the 2008 year: • Jon Birger, senior writer, Fortune Investors Guide 2008 Smart investors should buy [Merrill Lynch] stock before everyone else comes to their senses.” Merrill’s shares plummeted 77 percent. • Elaine Garzarelli, president of Garzarelli Capital, Business Week’s Investment Outlook 2008…Read More
Part III of the Washington Post series on AIG. Today’s version: Downgrades And Downfall. Here’s an excerpt: Once a small part of the firm’s business, the increasingly popular [credit-default swaps] contracts had helped boost the company’s profits to record levels. The company’s computer models continued to show only a minute chance that the firm would…Read More
“The models suggested that the risk was so remote that the fees were almost free money. Just put it on your books and enjoy the money.” –Tom Savage, President, AIG’s Financial Products > The second part of the 3 part series is now posted, A Crack in The System. This section gets into the details…Read More
I am still very surprised at this: “George W. Bush remains popular among conservative Republicans (72% approve of him) despite his low overall approval rating. Meanwhile, moderate and liberal Republicans are as likely to disapprove as to approve of the job he is doing, and Democrats of all political orientations hold Bush in low regard.”…Read More
“We need to develop some new instruments, which sit somewhere between interest rates, which affect the whole economy… and individual supervision and regulation of individual banks. We need to develop something which bridges that gap and directly addresses the financial cycle and prevents the financial cycle and the credit cycle getting out of hand.” -Sir…Read More
Law office: http://halestewartlaw.com/
A recent paper by the Minneapolis Federal Reserve has gotten a lot of attention. The paper is titled Facts and Myths About the Financial Crisis of 2008 and it argues there was in fact no credit crisis. Several people have used this paper to argue that Wall Street overstated the severity of the credit crisis in order to get a bail-out they didn’t need. What these commentators have failed to heed is this paper was widely criticized within the financial community, even drawing a rare rebuke from a sister Federal Reserve Bank. In short, to argue there was no credit crisis — to say we were “punked by Wall Street” — flies in the face of every available fact on the crisis.
First, let’s provide some background for this debate. As of this writing 311 lenders have “imploded.” The XLFs — the ETF that tracks the financial sector – is down almost 70% from a high in the summer of 2007. Total credit losses at the world’s financial institutions have totaled 1 trillion dollars:
The gauge is down 46 percent in 2008 as credit losses and writedowns at the world’s largest banks surpassed $1 trillion and the U.S., Europe and Japan entered the first simultaneous recessions since World War II.
In other words, the financial sector’s economic position is terrible at best.
But the evidence runs deeper. About every six weeks the Federal Reserve issues a paper titled “The Beige Book.” This is a book complied from anecdotal evidence from the Federal Reserve Districts on the general economic environment. Every Beige book issued in 2008 has indicated credit conditions were tightening and loan demand was decreasing.
“You’ve heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession,” he said, noting that growth has held up at about 1 percent despite all the publicity over losing jobs to India, China, illegal immigration, housing and credit problems and record oil prices. “We may have a recession; we haven’t had one yet.” “We have sort…Read More