Insecure Securities

MUNICH – Once upon a time, stocks were risky and collateralized securities were safe. That time is over, as the breakdown of the American mortgage securitization market has shown.

For years, hundreds of billions of new mortgage-backed securities (MBSs) and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) generated from them were sold to the world to compensate for the lack of savings in the United States and to finance American housing investment. Now virtually the entire market for new issues of such securities – all but 3% of the original market volume – has vanished.

To compensate for the disappearance of that market, and for the simultaneous disappearance of non-securitized bank lending to American homeowners, 95% of US mortgages today are channeled through the state institutions Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae. Just as there was a time when collateralized securities were safe, there was also a time when economies with so much state intervention were called socialist.

Most of these private securities were sold to oil-exporting countries and Europe, in particular Germany, Britain, the Benelux countries, Switzerland, and Ireland. China and Japan shied away from buying such paper.