Indian Quants and the Crash of 2008
April 06, 2009, 02:35 PM
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Belatedly: although I don't like mixing my financial and political journalism, I should have drawn attention to my recent Market Watch column on two left-wing MSM takes on the Crash of 2008. Both argue that a financial industry elite has seized control of the economy, which I agree with for reasons I won't go into here.

One part of 2008's historic perfect storm, triggered by the Minority Mortgage Meltdown, was the way it was spread around the world by the invention of financial derivatives. Here's Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone:

Because CDOs [collaterized debt obligations] offered higher rates of return than truly safe products like Treasury bills, it was a win-win: Banks made a fortune selling CDOs, and big investors made much more holding them.

The problem was, none of this was based on reality. "The banks knew they were selling c—," says a London-based trader from one of the bailed-out companies. To get AAA ratings, the CDOs relied not on their actual underlying assets but on crazy mathematical formulas that the banks cooked up to make the investments look safer than they really were. "They had some back room somewhere where a bunch of Indian guys who'd been doing nothing but math for God knows how many years would come up with some kind of model saying that this or that combination of debtors would only default once every 10,000 years," says one young trader who sold CDOs for a major investment bank. "It was nuts."

(The Big Takeover, March 19, 2008. Expletive deleted, emphasis added).

We posted these reflections by "Displaced American Quant" on the unrealism and ethnic networking of Asian quants back in 2004. Other comments here and here. They read chillingly now.