The Best Cartoon Explanation of a Financial Disaster Created by an Art Student in California. Ever.

If this is the only personal finance blog you read (which means you are either my wife [Hi Honey] or my buddy Rick [Yo Ricky!]) you may not have seen this video yet.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

Amongst the many thousands of blogs that have embedded this admittedly very clever bit of multimedia are some personal finance blogs:


The Consumerist

Get Rich Slowly

Clever Dude

Some Christian PF blogs:

Bible Money Matters

Christian PF

Some non-PF blogs with cool names:

Inflection Point

Magic Spatula

The Cubicle Punk

And at least one blog sponsored a major clothing designer:

Kenneth Cole’s Awearness Blog.

The video also has it’s own homepage, with a counter reading over 325,000 hits.  They accept donations and sell T-shirts “to deal with a ridiculous bandwidth bill.”

Now, obviously, I would never even think of presuming to dispute the details contained in what is now our nation’s definitive account of the credit crisis.  But I do have a few little comments.

Keyed to the video timer:

1:19: The Fed does buy and sell Treasuries to control the money supply,  but the outfit that investors usually buy them from is called the US Treasury, hence the name.  And Treasury Bills, which are what yielded 1%, were never a way for investors to make more money.  They are what is colloquially called “cash.”  Gotta love the King Alan graphic.

2:05: That brief period of 1% interest rates (it lasted a year from June ‘03 to June ‘04) certainly made leverage cheaper and made a lot of otherwise marginal deals profitable, but it has not been demonstrated that it caused a quantum leap in the risk taken by Wall Street.  Leverage is not “a major way banks make their money”  it is, in fact, the very essence and definition of banking.  All banks have always been leveraged; it’s what they do for a living.  That said, the 100-1 leverage ratio given as an example is extreme and unlikely.

3:43: This strongly implies that mortgage bonds, and the slicing up of pools of mortgages into CDOs, was dreamed up around 2004.  On the contrary, the bankers who dreamed this up are long retired now.  It became standard practice in the 1980s, as described in Michael Lewis’s entertaining first book Liar’s Poker.

5:03: This is a brilliant graphical representation of how a CDO works, but three slices, or tranches, is fewer than typical.  Some pools had as many as ten.  Moreover, as good as the graphic is, the viewer is left wondering why it is important, other than as a demonstration of how those wacky bankers make everything too complicated.

There are two nasty side-effects of packaging mortgages into CDOs that are causing problems today.  The first is that there is no simple answer to the question “who owns this mortgage?”  A homeowner who needs to renegotiate terms has nobody with whom to talk.  The other problem is that the mortgage market is very fragmented.  There are tens of thousands of mortgage bonds out there, and because each is a particular claim on a particular pool of mortgages, no two are exactly alike.  This is a huge problem if, like many Wall Street banks recently, you need to sell a lot of bonds in a hurry.

7:23: As much as I love the sub-prime family graphic, it’s not a fair representation.  As the housing bubble inflated, the FICO scores of sub-prime borrowers actually improved substantially.  At the peak, the sub-prime borrowers were not irresponsible smokers with four kids, they were relatively trustworthy types who were merely buying more house than they could afford.

8:57: Blaming the bursting of the housing bubble on the mortgage crisis is pretty obviously putting the cart before the horse.  There are some nasty vicious cycle effects, but the fuse was lit in the summer of 2006 when house prices started to soften. It took a year for stress in the mortgage market to appear and two years for everything to go boom.

10:18: This gives  the impression that what sank the Wall Street banks was that they got stuck with inventory in process when the system halted.  That did happen, but it was not their role as manufacturer of mortgage bonds that did them in, so much as their roles as mortgage bond investors and insurers that spelled the end.

Other than that, it really is a very clever video.

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