Wall Street Is Pushing Risk Again

Despite bringing the economy to the brink of collapse in 2008 with excessively risky investments, Wall Street appears to have learned nothing from this near-death experience.

Rather than recommending investments of a safer nature, Wall Street is once again hawking the riskiest of investments. According to the Wall Street Journal’s Katy Burne, top investment banks are back to assembling so-called “Synthetic Collateralized Debt Obligations” (CDOs).

Remember, derivatives like CDOs were famously referred to as “financial weapons of mass destruction” by Warren Buffett. They’re not really investments but just bets on bets which almost tanked the global economy when they went bad.

And investment bankers, hungry for the fat fees such deals kick off, are out in the financial marketplace pushing CDOs again, according to the Journal.

“Investors are once again clamoring for a risky investment blamed for helping unleash the financial crisis: the synthetic CDO,” Burne wrote. “In a sign of how hard Wall Street is trying to satisfy voracious demands for higher returns amid rock bottom interest rates, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley bankers in London are moving to assemble synthetic collateralized debt obligations.”

“While spreading risk in some ways, synthetic CDOs also can multiply the financial damage if companies fall behind on their debt payments,” Burne reported.

In addition, brokers are encouraging retail investors to use margin to juice their stock buying. It was recently reported that the amount owed on loans secured by margin investments rose to $384 billion at the end of April 2013, the first time the total has passed the 2007 peak of $381 billion.

Investing through margin boosts returns on the upside. But, when the market corrects or tanks, investors using margin loans are forced to sell out positions without notice. In turn, their gains – and often their life savings – can be decimated.

That level of borrowing is a warning sign to investors about an overheated stock market, wrote Floyd Norris of the New York Times.

“The latest total of borrowing amounts to about 2.4% of GDP, a level that in the past was a danger signal,” Norris wrote. Margin levels reached such dangerous levels at the end of 1999, right before the technology-stock bubble burst. Margin debt fell after that but then rose again during the housing boom. And we all know how that ended.

All this could be an indication that the stock market rally, which carried the S&P 500 to record levels in May, is kaput, Norris noted.

Despite the disasters of 2000 and 2008 for investors, Wall Street just doesn’t seem to get it. The lure of fees and commissions on exotic products like CDOs and margin lending is just too tasty for investment bankers and brokers to ignore. Uncle Sam might bail out the banks in the next crash, but he won’t bail out mom and pop, that’s for certain.

Zamansky & Associates are securities fraud attorneys representing investors in federal and state litigation and arbitration against financial institutions.

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About Jacob H. Zamansky 58 Articles

Jacob (”Jake”) H. Zamansky is one of the country’s foremost authorities on securities arbitration law, the legal recourse for investors claiming broker wrongdoing, or for brokers claiming wrongful termination or other misconduct by their employer. Zamansky & Associates, the New York-based law firm he founded, represents both individuals and institutions in complex securities, hedge fund, and employment arbitrations.

Mr. Zamansky was at the forefront of recent efforts to “clean up” Wall Street. In 2001, he successfully sued former Merrill Lynch analyst Henry Blodget on behalf of a New York pediatrician misled by Blodget’s stock research. The case’s successful resolution was the catalyst for New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer to investigate the conflicts of interest on Wall Street and resulted in the well-reported $1.4 billion Global Settlement, which included many of the biggest names on Wall Street.

More recently, Mr. Zamansky is one of the leading litigators and opinion leaders of the subprime mortgage crisis and the related hedge fund collapses, representing both investors and mortgage borrowers who were defrauded by Wall Street firms and mortgage lenders. Among Mr. Zamansky’s early actions is filing the first arbitration case on behalf of institutional and high net worth investors against Bear Stearns Asset Management with regard to the two hedge funds which collapsed as a result of exposure to subprime mortgage backed securities. He also has filed claims on behalf of individual investors victimized by brokers that steered their portfolios into unsuitable subprime stocks and mortgage borrowers who were fraudulently coerced into inappropriate mortgage and investment transactions.

Earlier in his career, Mr. Zamansky worked for more than 30 years as a litigator, including positions at Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP. His tenure also included serving as a federal prosecutor with the Federal Trade Commission.

A native of Philadelphia, Mr. Zamansky has been a frequent expert commentator on CNBC, CNN, and FOX News and has published opinion pieces in The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and USA Today. He is regularly quoted and his cases have been chronicled in major financial and news publications including The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, BusinessWeek, Fortune and Forbes. He is a frequent lecturer for industry and legal groups around the country. He also writes a blog that can be viewed here.

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