This American Life had another good financial crisis episode by the Planet Money team this past weekend. There’s a story on regulatory holes by Chana Joffe-Walt and one on rating agencies by Alex Blumberg and David Kestenbaum. The latter had some money quotes (starting around the 40-minute mark).
Jim Finkel, Dynamic Credit, which creates structured products: “There were ratings that we saw that made no sense to us. We knew the rating agency models and metrics, and we could replicate them ourselves, and we couldn’t make sense of what they were doing.”
Felicia Grumet (sp?), Bear Stearns, who was involved in creating structured products: “It makes me feel really bad, so actually it’s very hard for me to acknowledge . . . I knew what I was doing. I knew I was doing things to get around the rules. I wasn’t proud of it, but I did it anyway.”
One of the heroes is Mabel Yu, a buy-side bond analyst at Vanguard, who couldn’t get the rating agencies to explain the ratings they were giving to structured products – and therefore refused to recommend them internally at Vanguard. Who knew? Not only do you get lower costs at Vanguard, but better fund management, too? (I have most of my money at Vanguard, but it’s in all in index funds or near-index funds, so I guess I wasn’t benefiting from Yu’s research.)