With apologies to the FT

Posted on

Today is not the day to worry about the fine lines of copyright.

Today is the day to spread appropriate opinion.

John Gapper in the FT has one of the best columns I've read today. Try this:

We are now, unquestionably, in the worst financial crisis since 1929. We do not know how many more banks and institutions will fail - Washington Mutual, the US counterpart of HBOS, is under severe pressure - but Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Lehman and AIG are plenty.

There are lots of people and institutions to blame for that, from regulators to mortgage brokers to, let us admit it, all of us who decided to speculate on house prices.

But AIG takes the biscuit. Here was a huge multinational insurance group with a reputation for solid underwriting and risk management that decided to diversify from insuring risks it knew well - car crashes and fires - to covering derivatives it did not understand.

Of course, it thought it understood them. In presentations to investors this year, it emphasised how thoroughly its AIG Financial Products arm assessed the risks of insuring CDOs. It ran all the data and decided that, in the worst case, it risked losing $2.4bn on the portfolio.

Well, $24bn of write-downs later - a mere 10 times its maximum estimate - the company has burned through its equity, spread financial chaos to all corners of the earth and humiliated the US Treasury. The job of insurance companies is to guard others against catastrophes, not cause them.

The word "irresponsible" does not begin to describe AIG's behaviour. Like Bear, Lehman and others, it saw a way to get in on the growing action in mortgage-backed derivatives. Its bankers were soon earning huge fees for themselves and AIG by piling up unimaginable risks.

Call me a spoilsport, but I do not believe that AIG or any other capital markets institution should be allowed to play like that with my money (I am a US taxpayer) in future.

If this means going back to basics, and redesigning the global regulatory system so that a renegade insurance company is denied the chance to blow up the world's banks again, so be it. Regulation cannot solve everything but enough is enough.

I could not agree more.

Nor could I agree more with the title of his post: This greed was irresponsible. He's right.

When the FT is saying it, believe it: this change will happen.