Commenting on Geithner’s April 2008 explanation of the Bear Stearns bailout (p17, emphasis mine):
This is Fedspeak for “We stepped in to avoid a financial chain reaction of unpredictable magnitude.” In my opinion, the Fed was right to do so.
On derivatives and how we got into this mess:
A normal stock or bond trade is completed in a few days with one party getting its cash… This rapid settlement process is key to maintaining the integrity of markets.
Derivatives contracts, in contrast, often go unsettled for years, or even decades, with counterparties building up huge claims against each other. “Paper” assets and liabilities – often hard to quantify – become important parts of financial statements though these items will not be validated for many years. Additionally, a frightening web of mutual dependence develops among huge financial institutions. Receivables and payables by the billions become concentrated in the hands of a few large dealers who are apt to be highly-leveraged in other ways as well. Participants seeking to dodge troubles face the same problem as someone seeking to avoid venereal disease: It’s not just whom you sleep with, but also whom they are sleeping with.
Sleeping around, to continue our metaphor, can actually be useful for large derivatives dealers because it assures them government aid if trouble hits. In other words, only companies having problems that can infect the entire neighborhood – I won’t mention names – are certain to become a concern of the state (an outcome, I’m sad to say, that is proper). From this irritating reality comes The First Law of Corporate Survival for ambitious CEOs who pile on leverage and run large and unfathomable derivatives books: Modest incompetence simply won’t do; it’s mindboggling screw-ups that are required.
the CEO of any large financial organization must be the Chief Risk Officer as well.