Thursday, May 3, 2012

Who (or what) is an insider?

Christopher L. Foote, Kristopher S. Gerardi, and Paul S. Willen have a paper on the mortgage crisis that argues that most commentary about the sources of the crisis has been misguided, if not outright wrong.  They produce twelve things they call facts in order to support their point of view.  Among the most pointed is Fact 10: that "insiders" were the big losers in the crisis.  Therefore, the argument goes, there could have been no "inside job."

But their evidence that the insiders lost is that large financial institutions--Citigroup, UBS, etc.--were large losers.  But this suggests that the institutions--and their shareholders--were insiders.  I think it more likely that the shareholders were outsiders.  The insiders were corporate senior management, traders, and mortgage brokers.  I don't know for sure whether they came out ahead or not, but I sure have my suspicions...

Update: the paper does note that Bear Stearns executives invested in (and lost money on) mortgage backed securities.  That is the only evidence that executives might have been net losers from the mortgage business.