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Archive for April, 2008

The subprime gray swan

Nassim Taleb has been getting a lot of press in the wake of the subprime mortgage fiasco – the general theme is that Taleb ideas are harkening in a new era of financial rationality in the markets. But it’s more likely this is the fear part of the usual greed-fear rollarcoaster. From Fortune:

Most people seem to have been caught off-guard by the subprime crisis, yet such an event was not only predictable but also inevitable. It was a Black Swan, yes?

The Black Swan is a matter of perspective. A turkey is fed for 1,000 days – every day lulling it more and more into the feeling that the human feeders are acting in its best interest. Except that on the 1,001st day, the butcher shows up and there is a surprise. The surprise is for the turkey, not the butcher. Anyone who knows anything about the history of banking (or remembers the 1982 Latin American debt crisis or the 1990s savings and loan collapse) will tell you that the subprime crisis was so bound to happen. Banks are exposed to such blowups. Bankers have been the turkey, historically.

So I call these crises “gray swans.” I’ve been telling anyone willing to listen that banks have a tendency to sit on time bombs while convincing themselves that they are conservative and nonvolatile.

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