Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Anatomy of a Financial Crisis/ Good Times, Bad Times

The first 5 points of the notes are at end of the novella below.
6> Characters below bear no resemblance... oh, go on and read it for yourself.

The Anatomy of a Financial Crisis, Or,
Good Times, Bad Times (With Apologies to Led Zep)

Minnie, Manny and Moe are bankers in GeeWizLand. They like to lend folks money so that folks can take fun vacations and create a global economy. The 3Ms have been doing this for ages, and they like to lend money to a certain set of people, like Paris Heelton and Britney Spurs, with the odd movie star like Ms. Jolee thrown in.

Funky Fred comes along and tells the 3 Ms that he will be happy to guarantee these vacation loans for a small fee. Given the uncertainty over Paris' Jail time and Britney's asylum ambitions, this sounds like a good idea to the 3 Ms. Funky Fred also decides the he could lend to the 3 Ms. Moe is totally on board with Funky Fred on this. Ms. Winepub showed up at Moe's very ornate door seeking money for a rehab vacation, and Funky Fred's loan would help Moe lend a helping hand to Ms. Winepub.

Times are good. The 3 Ms meet at the 3Ms Factory every Friday night to gorge on Cheesecake and are happy to invite Funky Fred to the party. On one of these evenings, Funky Fred comes up with another innovative, brilliant idea. He will not only allow ordinary folks to become shareholders in his company Fred Smarts, but he will also borrow. There are only 3 bankers in GeeWizLand. The 3 Ms. Funky Fred points out that the smart and funky thing about this borrowing is that he will pick and choose loans, label them 3 As and let Minnie, Manny and Moe choose to lend against the 3 As.

Minnie, Manny and Moe look at each other, and like the idea. After all, Funky Fred is the smart guy running Fred Smarts. He is guaranteeing their loans. He is also a lender and has some insight into the loans business. Minne is thinking she will get to lend against the 3 As in Moe's bag- she had been eyeing superstar Winepub's rehab vacation deal that Moe pulled off. So, they begin to hammer out the idea over more Cheesecake. Funky Fred totally connects with Minnie when he mentions that he thought Ms. Winepub was such a good bet, he lent her money for her second rehab vacation. With the cha-ching at the opening of Pink Floyd's Money ringing in their ears, Funky Fred and Moe exchange high fives. Manny being Manny, throws a plate of cheesecake up in the air, high fives a cute hanger on, and then tosses it over to Funky Fred. Finally, to close the deal, Funky Fred announces, "Folks, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship".


Of course, the 3Ms are not supposed to be thinking about Funky Fred's uncle. Sam. Sam is the Warren Buffet of GeeWizLand. Fred has always been careful to tell them that Sam's a great guy and everything, but Sam and he have no business dealings, and that Sam minds his own business. Anyhow, the 3 Ms think it can't hurt to have Sam for an Uncle.

So, times are good. With all the fees Minnie, Manny Moe and Fred are making, the innovative Friday night cheesecake parties at the 3 Ms Factory are the toast of GeeWizLand.

Along comes Boogie Howser, NPH. Brilliant guy. He wants to take a year long sabbatical- he wishes to go sailing around the world. He intends to use the money from his consulting gigs, playing doctor sans frontiers, mais avec un bateau, at his stopovers to pay the interest on the loan while he is away. Moe likes Boogie. Boogie's past record as GeeWizLand's superdoc is unbeatable. Moe thinks this loan is do-able and happily loans Boogie the money. Moe thinks Boogie is not just Type A, he is Type 3A and labels him as such (AAA). Same goes for the loan- now 3A (TM). Plus, times are good, aren't they?

Now, Boogie breaks a leg at a stopover in Timbucktu. He treats folks who cannot really pay much. He misses a payment, and then some. Ms. Winepub treats her rehab vacation like a vacation, her concerts bomb, and her second album completely bombs. Ms. Winepub is a gem of a person. She will repay her loan. Fred and the 3 Ms think she will too. She's a rockstar and a gem of a person. Really. However, for now she missed a payment and then some.

Moe realizes he is in trouble. Even if its only for now. First there was Boogie, a customer he had not dealt with previously, and now Ms. Winepub was tottering as well. All superstars, each one a gem of a person. Moe suddenly has no money to lend because he is not getting any money in. In fact, Moe may not be able to make his payments on the money he has borrowed.

Funky Fred and Moe have a quiet chat at their Cheesecake Party. Funky Fred realizes he is in trouble too, just like Moe. First there was Ms. Winepub. Now, he has to stand by his guaranty for Moe.

Funky Fred has no money. Not to lend. Not even to make payments to Minne and Manny who were counting on his funky 3 As. Minne and Manny haven't heard about Ms. Winepub's financial mess. They couldn't. To them, she had become one of the funky Type 3As- Not Just a Number, But a TLA (Trademark, Funky Fred). In any case, Minnie and Manny soon realize they are in trouble as well. Funky Fred can't pay them. Now, Minne and Manny can't lend. Maybe they wouldn't be able to make payments in the future either.

The 3 Ms realize that old methods like throwing cheesecake at each other to sort matters out would not work. True to their reputation, the 3 Ms will have to innovate yet again. Minnie, Manny and Moe now step out of their party and head over to Fred's Uncle's- Sam's- place.

Sleepy Sam is awakened by a 3 AM knock at his door and finds Minnie, Manny and Moe looking at him. Sam, a little drowsy, begins to think about why he should bother with the 3Ms. Really. Minnie, Manny and Moe dug their own grave. Then there was Funky Fred, who was always too smart for his own good. Who goes about calling himself Funky Fred? He is not sure if its the sleeping pills reacting with his face cream, but his mind plays a phantasmagoric reel of Young Sam punishing little Funky Fred for making too much money at his lemonade stand by spanking him and getting him to drop Funky from his name for the next school year. The reel ends abruptly with Funky Fred negotiating with the immortal line, "Funky by any other name... is still Funky".

What should Fred's uncle do? A simple "Get lost!" to the 3Ms should do the trick and he can deal with Fred (down with Funky! Now!) in the morning. However, it's not that simple, is it? There's a faint thought in his mind, barely registering thanks to the throbbing headache caused by The Friday Night Party People showing up at his doorstep in the middle of the night. Perhaps his businesses, and wealth are tied to the 3Ms fortunes.

Sam is huge. HUUGE. He has borrowings from the 3Ms. He also has borrowings from distant shores. The distant shores like GeeWizLand. Its a nice town of superstars that always have money. Now, unfortunately due to the Winepubs and the Howsers, the 3Ms don't have money. And the superstars don't have any money to spend because 3Ms aren't giving them any.

Oh and btw, somehow, folks outside GeeWizLand aren't buying Superstars anymore. The Superstars will find a way, but for now, they really have no money.

Sam's businesses, even stable businesses like EyeRuS (How much emptier can you pocket be today? Trademark EyeRuS), are now hurting because Superstars have no money.

Distant Shores (TM, The Distant Shores Syndicate) has a little camera behind a Curtain in Sam's House. It is watching Sam. What will Sam do? Can Distant Shores' members continue lending to Sam the same way they used to? Perhaps distant shores ("More Than That Syndicate") have no options either, just like Sam.

What does all of this mean? This looks like one big snake biting off its own tail! This may also look like something that GeeWizLand and distant shores may have to weather together. For how long? A year? A decade? A generation?

GeeWizLand knows little about distant shores. Those who do know about distant shores tend to go break a leg in Timbucktu. Distant shores think they know GeeWizLand and its Superstars, but that's an illusion as well. However, everyone has a sinking feeling that even if it is for a little bit- with faith in Superstars and everything- everyone is in it together.

What do you think?

Notes, the strange loop version:
1> This writing (Novella, as some readers have called it) is a slightly modified version of an extempore email sent out on July 12 to a MENSA message board to explain, in layman's terms, what was going on in the financial sector at that point of time.

2> This is an incredibly painful time for the financial services industry, the US economy and global economies. This article is just an abstraction. Its a starting point for readers to explore market structure and think analytically about decision making. If this encourages you to build complex models that tie in macroeconomics, consumer behavior and game theory, please drop me a line. We should talk.

3> A lot has happened since July 12. If you have read the story before-I will reemphasize that its not over yet. The article is structured so that you challenge every paragraph and analytically dig into the details. Your comments are welcome and critical.

4> Many thanks to Prof. Rosensweig for teaching.

5> I remember telling someone in a different context (the energy crisis) that if I could fix the problem tomorrow, I would do it. I really, really, really would like to. I can't. I can, however, do my best to learn. "We shall overcome!"


Kisalay said...

Can't believe nobody's left a comment as yet. Brilliant piece of work - haven't seen a more simpler fairytale explanation of the mess we find ourselves in.
Keep writing in - your work is thoroughly profound !

Naina Redhu said...

Kisalay sent me here and I have to say, if I knew what was happening in the financial crisis tamasha in as much detail as you have explained here, I might have understood the above. Of course that's not a reflection on your writing / briefing abilities - it probably means that I'm not too financially educated. I LOVE the way you've managed to capture the pathos of it all though! Brilliant piece of writing!

Anonymous said...

Nice and simple appraoch to highlight the crisis brewing. However, the extent of this damage in a globalised world is extremely difficult to assess as they are all interlinked with stock markets, derivatives, commodities with each other hedging instrument affecting the other. No single country or market would be spared.

Finally, for all such greedy market operators, it is finally the gullible tax payers who pays when governments bail out sick financial institutions. Also, many individuals who keep their hard earned money in supposed to be safe bank deposits tend to loose significantly.