Well, it’s a start

Two of the most odious contributors to the financial crisis were the government’s too-big-to-fail policy and the brazenness of many financial institutions, including the credit rating agencies, in helping to disguise and then market so many garbage securities.  So two of this week’s developments look like good news, however small:

(1) The federal government refused a second bailout for The CIT Group. (You can read about their first bailout, last December for $2.3 billion, here.)  CIT is expected to file for bankruptcy, which isn’t great news, as CIT is the largest lender to small businesses and some of that lending may stop, and as the government/taxpayers’ $2.3 billion stake gets wiped out. But it may be the lesser of two evils.  As the WSJ points out, CIT is only one-tenth the size of Lehman Brothers,and the systemic risk in refusing this request seems much less than the moral hazard risk of granting it.  (I must admit, the WSJ does seem to have the best conservative editorial page in the business. Not that that’s my highest compliment.)

(2) Calpers, the largest pension fund in California, is suing the three leading credit rating agencies for providing “wildly inaccurate” AAA ratings of structured investment vehicles (SIVs) of various dodgy assets including subprime mortage-backed securities. The amount of the suit wasn’t disclosed, but Calpers bought $1.3 billion of bad SIVs in 2006, so that’s a good lower-bound estimate. While market discipline would be preferable to billion-dollar lawsuits, that horse escaped from the barn a long time ago. This is the first I’ve heard of anyone holding these agencies accountable.

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