Institute for Financial Transparency

Shining a light on the opaque corners of finance


Secret to How Wall Street Makes Money Revealed

In 2010, I wrote a Fortune column explaining how Wall Street made money on subprime mortgage-backed securities by exploiting its access to information investors didn’t have.  Specifically, I said Wall Street got tomorrow’s news today through its ownership of firms that serviced the underlying mortgages.  Wall Street then traded on this information.

Of course Wall Street recognized how exposing how they made money was a threat to their profits.  So Wall Street pushed back and tried to discredit me.

Fast forward to yesterday and an article in Vanity Fair about JP Morgan and its $13 billion mortgage settlement.  Here is the paragraph that got my attention:

Worse, the unfiled brief [prepared in 2013 by the then US attorney in the Eastern District of California] notes, the bank continued to sell mortgage-backed securities even though Dimon himself was worried that the residential mortgage-backed securities market was about to crash. According to Wagner, during the second week of October 2006, Dimon allegedly told King, the co-head of the Securitized Products Group, that he needed to “watch out for subprime”—a reference to low-quality mortgage-backed securities—because he feared that the market “could go up in smoke.” The document also notes that Dimon wanted King to reduce the bank’s exposure to that market. The “impetus” for Dimon’s concern, Wagner continues, was his review of reports from the mortgage-servicing arm of the bank that showed that delinquencies on such mortgages “were rising at an alarming rate.” At Dimon’s “insistence,” the unfiled complaint asserts, “JPMorgan formulated an exit strategy to divest itself” of the riskiest pieces of mortgage-backed securities that had been accumulating on its balance sheet. But, Wagner writes in the draft complaint, “despite knowledge at the highest levels that underwriting had deteriorated across the industry and early payment defaults were spiking, JPMorgan continued to purchase and securitize subprime loans without addressing the known breakdown of its due diligence practices and without disclosing its knowledge to investors.”

The paragraph confirms every point I made in the column.

This paragraph also confirms transparency must be restored to all the opaque corners of the global financial system.  At a minimum, it levels the playing field between Wall Street and the investors.