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Global Financial Crisis

Essay by   •  July 31, 2011  •  Essay  •  2,130 Words (9 Pages)  •  1,405 Views

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The recent financial crisis has engulfed the world economy. For the last two year, the newspapers were full of stories about falling share markets, decreasing industrial growth and the overall negative mood of the economy. For many people an economic depression has already arrived whereas for some it is just round the corner. In my opinion the depression has already arrived and it has started showing its effect on India.

So what has caused this major economic upheaval in the world? What is the cause of falling share markets the world over and bankruptcy of major banks? In this article, I shall try to explain the reasons for recent economic depression for all those who find it difficult to understand the complex economics lingo and are looking for a simple explanation.

It all started in US...

In order to understand what is now happening in the world economy, we need to go a little back in past and understand what was happening in the housing sector of America for past many years. In US, a boom in the housing sector was driving the economy to a new level. A combination of low interest rates and large inflows of foreign funds helped to create easy credit conditions where it became quite easy for people to take home loans. As more and more people took home loans, the demands for property increased and fueled the home prices further. As there was enough money to lend to potential borrowers, the loan agencies started to widen their loan disbursement reach and relaxed the loan conditions.

The loan agents were asked to find more potential home buyers in lieu of huge bonus and incentives. Since it was a good time and property prices were soaring, the only aim of most lending institutions and mortgage firms was to give loans to as many potential customers as possible. Since almost everybody was driving by the greed factor during that housing boom period, the common sense practice of checking the customer's repaying capacity was also ignored in many cases. As a result, many people with low income & bad credit history or those who come under the NINJA (No Income, No Job, No Assets) category were given housing loans in disregard to all principles of financial prudence. These types of loans were known as sub-prime loans as those were are not part of prime loan market (as the repaying capacity of the borrowers was doubtful).

Since the demands for homes were at an all time high, many homeowners used the increased property value to refinance their homes with lower interest rates and take out second mortgages against the added value (of home) to use the funds for consumer spending. The lending companies also lured the borrowers with attractive loan conditions where for an initial period the interest rates were low (known as adjustable rate mortgage (ARM). However, despite knowing that the interest rates would increase after an initial period, many sub-prime borrowers opted for them in the hope that as a result of soaring housing prices they would be able to quickly refinance at more favorable terms.

Bubble that burst...

However, as the saying goes, "No boom lasts forever", the housing bubble was to burst eventually. Overbuilding of houses during the boom period finally led to a surplus inventory of homes, causing home prices to decline beginning from the summer of 2006. Once housing prices started depreciating in many parts of the U.S., refinancing became more difficult. Home owners, who were expecting to get a refinance on the basis of increased home prices, found themselves unable to re-finance and began to default on loans as their loans reset to higher interest rates and payment amounts.

In the US, an estimated 8.8 million homeowners - nearly 10.8% of total homeowners - had zero or negative equity as of March 2008, meaning their homes are worth less than their mortgage. This provided an incentive to "walk away" from the home than to pay the mortgage.

Foreclosures ( i.e. the legal proceedings initiated by a creditor to repossess the property for loan that is in default ) accelerated in the United States in late 2006. During 2007, nearly 1.3 million U.S. housing properties were subject to foreclosure activity. Increasing foreclosure rates and unwillingness of many homeowners to sell their homes at reduced market prices significantly increased the supply of housing inventory available. Sales volume (units) of new homes dropped by 26.4% in 2007 as compare to 2006. Further, a record nearly four million unsold existing homes were for sale including nearly 2.9 million that were vacant. This excess supply of home inventory placed significant downward pressure on prices. As prices declined, more homeowners were at risk of default and foreclosure.

Now you must be wondering how this housing boom and its subsequent decline is related to current economic depression? After all it appears to be a local problem of America.

What complicated the matter?...

Unfortunately, this problem was not as straightforward as it appears. Had it remained a matter between the lenders (who disbursed risky loans) and unreliable borrowers (who took loans and then got defaulted) then probably it would remain a local problem of America. However, this was not the case. Let us understand what complicated the problem.

For original lenders these subprime loans were very lucrative part of their investment portfolio as they were expected to yield a very high return in view of the increasing home prices. Since, the interest rate charged on subprime loans was about 2% higher than the interest on prime loans (owing to their risky nature); lenders were confident that they would get a handsome return on their investment. In case a sub-prime borrower continued to pay his loans installment, the lender would get higher interest on the loans. And in case a sub-prime borrower could not pay his loan and defaulted, the lender would have the option to sell his home (on a high market price) and recovered his loan amount. In both the situations the Sub-prime loans were excellent investment options as long as the housing market was booming. Just at this point, the things started complicating.

With stock markets booming and the system flush with liquidity, many big fund investors like hedge funds and mutual funds saw subprime loan portfolios as attractive investment opportunities. Hence, they bought such portfolios from the original lenders. This in turn meant the lenders had fresh funds to lend. The subprime loan market thus became a fast growing segment. Major (American

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