It Wasn't a Mortgage Recession After All: So Why Don't We Feel Better?

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Panic Button

The Great Recession wasn't the result of subprime mortgage madness, according to a new report from the National Bureau of Economic Research. It was just a plain old bank panic. Yeah, but weren't bank panics supposed to be a thing of the past, thanks to the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1934?

That's the problem.

The report, by Yale economics professor Gary Gorton, says subprime mortgage securitization was a mess -- a house of cards probably doomed to fall -- but subprime by itself simply wasn't big enough to put the entire financial system at risk. That required a failure of the Renew Sale and Repurchase (REPO) market for collateralized securities that over the last 30 years had come to backstop global finance.

The problem here, of course is that hardly anyone has even heard of REPO, which manages to be an unregulated, uninsured $20 trillion business that is absolutely essential to keeping money flowing in the world. Subprime is only $1.2 trillion -- not big enough by itself to wag this dog.