Are the Banks Already Orchestrating Another Meltdown?

Wall Street is selling the exact same risky mortgage bundles that crashed the economy in 2008.

History repeats itself. And so does Wall Street.

On Friday, the New York Timesreported that banks are continuing to practice risky behavior as the economy “improves.” While the mainstream media has been quick to discuss the improving economy, not much conversation has been situated around whom exactly the economy is improving for and how millions of Americans still struggle financially. Just one example, for instance, is that 11 million renters currently pay more than 50 percent of their incomes on housing.

But Wall Street is making more investments, known as structured financial products, and escaping new financial regulations, such as the Dodd-Frank bill that did not change the structure of how loans are bundled — which, when done riskily, causes crisis.

Tad Phillips, a commercial real estate analyst at Moody’s rating agency, told the Times: “The players in the business are generally the same as they were before. … Because it’s the old players, they know how to push the boundaries.”

The Timesreported that banks have issued $26 billion in new collateralized loan obligations, or loans pooled and given to poorly rated companies, in just 2013 alone — more than what they issued in all of 2007. The Timesstated, “Demand for the loan pools has been so brisk that banks have been able to loosen underwriting standards on the underlying loans and bonds. This provoked the Federal Reserve to release guidance last month warning that “prudent underwriting practices have deteriorated.”

The Timesalso reported that “57 percent of the outstanding money in commercial mortgage-backed securities” was in risky, interest-only loans before the crisis. It has now reached 34 percent — 11 percent more than two years ago.

Though bonds linked to home mortgages (a major cause of the financial crisis) have been slow to reappear on the Wall St. scene, JPMorgan issued one last month, becoming the first major American bank to do so. The Timesstated other banks are also discussing doing the same.

We can demand that banks act more responsibly, and we can surely push our Congressmembers to do the same. But when our economic system is based on inequality and risking investment bets on the backs of others, it’s tough to expect more from Wall Street — which is why we must always analyze the existence of Wall Street itself.

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet. 

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