Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cassano responsible for the Depression?

And people thought Jerome Kerviel's blow up was spectacular. In an interesting piece out on abcnews, more light is being shed on AIG's small financial products London office which even AIG now acknowledges was ground zero for roughly $500 billion in losses, as well as the person who ran it, Joseph Cassano. Joe, who previously had made waves after the Washington Post first profiled him in October 2008, had "earned" $280 million during his tenure with AIG and who left the company with a $1 million a year consulting contract, and owns houses in London and Connecticut, was so confident in his huge risky bets that he is quoted as saying "It is hard for us with, and without being flippant, to even see a scenario within any kind of realm of reason that would see us losing $1 in any of those transactions."It is a little easier to see a scenario where Cassano would end up losing $500 billion.

Cassano's nearsighted actions have had staggering repercussions: everyone knows about the secret 21 page mutual assured destruction memo, the billions in cash downstreamed to AIG's counterparties, the systemic impact AIG's collapse has had on both the U.S. and global economy and all the other indirect consequences of the near $200 billion in taxpayer money that AIG's failure has so far cost.

It is somewhat surprising that while Barney Frank et al have been so focused on the executives of the major banks, Joe has been flying low under the public radar. After all, if allegations against Cassano prove true, his loss will have the tenfold impact of Madoff's ponzi scheme, however unlike with Bernie, who impacted a small group of people to a high degree, Cassano's $500 billion loss has to be shared equally amongst all taxpayers. And while hubris and reckless risk management are not criminal acts, incentives will always exist for traders to take on outsized risk unless there is some regulatory intervention, which really cuts to the heart of the whole problem.

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