The Wall Street Journal has a story today on a new type of credit market transaction described as “nonlinear finance”. That label alone should send off alarms, since one assumes it is truth in advertising, a rare commodity in Big Finance. “Nonlinear” says that under certain scenarios, the price of the instrument goes “nonlinear,” as in behaves in a radically different, ungraceful manner or can be expected to have its price gap out if particular conditions are met. That would also suggest the instrument would be hard to hedge.
One of the reasons I can’t be as specific as I’d like, as Wall Street Journal readers pointed out, is the actual article is thin on details. However, that isn’t as surprising as it should seem. These trades sound a lot like the old CDOs, the ones that blew up so spectacularly in the crisis. Technically, those were asset-backed securities, or ABS CDOs.1 If you were reading the financial press before the crisis, the only reporter who recognized the importance and riskiness of CDOs was the Financial Times’ Gillian Tett, who doggedly kept after them and managed to ferret out critical bits of information. CDOs also became large enough as a product that there was some aggregate data, but it wasn’t terribly reliable (one huge problem was the potential for double-counting).
And it also makes sense that financiers would find a new bottle for the old CDO wine, since any investor would probably have a lot of ‘splaining to do if he were to invest in something that was sold as a CDO, even if that was a straight up description.
First to the critical bits of the Journal story, then more discussion as to how worried to be about this development. From the Journal:
Read the entire article