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Causes of the Financial Crisis

Critical Review, Vol. 21, Nos. 2 & 3, pp. 195-210, 2009

16 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2009  

Viral V. Acharya

New York University - Leonard N. Stern School of Business; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); New York University (NYU) - Department of Finance

Matthew P. Richardson

New York University (NYU) - Department of Finance; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); AQR Capital Management, LLC

Date Written: May 1, 2009

Abstract

Why did the popping of the housing bubble bring the financial system - rather than just the housing sector of the economy - to its knees? The answer lies in two methods by which banks had evaded regulatory capital requirements. First, they had temporarily placed assets - such as securitized mortgages - in off-balance-sheet entities, so that they did not have to hold significant capital buffers against them. Second, the capital regulations also allowed banks to reduce the amount of capital they held against assets that remained on their balance sheets - if those assets took the form of AAA-rated tranches of securitized mortgages. Thus, by repackaging mortgages into mortgage-backed securities, whether held on or off their balance sheets, banks reduced the amount of capital required against their loans, increasing their ability to make loans many-fold. The principal effect of this regulatory arbitrage, however, was to concentrate the risk of mortgage defaults in the banks and render them insolvent when the housing bubble popped.

Keywords: Subprime crisis, capital requirements, regulatory arbitrage, mortgage-backed securities, housing bubble

Suggested Citation

Acharya, Viral V. and Richardson, Matthew P., Causes of the Financial Crisis (May 1, 2009). Critical Review, Vol. 21, Nos. 2 & 3, pp. 195-210, 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1514984

Viral V. Acharya (Contact Author)

New York University - Leonard N. Stern School of Business ( email )

44 West 4th Street
New York, NY NY 10012
United States

HOME PAGE: http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~sternfin/vacharya/public_html/~vacharya.htm

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

New York University (NYU) - Department of Finance

Stern School of Business
44 West 4th Street
New York, NY 10012-1126
United States

Matthew P. Richardson

New York University (NYU) - Department of Finance ( email )

44 West 4th Street
Suite 9-190
New York, NY 10012-1126
United States
212-998-0349 (Phone)
212-995-4233 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

AQR Capital Management, LLC ( email )

Greenwich, CT
United States

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