The Downside of Risk Dispersion

Sunday’s New York Times features a story, “Mortgage Mania Didn’t Grip Everyone,” by Gretchen Morgenson on Michael A. J. Farrell, chief executive of Annaly Capital Management, a high-grade mortgage real estate investment trust, who has stuck strictly with high grade mortgage paper (despite considerable pressure from investors in recent years) and is coming through this housing recession virtually unscathed (his shares up 8% this year and pay a dividend of 6.4%).

His most insightful comments came at the end of the piece:

What about the people who argue that the impact of the mortgage mess will be muted because risks have been spread well beyond the banks and into many parts of the financial world? Mr. Farrell takes the opposite view. Spreading the risk beyond the banking system will make the task of fixing the mess much harder.

“Even if the Fed eases, it is probably not going to help the housing market,” he said. “This repair cycle is going to take a lot longer because it is not concentrated in the banking system like it was in the 1990s. Back then, they could repair the banking system by dropping interest rates. Now they can’t bail out rich hedge fund guys in Greenwich.”

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