The Phaserl


The $4.6 Trillion Leveraged Loan Market—–Next Crisis In The Making

by Peter Cohan, Contra Corner:

Financial crises take about a decade to be born. Having lived through four of them, I see the raw materials for a fifth one — flowing from the collapse of so-called leveraged loans — debt piled on top of companies with weak credit ratings.

Before examining the latest news on leveraged loans, let’s take a quick tour down the memory lane of financial crises I’ve lived through.

My first one was in 1982 — that’s when banks lent too much money to oil and gas developers in Oklahoma and Texas as well as local real estate developers.

At the suggestion of McKinsey, money-center banks like Chemical Bank thought it would be a great idea to buy a piece of those loans. It’s all described nicely in a wonderful book — Belly Up.

Too bad the price of oil and gas tumbled, leaving lenders in the lurch and causing a spike in bank failures that gave me the chance to spend a balmy summer in Washington helping the FDIC develop a system to manage the liquidationof those failed banks.

By 1989, it was time for another banking crisis — this one was pinned to too much lending to commercial real estate developers in New England and junk-bond-backed loans for what used to be known as leveraged buyouts.

The government shut down Bank of New England and was threatening my employer, Bank of Boston, with the same. I worked on a government-mandated strategic plan intended to save the bank from a similar fate.

Next up— the dot-com bust — which introduced me to the idea that not all bubbles are bad if you can get in when they’re forming and exit before they burst. I invested in six dot-coms and had a mixed record — the three winners offset the three wipe outs.

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