Friday, March 19, 2010

CDO Soup

We can understanding tranching via soup - it's the uneven distribution of risk and reward in a financial, um, mixture.

So what the hell is a CDO?

Well, recall in our soup example, we let the soup settle and ladle off the "really hot stuff". We can then sell spicy soup as not-so-spicy because we've put a disproportionate amount of the "hot stuff" into just a few bowls.

What do we do with the left-overs - those few bowls of soup so hot that no one can drink them?

Well, if you're Wall Street, this is what you come up with:

We'll just let the spicy soup settle for a day! Then we'll come back and it will have settled into: a really goddamn spicy bowl of soup at the top, and the rest will be drinkable. We can sell that.

That's a CDO*. We cut up and unevenly divide the remnants of what we already cut up and divided.

And if really want to push it to the limit, we'll take that settled soup and we'll let it settle again (no, really!) and try to ladle off some of that as a CDO-squared.

And if we really want to...oh wait, the whole financial system blew up. So much for the CDO-cubed.

* Technically a CDO is a tranched mixture of any pile of underlying stuff, but the ones that have gotten us in trouble are the ones that are a cut up mixture of mortgage backed securities.

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