Get rid of the fixed-income people!!!

If all of Greece’s sovereign debt were in the form of bank loans (instead of public debt instruments), we would have a totally different situation today. Why? Because bank loans are made by bank lenders (with the banks’ own money!). Borrowers and lenders know each other and when they have a problem, they normally sit down and talk to each other about how those problems could be solved.

Public debt instruments (like bonds) are typically handled by the fixed-income departments of a bank. “Fixed-income-people” do not think in terms of customers. They think in terms of “assets” and in terms of “fair value of assets”. They know the accounting rules for valuing those assets by heart. They structure assets and distribute them. They even hold them if they represent a good fair value.

But fixed-income-people have no interest in a customer relationship. Their only interest is “the market” and however that market prices the value of their assets. To them, a Greek bond is an asset on the shelf. As long as there is turnover, they replenish assets for the shelves. If turnover stops, they get rid of the remaining assets as quickly as possible (or insure them via CDS).

One of the foremost principles of banking is “know thy customer!” The foremost principle of fixed-income people is “know thy market!”

When commercial lending divisions present credit proposals to board committees, they present analyses of the borrower. When fixed-income people request position limits from those committees, they present public ratings. The term “borrower” does not appear in such requests. Instead, one talks about “counter parties”.

Transfer all the Greek bonds from the books of the fixed-income departments to the books of the commercial lending departments of banks and you will quickly see a difference in the handling of the debt crisis!

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