Greg Ip, Mark Whitehouse and Aaron Lucchetti of the WSJ report that the home has long been the bedrock asset of most American families. Now, its value has become the biggest question mark hanging over the global economy and financial system.
Over the past decade, Wall Street built a market for more than $2 trillion in securities sold globally and backed by loans to U.S. homeowners on two long-accepted beliefs and one newer one. The prevailing logic: The value of the American home would never fall nationwide, and people would almost always make their mortgage payments. The more recent twist: Packaging mortgage loans and turning them into securities would make the global economy more resilient if anything went wrong.
In a matter of months, though, much of the promise of the new financial architecture — together with its underlying assumptions — has proven to be a mirage. As house prices fall and homeowners default on mortgages at troubling rates, the pain has spread far and wide. An examination of the resulting crisis shows that it is comparable to some of the biggest financial disasters of the past half-century.
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