Panel says financial crisis avoidable
(Reuters) - The financial crisis could have been avoided and was the result of poor decision making both in Washington and at top financial firms that fostered a culture of excessive risk taking, according to a draft report written by Democrats on a panel that investigated the meltdown and obtained by Reuters.
The Democratic majority of the 10-member Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission spreads the blame widely to regulators, politicians, financial firms and credit rating agencies.
"We conclude this financial crisis was avoidable," the report said.
It said regulators failed to adequately police financial markets, that financial firms had poor risk management and corporate governance practices, and that government was ill-prepared to handle the fallout from excessive borrowing when loans soured.
"The crisis was the result of human action and inaction, not Mother Nature or computer models gone haywire," the draft report reads. "The captains of finance and the public stewards of our financial system ignored warnings and failed to question, understand, and manage evolving risks within a system essential to the well-being of the American public."
The report will be officially released on Thursday but it has been endorsed only by the congressionally appointed panel's six Democratic commissioners. Three Republican members will release a separate minority report and a fourth Republican plans to unveil a report of his own that will focus on government housing policies.
Reuters obtained a draft of the final report that was circulated in December before it was fully edited and sent to the printer. On Tuesday the New York Times first reported the contents of the majority's report on its website.
Tucker Warren, a spokesman for the panel, did not respond to a phone call or email seeking comment.
Among regulators the report singles out former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and his successor Ben Bernanke. The report faults Greenspan and his allies for pushing the idea that financial institutions could "police themselves."
Bernanke and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson were criticized for not seeing the problems in the subprime mortgage markets earlier.
Clinton administration officials were rebuked for pushing to shield over-the-counter derivatives from regulation.
As for the corporate chieftains at the large financial firms that were either toppled or brought to their knees by the crisis, the panel says its examination found "stunning instances of governance breakdowns and irresponsibility."
Among those singled out are American International Group, mortgage giant Fannie Mae and Merrill Lynch.
The report faults investment banks Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley for "operating with extraordinarily thin capital" in 2007.
"Less than a 3 percent drop in asset values could wipe out a firm," according to the report.