Harry Markowitz

Information Age - WSJ.com: "In the early 1950s, when young Harry Markowitz was looking for an area of economics to pursue, a chance encounter with a stockbroker in Chicago led him to apply a new logic about risk to what had been an investment industry based on touting individual stocks. He revolutionized the investing world by showing how to create diversified portfolios that reduce risk and maximize return.

Our current credit crisis arose from an imbalance of risk and return in portfolios of mortgage-backed and other debt securities, so it seems timely to ask the father of modern finance what went wrong and what to do about it.

Now 81 and still teaching and advising funds, Mr. Markowitz has good news and bad news. The bad news is that bailouts to restore liquidity aren't addressing the real problem. The good news is that once we have the information to measure the losses of bad risk-taking, markets will recover."

Hey! That's what I said! There's no market because there is no information. But of course accounts around the globe are trying to figure out the real value of these crazy loans and debt instruments. Once that happens, things will settle out.

In the meantime, apparently, lots of banks are signing up for cheap money from the Feds.

"Just as with all securities, the fundamental exercise of the analysis and understanding of the trade-off between risk and return has no shortcuts," Mr. Markowitz says. "Arbitrarily assigning expected returns absent an understanding of the risks of the securities is precisely how the economy arrived at this point."
Mr. Markowitz reckons it could take a year before we have the transparency we need. Assessing the value of mortgage-backed securities requires scrutinizing mortgages down to the level of individual ZIP Codes. "The valuation process will take as long as it takes, but it is the primary step toward effectively utilizing the very controversial bailout and avoiding the structural problem of a stagnant economy."

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