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Price discovery and bad debt

A key holdup to getting past this crisis is the continuing unknown of the remaining value of mortgage-based securities. In Morgan's day, price discovery resulted when he went around the room seeking details of balance sheets. Today we need to achieve price discovery more actively, such as by holding auctions of the bad debt so that the market can find a new normal. Getting our arms around the scope of the bad debt would define the capital needs for banks, and there would be prices set that potential private-sector buyers of the debt could consider.

There have been few efforts to determine the true value of the mortgage-related securities. One was the 22 cents on the dollar that Merrill Lynch got in July by selling some $30 billion in supposed value of mortgage-backed derivatives for just under $7 billion. The average portfolio might be worth closer to 60 cents on the dollar, but whatever the level, once prices settle, financial recovery can begin.


L. GORDON CROVITZ, Calling J.P. Morgan -- He was more effective than Paulson and Bernanke combined.


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