“If it’s growing like a weed, it’s probably a weed.” So I was once told by the CEO of a major financial institution. He was talking about the credit card business in the mid-1990s, a time when lenders were mailing out new cards with abandon and cardholders were piling up huge debts. He was worried, and correctly so. Debt-swollen households were soon filing for bankruptcy at a record rate, contributing to the financial crisis that ultimately culminated in the collapse of mega-hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management. The CEO’s bank didn’t survive.
A decade later the world was engulfed by an even more severe financial crisis. This time the weed was the subprime mortgage: a loan to someone with a less-than-perfect credit history.