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Inside Investment: Bring out your dead

Zombie banks are stalking the global economy, choking off credit to viable businesses. The solution, writes Lincoln Rathnam, is a straightforward separation of the good from the bad.

For years it was received wisdom to fret about buccaneering hedge funds, their extreme leverage and exotic and complex derivative strategies, and the threat they posed to the stability of the financial system. We were right about the riskiness of some of their strategies, and one-third of their kind are expected to disappear below the stormy seas of volatility this year. Many of the survivors are hors de combat, having struck the Jolly Roger and limped back to their secret coves, there to deleverage and lick their doubloons.

But we were wrong about the risk they posed to the system overall. "Doggone it!" as governor Sarah Palin would say, the real threat turned out to be the banks and their old-fashioned real estate lending rather than newfangled hedge fund investing. The banks and related institutions lent against property to anything that moved and, after stunning losses, these banks would be dead but for the life-support apparatus put in place by the authorities at enormous expense to taxpayers. They are neither dead nor alive; they are zombies.

They have become entirely dependent on official capital
to defer their ultimate demise from bad assets, much like
the 30-year-old trader with a gangrenous leg who won’t
leave the desk because of a pending trade

This reminded me of George Romero’s classic film The night of the living dead, shot in Pennsylvania in 1968 for $114,000, the first in a rich history of zombie movies.

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