Mortgage borrowers typically repaid their loans only when interest rates fell, and they could refinance more cheaply, leaving the owner of a mortgage bond holding a pile of cash, to invest at lower interest rates. The investor in home loans didn’t know how long his investment would last, only that he would get his money back when he least wanted it.
People with first mortgages had vast amounts of equity locked up in their houses; why shouldn’t this untapped equity, too, be securitized? “The thinking in subprime,” says Jacobs, “was there was this social stigma to being a second mortgage borrower and there really shouldn’t be. If your credit rating was a little worse, you paid a lot more—and a lot more than you really should. If we can mass market the bonds, we can drive down the cost to borrowers. They can replace high interest rate credit card debt with lower interest rate mortgage debt. And it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” The
“It was a fast-buck business,” says Jacobs. “Any business where you can sell a product and make money without having to worry how the product performs is going to attract sleazy people. That was the seamy underbelly of the good idea. Eisman and I both believed in the big idea and we both met some really sleazy characters. That was our job: to figure out which of the characters were the right ones to pull off the big idea.”
“Growing up in Queens, you very quickly figure out where the money is,” said Vinny. “It’s in Manhattan.”