Slicing and Dicing

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 4:03 PM EDT

SLICING AND DICING....The Washington Post editorializes today against John McCain's mortgage rescue plan, and among its bill of particulars it tosses in this:

At least as Mr. Holtz-Eakin described it, it lacks a clear mechanism for reassembling and extricating whole mortgages from the welter of securities "tranches" into which Wall Street slices and dices them.

As I understand things — and I might not — this is a serious problem with any plan to force noteholders to write down their losses and restructure their mortgages to help out distressed homeowners. The problem is that there's no banker to negotiate with. It's not just that mortgages today are bundled up and securitized, it's that the resulting securities are then chopped up and sold into various CDOs. These CDOs are hedged with hundreds of pages of legal covenants, and the end result is that you can't force the mortgages to be restructured unless all of the bondholders agree. And since every CDO has hundreds of bondholders, that's basically impossible.

Obviously this doesn't apply to all subprime mortgages, but I wonder how many it does apply to? And legally and administratively, what's the answer? I really haven't been able to find a coherent explanation of this stuff, but it seems like it's a pretty big deal. Anyone have any reading recommendations?

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