The Alternate Finance Crisis Glossary

The BBC website has just posted a rather good glossary of terms that’ve cropped up a lot in coverage of the Continuing Financial Crisis From Hell.

It’s missing a certain something, though. Here, then, is JRE’s Alternate Finance Crisis Glossary.


1) A guarantee of financial soundness, that the AAA-rated product will almost never fail. See also: New Orleans levees.

2) A BBB-rating after it’s been leveraged up fifteen times.


Things of (alleged) value that sit in the right-hand column of a firm’s balance sheet. Contrast with liabilities, which sit in the left-hand column.

Hence the saying “the problem with companies’ balance sheets these days: on the left, nothing’s right; and on the right, nothing’s left”.

Bear market

That time when Nouriel Roubini crawls out of the cupboard under the stairs to pontificate on CNBC and generally make everybody totally miserable. Please, readers, start buying stocks so he’ll go away and hide.

Bull market

A mythical creature, like the tooth fairy, Bigfoot, or a fund manager that can consistently outperform the market.


Where protestors go to rant and rave about the evil corporate fat-cats who’re destroying their pension money.

Carry trade

Buying a higher-yielding currency and selling a lower-yielding currency to earn the spread; also, believing that past performance really really truly is indicative of future returns. So named because practitioners of the carry trade have an unfortunate habit of being carried out at the first hint of a downturn.

Popular among Japanese housewives and the sort of hedge funds that tout their “sophisticated quantitative strategies” while charging two-and-twenty for the privilege of investing with them.

Chapter 11

What companies do when it all becomes too much to handle.

Collateralised debt obligation

A perfectly appropriate investment product for 60-year-old Singaporean aunties and uncles, according to the MAS.

Commercial paper

The painfully rough one-ply toilet paper that’s appearing in more and more workplace bathrooms.


Things that will only ever go up in price because hyperinflation blah blah fiat money blah blah blah Ron Paul blah blah.


What stock analysts issue after slapping a “buy” recommendation on a stock that subsequently goes to zero.

Credit crunch

A type of breakfast cereal.

Credit default swap

A financial instrument where one party pays a fixed stream of semiannual payments, and in return for the payments receives a massive counterparty risk headache.

The cure for the counterparty risk headache is, of course, more CDSes.

Currency peg

What you wear on your nose when going out to buy Icelandic kroner.


The look on a trader’s face on bonus day.


**A financial instrument that derives its value from some other instrument. Bjorn Again to the cash markets’ Abba.



**A quaint historical relic whereby companies would bribe retail investors to buy the company’s stock. Now antiquated because nobody can afford them any more.


**Sheets of paper that previously conveyed partial ownership of a publicly listed company; now only good for wiping with. See also “commercial paper”.


A shooting gallery for the “Which Company Will Collapse Next” game. Now known as the FTSE-70.25 after last year’s decline.


Acronym for Gross Domestic Pain: the amount of moaning you hear around the dinner table at night.

Hedge fund

An unregulated investment pool that borrows money from investors and charges for the privilege.


What hedge funds do. See also “leveraging”, “naked short selling”, “carry trade” and “chapter 11”.


(2007 edition) The bogeyman of the markets, and justification for jacking interest rates up into the stratosphere.

(2008-09 edition) The saviour of the markets, and justification for shoving interest rates down to zero.

Investment bank

At the beginning of 2008, a thriving class of companies with five major firms in the USA. After one spectacular bankruptcy, two mergers, and two deathbed conversions, now considered an almost extinct species.

May possibly rise again, like the rise of mammals after an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs… but, like the rise of mammals, it’ll probably take 65 million years.

Junk bond

30-year Treasuries.


Limited liability

**What you thought you had when you bought one of those CDO-linked Pinnacle Notes.


Monoline insurance

**The job of insuring against default on boring, plain-vanilla municipal bonds that almost never default. Inexplicably, some companies still managed to royally stuff it up.

**Naked short selling

**Much more fun than regular short selling.


**What happens to banks that are Too Big To Fail. Banks not considered Too Big To Fail can sod off.

**Negative equity

**Code for “out of toilet paper”. See “equity”.

Ponzi scheme

An illegal scheme, promising implausibly large returns, whereby the returns to earlier investors are paid out of the money invested by later investors, rather than from profits. See also “social security”.

**Preference shares

**A way for banks to borrow money from the government at 9%, then deposit the money with the Fed and earn 0.5%. The logic behind this has not yet been made clear.


**Synonym for “lie”.



**Your credit card company’s excuse for cancelling your credit card.

**Retained earnings

Your money, after you’ve wired it to Bernie Madoff.

Rights issue

**A way of raising capital by offering new shares at a discount to the current market price. In practice, what usually happens is that the stock price sinks through the rights price before the close of the rights issue, nobody exercises the right to buy, and the underwriter ends up owning a massive chunk of the company at a price significantly above market.


**What you felt when you invested your money in a CDO-backed first-to-default note that the bank worker told you was safe as houses.

Short selling

Selling something that you don’t actually own, with the intent to buy it back and return it before anyone notices. Do it with a handful of stocks, and it’s no problem - but jeez, try it with your neighbours’ house while they’re on holidays and look what happens.

See also “naked short selling”, which is (as the name implies) much more fun.


A banker, when he (or she) is out of earshot.


**Just like normal inflation, but worse, because you lose all your money and then a deer attacks you.

Sub-prime mortgages

Any mortgage granted by Wachovia or WaMu.


What bankers would like to do with those family members who decided to go into safe, sensible careers - like crocodile wrangling, or vulcanology.

Tier 1 capital

Real, actual, proper money in the bank. Rarely seen or heard of anymore.

Toxic debts

30-year Treasuries.


The poor suckers who get stuck owning nine-tenths of the company after a rights issue.


What bankers used to be able to do on a nice quiet beach in St. Barts, or Koh Samui, or Bora Bora.


The pieces of paper being thrown around at Bernie Madoff’s office.

Yield spread

**What you have to do when the market decides to bend you over and [Editor’s note: the remainder of this post has been censored due to gross violations of good taste. We apologise for the inconvenience.]