In a report released today, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission found that "reckless" Wall Street firms, an abundance of cheap credit and "weak" federal regulators caused the crisis.
"This financial crisis could have been avoided. Let us be clear," chairman Phil Angelides said at the Washington press conference marking the official release of the report. "The record is replete with evidence of failures. None of what happened was an act of God."
Former California treasurer Angelides confirmed that the bipartisan panel appointed by Congress to investigate the financial crisis concluded that several financial industry figures appear to have broken the law and has referred multiple cases to state or federal authorities for potential prosecution.
The report also revealed that Goldman Sachs collected $2.9 billion from the American International Group as payout on a speculative trade it placed for the benefit of its own account, receiving the bulk of those funds after AIG received an enormous taxpayer rescue, according to the FCIC.
The 662-page report, available online, and as a book, offers 10 main conclusions:
"This financial crisis was avoidable."
"Despite the expressed view of many on Wall Street and in Washington that the crisis could not have been foreseen or avoided, there were warning signs," the report reads."The tragedy was that they were ignored or discounted."
"Widespread failures in financial regulation and supervision proved devastating to the stability of the nation's financial markets."
"Securities and Exchange Commission could have required more capital and halted risky practices at the big investment banks. It did not," the report reads.
"The Federal Reserve Bank of New York and other regulators could have clamped down on Citigroup's excesses in the run-up to the crisis. They did not. Policy makers and regulators could have stopped the runaway mortgage securitization train. They did not.
"Dramatic failures of corporate governance and risk management at many systemically important financial institutions were a key cause of this crisis."
Financial institutions acted recklessly and depended too heavily on short term loans, the inquiry found. "Compensation systems--designed in an environment of cheap money, intense competition, and light regulation--too often rewarded the quick deal, the short-term gain--without proper consideration of long-term consequences," it reads.
"A combination of excessive borrowing, risky investments, and lack of transparency put the financial system on a collision course with crisis."
The inquiry found that in the years leading up to the crisis, American households, and institutions, borrowed too much and saved too little.
"When the housing and mortgage markets cratered, the lack of transparency, the extraordinary debt loads, the short-term loans, and the risky assets all came home to roost. What resulted was panic," the report reads. "We had reaped what we had sown."
"The government was ill prepared for the crisis, and its inconsistent response added to the uncertainty and panic in the financial markets."
Key government agencies, the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve Board, and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York were behind the curve, the report concluded.
"They were hampered because they did not have a clear grasp of the financial system they were charged with overseeing, particularly as it had evolved in the years leading up to the crisis."
"There was a systemic breakdown in accountability and ethics."
Many borrowers lied about being able to pay mortgages, lenders made loans they knew borrowers couldn't afford, the report said.
"Countrywide executives recognized that many of the loans they were originating could result in 'catastrophic consequences.' Less than a year later, they noted that certain high-risk loans they were making could result not only in foreclosures but also in 'financial and reputational catastrophe' for the firm. But they did not stop."
"Collapsing mortgage-lending standards and the mortgage securitization pipeline lit and spread the flame of contagion and crisis."
The report found irresponsible lending was prevalent, and there were warnings, but "the Federal Reserve neglected its mission," and mortgage lenders passed the risk along.
"From the speculators who flipped houses to the mortgage brokers who scouted the loans, to the lenders who issued the mortgages, to the financial firms that created the mortgage-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations... no one in this pipeline of toxic mortgages had enough skin in the game."
"Over-the-counter derivatives contributed significantly to this crisis..."
Speculating on devices like collateralized debt obligations fanned the flames, with everyone from farmers to corporations to investors betting on prices and loan defaults. When the housing bubble popped, these were at the center of the fallout.
"The failures of credit rating agencies were essential cogs in the wheel of financial destruction..."
But, the report found, those bets wouldn't have been possible without the seal of approval from ratings agencies.
"This crisis could not have happened without the rating agencies. Their ratings helped the market soar and their down- grades through 2007 and 2008 wreaked havoc across markets and firms," the report reads.