Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The layman's finance crisis glossary

The current financial crisis has thrown terminology from the business pages onto the front page of newspapers, with jargon now abounding everywhere from the watercooler to the back of a taxi.

Here is a guide to many of the business terms currently cropping up regularly, as well as some of the more exotic words coined to describe some of the social effects of the credit crunch.


ADMINISTRATION

A rescue mechanism for companies in severe trouble. It allows them to continue as a going concern, under supervision, effectively to try to trade out of difficulty.
A firm in administration cannot be wound up without permission from a court.


BEAR MARKET

In a bear market, prices are falling and investors, anticipating losses, tend to sell. This can create a self-sustaining downward spiral.


BOND

A debt security - or more simply an IOU. The bond states when a loan must be repaid and what interest the borrower (issuer) must pay to the holder. Banks and investors buy and trade bonds.


BULL MARKET

A bull market is one in which prices are generally rising and investor confidence is high.

CHAPTER 11

The term for bankruptcy protection in the US. It postpones a company's obligations to its creditors, giving it time to reorganise its debts or sell parts of the business, for example.


COMMODITIES

Commodities are products that, in their basic form, are all the same so it makes little difference from whom you buy them.
That means that they have a market price. You would be unlikely to pay more for iron ore from a particular mine, for example.


CREDIT CRUNCH

The situation created when banks hugely reduced their lending to each other because they were uncertain about how much money they had.
This in turn resulted in more expensive loans and mortgages for ordinary people.

CREDIT DEFAULT SWAP

A swap designed to transfer credit risk. The buyer of the swap makes periodic payments to the seller in return for protection in the event of a default.
A bank which owns a lot of mortgage debt could swap it, but would have to make a pay-out if those mortgages were not repaid.

DERIVATIVES

Derivatives are a way of investing in a particular product or security without having to own it. The value can depend on anything from the price of coffee to interest rates or what the weather is like.
Derivatives can be used as insurance to limit the risk of a particular investment.
Credit derivatives are based on the risk of borrowers defaulting on their loans, such as mortgages.


EQUITY

In a business, equity is how much all of the shares put together are worth.
In a house, your equity is the amount your house is worth minus the amount of mortgage debt that is outstanding on it.

FAKEAWAY

A home-made, belt-tightening version of a takeaway - think, a curry made with a jar of sauce, bag of rice and a packet of poppadoms from the supermarket.


FUTURES

A futures contract is an agreement to buy or sell a commodity at a predetermined date and price. It could be used to hedge or to speculate on the price of the commodity.

HEDGE FUND

A private investment fund with a large, unregulated pool of capital and very experienced investors.
Hedge funds use a range of sophisticated strategies to maximise returns - including hedging, leveraging and derivatives trading.

HEDGING

Making an investment to reduce the risk of price fluctuations to the value of an asset.
For example, if you owned a stock and then sold a futures contract agreeing to sell your stock on a particular date at a set price. A fall in price would not harm you - but nor would you benefit from any rise.

HYPERMILING

Techniques used by drivers to get more miles to the gallon, such as coasting in neutral and keeping tyre pressure high.

INVESTMENT BANK

Investment banks provide financial services for governments, companies or extremely rich individuals. They differ from commercial banks where you have your savings or your mortgage.

LEVERAGING

Leveraging, or gearing, means using debt to supplement investment.
The more you borrow on top of the funds (or equity) you already have, the more highly leveraged you are. Leveraging can maximise both gains and losses.
Deleveraging means reducing the amount you are borrowing.

LIBOR

London Inter Bank Offered Rate. The rate at which banks lend money to each other.


LIQUIDITY

The liquidity of something is how easy it is to convert it into cash. Your current account, for example, is more liquid than your house.
If you needed to sell your house quickly to pay bills you would have drop the price substantially to get a sale.

LOANS-TO-DEPOSIT RATIO

For financial institutions, the sum of their loans divided by the sum of their deposits.
Currently important because using other sources to fund lending is getting more expensive.


MARK-TO-MARKET

Recording the value of an asset on a daily basis according to current market prices.
So for a futures contract, what it would be worth if realised today rather than at the specified future date. Also marked-to-market.


NEGATIVE EQUITY

Refers to a situation in which the value of your house is below the amount of the mortgage that still has to be paid off.


PROFIT WARNING

When a company issues a statement indicating that its profits will not be as high as it had expected. Also profits warning.

RATING

Bonds are rated according to their safety from an investment standpoint - based on the ability of the company or government that has issued it to repay.
Ratings range from AAA, the safest, down to D, a company that has already defaulted.

RECESSIONISTA

A person who manages to look fashionable on a tight budget.


SECURITISATION

Turning something into a security. For example, taking the debt from a number of mortgages and combining them to make a financial product which can then be traded.
Banks who buy these securities receive income when the original home-buyers make their mortgage payments.

SECURITY

Essentially, a contract that can be assigned a value and traded. It could be a stock, bond or mortgage debt, for example.

SHORT SELLING

A technique used by investors who think the price of an asset, such as shares, currencies or oil contracts, will fall. They borrow the asset from another investor and then sell it in the relevant market. The aim is to buy back the asset at a lower price and return it to its owner, pocketing the difference. Also shorting.

SPIV

A term popularised in World War II for flashily-dressed chancers involved in black market dealings. A fictional spiv is ladies' man Private Joe Walker in Dad's Army.
Newspaper headline writers use "spiv" as shorthand for traders who play for high stakes.

STAGFLATION

The dreaded combination of inflation and stagnation - an economy that is not growing while prices continue to rise.

STAYCATION

Staying at home for your holiday in a bid to save money.

SUB-PRIME MORTGAGES

These carry a higher risk to the lender (and therefore tend to be at higher interest rates) because they are offered to people who have had financial problems or who have low or unpredictable incomes.

SWAP

An exchange of securities between two parties. For example, if a firm in one country has a lower fixed interest rate and one in another country has a lower floating interest rate, an interest rate swap could be mutually beneficial.


UNWIND

To unwind a deal is to reverse it - to sell something that you have previously bought, or vice versa.
When administrators are called in to a bank, they must do the unwinding before creditors can get any money back.

WRITE-DOWN

Reducing the book value of an asset to reflect a fall in its market value. For example, the write-down of a company's value after a big fall in share prices.

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