One Bad Bond

Jupiter V is not a spacecraft. It's a CDO--one of those financial thingamajigs at the root of the economic meltdown. How one security turns a few bad mortgages into financial disaster

David J. Phillip / AP

Mortgage bonds used to be the stars of finance. Home loans, after all, have a lot going for them: the vast majority of people, even today, make their mortgage payments on time. What's more, mortgage bonds are made up of thousands of home loans, giving them safety through diversity. So how did these bonds become so toxic that they've poisoned banks and threatened the entire economy?

Look under the hood of a bond called Jupiter High-Grade CDO V, and you can understand why we're in trouble. Bankers from the 1970s, when mortgage bonds first took off, would hardly recognize Jupiter. Unlike...

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