My still-unfolding Train Wreck series is getting a lot of attention. It’s not exactly good news, but people at least appreciate the warnings. Thanks to all who sent thought-provoking comments. I always consider them carefully.

A few readers characterized the crisis I foresee as being a repeat of the 2008 fiasco. That’s partly right, in the sense we will have a painful economic and market downturn, but the causes will be quite different.

Last time around, the root problem was excessive residential real estate debt. Reckless lenders made unwise loans so unqualified borrowers could buy overpriced homes. These loans morphed into securities and derivatives and all blew up. I don’t think it will happen that way again. The next crisis will spring from corporate debt, equally imprudent but structurally different.

This train wreck will be similar in one respect, though. The first defaults will occur at the lowest end of the problematic market: high yield or “junk” bonds. They will play a role comparable to subprime mortgages in the last crisis. We’ll see mortgage problems as well, but I think overleveraged companies will be the core problem.

Before we go into that, you might want to review prior installments in this series or read them first if you’re just now joining us.
•Credit-Driven Train Crash, Part 1
•Train Wreck Preview

Today, we’ll look at a not-so-prime example of the reckless investments people are making in high-yield bonds, then consider how big the problem can get.

But we’ll start with a little history.

What Are They Selling?

Older readers will remember a Houston-based company called Enron that blew itself, its employees, and investors to smithereens during the 2001–2002 recession. Investigations followed. Some management (properly) went to prison.

In the late 1990s, Enron engaged former Reagan speechwriter and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan to help explain itself to the world. Noonan, possibly the greatest business writer of her generation, couldn’t do it. She described the experience in a 2002 column.

http://news.goldseek.com/GoldSeek/1527520380.php