I'm told Ms. Tavakoli is doing a booming business these days helping plaintiffs with synthetic CDO lawsuits. If so, there may be some justice in the world. She is a rare creature of finance, hard-working genius grounded in ethics that should define the profession (i.e., due diligence on behalf of clients. What a concepts). As others have rightly noted, the book contains something you can't find *anywhere* else: myriad details of real-world transactions and actual practices as they vary from theory. In short, the straight scoop from the inside.
Briefly, my only nit, which is unrelated to Ms. Tavakolio's genius and generosity: the organization and editing of the book are, at times, a bit too much brisk swerving narrative and not enough pedagogy (e.g., there isn't quite enough help understanding the synthetic CDO and equity CDO case studies, I doubt many readers will suffer the details in the way they are presented). She knows too much stuff. On some of the transactions, I struggled to keep up. A full reading of the book would have taken less time if they had polished the final, tightened the organization, and paused to explain in a few areas. She is five stars and then some, the book is four stars for degree of difficulty.
The first half of book is generally an introduction to credit derivatives, the building blocks that constitute the more sophisticated CDO technologies; e.g., CDS, CLN, role of SPE/SPV, early CDO technology, credit enhancement (very important!), CDOs backed by RMBS.
The best part of the book is the second half. Selected highlights:
* Great stuff on CDO tranches; e.g., senior tranches tend to bear the systemic risk while junior (1st to default) tranches bear the name or idiosyncratic risk
* The best part of the book, for me, is the detailed compare/contrast between a synthetic arb CDO and cash arb CDO; e.g., cash CDO has a market risk hedge counterparty (interest rate and currency), synthetic CDO does not; synthetic CDO has a super senior tranche;
* Several brilliant anecdotes related to model risk in practice (mis-applications of models). If she doesn't prove to you that "approximately right" is a better goal than "precisely wrong," nothing will budge you.
* Helpful due diligence questions for an investor to ask of CDO manager; e.g., have you been deposed in last 5 years?
* Stinging take down of Basel regulatory framework ("Basel II is part of a series of failures by various financial regulators to capture the most fundamental risk in the banking system: lending money to someone who may not pay you back"..."as securitizations began to come back on the balance sheets in 2007, it was clear that BIS had no idea of the problems that leverage, synthetics, and securitizations could pose")
* Best expose of the super senior tranche. It's unbelievable and stranger than fiction.
* Funny digs at the roles of regulators, economists and lawyers. You gotta love her. It occurs to me she may be fearless, in part, because she makes a habit of doing the right thing.
* Dense, important material about the nuances of hedging ineffectiveness; e.g., single-tranche CDO
* What does she conclude in the chapter "The Credit Crunch and CDOs?" There is no other way to say this, it's a broadside against the credit rating agencies. On several levels, by the way (motives, application of statistics). She says, "My own view is that for structured products, the NRSRO designation should be revoked." She makes the point that "savvy investors ignore ratings" (i.e., knowing they are wrong).