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Financial innovation and complexity

Five days later saw the end for the big independent investment banks. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were the only two left standing, and their big investors, worried that they might be the markets’ next targets, began moving their billions to safer havens. Rather than proclaim their innocence all the way to bankruptcy court, the two investment banks chose to transform themselves into ordinary bank holding companies. That put them under the respected regulatory umbrella of the Fed and gave them access to the Fed’s various kinds of credit for the institutions that it regulates.

On September 25, climaxing a frenetic month, federal regulators seized the country’s largest savings and loan, Seattle-based Washington Mutual (WaMu), and brokered its sale to JPMorgan Chase for $1.9 billion. JPMorgan also agreed to absorb at least $31 billion in WaMu’s losses. Finally, in October, the Fed gave regulatory approval to the purchase of Wachovia Corp., a giant North Carolina-based bank that was crippled by the subprime-mortgage fiasco, by California-based Wells Fargo. Other banks also foundered, including some of the largest. In November the Treasury shored up Citigroup by guaranteeing $250 billion of its risky assets and pumping $20 billion directly into the bank.