What caused the 2008 financial crisis?

The unexpected COVID-19 pandemic has made financial markets around the world fall free, causing fears of a recession that will rival the financial crisis in 2008 when world leaders strive to stave off economic calamity.

The peril signs have naturally raised questions about the similarity of the current situation with the 2008 financial crisis, which is known as the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

However, the 2008 crisis was different from the ongoing economic issues due to social distancing regulations and lockdowns quarantines.


The worst economic downturn since the Great Depression was triggered by the overheating of the housing markets. The reason was that banks and other lenders approved mortgages, sometimes to borrowers that had poor credit histories, which drove up home prices to astronomical levels. Then banks sold the risky mortgage-backed securities to other financial organizations.

Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Morgan Stanley, and Merrill Lynch, and many other big financial conglomerates all became lenders of mortgages. A 2018 paper published by the University of California Berkeley showed that Citigroup held onto $43 billion of high-risk mortgage-backed securities, UBS $50 billion, Morgan Stanley $11 billion, and Merrill Lynch $32 billion by the summer of 2007.


The mentioned paper also said, “Since these institutions were producing and investing in risky loans, they were thus extremely vulnerable when housing prices dropped and foreclosures increased in 2007.”

Due to a glut of new homes on the market, housing prices across the U.S. started to plummet, which means that homeowners and their mortgage lenders were suddenly underwater since they owed on the mortgage more than the estimated value of their property. Owners lost their homes after having defaulted on their mortgage payments while banks holding the securities were pushed toward bankruptcy.

That the mortgage industry collapsed shocked not only the U.S. but also the global economy, the authors of the UC Berkeley paper wrote. If it had not been for the strong intervention of the government, U.S. homeowners and workers would have experienced even greater losses.