Toxie's Dead : Planet Money Planet Money's pet toxic asset died this week. She was killed by one of the worst housing busts in U.S. history. Watch the video.

Toxie's Dead

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NPR's David Kestenbaum and Chana Joffe-Walt have this remembrance.

CHANA JOFFE: You remember when people worried that the world's largest banks might be insolvent? That was because of all the Toxies out there. No one knew what they were really worth. Those bonds were so complicated, and they relied on the housing market, which was such a mess.

DAVID KESTENBAUM: We wanted to find out: What is a toxic asset really worth? So back in January, we bought one ourselves, with the help of an expert - Wit Solberg at Mission Peak Capitol - for what seemed like a steal.

JOFFE: I have to say, I have never gotten such a huge discount. Toxie was just $1,000: 99 percent off her original sticker price.

KESTENBAUM: Wit told us every month some homeowners would make their payments, and we would get a check - until enough of those homeowners lost their homes, and then she would die.

JOFFE: If we were right about what she was worth, we would make back our $1,000, and then some.

KESTENBAUM: As of today, Toxie has given us just $449. And Wit has some news.

WIT SOLBERG: Well, the day has come. Toxie has officially died.


JOFFE: It's over.

SOLBERG: It is over.

JOFFE: That means we're - there's no chance we're getting any more checks.

SOLBERG: She's dead, Chana. She's not coming back.


KESTENBAUM: So, here we are at the gravesite of this thing. More than half of the homeowners are not making payments. We thought we'd spend a few minutes to remember Toxie's life and her legacy - a legacy that, of course, still surrounds us today. We've asked Wit Solberg to offer some ceremonial words. Wit was also an investor in Toxie, and he, like us, lost more than half his money.

SOLBERG: Good riddance, Toxie. And I look forward to having the dirt be pushed on top of your little grave, and may it be very thick dirt. So, there I end my obituary.

KESTENBAUM: OK. Thank you, Wit. Toxie, I don't blame you. I blame us. You were a very cute baby. When you were born, we all loved you. Bankers made money putting you together. Investors were snatching you up - investors like the New Jersey Carpenters Pension Fund person we met, George Laufenberg, who bought one of Toxie's siblings.

GEORGE LAUFENBERG: To be honest with you, I thought we were pretty safe with most of the fixed assets that we had, most of the bonds that we had and everything else.

JOFFE: Are you a carpenter?


KESTENBAUM: Unlike us, the carpenters paid full price for their toxic asset. They've lost 95 percent of their money.

JOFFE: But back then, the money the carpenters were spending was helping homeowners. Toxie helped connect people like George, with money to lend, to people who wanted to borrow money to buy homes. Like another person we met: Lisa Liberator-Kinney in Florida. Her mortgage was one of those in our Toxie. She remembers Toxie's childhood well.

LISA LIBERATOR: It was, actually, you know, exciting for most people. Because people were like, yeah, I bought my house two years ago, and now it's triple. You know? It's worth triple what it was worth.

KESTENBAUM: Today, George and the carpenters are suing Toxie's creators. Lisa says her house in Florida has lost half its value. Toxie, you gave us wealth, and then you took it all away.

JOFFE: By dropping dead now, though, you are at least finally offering an answer to that vexing question: What is a toxic asset worth? Now we know the answer, at least for one: Toxie was worth $449.06.

KESTENBAUM: Unfortunately, we paid $1,000. It turns out, a 99 percent discount was not enough. But still, Toxie's breed is now one step closer to extinction. The year she was born, over a trillion dollars worth of Toxies were created, and this year, almost none. So we can stand here at Toxie's grave with a sense of closure.


JOFFE: It is at this point in our radio funeral - imagine Wit Solberg elbowing his way back up to the podium. Closure? What do you mean closure?


SOLBERG: That - we're in, like, the third inning, if you will, on the toxic asset business. There's still a lot more that's sitting in people's balance sheets, you know, waiting for the day that they're able to sell. They're not going away anytime soon.

KESTENBAUM: So can we can at least with Toxie's death, we are one step closer to knowing what all these toxic assets are worth and one step closer to end of the financial crisis?



SOLBERG: You can't. I'm sorry, David. I know you wanted me to say yes.

KESTENBAUM: Now we have an answer, though.

SOLBERG: You have an answer. We know what Toxie is worth.

KESTENBAUM: But there's still a lot more out there.

SOLBERG: Yeah, unfortunately, the line's really, really long, like around the corner, you know, up the steps. A long line.


JOFFE: Toxie is survived by millions of investors and homeowners who are part of some other toxic asset story. And we still don't know how those stories are going to end.

KESTENBAUM: I'm David Kestenbaum.

JOFFE: And I'm Chana Joffe-Walt, NPR News.

INSKEEP: We are not quite done with Toxie, because one listener wrote a song. ..TEXT: (Soundbite of music)

ZMO: (Singing) She's Toxie, the toxic asset. We love every complicated facet. She's your pet ZMO, but you'll never know if this cash flow is your last get.

INSKEEP: We even have a video of Toxie's funeral, which you can find at

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