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Over the last two years of the housing bubble, Wall Street bankers perpetrated one of the greatest episodes of self-dealing in financial history. Faced with increasing difficulty in selling the mortgage-backed securities that had been among their most lucrative products, the banks hit on a solution that preserved their quarterly earnings and huge bonuses: They created fake demand. A ProPublica analysis shows for the first time the extent to which banks -- primarily Merrill Lynch, but also Citigroup, UBS and others -- bought their own products and cranked up an assembly line that otherwise should have flagged. The products they were buying and selling were at the heart of the 2008 meltdown -- collections of mortgage bonds known as collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs.


As the housing boom began to slow in mid-2006, investors became skittish about the riskier parts of those investments. So the banks created -- and ultimately provided most of the money for -- new CDOs. Those new CDOs bought the hard-to-sell pieces of the original CDOs. The result was a daisy chain [1]  that solved one problem but created another: Each new CDO had its own risky pieces. Banks created yet other CDOs to buy those.