Cayman's Revolution Will Be Televised
A TV series that explains the origins of the financial crisis has a surprising sponsor: the Cayman Islands.
What television lacks in entertainment it makes up for in irony these days. A new show that aired in Britain on Monday and claimed to unravel the mysteries behind the global financial crisis, may look a little awkward once it gets to the bit about tax-evasion and dodgy, off-balance sheet funds. Its main sponsor? The Cayman Islands.
The British overseas territory isn't only a popular off-shore tax haven--it is also where many large banks parked the toxic debt securities in the last few years before the credit crisis erupted, leading to huge write-downs, losses and now, layoffs.
The six-part television series on Channel 4 and titled The Ascent of Money, is the Cayman Islands' first-ever TV sponsorship deal and worth "a six-figure" sum, the Islands' department of tourism said in a press release. It added that "the followers of the series present exactly the right profile and demographic of visitor who will want to book a holiday to the Cayman Islands."
Till now, some of Cayman's most popular tourists have been financiers: its light-touch regulation has led around 80.0% of the world's hedge funds to incorporate themselves there, and the secrecy it provides on off-shore accounts has spelled $400.0 billion in lost tax revenue from individuals and corporations, according to Richard Murphy of U.K. consultancy Tax Research.
More significantly, many of the world's large banks, including Citigroup
Most of these SIVs have now been shut down after failing to roll over their commercial paper last winter because their assets were largely American subprime mortgages. The SIVs had to be brought back onto banks' balance sheets, leading to huge write-downs, losses and the drying up interbank lending that led to the global credit freeze.
Citigroup, which announced Monday that it was cutting 53,000 jobs, once had around $80.0 billion parked in SIVs that were incorporated on the Cayman Islands. (See "Black Hole Banking.") In December last year, the bank had to put $49.0 billion worth of assets from those SIVs on its balance sheet, leading to the big write-downs of 2008.
Channel 4 spokeswoman Jenny Cummis denied that the Cayman Islands could have influenced the content of The Ascent of Money because the show had been made before the sponsorship deal was struck.
While its choice of the program is odd, Cayman is clearly seeking to change its image. The SIVs are gone and more laws are being proposed that are moving toward cracking down on the secrecy that Cayman offers. "These places actually have two choices," said Murphy. "They either sell real financial services that can survive under the glare of transparency, or they find something else to do."
In a choice between balmy Caribbean weather and credit derivatives, it is probably a lot easier to sell the former.