As vanishing credit spurred the government-led rescue of dozens of financial institutions, Harvard was so strapped for cash that it asked Massachusetts for fast-track approval to borrow $2.5 billion. Almost $500 million was used within days to exit agreements known as interest-rate swaps that Harvard had entered to finance expansion in Allston, across the Charles River from its main campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The swaps, which assumed that interest rates would rise, proved so toxic that the 373-year-old institution agreed to pay banks a total of almost $1 billion to terminate them. Most of the wrong-way bets were made in 2004, when Lawrence Summers, now President Barack Obama’s economic adviser, led the university. ....
Borrowers use swaps to match the type of interest rates on their debt with the rates on their income, which can help reduce borrowing costs. Lenders and speculators use swaps to profit from changes in the direction of interest rates. A bet on higher rates, for example, means paying fixed rates and receiving variable. At Harvard, nobody anticipated some interest rates going to zero, making the university’s financing a speculative disaster.
....The financing plan using the swaps was developed by the university’s financial team and discussed with the Debt Asset Management Committee, an oversight group, according to James Rothenberg, a member of the President and Fellows of Harvard College, or Harvard Corp., and the school’s treasurer, a board position.Off with his head!