Very sad news: One of the lead writers on Calculated Risk, the analyst and commentator who wrote as “Tanta,” has died at the age of 47.
Over the past two years, Doris Dungey has become one of the most respected and influential voices in the industry. We miss her already.
From Calculated Risk:
My dear friend and co-blogger Doris “Tanta” Dungey passed away early this morning. I would like to express my deepest condolences to her family and friends.
Photo: Tanta in 2004 (from her sister Cathy).
From CR to Tanta’s many readers, fans and internet friends: Tanta enjoyed writing for you, chatting with many of you in the comments, and corresponding with you via email. She told me several times over the last few months how much she enjoyed discussing current events with you.
Tanta worked as a mortgage banker for 20 years, and we started chatting in early 2005 about the housing bubble and the changes in lending practices. In 2006, Tanta was diagnosed with late stage cancer, and she took an extended medical leave while undergoing treatment. At that time I approached her about writing for this blog, and she declined for a simple reason – her prognosis was grim and she didn’t expect to live very long. To her surprise, after aggressive treatment, her health started to improve and she accepted my invitation. When she chose an email address, it reflected her surprise: tanta_vive … Tanta Lives!
Armed with a literary background and extensive knowledge of the mortgage industry, Tanta wrote about current events with deep insight and wit. Here is the introduction to one of her posts in 2006: Let Slip the Dogs of Hell
I still haven’t gotten over the fact that there’s a “capital management” group out there having named itself “Cerberus”. Those of you who were not asleep in Miss Buttkicker’s Intro to Western Civ will recognise Cerberus; the rest of you may have picked up the mythological fix from its reprise as “Fluffy” in the first Harry Potter novel. Wherever you get your culture, Cerberus is the three-headed dog who guards the gates of Hell. It takes three heads to do that of course, because it’s never clear, in theology or finance, whether the idea is to keep the righteous from falling into the pit or the demons from escaping out of it (the third head is busy meeting with the regulators).
Tanta wrote a number of posts detailing the inner workings of the mortgage industry. These posts covered a wide range of topics, from mortgage servicing, to everything you want to know about mortgage backed securities (MBS), to reverse mortgages. She called these posts “The Compleat UberNerd” and in typical fashion she noted:
An “UberNerd” is someone who is compelled to understand how things work in grim detail, even if the things in question are tedious in the extreme …”
Tanta liked to ferret out the details. She was inquisitive and had a passion for getting the story right. Sometimes she wouldn’t post for a few days, not because she wasn’t feeling well, but because she was reading through volumes of court rulings, or industry data, to get the facts correct. She respected her readers, and people noticed.
Felix Salmon at Condé Nast Portfolio.com, wrote on Nov 7, 2007 wrote:
“Tanta is one of the best financial writers in the world, and explains complex ideas with wit and great clarity.”
Paul Krugman at the NY Times complemented Tanta several times, recently writing:
“The great thing about this age of blogs is the way people who really know something about a subject can quickly weigh in, without being filtered through Authority.”
Even researchers at the Federal Reserve referenced Tanta’s work: From Adam Ashcraft and Til Schuermann: Understanding the Securitization of Subprime Mortgage Credit, credit on page 13:
Several point raised in this section were first raised in a 20 February 2007 post on the blog http://calculatedrisk.blogspot.com/ entitled “Mortgage Servicing for Ubernerds.”
Tanta was also extremely funny. She introduced the Muddled Metaphor Index (MMI) and Excel Art featuring the Mortgage Pig, and she was the originator of a number of phrases in use today, like “We’re all subprime now!”
This is a very sad day and I know many of you are in shock. Tanta was our teacher. She generously shared her knowledge with all of us. I doubt she knew how many lives she touched; her insights, spirit and passion lives on in her writings – and in all of you.
The blogger Tanta, an influential voice on the mortgage collapse, died Sunday morning in Columbus, Ohio.
Tanta, who wrote for Calculated Risk, a finance and economics blog, was a pseudonym for Doris Dungey, 47, who until recently had lived in Upper Marlboro, Md. The cause of death was ovarian cancer, her sister, Cathy Stickelmaier, said.
Thanks in large part to Tanta’s contributions, Calculated Risk became a crucial source of prescient analysis as the housing market at first faltered, then collapsed and finally spawned a full-blown credit crisis.
Tanta used her extensive knowledge of the loan industry to comment, castigate and above all instruct. Her fans ranged from the Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times who cited her in his blog, to analysts at the Federal Reserve, who cited her in a paper on “Understanding the Securitization of Subprime Mortgage Credit.”
She wrote under a pseudonym because she hoped some day to go back to work in the mortgage industry, and the increasing renown of Tanta in that world might have precluded that. Tanta was Ms. Dungey’s longtime family nickname, Ms. Stickelmaier said.
Calculated Risk, which gets about 75,000 visitors a day, was started in early 2005 by a retired technology executive named Bill McBride. The housing market was soaring, but Mr. McBride sensed that the industry was about to peak, and he posted articles and data that made his case.
The blog quickly drew a lively and informed group of commentators, few livelier and none more informed than someone who called herself Tanta. She began by correcting some of Mr. McBride’s posts. “She would tell me either I was wrong or the article I was quoting was wrong,” he said Sunday. “It was clear she really knew her stuff. And she was funny about it.”
Tanta soon graduated from merely commenting to being a full-scale partner. Her first post, in December 2006, took issue with an optimistic Citigroup report that maintained that the mortgage industry would “rationalize” in 2007, to the benefit of larger players like, well, Citigroup.
“Bear with me while I ask some stupid questions,” Tanta wrote, and proceeded to assert that the industry was less likely to “rationalize” than fall apart, which it did. Citigroup was bailed out by the government last month.
She loved the intricacies of mortgage financing and would joke about being not just a nerd on the subject but a nerd’s nerd. She eventually wrote, for the Calculated Risk site, “The Compleat ÜberNerd,” 13 lengthy articles on mortgage origination channels, mortgage-backed securities and foreclosures that constituted a definitive word on the subject.
The rest of the time, Tanta liked to chew on the follies of regulators, the idiocies of lenders and — a particular favourite — clueless reporters, which according to her was just about all of them. She did not approve, she once wrote, of “parading one’s ignorance about mortgages in an article full of high-minded tut-tutting over ignorance about mortgages.”
In March 2006, Ms. Dungey was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer.
Ms. Dungey was raised in Bloomington-Normal, Ill., had a graduate degree in English, and worked as a writer and trainer for a variety of lenders, including Champion Federal and AmerUs Mortgage.
One of Tanta’s last posts was written as the $700 billion bailout was first being debated in mid-September, and it seemed that the Treasury Department might buy bad assets directly from troubled banks.
Tanta argued that for every asset that banks unloaded on the government, the chief executives should be required to explain “why they acquired or originated this asset to begin with, what’s really wrong with it in detail, what they have learned from this experience, and what steps they are taking to make sure it never happens again.”