Doris Dungey, Prescient Finance Blogger, Dies at 47

December 1, 2008

Doris Dungey, Prescient Finance Blogger, Dies at 47

By DAVID STREITFELD

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 favorite — 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.”

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