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The Dallas Fed’s Resident Soothsayer

Contrarian analyst and former business journalist Danielle DiMartino Booth, who predicted the housing crisis, doesn’t think we’re out of the woods just yet.
photography by Elizabeth Lavin

Financial expert Danielle Dimartino Booth, who sounded an early warning about the housing bubble as a controversial business columnist for The Dallas Morning News, is still peering into her crystal ball—and foreseeing tough times ahead.

These days it’s commercial real estate and delinquencies in the “jumbo” residential-mortgage market—typically loans of $417,000 and above—that trouble DiMartino Booth, who’s now a financial analyst for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” says DiMartino Booth, 39. “I don’t think the last shoe has fallen.”

This time, it might pay to listen to her.

As a daily columnist for The News from 2003 to 2006, DiMartino Booth was a lonely voice of reason about the easy-mortgage boom, which she contended was introducing “systemic risk” into the entire financial system. For her efforts she was roundly criticized as an anti-business spoilsport (including, unfortunately, by yours truly).

“I got hate mail from the East and West coasts, from Tel Aviv, from the UK,” DiMartino Booth recalls. “Most people basically said, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ ”

As it turns out, of course, she did.

DiMartino Booth’s self-described contrarian outlook—her family “never believed in the concept of a free lunch”—was formed growing up in South Texas. After earning a BBA degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio and an MBA in finance and international business from UT-Austin, she took off for a career on Wall Street.

She landed there at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, a relatively small, entrepreneurial investment bank where she became a top saleswoman, the youngest member of the firm’s Chairman’s Club at the time. She was a unique “hybrid” at DLJ, DiMartino Booth says, not only dealing with everything from private-equity partnerships to municipal bonds, but also writing a weekly commentary about Wall Street for clients.

She left the firm in comfortable style in 2002 after DLJ was acquired by Credit Suisse, and her husband—a manager with Crown Packaging—asked her to move with him to Dallas. She landed The News gig as the result of a meeting with Belo’s Robert Decherd, since her lifelong ambition had been “to retire when I turned 40, and go off and write for a living.”

DiMartino Booth decided to leave the Dallas paper after the Fed came knocking—and after the housing crash she’d long predicted became reality. “So many people started to lose their homes,” she says, “it wasn’t much fun to write about the bubble bursting anymore.”

So, what’s her take now on the financial cataclysm she foresaw ? “At the end of the day, we’ll emerge from this crisis with more balance on our balance sheets,” DiMartino Booth says. “I think we’ll come out much stronger. So I’m happy, finally, to have a positive tone.”

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