House of Cards: How Wall Street's Gamblers Broke Capitalism

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9780141039596: House of Cards: How Wall Street's Gamblers Broke Capitalism

From the author of The Last Tycoons, William D. Cohan's international bestseller House of Cards: How Wall Street's Gamblers Broke Capitalism dissects the collapse of Bear Stearns and the beginning of the financial crisis. It was Wall Street's toughest investment bank, taking risks where others feared to tread, run by testosterone-fuelled gamblers who hung a sign saying 'let's make nothing but money' over the trading floor. Yet in March 2008 the 85-year-old firm Bear Stearns was brought to its knees - and global economic meltdown began. With unprecedented access to the people at the eye of the financial storm, William Cohan tells the outrageous story of how Wall Street's entire house of cards came crashing down. 'A page-turner ...hard to put down, especially thanks to its dishy, often profane, quotes from insiders ...Read it, learn - and weep' Observer 'A fly-on-the-wall record ...Cohan is a master of this genre. He perfectly captures the raw voice of Wall Street ...like Damon Runyon updated by Martin Scorsese' Spectator Business 'Action-packed ...gripping' Sunday Times 'A devastating account of the foul-mouthed, money-grabbing men responsible for Bear Stearns' collapse' Business Week William D. Cohan was an award-winning investigative journalist before embarking on a seventeen-year career as an investment banker on Wall Street. His first book, The Last Tycoons, about Lazard, won the 2007 Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award and was a New York Times bestseller. His second book, House of Cards, also a bestseller, is an account of the last days of Bear Stearns & Co.

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About the Author:

William Cohan is an award-winning journalist and veteran of Wall Street. His previous book, The Last Tycoons, won the 2007 Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award and was a New York Times bestseller. A regular on the pages of the Financial Times and Fortune, the deal for this book was big news in the Wall Street Journal.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The first murmurings of impending doom for the financial world originated 2,500 miles from Wall Street in an unassuming office suite just north of Orlando, Florida. There, hard by the train tracks, Bennet Sedacca announced to the world at 10:15 on the morning of March 5, 2008, that venerable Bear Stearns & Co., the nation's fifth--largest investment bank, was in trouble, big trouble. "Yep," Sedacca wrote on the Minyanville Web site, which is dedicated to helping investors comprehend the financial world. "The great credit unwind is upon us. Credit default swaps on all brokers, particularly Lehman and Bear Stearns, are blowing out, big time."

Sedacca, the forty--eight--year--old president of Atlantic Advisors, a $3.5 billion investment management company and hedge fund, had been watching his Bloomberg screens on a daily basis as the cost of insuring the short--term obligations–known in Wall Street argot as "credit default swaps"–of both Lehman and Bear Stearns had increased steadily since the summer of 2007 and then more rapidly in February 2008. Now he was calling the end of the credit party that had been raging on Wall Street for six years. "I've been talking about it for years," Sedacca said later. "But I started to notice it that fall. Because if you think about it, if you have all this nuclear waste on your balance sheet, what are you supposed to do? You're supposed to cut your dividends, you're supposed to raise equity, and you're supposed to shrink your balance sheet. And they did just the opposite. They took on more leverage. Lehman went from twenty--five to thirty--five times leveraged in one year. And then they announce a big stock buyback at $65 a share and they sell stock at $38 a share. I mean, they don't know what they're doing. And yet they get rewarded for doing that. It makes me sick."

Sedacca had witnessed firsthand a few blowups in his day. He worked at the investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert–the former home of junk--bond king Michael Milken–when it was liquidated in 1990 and lost virtually overnight the stock he had in the firm as it plunged from $110 per share to zero (Drexel was a private company but the stock had been valued for internal purposes). "It was enough that it stunned," he explained. "It was more than a twenty--nine--year--old would want to lose." Many of his Drexel colleagues had taken out loans from Citibank to buy the Drexel stock and were left with their bank loans and worthless stock. "I know people with millions and millions of dollars of debt and the stock was at zero," he said. They either paid off the loans or declared personal bankruptcy. "That's what happens when everyone turns off your funding," he added.
He then moved on to Kidder Peabody and watched that 130--year--old firm disintegrate, too. As a result of these experiences and those at other Wall Street firms, he had developed a healthy skepticism of both debt and the ways of Wall Street. Starting in the summer of 2007, he began to feel certain that the mountain of debt building across many sectors of the American economy would not come to a good end. He started betting against credit. "I've watched enough screens long enough to know something was wrong," he said.

The problem at Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, Sedacca informed his clients and Minyanville readers, was that both firms had huge inventories on their balance sheets of securities backed by home mortgages. The rate of default on these mortgages, while still small, was growing at the same time that the value of the underlying collateral for the mortgage–people's homes–was falling rapidly. Sedacca could not help noticing that the effects of this double whammy were beginning to show up in other, smaller companies involved in the mortgage industry. He could watch the noose tighten in the credit markets. "Look at what is happening to Thornburg Mortgage," he wrote, referring to the publicly traded home mortgage lender, which specialized in making what were known as "Alt--A" mortgages, those greater than $417,000, to wealthy borrowers. Thornburg had been "overwhelmed" by margin calls from its lenders. "It supposedly only has a 0.44% default rate on its [$24.7 billion] mortgage portfolio that it services but the bonds it owns are getting pounded. Result? Margin call. The worst part is that the company went to sell some bonds to settle the margin calls but couldn't. The ultimate Roach Motel."

That Thornburg, based in Sante Fe, New Mexico, appeared to be hitting the wall was somewhat surprising considering its customers' low default rate and high credit quality. The problem at Thornburg was not that its customers could no longer pay the interest and principal on their mortgages; the problem was that the company could no longer fund its business on a day--to--day basis. Thornburg had a liquidity problem because its lenders no longer liked the collateral–those jumbo mortgages–Thornburg used to obtain financing.

Unlike a bank, which is able to use the cash from its depositors to fund most of its operations, financial institutions such as Thornburg as well as pure investment banks such as Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns had no depositors' money to use. Instead they funded their operations in a few ways: either by occasionally issuing long--term securities, such as debt or preferred stock, or most often by obtaining short--term, often overnight, borrowings in the unsecured commercial paper market or in the overnight "repo" market, where the borrowings are secured by the various securities and other assets on their balance sheets. These fairly routine borrowings have been repeated day after day for some thirty years and worked splendidly–until there was perceived to be a problem with either the securities or the institutions backing them up, and then the funding evaporated like rain in the Sahara. The dirty little secret of what used to be known as Wall Street securities firms–Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and Bear Stearns–was that every one of them funded their business in this way to varying degress, and every one of them was always just twenty--four hours away from a funding crisis. The key to day--to--day survival was the skill with which Wall Street executives managed their firms' ongoing reputation in the marketplace.

Thornburg financed its operations very similarly to the way investment banks did. But in mid--February 2008, Thornburg was having a very difficult time managing its perception in the marketplace because its short--term borrowings were backed by the mortgages it held on its balance sheet. Some of these mortgages were prime mortgages, money lent to the lowest--risk borrowers, and some were those Alt--A mortgages, which were marginally riskier than prime mortgages and offered investors higher yields. At Thornburg, 99.56 percent of these mortgages were performing just fine.

But that did not matter. What mattered was that the perception of these mortgage--related assets in the market was deteriorating rapidly. That perception spelled potential doom for firms such as Thornburg, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers, which financed their businesses in the overnight repo market using mortgage--related assets as collateral.

For Thornburg the trouble began on February 14, halfway around the world, when UBS, the largest Swiss bank, reported a fourth--quarter 2007 loss of $11.3 billion after writing off $13.7 billion of investments in U.S. mortgages. Amid this huge write--off, UBS said it had lost $2 billion on Alt--A mortgages and, worse, that it had an additional exposure of $26.6 billion to them. In a letter to shareholders before he lost his job on April 1, Marcel Ospel, UBS's longtime chairman, wrote that the year 2007 had been "one of the most difficult in our history" because of "the sudden and serious deterioration in the U.S. housing market."

UBS's sneeze meant that Thornburg, among others, caught a major cold. By writing down the value of its Alt--A mortgages, UBS forced other players in the market to begin to revalue the Alt--A mortgages on their books. Since these were the very assets that Thornburg (and Bear Stearns) used as collateral for its short--term borrowings, soon after February 14 the company's creditors made margin calls "in excess of $300 million" on its short--term borrowings. At first, Thornburg used what cash it had to meet the margin calls. But that did not stop the worries of its creditors. "After meeting all of its margin calls as of February 27, 2008, Thornburg Mortgage saw further continued deterioration in the market prices of its high quality, primarily AAA--rated mortgage securities," the company wrote in a March 3 filing with the SEC. This new deterioration of the value of its prime mortgages resulted in new margin calls of $270 million–among them $49 million from Morgan Stanley, $28 million from JPMorgan on February 28, and $54 million from Goldman Sachs.

This time, though, Thornburg was "left with limited available liquidity" to meet the new margin calls or any future margin calls. From December 31, 2007, to March 3, 2008, Thornburg received margin calls totaling $1.777 billion and was able to satisfy only $1.167 billion of them, or about 65 percent–a dismal performance. The balance of $610 million "significantly exceeded its available liquidity," the company announced on March 7. "These events have raised substantial doubt about the Company's ability to continue as a going concern without significant restructuring and the addition of new capital." The company's stock, which had traded for more than $28 per share in May 2007, closed at $4.32 on March 3, 2008, down 51 percent on the day. "The turmoil in the mortgage financing market that began last summer continues to be exacerbated by the mark--to--market accounting rules which are forcing companies to take unrealized write--downs on assets they have no intention of selling," explained Larry Goldstone, Thornburg's CEO. By March 10, Thornburg's stock was trading at 69¢ per share.

Golds...

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Descripción Penguin Books Ltd. Paperback. Estado de conservación: new. BRAND NEW, House of Cards: How Wall Street's Gamblers Broke Capitalism, William D. Cohan, From the author of "The Last Tycoons", William D. Cohan's international bestseller "House of Cards: How Wall Street's Gamblers Broke Capitalism" dissects the collapse of Bear Stearns and the beginning of the financial crisis. It was Wall Street's toughest investment bank, taking risks where others feared to tread, run by testosterone-fuelled gamblers who hung a sign saying 'let's make nothing but money' over the trading floor. Yet in March 2008 the 85-year-old firm Bear Stearns was brought to its knees - and global economic meltdown began. With unprecedented access to the people at the eye of the financial storm, William Cohan tells the outrageous story of how Wall Street's entire house of cards came crashing down. "A page-turner .hard to put down, especially thanks to its dishy, often profane, quotes from insiders.Read it, learn - and weep". ("Observer"). "'A fly-on-the-wall record.Cohan is a master of this genre. He perfectly captures the raw voice of Wall Street .like Damon Runyon updated by Martin Scorsese". ("Spectator Business"). "Action-packed .gripping". ("Sunday Times"). "A devastating account of the foul-mouthed, money-grabbing men responsible for Bear Stearns' collapse". ("Business Week"). William D. Cohan was an award-winning investigative journalist before embarking on a seventeen-year career as an investment banker on Wall Street. His first book, "The Last Tycoons", about Lazard, won the 2007 "Financial Times"/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award and was a "New York Times" bestseller. His second book, "House of Cards", also a bestseller, is an account of the last days of Bear Stearns & Co. Nº de ref. de la librería B9780141039596

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