John Meriwether, a famously successful Wall Street trader, spent the 1980s as a partner at Salomon Brothers, establishing the best--and the brainiest--bond arbitrage group in the world. A mysterious and shy midwesterner, he knitted together a group of Ph.D.-certified arbitrageurs who rewarded him with filial devotion and fabulous profits. Then, in 1991, in the wake of a scandal involving one of his traders, Meriwether abruptly resigned. For two years, his fiercely loyal team--convinced that the chief had been unfairly victimized--plotted their boss's return. Then, in 1993, Meriwether made a historic offer. He gathered together his former disciples and a handful of supereconomists from academia and proposed that they become partners in a new hedge fund different from any Wall Street had ever seen. And so Long-Term Capital Management was born. In a decade that had seen the longest and most rewarding bull market in history, hedge funds were the ne plus ultra of investments: discreet, private clubs limited to those rich enough to pony up millions.
In late September 1998, the New York Federal Reserve Bank invited a number of major Wall Street investment banks to enter a consortium to fund the multibillion-dollar bailout of a troubled hedge fund. No sooner was the $3.6-billion plan announced than questions arose about why usually independent banks would band together to save a single privately held fund. The short answer is that the banks feared that the fund's collapse could destabilize the entire stock market. The long answer, which Lowenstein (Buffett) provides in undigested detail, may panic those who shudder at the thought of bouncing a $200 check. Long-Term Capital Management opened for business in February 1994 with $1.25 billion in funds. Armed with the cachet of its founders' stellar credentials (Robert Merton and Myron Scholes, 1997 Nobel Prize laureates in economics, were among the partners), it quickly parlayed expertise at reading computer models of financial markets and seemingly limitless access to financing into stunning results. By the end of 1995, it had tripled its equity capital and total assets had grown to $102 billion. Lowenstein argues that this kind of success served to enhance the fund's golden legend and sent the partners' self-confidence off the charts. As he itemizes the complex mix of investments and heavy borrowing that made 1994-1997 profitable years, Lowenstein also charts the subtle drift toward riskier (and ultimately disastrous) ventures as the fund's traditional profit centers dried up. What should have been a gripping story, however, has been poorly handled by Lowenstein, who obscures his narrative with masses of data and overwritten prose. Agent, Melanie Jackson. Author tour. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
October 09, 2001
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York is perched in a gray sandstone slab in the heart of Wall Street. Though a city landmark building constructed in 1924, the bank is a muted, almost unseen presence among its lively, entrepreneurial neighbors. The area is dotted with discount stores and luncheonettes -- and, almost everywhere, brokerage firms and banks. The Fed's immediate neighbors include a shoe repair stand and a teriyaki house, and also Chase Manhattan Bank; J. P. Morgan is a few blocks away. A bit farther to the west, Merrill Lynch, the people's brokerage, gazes at the Hudson River, across which lie the rest of America and most of Merrill's customers. The bank skyscrapers project an open, accommodative air, but the Fed building, a Florentine Renaissance showpiece, is distinctly forbidding. Its arched windows are encased in metal grille, and its main entrance, on Liberty Street, is guarded by a row of black cast-iron sentries.
The New York Fed is only a spoke, though the most important spoke, in the U.S. Federal Reserve System, America's central bank. Because of the New York Fed's proximity to Wall Street, it acts as the eyes and ears into markets for the bank's governing board, in Washington, which is run by the oracular Alan Greenspan. William J. McDonough, the beefy president of the New York Fed, talks to bankers and traders often. McDonough wants to be kept abreast of the gossip that traders share with one another. He especially wants to hear about anything that might upset markets or, in the extreme, the financial system. But McDonough tries to stay in the background. The Fed has always been a controversial regulator -- a servant of the people that is elbow to elbow with Wall Street, a cloistered agency amid the democratic chaos of markets. For McDonough to intervene, even in a small way, would take a crisis, perhaps a war. And in the first days of the autumn of 1998, McDonough did intervene -- and not in a small way.
The source of the trouble seemed so small, so laughably remote, as to be insignificant. But isn't it always that way? A load of tea is dumped into a harbor, an archduke is shot, and suddenly a tinderbox is lit, a crisis erupts, and the world is different. In this case, the shot was Long-Term Capital Management, a private investment partnership with its headquarters in Greenwich, Connecticut, a posh suburb some forty miles from Wall Street. LTCM managed money for only one hundred investors; it employed not quite two hundred people, and surely not one American in a hundred had ever heard of it. Indeed, five years earlier, LTCM had not even existed.
But on the Wednesday afternoon of September 23, 1998, Long-Term did not seem small. On account of a crisis at LTCM, McDonough had summoned -- "invited," in the Fed's restrained idiom -- the heads of every major Wall Street bank. For the first time, the chiefs of Bankers Trust, Bear Stearns, Chase Manhattan, Goldman Sachs, J. P. Morgan, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, and Salomon Smith Barney gathered under the oil portraits in the Fed's tenth-floor boardroom -- not to bail out a Latin American nation but to consider a rescue of one of their own. The chairman of the New York Stock Exchange joined them, as did representatives from major European banks. Unaccustomed to hosting such a large gathering, the Fed did not have enough leather-backed chairs to go around, so the chief executives had to squeeze into folding metal seats.