- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: WW Norton; 1st Edition edition (March 16 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393072231
- ISBN-13: 978-0393072235
- Product Dimensions: 16.8 x 2.8 x 24.4 cm
- Shipping Weight: 476 g
- Average Customer Review: 75 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #18,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Big Short: Inside The Doomsday Machine Hardcover – Mar 15 2010
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No one writes with more narrative panache about money and finance than Mr. Lewis....[he] does a nimble job of using his subjects’ stories to explicate the greed, idiocies and hypocrisies of a system notably lacking in grown-up supervision....Writing in faintly Tom Wolfe-ian prose, Mr. Lewis does a colorful job of introducing the lay reader to the Darwinian world of the bond market. — Michiko Kakutani (The New York Times)
Superb: Michael Lewis doing what he does best, illuminating the idiocy, madness and greed of modern finance. . . . Lewis achieves what I previously imagined impossible: He makes subprime sexy all over again. — Andrew Leonard (Salon.com)
One of the best business books of the past two decades. — Malcolm Gladwell (New York Times Book Review)
I read Lewis for the same reasons I watch Tiger Woods. I’ll never play like that. But it’s good to be reminded every now and again what genius looks like. — Malcolm Gladwell (New York Times Book Review)
I recommend everyone within the sound of my voice to read [this] book. — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
I’ve joined a lot of other people in just finishing Michael Lewis’s book, The Big Short, and it’s really an eye-opener of what was going on at the time that this real estate bubble was created. — Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
I read it, marked it up for my staff, underlined it, made copies and asked them to read it. — Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.)
[A]n incredible piece of commentary on Wall Street. — Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.)
If you’re wondering if there’s importance or an urgency to this issue, read the book The Big Short by Michael Lewis, and then, when you’re finished reading, come back to the floor and say that you support this amendment [on financial reform]. — Senator Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota)
From the Back Cover
Why Michael Lewis, according to Malcolm Gladwell, is the finest storyteller of our generation:Liars PokerSo memorable and alive. . . . Its one of those rare works that encapsulate and define an era. . . . Remember the 1980s? When you want to recall this roaring decade, pick up a copy of Liars Poker. FortuneDevastatingly funny. New YorkMoneyballThe best business book Lewis has written. It may be the best business book anyone has written. Mark Gerson, The Weekly StandardA brilliantly told tale. . . . Michael Lewiss beautiful obsession with the idea of value has once again yielded gold. Garry TrudeauSee all Product description
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Subtitled "Inside the Doomsday Machine," the book chronicles the 2008 market collapse from the perspective of those who saw it coming and bet against the subprime mortgage market at the height of the housing bubble. The protagonists, whose foresight earned them fantastic profits, are a colorful lot, including: Steve Eisman, Danny Moses and Vincent Daniel (of FrontPoint Partners, owned by Morgan Stanley); Michael Burry (of Scion Capital); Charlie Ledley, Ben Hockett and Jamie Mai (of Cornwall Capital); and Greg Lippmann (of Deutsche Bank), and a handful of others.
Amazingly, none of these contrarian investors were experts in the housing market. They saw disaster coming while the "smart money" was betting that house prices would continue to rise and that subprime mortgages would pay off. It took this unlikely group of outsiders to see what was about to happen and undertake "the big short."
So what was the Doomsday Machine and how did it work? As Lewis points out, it was spawned by a toxic mix of the US housing bubble, sub-prime mortgage lending, investor greed, and the insatiable demand for leverage by Wall Street Banks. Aiding and abetting these factors were unwitting credit agencies populated by Wall Street rejects and wannabes.
Investors around the world wanted access to the ever-inflating American mortgage market. This gave lenders ever stronger incentive to push new loans out the door. Interest rates went down and credit standards for borrowers were relaxed again and again with demand filled by writing increasing numbers of sub-prime mortgages. Mortgage-backed security (MBS) sales were driven through the roof.
Many mortgage lenders practiced an "originate and sell" strategy - taking their profits by bundling the loans up as mortgage-backed securities and selling them to third parties, mainly investment banks, (thereby passing along the risk associated with the sub-prime mortgages they were writing). The investment banks then repackaged these mortgages in various ways and sold the mortgage debt of the US household sector to global investors. Among the exotic financial instruments used for this purpose were Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs).
CDOs were actually pyramids consisting of tranches representing various levels of risk and related interest payments. The riskiest level ("the mezzanine") got the highest rate of interest, but were the first to be wiped out as defaults rose. The least risky level at the top of the pyramid ("the penthouse") received the lowest rate of interest and were last to fall as defaults rose. Many of these portfolio slices received generous ratings of triple-B and even triple-A from the big rating agencies, creating a false sense of security among potential investors
This process was highly profitable for the financial sector and, as long as home prices were rising and producing good returns for investors. But, when the market turned, things got really ugly. It was a house of cards. Lewis notes that for the whole system to collapse, the housing market didn't need to fail in absolute terms. It didn't even need to fall. It just had to stop growing as fast as it had during the boom years. Of course, as fate would have it, that's precisely what happened.
In the ultimate irony, firms like Goldman, who created and sold CDOs, bet against their own investors by buying Credit Default Swaps (CDSs) which insured the mortgage-backed securities they were selling against default. (For a few cents on the dollar a CDS commits the seller to pay the full value of the contract if a mortgage-backed bond defaults, or becomes worthless.)
What this meant was that, to mitigate its own exposure, Goldman was betting against its own customers. And, by aggressively taking the other side of this risk by selling CDSs for a small return, firms like Morgan Stanley put billions of dollars of their proprietary capital at risk. Not smart!
Just how bad were the mortgages underpinning the subprime mortgage market? Lewis provides an example of "a Mexican strawberry picker in Bakersfield California with an income of $14,000 and no English who was given every penny he needed to buy a house for $724,000." This was cited as an example of the type of "no-doc mortgages"(no evidence of income or employment) that helped fuel the market collapse.
In short, the Doomsday Machine was a massive Ponzi scheme that, save for a massive government bailout, could have collapsed the entire global financial system.
If you're keeping score, Lewis points out that Morgan Stanley's $9 billion trading loss was "the single biggest trading loss in the history of Wall Street." But this pales to insignificance when you consider that the losses include five million jobs in the United States alone and some 40 percent of the world's wealth. In addition to the billions in taxpayer and investor losses, the human tragedy toll included evaporated pensions, ruined careers and, in many cases, lost homes.
In retrospect, the questions posed by this book are: "Has anything really changed on Wall Street?"; "Has financial regulation improved?"; and, most importantly, "Could something like this happen again?"
The Big Short takes the reader on a fantastic ride inside the most recent, and many would say ongoing, financial crisis. Lewis introduces us to people who bet against the subprime mortgage market, in all its variations, and in doing so became unimaginably wealthy. They are presented as a few select heroes pitted against the corrupt and often stupid villains of Wall Street insiders and their legion of minions. Has anything really changed since then?
If Dr. Evil ever resurfaces in another installment of Austin Powers, puts his little finger to his mouth and makes a ransom demand for anything less than, “one gazillion dollars,” it will seem preposterous and, once again, a cue for all to laugh.
The shock and awe of billions or even trillions of dollars are past us. They are now just strings of meaningless zeros heading off into the vastness of infinity. Take for example the capitalized notional value of derivatives—pegged at 1.2 quadrillion dollars (December 2012). Really?
That’s the equivalent of 20 years worth of economic activity for the entire planet. And derivatives are only one asset class expecting a return on investment (ROI). When others classes, such as stocks, (traditional) bonds, money market instruments, real estate holdings, etcetera, are added to the mix, financial expectations, going forward, become even more unrealistic and ridiculous.
Due to a system of circular collateralization, debt, money and other financial assets essentially get boiled down to the same thing—mental constructs of value. The assigned values are now stratospheric. At best, they are delusional, dishonest and corrupt, and at worst, dangerously catastrophic.
It’s not the values in and of themselves that represent a threat; it’s the global financial system—and everyone in it expecting some sort of benefit, return or payback. Interest on global debt (estimated at $100 trillion), along with the expected ROI on other assets, requires continuous growth and a level of physical activity that’s beyond the productive capacity of a finite planet to produce it.
The level of physical activity being undertaken to meet the demands of the global financial system is literally killing off the natural capital that’s required to sustain human life. The ongoing financial crisis is not about strengthening banking regulations, reeling in reckless spending, evoking austerity measures or even curtailing greed, it’s how to deal with the consequences of a global capitalistic system that will ultimately fail. And along with that managing the psychotic state of human collective consciousness arising out of our committed efforts to try and save a doomed system.
For now, it seems, nearly everyone continues to be bullish on capitalism. Those with a desire to become gazillionaires are shorting natural capital markets and are betting that an ecological and social collapse can be avoided. Inherently, and by extension, they have deliberately and without shame or guilt shorted the rest of us too.
And yet, who’s effing who here? Each time we climb into the hamster wheel and begin to run, aren’t we also willingly putting everything at risk?
Most of what you've just read doesn't show up directly in The Big Short—rather it's been inspired by it. The story does tell of a select few who saw things differently and had the courage to act. I’ve taken a short position on capitalism. Crazy! Read The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine and then judge.
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