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When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management Paperback – Oct 9 2001
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On September 23, 1998, the boardroom of the New York Fed was a tense place. Around the table sat the heads of every major Wall Street bank, the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, and representatives from numerous European banks, each of whom had been summoned to discuss a highly unusual prospect: rescuing what had, until then, been the envy of them all, the extraordinarily successful bond-trading firm of Long-Term Capital Management. Roger Lowenstein's When Genius Failed is the gripping story of the Fed's unprecedented move, the incredible heights reached by LTCM, and the firm's eventual dramatic demise.
Lowenstein, a financial journalist and author of Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist, examines the personalities, academic experts, and professional relationships at LTCM and uncovers the layers of numbers behind its roller-coaster ride with the precision of a skilled surgeon. The fund's enigmatic founder, John Meriwether, spent almost 20 years at Salomon Brothers, where he formed its renowned Arbitrage Group by hiring academia's top financial economists. Though Meriwether left Salomon under a cloud of the SEC's wrath, he leapt into his next venture with ease and enticed most of his former Salomon hires--and eventually even David Mullins, the former vice chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve--to join him in starting a hedge fund that would beat all hedge funds.
LTCM began trading in 1994, after completing a road show that, despite the Ph.D.-touting partners' lack of social skills and their disdainful condescension of potential investors who couldn't rise to their intellectual level, netted a whopping $1.25 billion. The fund would seek to earn a tiny spread on thousands of trades, "as if it were vacuuming nickels that others couldn't see," in the words of one of its Nobel laureate partners, Myron Scholes. And nickels it found. In its first two years, LTCM earned $1.6 billion, profits that exceeded 40 percent even after the partners' hefty cuts. By the spring of 1996, it was holding $140 billion in assets. But the end was soon in sight, and Lowenstein's detailed account of each successively worse month of 1998, culminating in a disastrous August and the partners' subsequent panicked moves, is riveting.
The arbitrageur's world is a complicated one, and it might have served Lowenstein well to slow down and explain in greater detail the complex terms of the more exotic species of investment flora that cram the book's pages. However, much of the intrigue of the Long-Term story lies in its dizzying pace (not to mention the dizzying amounts of money won and lost in the fund's short lifespan). Lowenstein's smooth, conversational but equally urgent tone carries it along well. The book is a compelling read for those who've always wondered what lay behind the Fed's controversial involvement with the LTCM hedge-fund debacle. --S. Ketchum --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
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 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The ultimate irony of the story is thatmany involved still don't think they were wrong in their investment strategy, viewing Russia's default (the exogenous event that directly led to the firm's liquidation) as a one-time, unforeseeable event.
With the meticulousness of a great journalist, Lowenstein brilliantly renders a story of arrogance run amok. As a derivatives trader, I think this book is must-reading for any trader or investment professional, since it teaches us all a couple crucial trading lessons: (1) The market is bigger than any one participant, and (2) Check your ego at the door.
Lowenstein does an amazing job of taking complex financial transactions and stories and making them read like pure enjoyable fiction. The book starts out with a background of the main partners in LTCM who started the venture. Geniuses in the private and academic world who wanted to use their knowledge to create an sure fire investment fund guaranteed to make huge profits.
Each character is almost like a fictional figure but they ar emost certainly real and Lowenstein brings them to life through descriptions and anecdotes. Then the investments begin and wether or not you have a strong background in finance, the authoer explains complex interest rate arbitrage strategies in a way anyone can udnerstand them.
The story of how the fund grew to over $100 billion in assets and produced some amazing returns early on is amazing. You see how much money these guys made and how they became richer larger than life figures. Then, they become victoms of their own success. They deterimined that the likelihood of failure was so infintesiimally small that they were basically risk-free. But as Murphy's Law taught us, the unexpected can happen when you think you are better than everyone else and better than the market.
The story provides great details in the characters involved, the transactions, and how the bankers picked apart LTCM to cover all their losses. The writing is excellent and keeps the story moving at a fast pace.Read more ›
The story appears to describe a key episode in history which has influenced how the financial world has developed into what it is today. These few brilliant academics may have brought the largest banks in the world to the brink of collapse and perhaps we should frown upon them for it but they can also, arguably, be credited with shaking up the industry.
The book still, a year on, philosophically entertains me. Is an efficient market a good thing? What kind of greed motivated these people? Can we ever fully compensate for risk?
The financial swings and risks were enormous. You might have trouble at the bank getting a car loan but these guys got billions from banks and investors to essentially play the futures markets. The group included academics, market veterans, and financial analysts. The academics were so sure of themselves that they did not even blink at the thought of betting billions. They played for high stakes and won at first. But eventually they lost their stake like some giant crap shoot. Again where were the regulators? Where were the regulators when junk bonds were king and where were the regulators when Enron had their fake trading floor? They did not arrive until the building was on fire and burned down.
The losses were so great that only the Federal Reserve could fix the situation by applying pressure to "encourage" the New York banks to bail out the arbitrage group.
A very interesting read. One has to remind oneself that it is not fiction, but that it all actually happened.
Jack in Toronto
Most recent customer reviews
I did not realize it was possible for 1 book to teach a person so much about....economics, finance, politics......and there is more..... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Ben Hargrave
Lowenstein is a great storyteller and this is an excellent tale of hubris and the desire to look at the world the way we want to see it - rather than how it really is. Read morePublished 15 months ago by Gavin Radzick
My title said it best - the topic of the book is very interesting, but the writing style does not make you want to finish it in one reading.Published on April 14 2013 by boyan
1997, 30 year Treasury Bonds Fell to 5.58; traders were selling short to hedge against riskier bonds, treasuries rallied and spreads increased between bonds; Japanese bonds dropped... Read morePublished on July 12 2004 by Golden Lion
The author of this book is a journalist - not a trader or banker - and it's helpful to remember that as you read through this moralistic account of LTCM's rise and fall. Read morePublished on June 26 2004
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