Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Morning Reading: Andrew Ross Sorkin in Vanity Fair - Wall Street's Near Death Experience

Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times has a book to sell "Too Big to Fail" but as I was saying in 2008... as historical and fascinating and earth shaking events at the time were, when the dirt all comes out on what was done, how it was done, and why it was done - that's where the true intrigue and jaw dropping should occur. Which is saying a lot considering what happened about a year ago. I am not sure if we'll ever know it all, but I'm sure the soap opera theatrics will be bountiful once exposed.

Sorkin has an excerpt from his book in this month's Vanity Fair. Still working my way through it, put it in your docket. Some snippets:


‘This is an economic 9/11!” (said John Mack, CEO of Morgan Stanlet) There was chilling silence in Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s office as he spoke. Nearly two dozen Treasury staffers had assembled there Wednesday morning, sitting on windowsills, on the arms of sofas, or on the edge of Paulson’s desk, scribbling on legal pads. Paulson was seated in a chair in the corner, slouching, nervously tapping his stomach. He had a pained look on his face as he explained to his inner circle at Treasury that in just the past four hours the crisis had reached a new height, one he could compare only to the World Trade Center attacks, seven years earlier, almost to the week. While this time no lives may have been at stake, companies with century-long histories and hundreds of thousands of jobs lay in the balance.

The entire economy, he said, was on the verge of collapsing. Paulson was no longer worried about just investment banks; he was worried about General Electric, the world’s largest company and an icon of American innovation. Jeffrey Immelt, G.E.’s C.E.O., had told him that the conglomerate’s commercial paper, used to fund its day-to-day operations, could stop rolling. Paulson had also heard murmurs that JPMorgan Chase had stopped lending to Citigroup; that Bank of America had stopped making loans to McDonald’s franchisees; that Treasury bills were trading for less than 1 percent interest, as if they were no better than cash, as if the full faith of the government had suddenly become meaningless.

It had been six months between the implosions of Bear Stearns and Lehman, but if Morgan Stanley went down, probably no more than six hours would pass before Goldman did, too. The big banks would follow, and God only knew what might happen after that.

And so Paulson stood in front of his staff in search of a holistic solution, a solution that would require intervention. He still hated the idea of bailouts, but now he knew he needed to succumb to the reality of the moment. “The only way to stop this thing may be to come up with a fiscal response,” he said.


The panic at Goldman Sachs could no longer be denied. Goldman’s shares opened down 7.4 percent. Investors were quickly beginning to believe the unthinkable: that Goldman, too, could falter. In two days, its share price had dropped from $133 to $108.

Every five minutes a salesman would tear into Schwartz’s office with news of another hedge fund announcing its plan to move its money out of Goldman, and would hand Cohn a piece of paper with the hedge fund’s phone number so he could try to talk some sense into them. With Morgan Stanley slowing down its payouts, some investors were now testing Goldman, asking for $100 million just to see if it could afford to pay. In every case, Cohn would wire the money immediately, concerned that if he didn’t the client would abandon the firm entirely.

Nevertheless, Stanley Druckenmiller, a George Soros acolyte worth more than $3.5 billion, had taken most of his money out earlier that week, concerned about the firm’s solvency. If word got around that a hedge-fund manager of Druckenmiller’s reputation had lost confidence in Goldman, that alone could cause a run. Cohn called him and tried to persuade him to return the money to the firm. “I have a long memory,” Cohn, who was taking this personally, told Druckenmiller, in whose honor he had even once hosted a charity cocktail party. “Look, the one thing I’m doing is I’m learning who my friends are and who my enemies are, and I’m making lists.”

Druckenmiller, however, was unmoved. “I don’t really give a s***—it’s my money!” he shot back. Unlike most hedge funds, Druckenmiller’s consisted primarily of his own money. “It’s my livelihood,” he said. “I’ve got to protect myself, and I don’t really give a s*** what you have to say.

.... Lloyd Blankfein, his top shirt button undone and tie slightly askew, looked at his computer screen and saw in dismay that his stock price had dropped 22 percent over the past several hours to $89.29. In his e-mail in-box was a message from one of his traders saying that JPMorgan was trying to steal his hedge-fund clients by telling everyone that Goldman was going under. It was becoming a vicious circle.

Blankfein had been hearing these rumors for the past 24 hours, but he had finally had enough. He was furious. The rumormongering, he felt, had gotten out of control. And he couldn’t believe JPMorgan was trashing his firm to his own clients. He could feel himself becoming as anxious as Mack had sounded when they spoke the day before.

But just then, at one p.m., the market—and Goldman’s stock—suddenly turned around, with Goldman rising to $87 a share, and then $89. Traders raced through their screens trying to determine what had been responsible for the lift and discovered that the Financial Services Authority in the U.K. had announced a 30-day ban on short-selling 29 financial stocks, including Goldman Sachs’s.

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