When Genius Failed In Paperback By Roger Lowenstein
VW skyrocketed in value over 350% in two days as Porsche announced it was amassing a 75% stake in the company crushing short sellers. Between 1994 and 1998, the fund showed a return on investment of more than 40% per annum. However, its enormously leveraged gamble with various forms of arbitrage involving more than $1 trillion went bad, and in one month, LTCM lost $1.9 billion. On the precipice of not only an American financial disaster, the fund’s imminent collapse had significant international monetary implications, jeopardizing the financial system itself.
If Hwang was actually purchasing the amount of stock that was referenced by the Total Return Swaps he would have to file a 13-D with the SEC, announcing that he now owned more than five percent of the target companies. Therefore, to avoid having to file a 13-D, he –helped along by obliging dealers—gained ownership behind the curtain of dealing banks. A fairly well written account of yet another collection of typically greedy Wall Street bankers. A good book to read if you want to learn the definition of hubris . It does need a bit of an update, to incorporate the latest instance of avarice nearly collapsing the world economy. Meriwether, pathologically self-effacing, emerges not unsympathetically in Lowenstein’s portrait, except of course that he was crazily unsuited to running a financial firm. In this respect, their shared 1997 Nobel Memorial Prize didn’t hurt at all.
The dramatic story of Long-Term’s fall is now a chilling harbinger of the crisis that would strike all of Wall Street, from Lehman Brothers to AIG, a decade later. In his new Afterword, Lowenstein shows that LTCM’s implosion should be seen not as a one-off drama but as a template for market meltdowns in an age of instability–and as a wake-up call that Wall Street and government alike tragically ignored. In this business classic–now with a new Afterword in which the author draws parallels to the recent financial crisis–Roger Lowenstein captures the gripping roller-coaster ride of Long-Term Capital Management. This book traces the rise, fall, and rescue of Long-Term Capital Management, perhaps the most celebrated hedge fund in history. It is a remarkable account of how a lot of really smart people-from the fund’s partners to its bankers to the regulators charged with protecting the public’s interest-did some things that, with the luxury of hindsight, proved to be very foolish. It is a story with few heroes, but one with many lessons to be learned. At the very least, this is a book that will challenge what you think you know about leverage, liquidity and diversification.
Worse, the fact that the distribution of asset returns is not normal was well known even in Chicago’s financial-theory circles in the 1960s. Scholes’ teacher Eugene Fama knew it; the case was first made to Fama by the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, father of fractals. Asset returns, Mandelbrot argued, follow a Pareto-Levy distribution. Retail foreign exchange trading This means that catastrophic events are likely to happen all the time. Long-Term’s basic strategy was to bet on the eventual convergence between the prices of extremely similar assets (the archetypal case being 30-year Treasury bonds issued today, “on the run,” and the same bonds issued six months ago, “off the run”).
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Being one to adapt to a situation he found a niche for himself working within a division of Solomon and with other egghead intellectuals or quants, if you will. The quants, using quantitative methods , historic data and computer models, played the market to their advantage. Meriwether soon left his division of Solomon to create his own firm, Long Term Capital Management. By using an increasingly large amount of leverage to purchase bonds and work the spread Long Term became quite a significant power on Wall Street in just a short period of time. Still, Meriwether, his ultra private partners, and Nobel Prize winner mathematicians could not have foreseen the world events that transpired in the later part of the 1990’s which had a negative effect on their investments. This book could have been just another rehashing of Wall Street greed but it is more than that.
“Long-Term was so self-certain as to believe that the markets would never—not even for a wild swing some August and September—stray so far from its predictions.” Their decline occurred because human and market behavior isn’t always rational and predictable. When Genius Failed is the cautionary financial tale of our time, the gripping saga of what happened when an elite group of investors believed they could actually deconstruct risk and use virtually limitless leverage to create limitless wealth. In Roger Lowenstein’s hands, it is a brilliant tale peppered with fast money, vivid characters, and high drama. 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.
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But derivatives most certainly increased Long-Term’s exposure. (Whether you buy a bond or simply bet on its price, you are exposed to the same potential gain or loss.) And these off-balance-sheet trades most definitely increased Long-Term’s riskiness. This book examines the history of Long Term Capital Management, a firm that failed during the 1998 financial crisis, and explains how the firm was built and constructed, and why it collapsed. Pretty vivid writing (my copy was annotated Currencies forex by a previous owner with many “!”), though the snark and schadenfreude levels tend to put one off a little bit. No one in the book comes off particularly well; Merrill Lynch probably the least badly off, and Goldman, Sachs comes across as a greedy villain, almost as bad as the protagonists. The explanation for why LTCM failed does seem to me to make sense, but as I say, the schadenfreude level is a bit off-putting. I am not especially interested in hedge funds or Wall Street.
For two years, his fiercely loyal team–convinced that the chief had been unfairly victimized–plotted their boss’s return. 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. That doesn’t exactly sound like the guy you want to literally bet the bank on. His investors were quite upset to find that Hwang had gotten them into what was the “GameStop” short squeeze of the 2000s, Volkswagen, which ended in disaster.
The rare Long-Term man with Renaissance interests, Modest, who was raised in Boston, loved the arts, literature, and opera. His interest in finance was more academic than entrepreneurial; he had never liked the senior partners’ autocratic reign and control over his time and had been thinking of bolting until 1998, when he had been made a junior partner. Although pricing a bond can largely be reduced to math, valuing a stock is far more subjective. “He took a bunch of guys who in the corporate world were considered freaks,” noted Jay Higgins, then an investment banker at Salomon. Meriwether created a safe, self-contained place for them to develop their skills; he adoringly made Arbitrage into a world apart. Because of Meriwether, the traders fraternized with one another, and they didn’t feel the need to fraternize with anyone else. The classic image of a Wall Street market trader is someone, usually a man, on the trading floor, shouting buy and sell orders, clutching a sheaf of trading tickets.
Author Roger Lowenstein joins MoneyBeat’s book-club round table to talk “when genius failed,” which chronicles the rise and fall of what was considered the best and largest global hedge fund, Long Term Capital Management. By the spring of 1996, Long-Term had an astounding $140 billion in assets, thirty times its underlying capital.
When the markets in Indonesia, South America and Russia crashed in 1998 LCTM’s investments crashed with them and mountainous debts accumulated. The fund was in melt-down, and threatening to bring down into its trillion-dollar black hole a host of financial instiutions from New York to Switzerland. It’s a tale of vivid characters, overwheening ambition, and perilous drama told, in Roger Lowenstein’s hands, with brilliant style and panache. It became the banks’ own favourite fund and from its inception achieved a run of dizzyingly spectacular returns. New investors barged each other aside to get their investment money into LTCM’s hands. But as competitors began to mimic Meriweather’s fund, he altered strategy to maintain the fund’s performance, leveraging capital with credit on a scale not fully understood and never seen before.
Roger Lowenstein, the bestselling author of Buffett, captures Long-Term’s roller-coaster ride in gripping detail. Drawing on confidential internal memos and interviews with dozens of key players, Lowenstein crafts a story that reads like a first-rate thriller from beginning to end.
He described the operation as being like a bet on Secretariat at the Belmont, to show. 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 trading strategy 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. 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.
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- Meanwhile, forward to the present day, why did Bill Hwang use derivatives?
- 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.
- That doesn’t exactly sound like the guy you want to literally bet the bank on.
- Mr. Lowenstein takes you through the strategies that resulted in those eye-popping returns, including a 59% growth for FY1995-still one of the best starts by any fund, ever.
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- Their mathematical precision, backed up by their academic credentials, and prior success attracted huge amounts of money into the hedge fund.
“Reared on Merton’s and Scholes’s teachings of efficient markets, the professors actually believed that prices would go and go directly where the models said they should. The professors’ conceit was to think that models could forecast the limits of behavior. In fact, the models could tell them what was reasonable or what was predictable based on the past. The professors overlooked the fact that people, traders included, are not always reasonable. No matter what the models say, traders are not machines guided by silicon chips; they are impressionable and imitative; they run in flocks and retreat in hordes.
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It cannot have known exactly what the unraveling of LTCM’s trillion-dollar exposure on the open markets might have meant. And as to lessons, if Lowenstein’s account of the bankers is correct, the Fed would have been utterly foolish to suppose any of them were capable of learning. Lowenstein’s criticism of Alan Greenspan, who has repeatedly defended the derivatives business on the hyper-ludicrous grounds that lenders supervise it closely, is more on the mark. We offer a Price Match Guarantee, and QuickQuote form, to make purchasing quick and easy. The top business headlines from The Wall Street Journal, three times daily. Whether it’s the latest on overseas markets, economic news out of Washington or closing numbers from Wall Street, you’ll be in the know in a flash.
The source of the trouble seemed so small, so laughably remote, as to be insignificant. 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. Meriwether was one of the top bond traders at Salomon Brothers and later became head of the fixed income securities department . Meriwether was one of the first people on Wall Street to recruit mathematicians and physicists from schools like MIT and Cal. Meriwether was a harbinger of the conjunction between Wall Street and the Ivory Tower.
It appears that Archegos and the dealers began amassing his stake in the companies in early 2021. If we look at Viacom share price, the price nearly doubled from February 1 to March 22. Wall Street has had more than its share of drama over the last three decades. However, what started to unfold two Fridays ago with Bill Hwang’s Archegos family office had grizzled Wall Street veterans staring, stupefied, into the abyss. If you haven’t read When Genius Failed, you are missing out on the best narrative about the credit crisis — not the 1998 version, but the current situation. Lowenstein criticizes the Federal Reserve for intervening, and so failing “to send the markets a needed dose of discipline.” But here he is quite wrong. The Fed’s job is not to teach lessons, but to keep the system afloat.