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am 6. September 1999
This book is interesting and still timely for a number of reasons. Michael Lewis was not hired by Salomon Brothers by going through the usual channels. That is, he didn't just send in his CV and go through a series of interviews. He did have or was finishing his master's degree at LSE and that would ordinarily be considered very competitive. But the details are quite intriguing. There are also several pages dealing with John Meriwether of Long-Term Capital fame. Meriwether, of course, directed the largest financial collapse in history, and he was trained at Salomon as were many other of these infamous bond traders. Its evidently no longer true that "Hedge funds are very strongly regulated by those (the banks) who lend the money" (see the article on Alan Greenspan in BusinessWeek, 12 Oct. 98)! Or has the FED always been in front of the eight ball? You would think that Frank Partnoy (FIASCO) would REALLY be upset with this idea rather than fuming about a zero-sum game in which there is always a winner and a loser with fairly normal contracts. I can't think of a worse case nuclear-waste derivative than 80:1 margin with long and short positions on every possible bond, CMO, and currency in the world all controlled by an arrogant hedge fund manager. This unheard of leverage could only be done by dozens of banks loaning out money on collateral that was already used to procure a loan across the street. Where was Frank when this was going on? Morgan Stanley was not even involved directly with LTCM, and perhaps that explains Frank's silence. Even to this day those at LTCM have a mantra that goes like "You know the model worked really well except for this tiny little problem", and that phrase is usually followed by "You don't understand (we are just too smart for you), all that was wrong was a tiny bit of bad timing and not quite enough leverage". Yes, a little tiny non convergence in interest rates did all that damage, and you boys and girls should be in jail. No retail broker would ever do anything like that. My answer to all this is that if you have spent 15 min studying the Black-Scholes equation and geometric Brownian motion of stock prices, you have wasted more than 14 min of your time. Lets hear from Frank. I think what I found most interesting in Liar's Poker was Mr. Lewis's detailed explanation of the development of the mortgage security market at Salomon Brothers. This info is not readily available, and I have no reason to doubt Mr. Lewis's account. If Salomon was the top investment bank when this book was written, times have certainly changed, because they are not even among the top three investment banks today.
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