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When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management Paperback – October 9, 2001
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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
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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LCTM began operating in 1994, set up by John Meriwether formally head of the bond-arbitrage group at Solomon Brothers. He put together a star-studded cast that included three (1997) Nobel prize winners in economics. Their basic strategy was something called convergence arbitrage. In essence this strategy says buy two bonds that you think will track one another. Go long on the cheap one and short on the other; you make money if the spread narrows. In theory you are protected from changing prices as long as the two vary in the same way. To make the big bucks LCTM was after they took a gigantic number of highly leveraged arbitrage positions all over the world. To get high leverage you borrow for the position, like buying a stock on margin. LCTM got really high leverage by avoiding something called the "haircut," which is an extra margin of collateral banks usually demand, but forgave LCTM. Why would banks they do such a thing? Because they were blinded by the glitter of the cast, and in some cases the banks themselves were investors in LCTM. By 1997 convergence arbitrage opportunities in bonds began to dry up, everyone was doing it. So LCTM applied their strategy to stocks.Read more ›
Dunbar - a physicist by trade - is more interested in the theoretical economics that went into the risk arbitrage fund in the first place and how this came unstuck. He gives a long description of the Black-Scholes model, what it says, and how it was used to pull off the risk "free" trades which made Long Term so much money for three or four years.
Lowenstein, by contrast, barely mentions either the Black-Scholes model (he barely touches on option pricing at all, as a matter of fact) or the Italian convergence trades which eventually blew the gaffe on the fund, but instead tells the human story, exposes the inevitable egos, and indulges in more than a little smuggery (this book is long on wisdom after the fact) in dissecting the naivety of the LTCM hedging and trading strategy and the people who ran it.
As long as he sticks to the egos and the posturing, When Genius Failed is a dandy read: the negotiations amongst the Wall Street top brass as the fund is going under rate with anything served up in Barbarians at the Gate, and as this is a large part of the book, it rips along quite nicely.
But the schadenfreude grates: One of the lessons of the whole fiasco was that the smart money is with the guy who can predict the future: any old mug can be a genius with hindsight. Lowenstein spends a lot of his time wisely pointing out what the traders should have done.Read more ›
The tale of the rise and fall of Long-Term capital was coming to its end as I was putting to press my own book on option-based trading strategies and their effects on market volatility (Capital Ideas and Market Realities). The whole adventure constituted a perfect capstone to my story, which goes back to the crash of 1929, showing how strategies that purport to eliminate the risk of investing can end up exploding in the face of their followers and investors generally.
Now Roger Lowenstein, formerly a journalist at the Wall Street Journal and author of a biography on Warren Buffett, has devoted a whole book to LTC. Drawing largely on contemporaneous reporting and on his own personal interviews with many of the principal and supporting players (although not, alas, Meriwether himself), Lowenstein manages to create a real page-turner out of the unfolding events, even for readers who already know the ultimate outcome.
Part of the tension, it seems to this reader, stems from the unresolved (and probably unresolvable) ambiguity about the real nature of the story.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Wow, this book is a bit frightening as to how badly they screwed up and how there are still no checks and balances in place to prevent this sort of thing from happening again. Read morePublished 11 days ago by S
The book is very easy to read and understand. The writing style allows the reader to completely grasp the challenges and opportunities that were in front of LTCMPublished 1 month ago by Rajiv Patnam
Not a fan of this book. Couldn't tolerate his writing style and abandoned the book on around page 4Published 1 month ago by G. Nichole Blanton
G r e e e e e e e e e a a a a a a a a a a t t t t r e a d !Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
I ordered this book for a college class and it showed up in great condition. The book is very educational on a topic I did not know much about to start. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Trent Burchett