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Fool's Gold: How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at J.P. Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and Unleashed a Catastrophe Hardcover – May 12, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. At once a gripping narrative, an education in derivatives, and a most lucid origin-story for the current financial meltdown, it's no surprise the author of this volume is an award-winning Financial Times journalist. Taking readers back to the invention of credit-derivative obligations (CDOs) at J. P. Morgan in 1994, and the subsequent exponential growth of that market, Tett (Saving the Sun) deploys a remarkable sense of pacing, generating real suspense over rapidly inflating debt on bank balance sheets; by the time Lehman Brothers fails, the book has become a bonafide page-turner. Tett explains how credit derivatives seemed a win-win for the financial world, freeing up capital, increasing profits, and diversifying risk, but makes the missteps equally clear as the industry hurtles toward a largely-unforeseen wave of loan defaults (the worst since the Great Depression). Interestingly, J.P. Morgan was one of a handful of banks sufficiently prescient to imagine this "perfect storm" of simultaneous defaults, and so never became over-reliant on CDOs. Ignoring the tacked-on, preachy epilogue (in which Tett advocates her specialty, social anthropology, as a way to avert future such crises), Tett's explosive, illuminating narrative is the one to read for anyone confused by the present financial mess.
About the Author
Gillian Tett oversees global coverage of the financial markets for the Financial Times, the world’s leading newspaper covering finance and business. In 2007 she was awarded the Wincott prize, the premier British award for financial journalism, for her capital-markets coverage. In 2008, she was named British Business Journalist of the Year. She previously served as the newspaper’s deputy head of the Lex column (an agenda-setting column on business and financial topics), Tokyo bureau chief, economic correspondent, and foreign correspondent. She speaks regularly at conferences around the world on finance and global markets. She has a PhD in social anthropology from Cambridge University. In 2003, she published a book on Japan’s banking crisis, Saving the Sun: How Wall Street Mavericks Shook Up Japan’s Financial World and Made Billions.
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Capitalism is probably the best system man has brought to the world so far - it's not perfect. Read the book and see if you agree!
The very nature of modern banking complexities, like a study of calculus, makes impossible a clear, linear view of the varying steps of leveraging for profit. Yet, Gilliam Tett, delivers a comprehensive understanding of the business. This book is appropriate for anyone wanting a catch-up view of the banking crisis of 2008, modern banking in general, or just plain information about JPMorgan Chase.
The treatment of derivatives in general, credit default swaps (CDS), collateralized debt obligations (CDO), CDOs of ABSs (Asset Backed Securities), CDO's squared (CDOs of CDOs), CDOs tripled, silos, conduits, SPOs (Special Purpose Vehicles, SIVs (Structured Investment Vehicles, Super-Senior or mezzanine risk, tranches, BISTRO, the Basel Accord, mark-to-market, getting around regulators, synthetic collateralized debt obligations (SCDOs), RAROC and VaR, securitization, and shell companies are treated with enough regularity to provide the reader a good understanding that ties to the glossary of terms and the index located in the rear of the book.
The unfolding of events within the industry, from the savings and loan debacle to the careful and not-so-carefully thought out banking mergers that followed, provides a logical history of how and why it all happened by the men and women that first formed the ideas, to those that ground them into dust.
Fool's Gold is good instructional material, brims with interesting characters, and opens a nice window on the arcane doings of a most peculiar tribe. If I have a genuine beef (as opposed to the above faux beef, more a frustration), it's probably over Tett's unfounded and redundant assertions that the JP Morgan founders of many species of derivative innovation were high minded visionaries who actually believed they were making the markets and thus the world a better place. (Bejesus, it's embedded in her subtitle.) She uses the term "ambitious" to describe many of her subjects. How does one construe the unembellished adjective "ambitious" in this particular setting? We have to figure it out ourselves. Ambitious to create social good? Ambitious for power and position? Ambitious for the Frank Sinatra objective of "having the most stuff" at one's end of days and thereby "winning"? None of these strike me as objectionable, but a hard-nosed journalist might be more compelling by not coming across as credulous in response to her subjects' high-minded self-description. It's not, after all, dishonorable to simply be piling up bonuses or augmenting the firm's asymmetric information advantage over potential investors, buyers who may not have fully understood the underpriced risk but did understand that "JP Morgan" plus "S&P AAA" were literally "money in the bank"--thereby allowing the innovators themselves to ride that advantage straight to considerable personal wealth.
In the end, like Catherine the Great in reverse, they took, but they wept. And Ms. Tett seems to have swallowed their protestations like a rube swallows snake oil: bottle, label, cork, and all. That said, I really enjoyed, and thus recommend, Fool's Gold, but be wary of what the salesperson's NOT telling you.
Gillian Tett tells the story of the Global Financial Crisis from the perspective of JP Morgan and it’s bankers who invented financial instruments that eventually mutated into the cause of the crisis. The book provides technical understanding about the global financial world and the disaster of 2007/2008, as well as a narrative structure to support the technical writing.