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Wall Street Versus America: The Rampant Greed and Dishonesty That Imperil Your Investments Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 6, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Never mind Enron—corruption, fraud and towering incompetence are Wall Street's daily bread and butter, insists this lively j'accuse. Ex-BusinessWeek reporter Weiss (Born to Steal: When the Mafia Hit Wall Street) details the myriad ways the financial industry preys on small investors. Scraping the bottom are the boiler-room operators who peddle worthless microcap stocks over the phone and the "paid research" outfits hired by companies to tout their stocks under the guise of independent analysis. But the author finds plenty of chicanery at the pinnacle of Wall Street probity, blue-chip mutual funds, which, he contends, charge exorbitant fees and pay kickbacks to brokers to steer customers their way—while yielding a markedly worse return than market indexes. He also pillories the industry's toothless watchdogs—the New York Stock Exchange, a business media addicted to hype and puffery, and a do-nothing Securities and Exchange Commission. (Weiss's savaging of oft-lionized ex-SEC chairman Arthur Levitt is particularly vicious and funny.) The author sometimes meanders, and his cures for the rot—empowered short-selling and investor grousing on the Internet—seem pretty feeble. But Weiss's wise-guy attitude and muckraking chops make for a devastating broadside. (Apr. 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
If you're like half of America, and you own stocks, either directly or through mutual funds, IRAs, or 401(k)s, you may not want to hear what Weiss has to say about the industry--but you'd better read it anyway, for your own good. Weiss, an award-winning investigative journalist, formerly with Business Week, refuses to toe the party line. He describes practices we thought were confined to the fringe dark side of The Street, such as boiler room fraud; overpaid, uncaring fund managers; ineffectual SEC regulations; and Wild West-style hedge funds. The wall that is supposed to separate CEOs, analysts, underwriters, and the media has long disappeared, according to Weiss, as these forces cozy up to form a coalition designed to separate you from your money. If this all sounds too tough to beat, Weiss describes a way to fight back--for instance, place funds in an unmanaged index fund and beat more than half the managers "playing" the market right off the bat. Traders will enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at the war between short sellers and just about everybody else. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
The material about actively managed mutual funds and hedge funds was not as good, and almost every chapter is inflated with flowery language and mixed metaphors. See sentences like "The SEC's sterling record of inaction-disguised-as-action reached new heights of splendor in a campaign to put a spit shine on mutual fund governance." This comes a few sentences after Weiss imagines the SEC speaking in stereotypically antebellum black English to its investment bank "massas".
There are also some factual errors, as when Weiss describes "Reminiscences of a Stock Operator" as the memoir of Edwin Lefevre. Actually, "Reminiscences of a Stock Operator" is a fictional semi-autobiography of Jesse Livingston, not a memoir of anybody, especially not Lefevre
The book is dated; the complaints about Dick Grasso and Bear Stearns seem almost quaint. It is nonetheless useful, as some of the problems discussed in the text have been around for decades and, while they will evolve, many of Weiss's chapters will remain relevant.
I gave this book three points because the discussion of naked short selling and for-pay research are good; the weak material doesn't, for me, drag it any lower than that.
Before the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929, pretty much only the wealthiest Americans were invested in the market, so Wall Street was confined to rip-off only the wealthiest.
After the Crash, the US Government instituted various rules and policies. Most notably it instituted Self-Regulatory Organizations like the NASD. NYSE, etc. and the government regulatory organization The SEC. The former are nothing more than industry trade groups looking out for the industry. The later is a lax government institution that does a better job protecting Wall Street than the individual investor. Indeed, the first head of the SEC was Wall Street tycoon who made millions of dollars manipulating stocks.
The changes were only a shell game. With the rise of pensions, etc, almost everyone is invested in the markets. So Wall Street traded blatant cons of a relatively small number of rich Americans for more subtle cons of all Americans.
For the past thirty or so years Wall Street even started running its own self-styled justice system under the name of arbitration. The system is completely rigged in favor of Wall Street. Investors rarely receive justice. And Wall Street evades the law, avoids punishment, and conceals any negative publicity that might spur real regulation or at least more investor skepticism.
Unfortunately Wall Street is not just ripping off small investors. It is ripping off supposedly savvy corporations as well as infecting corporations with its own dishonest, money-grubbing culture.
Weiss's book should be required reading for the legislators in Washington DC.
I looked at other reviews here to see if anyone in the know disputed any of Gary Weiss' claims, and, alarmingly, no one did. A former Business Week columnist, Weiss definitely appears to know his subject, and, more importantly, he adopts a tone that makes the book readable for a complete layman like myself. Though his style may occasionally come off as glib as facetious, he presents a view of Wall Street you are not going to get anywhere else, packed with information that pesents the world of investment as nothing more than an Old Boy's Club that simply doesn't care at all about you.
Brief list of things I learned from reading this book: The regulation and punishment of criminals on Wall Street is usually done by the very people committing the fraud, hedge funds don't behave any differently with your money than any other investors, boiler room scams are alive and well (not hounded out of existence by the SEC, as I believed) and "punishments" meted out for criminal behavior by the SEC usually consist of being asked nicely to stop it.
I can't recommend this book enough to anyone considering investing. I'm very glad I got it when I did. A Must Read!
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