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Chasing Goldman Sachs: How the Masters of the Universe Melted Wall Street Down...And Why They'll Take Us to the Brink Again (Anglais) Broché – 7 juin 2011

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43 internautes sur 50 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Enlightening Account of WHY Wall Street Went Hog Wild with Leverage and Risk. 15 juin 2010
Par mirasreviews - Publié sur
Format: Relié
In "Chasing Goldman Sachs", financial journalist Suzanne McGee takes us through the changes in the financial industry over the past few decades that transformed Wall Street "from quasi-utility to...profit-maximizing behemoth" whose appetite for leverage and risk nearly destroyed itself and played a key role in the continuing global financial crisis. The book's subtitle -"How the Masters of the Universe Melted Wall Street Down...and Why They'll Take Us to the Brink Again"- is perhaps hyperbolic, and I was pleased to find that McGee's analysis is more balanced and considered than that title might suggest.

First, the history: McGee explains how and why investment banks began to drift away from their core function of enabling capital to flow through the economy in the 1970s, leading to the pursuit of maximum profits irrespective of systemic risk in the 2000s. This includes the evolution of mortgage-backed securities, the deregulation of fixed commission structures, the transformation of banks from private partnerships into publicly traded companies, and refocusing their increasingly complex products to serve hedge funds rather than traditional investment firms. Goldman Sachs was the best and the brightest, which other banks tried madly to emulate, often without sufficient talent or risk management to do so.

Then, the financial crisis: McGee dedicates a chapter each to the "greed, recklessness, and negligence" that combined to create the "perfect storm" that almost brought the global economy to a halt and necessitated an infusion of $250 billion of taxpayer-sponsored liquidity. She explains the history of the executive compensation system whose incentive structures unfortunately encouraged "excessive risk-taking and shortsighted behavior." McGee tackles the limitations of risk management models. These have been discussed to death in more detail in other books, but she focuses on the human reasons that people were blind to risk. And she explores the role that the deregulatory climate in Washington played in enabling and encouraging the housing bubble.

Finally, McGee wonders what Wall Street will look like ten years from now, as boutique investment banks are cropping up to take over some of the functions of the big banks, who are still fighting regulation. This section is a bit repetitive and not as strong as the rest of the book. McGee observes that risk-taking to maximize profits for shareholders is as common today as it was five years ago, and she prescribes a change in "fundamental attitudes toward the financial system" as the only way to effect lasting change on Wall Street. It's difficult to tell people to make money in moderation, though, and it might be impossible when they are beholden to shareholders.

"Chasing Goldman Sachs" recounts Wall Street's role in the financial crisis in terms a layperson can understand. McGee is good chronicler of the history of the financial industry, and she explains why investment banks packaged, sold, and invested in risky CDOs and credit default swaps as well as their need to innovate and to profit in a world where traditional sources of revenue were either insufficient or no longer existed. She thinks things went wrong, however, when banks began to produce products that did not serve their clients well, relied to heavily on proprietary trading desks, maximized short-term profits at the expense of long-term stability, and mismanaged risk.

The credit and housing bubbles certainly showed up the flaws in both the culture and structure of modern investment banks. I wonder, though, what the outcome might have been had many of the loans that were sliced and diced in those CDOs not been fraudulent to begin with. The FBI warned of an "epidemic" of fraud in the mortgage industry in 2004, 80% of which they believed originated with lenders. My point is that blame for the financial crisis does not lie entirely with Wall Street. There was fraud all over the mortgage industry, and the Federal Reserve's pump of cheap money into the marketplace was ultimately what inflated the twin bubbles. McGee touches on these issues in her discussion of the Office of Thrift Supervision's culpability in the crisis, but her focus in on Wall Street shenanigans. The SEC charged Goldman Sachs with fraud as the book was going to press, so the author only addresses that issue briefly in her foreword.

[In compliance with FTC rules, I am disclosing that I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.]
6 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Skirting Goldman while sticking to surface events 27 juillet 2011
Par Charles de Trenck - Publié sur
Format: Relié
I was looking forward to a book updater about Goldman related issues and the Financial Crisis, though I understood flicking through the book quickly before catching a plane that it would only touch Goldman at the periphery, and that it would be more about how the financial crisis was created by the likes of Merrill Lynch and so many other bulge bracket banks trying to emulate Goldman's performances (ie, high ROEs). What I found though, as I sat down to read and mark-up the book, was more of a generic recap of the Crisis. Looking later through the footnotes I realized this book relied mostly on mainstream accounts. The book is good for people who were not addicted to financial blogs and the few good articles (and there are some good ones I found and listed in prior reviews) out there before, during and after the crisis. And it is ok in terms of offering some sort of reference function.

I certainly don't disagree with the blame meted out at some of the senior bank executives, sometimes referred to as banksters in the blogosphere. On the whole the book is readable and good as a summary. But the book also proved a little too soft and general on developments at the big banks during the Financial Crisis, and a bit too hopeful that the Obama Administration could/can bring about any changes (ie, implementation of the oft repeated Volcker Rule).

Parts of the book were quite readable. Other parts tended to repetition and news recaps. During one of my many breaks reading the book, I happened over to a bookshelf of partly read books, and found new interest in Where Are the Customers' Yachts? The book was written around 1940 (based on experiences of 1929) and has many truisms reminding us of what many brokers [bankers, etc] do for a living. Why would the author of Chasing Goldman hold faith in cosmetic changes and the Obama approach? Why would small excursions to talk to a few ex and current bankers or new independents be enough to establish the mistakes and ethical challenges of the mainstream banking elites?

I liked the first few chapters the best - after the generic introductions which I ignored. I enjoyed chapters 1-3, as there were a few engaging perspectives for me, such as the Silicon Valley bankster phase. And there were a few parts on Merrill Lynch that started getting interesting around pp 152-56. The Merrill Lynch brief critique got me thinking I might find something interesting about Citi. But I was to be disappointed again and again with shallow attempts to critique Citi. There were simply no good stories to be told on Weil, Rubin, Prince, or others. And for the other banks, the stories proved mostly superficial as well. Reasons for the superficiality, I suspect, are that deeper accounts of what went on at Citi are few and far between. This author relies much on mainstream accounts, and the interviews with current and ex industry insiders are never taken to a next level. As a result there is nothing new to learn on most of the big meltdowns.

On the whole this book does not measure up to the likes of Too Big to Fail. It reads like a narrative of what went down over the timespan of a few years, with a few short insights at times. I certainly agree with many of the points. That is until we get to what the author is saying about the future as she talks about 2010+ and Obama. There is some truth. And of course I would like the banks to be more dis-intermediated than what we have seen thus far. So examples of new firms seeking to take business from the banks is welcome. But I am not sure her coverage, in her desire to find alternatives to bulge bracket Wall Street banks, of some firms such as Citadel is deep enough or even accurate. Every once in a while she introduces financial terms such as Value at Risk, noting comments made elsewhere too that Goldman had increased its VaR during the crisis... Not that I even use it much - because I would want to make additional adjustments - but looking at a comparative chart from Reuters on VaR in commodities during 2008, Goldman indeed was right toward the high end of increasing its VaR, but, oops, Citi was actively reducing its VaR in 2008 on the same order as JPM, and, oh, Morgan Stanley, which also almost went down in 2008-09, was reducing its VaR even more. Increasing risk in commodities during the downturn proved to be the right call. The point is VaR analysis is likely pretty involved, and throwing in a few fancy terms in the book does not make it more sophisticated.

All in all, this is not a memorable book I will keep on my book shelf next to Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, Oriental Despotism and Too Big to Fail, among others.
8 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Investment Banks race to the top and bottom 13 juillet 2010
Par Steve Burns - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Author Suzanne McGee has done a great job in this book showing her readers how investment banks obsessive pursuit to beat Goldman Sachs' return on equity lead to the financial crises. The author explains that Wall Street's core function is as an intermediary financial utility providing investors with ways to invest their capital in sound businesses. Unfortunately Wall Street morphed into being a self-serving, risk-taking machine for generating profits. These out sized profits helped inflate the stocks of the businesses in the financial sector and provided billions in bonuses for executives and traders that help make these profits. Investment banks drifted form making profits by serving clients and more from trading and investing for their own accounts along with creating innovative investments with little regard to the risk profiles of these new creatins. The madness really went to a new level with the huge profits that came from creating CDOs from bundled mortgages. The banks really gave way to the fiduciary responsibilities it had to its clients and just focused on profits which led to huge amounts of risk for themselves and their clients which eventually led to meltdown of 2008 and 2009. Risk managers at these firms were silenced or shown the door as the money making machines cranked up to full throttle.
The reality is that the business of Wall Street isn't innovating, or creating some flashy new product to boost its own profits; it's providing the wherewithal for corporate innovation. Whenever financial innovation-the kind Wall Street indulges in-ends by making capital less available to corporate innovators, that is when you know Wall Street has drifted too far from its mission. This lock down of available capital is what caused the credit markets to lock up during the crises. The book does a great job of telling the tale of the investment banks and why one went bankrupt, others were acquired for pennies on the dollar, and how Goldman Sachs and J.P Morgan Chase were the winners. Also you will get an idea of what the future may hold for Wall Street in regulation and smaller financial institutions that want to step in and grab business from the legacy firms. I found the book interesting and informative.
17 internautes sur 23 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Finally, a finance book that's not boring! 25 juin 2010
Par Richard Derus - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Not to put too fine a point on it, but does the world *really* need another book about The Meltdown That Ate Our Jobs? Do we *really* have anything left to learn about these greedy so-and-sos whose pursuit of their own profits gifted us with a huge expansion of the Federal debt?

In a word, yes.

Suzanne McGee assumes that her readers are smart, savvy, and plugged in, so she hits only the highlights of the WHAT about the crisis. Her brief, as the subtitle of the book "How the Masters of the Universe Melted Down Wall Street...and Why They'll Take Us to the Brink Again" makes clear, is analyzing and explaining WHY.

She does this in as honest and non-judmental a way as anyone could. She's not pointing fingers at one person per chapter, she's pointing up the systemic and cultural failings that, quite naturally and seemingly inevitably, led to a culture of no-risk gambling that permeated late twentieth century business. It took until the end of the Aughties for the chickens to come home to roost, but as they always do, they did. And who pays? All of us peons, that's who, which is exactly how the system is set up and remains set up to this day.

Her style is spare, unfussy, and dryly witty. Her story provides its own plot, so I can't say whether she's good at plotting. She knows how to give a telling detail! "'When {the New York Stock} Exchange is public, when people are willing to own it, it's a sign of a stable financial system, argues {a Canadian investment-firm billionaire},' who also owns stakes in publicly traded stock exchanges worldwide, from Europe to Latin America...'The kind of push that come from shareholder-investors to become more competitive and efficient is the best way to make sure an organization is as effective as possible,' he adds." (p137, ARC edition) This comes in a book that traces "efficiency" as the principal author of the megadisaster of 2008...and does anyone remember May 2010, when the "efficient" robo-trading powerslide of the Exchange caused systemic fantods?

McGee states, makes, and supports her points throughout this book with a lifetime's reportorial experience and a skeptic's "prove it" attitude. She's done the financially semi-literate a huge and signal service in writing this book. It's a good, involving, and deeply frightening read. Recommended to all who aren't mouth-breathing Fox News watchers.
28 internautes sur 39 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The Fallacy of Perfect Solutions 6 août 2010
Par Joseph Devita - Publié sur
Format: Relié
This book was in turn interesting, tedious, informative, skewed, somewhat thought provoking but finally annoying, hence my three star rating [though I must admit that 2.5 is probably closer to the mark].

The Author's basic premise is that Wall Street has a "utility" function which involves distributing money the same way power companies distribute electricity. This function has a significant moral component in that it is a vital feature of the economy, and the financial meltdown occurred because this social obligation was ignored as greed, poor risk management and lax government regulation combined to blind the financial companies to anything more than their personal profit. And in case you don't at first get that, she writes about the pursuit of increased ROE and Goldman Sachs as the gold standard for profits just about every other paragraph. Trust me, subtlety is not her strong suit.

While she makes valid points, I have a definite problem with her major premise. Firstly, a utility is by definition a government allowed monopoly because of the infrastructure requirements which argue against multiple companies, and therefore it is hard to see Wall Street as such.

Secondly, the whole collapse was a result of the housing market bubble, which was due to the fact that for decades the government literally forced lenders to provide credit to people who shouldn't have had it in order to expand home ownership. When this asset class deflated it was so huge its ripple effect dried up liquidity and led to the crisis. Did Wall Street magnify the debacle by its policies and actions? The answer is yes, but it was because they were dealing with flawed input to begin with. To use an analogy, if governmental policy led to sick cows being used in meat to increase the food supply, and the food industry created new products from it to increase their profits, when everyone who ate it got sick, who do you blame, the government or the food companies? Think about it.

More importantly, expecting morality and civic purpose to motivate those in the financial sector is nice but unrealistic. Our system of capitalism is based on all of us pursuing our individual interests, which is usually making money! Banking evolved as a means for certain people to profit, not as a virtuous calling that requires self sacrifice in the name of the common good. After all, the food distribution business is just as important as banking to the common welfare, but has anyone written a book about the need for Supermarkets to be virtuous?

As wonderful as it would be for everyone to be beneficent and moral, reality just doesn't work that way. And when society has tried to enforce that kind of behavior, the results are usually coercive and worse than the original problem. In fact the 20th century saw several leaders who advocated that individual desires are irrelevant and that everyone has to work for the good of the state. Mussolini comes to mind- his system of fascism actually sounded real good on paper, and is the reason so many in the US acclaimed him in the 1920's as an exemplar of a great new system that would change the world. But as someone once said, every time we try to create Heaven on Earth, we wind up with a hell.

My point in regards to Ms.McGee is that yes, there were problems, and yes they must be addressed. However, chances are we will never create a system which totally avoids economic downturns because they are the result of human nature. And any attempt to create a "moral" Wall Street with social obligations as a primary parameter is doomed to fail for the same reason. Our solutions must address reality, not Liberal pie in the sky concepts which are at best doomed to fail and at worse result in unforeseen consequences which are usually scarier than anything we can imagine.

The solutions we need will accept the greed and profit driven nature of those in the financial system and allow it to work for us, as it has for most of the past 200 years. As for trying to mitigate the occasional meltdowns, the best way is to limit the bailouts and government largesse which removes the risk and moral hazards which are the constraints which capitalism imposes. And competition must be encouraged as this is ultimately the surest way to nurture "morality" on the market- customers invariably find the firm that treats them best, whether it is service, prices or some other metric. With this in mind, it must be realized that regulations favor the existing, large companies as opposed to smaller or newer firms that are trying to succeed [it's just a matter of size and resources- regulations actually help maintain the dominance of the established enterprises].

Is this a perfect fix? No there is no such thing because that is not the way life works. But as even the author notes in the final chapters, new firms are arising which do substitute concern for the clients in place of the rampant selfish greed which seemed so prevalent a few years ago, but they are doing it because it is good business, and in the end that will be the greatest determinant of how Wall Street changes.

It is said that the best is the enemy of the good. And sometimes it is actually the friend of the Worst. That is what we have to fear when we consider some of the well meaning prescriptions advocated in this book. As nice as it is to believe we do things for just reasons, the truth is that all we can depend on is that we are motivated by our self interest. To believe otherwise is a willful blindness which can lead to a far darker place than just a financial meltdown.
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