Thursday, March 11, 2010
Eyesight to the Blind
So if Paulson missed it, and Treasury Secretary to-be Timothy Geithner missed it, and Fed chairman Ben Bernanke missed it...who saw the cataclysm coming?
In the words of Michael Lewis, only a handful of unusual, “almost by definition odd” outsiders were able to look past the conventional wisdom and see the subprime-mortgage-inflated market for what it was. Lewis profiles this tiny group who were able to "see the ugly facts and respond to them" -- and thereby make a killing even as most of Wall Street was decimated--in his new book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (Norton, $27.95). My review of this very informative and, believe it or not, entertaining book appears today on Reuters at http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2010/03/11/michael-lewis-big-short-an-unsettling-experience/.
As is common with Lewis, there are some funny bits -- but given the subject matter, the volume could hardly be a laugh riot. After all, fortunes were destroyed and many, many people were financially ruined. Still, consider this passage, where the author describes his protagonists' hunt for the worst subprime-mortgage-backed bonds, which they were preparing to short: “Looking for bad bonds inside a CDO [or collateralized debt obligation] was like fishing for crap in a Port-O-Let: the question wasn’t whether you’d catch some but how quickly you’d be satisfied you’d caught enough.”
That's typical of Lewis's not-for-family-hour prose. Darkly funny stuff. And also highly insightful. For a writer who made his reputation on claims that he knew nothing about nothing when hired to work on Wall Street in the '80s, somehow Lewis has learned a great deal about some very sophisticated investing.