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House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street

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House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street Cover

ISBN13: 9780385528269
ISBN10: 0385528264
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Awards

Winner of the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

On March 5, 2008, at 10:15 A.M., a hedge fund manager in Florida wrote a post on his investing advice Web site that included a startling statement about Bear Stearns and Co., the nation's fifth-largest investment bank: "In my book, they are insolvent"

This seemed a bold and risky statement. Bear Stearns was about to announce profits of $115 million for the first quarter of 2008, had $17.3 billion in cash on hand, and, as the company incessantly boasted, had been a colossally profitable enterprise in the eighty-five years since its founding.

Ten days later, Bear Stearns no longer existed, and the calamitous financial meltdown of 2008 had begun.

How this happened — and why — is the subject of William D. Cohan's superb and shocking narrative that chronicles the fall of Bear Stearns and the end of the Second Gilded Age on Wall Street. Bear Stearns serves as the Rosetta Stone to explain how a combination of risky bets, corporate political infighting, lax government regulations and truly bad decision-making wrought havoc on the world financial system.

Cohan's minute-by-minute account of those ten days in March makes for breathless reading, as the bankers at Bear Stearns struggled to contain the cascading series of events that would doom the firm, and as Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, New York Federal Reserve Bank President Tim Geithner, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke began to realize the dire consequences for the world economy should the company go bankrupt.

But House of Cards does more than recount the incredible panic of the first stages of the financial meltdown. William D. Cohan beautifully demonstrates why the seemingly invincible Wall Street money machine came crashing down. He chronicles the swashbuckling corporate culture of Bear Stearns, the strangely crucial role competitive bridge played in the company's fortunes, the brutal internecine battles for power, and the deadly combination of greed and inattention that helps to explain why the company's leaders ignored the danger lurking in Bear's huge positions in mortgage-backed securities.

The author deftly portrays larger-than-life personalities like Ace Greenberg, Bear Stearns' miserly, take-no-prisoners chairman whose memos about re-using paper clips were legendary throughout Wall Street; his profane, colorful rival and eventual heir Jimmy Cayne, whose world-champion-level bridge skills were a lever in his corporate rise and became a symbol of the reasons for the firm's demise; and Jamie Dimon, the blunt-talking CEO of JPMorgan Chase, who won the astonishing endgame of the saga (the Bear Stearns headquarters alone were worth more than JP Morgan paid for the whole company).

Cohan's explanation of seemingly arcane subjects like credit default swaps and fixed- income securities is masterful and crystal clear, but it is the high-end dish and powerful narrative drive that makes House of Cards an irresistible read on a par with classics such as Liar's, Poker and Barbarians at the Gate.

Written with the novelistic verve and insider knowledge that made The Last of the Tycoons a bestseller and a prize-winner, House of Cards is a chilling cautionary tale about greed, arrogance, and stupidity in the financial world, and the consequences for all of us.

Review:

"Cohan not only knows where the bodies are buried but got a guided tour of the graveyard."Financial Times

Review:

"Cohan's portrayal of the firm's dominant partners — whose gargantuan appetites and mercurial habits provide the unifying force behind the book's operatic melodramas — makes this an epic.... In fact, The Last Tycoons bears a striking resemblance to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon." New York Times Book Review

Review:

"Breezy and highly readable....For those of us who enjoy high-level gossip (most people) and an inside look at the machinations, triumphs, failures, and foibles of some of Wall Street's and America's most exalted personages, Cohan's book is entertaining and seductively engrossing." Chicago Tribune

Review:

"Cohan's thoroughness — he interviewed over 100 current and former bankers and assorted bigwigs — unearths a trove of colourful tidbits, many quite racy....Illuminating are Mr. Cohan's descriptions of the scheming, politicking, and general dysfunction that was Lazard." Economist

Review:

"The Last Tycoons] has sent a jolt through Lazard and the rest of Wall Street." Wall Street Journal

Synopsis:

In this superb and shocking narrative, Cohan chronicles the fall of Bear Stearns and the end of the Second Gilded Age on Wall Street. Cohan's minute-by-minute account of 10 days in March 2008, tells a chilling cautionary tale about greed, arrogance, and stupidity in the financial world, and the consequences for all of us.

Synopsis:

In March 2008, Bear Stearns, a swashbuckling eighty-four-year-old financial institution, was forced to sell itself to JPMorgan Chase for an outrageously low price in a deal brokered by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who was desperately trying to prevent the impending catastrophic market crash. But mere months before, an industry-wide boom had the Bear clocking a record high stock price. How did a giant investment bank with $18 billion in cash on-hand disappear in a mere ten days? In this unputdownable narrative tour de force, Cohan provides a minute-by-minute account of the events that brought America's second Gilded Age to an end.

Filled with intimate portraits of the major players, high-end gossip and smart financial analysis, House of Cards recounts, in delicious narrative form, the dramatic events behind the fall of Bear Stearns, and what it revealed about the financial world's progression from irrational boom to cataclysmic bust. House of Cards is the Rosetta Stone for understanding the dramatic and the unprecedented events that have reshaped Wall Street and global finance in the past two years.

About the Author

William D. Cohan, a former senior Wall Street investment banker, is the bestselling author of The Last Tycoons and the winner of the 2007 FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award. He writes for The Financial Times, Fortune, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Daily Beast, and appears frequently on CNBC.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Gary Rosenthal, March 27, 2009 (view all comments by Gary Rosenthal)
Cohan details the bursting of the bubble in a book that reads like part gossip columnist, part financial thriller. Talk about making your average Jane feel smart, Cohan makes the big names of Wall Street look like a bunch of rats scurrying about thinking they have won the cheese when really they are about to get the big, gut-popping smack-down.

I enjoyed this read because, aside from being mildly fascinated by economics, it does seem to answer the question that most American are now asking as they look at their 401Ks, retirement plan statements, and now-empty stock portfolios: "What the hell were they thinking?"
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Yonathan, March 11, 2009 (view all comments by Yonathan)
House of Cards" reports on the collapse of the investment banking house Bear Stearns (America's fifth-largest investment bank), and the beginning of the worst banking crisis since the Great Depression. Cohan's background as an investment banker allows him to cut through the complexity to explain what happened in simple, clear terms.

Bear Stearns had survived every crisis of the 20th century, including the Great Depression - without a single losing quarter - until the end of 2007. In 1997, Bear Stearns had helped pioneer the subprime mortgage-backed security by serving as co-underwriter on a $385 million offering. By the mid-2000s, it was the market leader in this segment.

The focus of the book is the last ten days of Bear Stearns, leading up to its absorption by J.P. Morgan at a fire-sale price ($10/share, down from $167; less than the value of its $1.5 billion office building), greased by $30 billion in Federal Reserve funds. (The Fed was worried that a bankruptcy of Bear Stearns could wreak fiscal havoc around the world.)

Just a year earlier it had been identified as "America's most admired securities firm" by Fortune magazine; in 2006 its Asset Management fees had reached $335 million. Bonuses were in the 8-figure range. Unfortunately, it was also the most heavily invested in mortgage-backed securities. Bear Stearns, like its competitors, financed itself with oversight sources (the cheapest source).

However, when analysts began questioning Bear's viability, given its shaky mix of assets, continued financing for Bear dried up, and it toppled. Amazingly, its chairman was too buy playing bridge and golf to get involved until too late; earlier he had forced out the only many who understood what was going on. The firm even turned down a last-minute offer from a Saudi Arabian for substantial financing ("not needed"). Its leadership then blamed the media and short-sellers for Bear's demise.

True, Bear's fall was quite rapid. However, there had been warning signs - problems at smaller firms with similar asset structures, rising risk premiums for its mortgage bond holdings ($50,000 for $10 million during the first half of 2007, rising to $350,000 on 3/5/08), its first quarterly loss at the end of 2008, and the downgrading of some of its bond holdings. Worse yet, Cohan also alluded to failing to conserve cash by reducing dividends and ceasing stock buybacks, as well as increasing leverage - unfortunately, it is not clear whether he was referring to Lehman, Bear, or both.

The bad news - the 468 pages, complete with endless interviews and accounts of bridge games, is a bit much. The even worse news - Bear Stearns' and others playing for billions has left American taxpayers with a debt of trillions. And we still haven't heard "the rest of the story."
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780385528269
Author:
Cohan, William D.
Publisher:
Doubleday Books
Subject:
Corporate & Business History - General
Subject:
Finance
Subject:
Financial crises
Subject:
Investment banking
Subject:
Financial crises -- United States.
Subject:
Bank failures -- United States.
Subject:
Corporate History
Subject:
Business-History and Biography
Copyright:
Publication Date:
20090331
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
480
Dimensions:
9.18x6.46x1.19 in. 1.70 lbs.

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Related Subjects


Business » Accounting and Finance
Business » History and Biographies
Business » Investing
History and Social Science » Economics » General

House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.50 In Stock
Product details 480 pages Doubleday Books - English 9780385528269 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Cohan not only knows where the bodies are buried but got a guided tour of the graveyard."
"Review" by , "Cohan's portrayal of the firm's dominant partners — whose gargantuan appetites and mercurial habits provide the unifying force behind the book's operatic melodramas — makes this an epic.... In fact, The Last Tycoons bears a striking resemblance to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon."
"Review" by , "Breezy and highly readable....For those of us who enjoy high-level gossip (most people) and an inside look at the machinations, triumphs, failures, and foibles of some of Wall Street's and America's most exalted personages, Cohan's book is entertaining and seductively engrossing."
"Review" by , "Cohan's thoroughness — he interviewed over 100 current and former bankers and assorted bigwigs — unearths a trove of colourful tidbits, many quite racy....Illuminating are Mr. Cohan's descriptions of the scheming, politicking, and general dysfunction that was Lazard."
"Review" by , "The Last Tycoons] has sent a jolt through Lazard and the rest of Wall Street."
"Synopsis" by , In this superb and shocking narrative, Cohan chronicles the fall of Bear Stearns and the end of the Second Gilded Age on Wall Street. Cohan's minute-by-minute account of 10 days in March 2008, tells a chilling cautionary tale about greed, arrogance, and stupidity in the financial world, and the consequences for all of us.
"Synopsis" by , In March 2008, Bear Stearns, a swashbuckling eighty-four-year-old financial institution, was forced to sell itself to JPMorgan Chase for an outrageously low price in a deal brokered by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who was desperately trying to prevent the impending catastrophic market crash. But mere months before, an industry-wide boom had the Bear clocking a record high stock price. How did a giant investment bank with $18 billion in cash on-hand disappear in a mere ten days? In this unputdownable narrative tour de force, Cohan provides a minute-by-minute account of the events that brought America's second Gilded Age to an end.

Filled with intimate portraits of the major players, high-end gossip and smart financial analysis, House of Cards recounts, in delicious narrative form, the dramatic events behind the fall of Bear Stearns, and what it revealed about the financial world's progression from irrational boom to cataclysmic bust. House of Cards is the Rosetta Stone for understanding the dramatic and the unprecedented events that have reshaped Wall Street and global finance in the past two years.

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