Michael Lewis · 305 pages
Rating: (109.1K votes)
“What are the odds that people will make smart decisions about money if they don't need to make smart decisions--if they can get rich making dumb decisions? The incentives on Wall Street were all wrong; they're still all wrong.”
“The CDO was, in effect, a credit laundering service for the residents of Lower Middle Class America. For Wall Street it was a machine that turned lead into gold.”
“In Bakersfield, California, a Mexican strawberry picker with an income of $14,000 and no English was lent every penny he needed to buy a house for $724,000.”
“That was the problem with money: What people did with it had consequences, but they were so remote from the original action that the mind never connected the one with the other.”
“Success was individual achievement; failure was a social problem.”
“When you’re a conservative Republican, you never think people are making money by ripping other people off,” he said. His mind was now fully open to the possibility. “I now realized there was an entire industry, called consumer finance, that basically existed to rip people off.”
“A thought crossed his mind: How do you make poor people feel wealthy when wages are stagnant? You give them cheap loans.”
“What are the odds that people will make smart decisions about money if they don’t need to make smart decisions—if they can get rich making dumb decisions?”
“A credit default swap was confusing mainly because it wasn’t really a swap at all. It was an insurance policy, typically on a corporate bond, with semiannual premium payments and a fixed term. For instance, you might pay $200,000 a year to buy a ten-year credit default swap on $100 million in General Electric bonds. The most you could lose was $2 million: $200,000 a year for ten years. The most you could make was $100 million, if General Electric defaulted on its debt any time in the next ten years and bondholders recovered nothing. It was a zero-sum bet: If you made $100 million, the guy who had sold you the credit default swap lost $100 million. It was also an asymmetric bet, like laying down money on a number in roulette. The most you could lose were the chips you put on the table; but if your number came up you made thirty, forty, even fifty times your money.”
“Charlie and Jamie had always sort of assumed that there was some grown-up in charge of the financial system whom they had never met; now, they saw there was not.”
“A Home without Equity Is Just a Rental with Debt,”
“Charlie Ledley—curiously uncertain Charlie Ledley—was odd in his belief that the best way to make money on Wall Street was to seek out whatever it was that Wall Street believed was least likely to happen, and bet on its happening.”
“Because the lenders sold many—though not all—of the loans they made to other investors, in the form of mortgage bonds, the industry was also fraught with moral hazard. “It was a fast-buck business,” says Jacobs. “Any business where you can sell a product and make money without having to worry how the product performs is going to attract sleazy people.”
“Pope Benedict XVI was the first to predict the crisis in the global financial system…Italian Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti said. “The prediction that an undisciplined economy would collapse by its own rules can be found” in an article written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger [in 1985], Tremonti said yesterday at Milan’s Cattolica University. —Bloomberg News, November 20, 2008”
“not because he had the slightest interest in God but because he was curious about its internal contradictions.”
“On its surface, the booming market in side bets on subprime mortgage bonds seemed to be the financial equivalent of fantasy football: a benign, if silly, facsimile of investing. Alas, there was a difference between fantasy football and fantasy finance: When a fantasy football player drafts Peyton Manning to be on his team, he doesn’t create a second Peyton Manning. When Mike Burry bought a credit default swap based on a Long Beach Savings subprime–backed bond, he enabled Goldman Sachs to create another bond identical to the original in every respect but one: There were no actual home loans or home buyers. Only the gains and losses from the side bet on the bonds were real.”
“They had stumbled either upon a serious flaw in modern financial markets or into a great gambling run. Characteristically, they were not sure which it was. As Charlie pointed out, “It’s really hard to know when you’re lucky and when you’re smart.”
“That was the reason the casino bothered to list the wheel’s most recent spins: to help gamblers to delude themselves.”
“Complicated financial stuff was being dreamed up for the sole purpose of lending money to people who could never repay it.”
“The “consumer loan” piles that Wall Street firms, led by Goldman Sachs, asked AIG FP to insure went from being 2 percent subprime mortgages to being 95 percent subprime mortgages. In a matter of months, AIG FP, in effect, bought $50 billion in triple-B-rated subprime mortgage bonds by insuring them against default.”
“I really do believe the final act in play is a crisis in our financial institutions, which are doing such dumb, dumb things,”
“Household was making loans at a faster pace than ever. A big source of its growth had been the second mortgage. The document offered a fifteen-year, fixed-rate loan, but it was bizarrely disguised as a thirty-year loan. It took the stream of payments the homeowner would make to Household over fifteen years, spread it hypothetically over thirty years, and asked: If you were making the same dollar payments over thirty years that you are in fact making over fifteen, what would your “effective rate” of interest be? It was a weird, dishonest sales pitch. The borrower was told he had an “effective interest rate of 7 percent” when he was in fact paying something like 12.5 percent. “It was blatant fraud,” said Eisman. “They were tricking their customers.”
“The subprime mortgage machine was up and running again, as if it had never broken down in the first place. If the first act of subprime lending had been freaky, this second act was terrifying. Thirty billion dollars was a big year for subprime lending in the mid-1990s. In 2000 there had been $130 billion in subprime mortgage lending, and 55 billion dollars’ worth of those loans had been repackaged as mortgage bonds. In 2005 there would be $625 billion in subprime mortgage loans, $507 billion of which found its way into mortgage bonds.”
“With stagnant wages and booming consumption, the cash-strapped American masses had a virtually unlimited demand for loans but an uncertain ability to repay them.”
“Writing a check separates a commitment from a conversation. —Warren Buffett”
“After that, the men in the room rushed for the exits, apparently to sell their shares in Bear Stearns. By the time Alan Greenspan arrived to speak, there was hardly anyone who cared to hear what he had to say. The audience was gone. By Monday, Bear Stearns was of course gone, too, sold to J.P. Morgan for $2 a share.*”
“As a former gas station attendant, parking lot attendant, medical resident and current Goldman Sachs screwee, I am offended.”
“Whenever Wall Street people tried to argue—as they often did—that the subprime lending problem was caused by the mendacity and financial irresponsibility of ordinary Americans, he’d”
“Why, for example, wasn’t AIG required to reserve capital against them? Why, for that matter, were Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s willing to bless 80 percent of a pool of dicey mortgage loans with the same triple-A rating they bestowed on the debts of the U.S. Treasury? Why didn’t someone, anyone, inside Goldman Sachs stand up and say, “This is obscene. The rating agencies, the ultimate pricers of all these subprime mortgage loans, clearly do not understand the risk, and their idiocy is creating a recipe for catastrophe”?”
“The less transparent the market and the more complicated the securities, the more money the trading desks at big Wall Street firms can make from the argument. The constant argument over the value of the shares of some major publicly traded company has very little value, as both buyer and seller can see the fair price of the stock on the ticker, and the broker’s commission has been driven down by competition. The argument over the value of credit default swaps on subprime mortgage bonds—a complex security whose value was derived from that of another complex security—could be a gold mine.”
“On Elsewhere we fool ourselves into thinking we know what will be just because we know the amount of time we have left. We know this, but we never really know what will be. We never know what will happen...”
“No," Lana said, "I'm not going to heal your scratch."
"Good," Sanjit said.
"Good? Why good?"
"Because when you hold my hand, I don't want it to be work for you.”
“It is well known that a vital ingredient of success is not knowing that what you're attempting can't be done. A person ignorant of the possibility of failure can be a half-brick in the path of the bicycle of history.”
“When you stopped to think about it, he reflected, there weren’t many things in life one truly needed. To want too much was worse than greed: it was stupidity—a waste of precious time and effort. The”
“Although the surface of our planet is two-thirds water, we call it the Earth. We say we are earthlings, not waterlings. Our blood is closer to seawater than our bones to soil, but that's no matter. The sea is the cradle we all rocked out of, but it's to dust that we go. From the time that water invented us, we began to seek out dirt. The further we separate ourselves from the dirt, the further we separate ourselves from ourselves. Alienation is a disease of the unsoiled.”
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