Infectious Greed: How Deceit and Risk Corrupted the Financial Markets

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"Law professor and financial expert Frank Partnoy shows how the roots of today's global financial crisis can be found in Wall Street's "lost decade" - the time in the late 1980s and '90s when the business world quietly made the transition from old-school, white-shoe Wall Street to the current-day complex financial product chaos. The fallout from this shift has produced every modem-day financial scandal, including the ones at Bear Stems, Lehman, and AIG." Infectious Greed tells this story by illuminating the linkage between the implosion of major

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Infectious Greed: How Deceit and Risk Corrupted the Financial Markets

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Overview

"Law professor and financial expert Frank Partnoy shows how the roots of today's global financial crisis can be found in Wall Street's "lost decade" - the time in the late 1980s and '90s when the business world quietly made the transition from old-school, white-shoe Wall Street to the current-day complex financial product chaos. The fallout from this shift has produced every modem-day financial scandal, including the ones at Bear Stems, Lehman, and AIG." Infectious Greed tells this story by illuminating the linkage between the implosion of major institutions ranging from Bankers Trust to Barings Bank to Orange County. California to Long-Term Capital Management to Enron to WorldCom, charting how each new level of financial risk and complexity obscured the sickness of corporate America. Ultimately, Partnoy proves, the financial crisis of 2008 was all but inevitable- but there are some key policies we can still adopt in order to save our financial system.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Partnoy has written an important book that provides a well-reasoned blueprint for fighting corporate corruption and restoring the integrity of America's financial markets. Unfortunately, it appears that the cops on Wall Street and the regulators in Congress are not ready to heed his advice. — Robert Bryce
Publishers Weekly
Partnoy's previous book, F.I.A.S.C.O., was an inside story of a Wall Street derivatives trader. It argued that recklessness and lack of regulation made derivatives trading (trading financial instruments that have no intrinsic value) a threat to the financial system. Turning from autobiography to history, this new work makes the same points by examining financial disasters caused by derivatives of the last 15 years. "Patient Zero" is Andy Krieger, whose $80 million mismarking of currency options embarrassed Bankers Trust in 1988. Partnoy profiles other derivatives abusers, too, including Nick Leeson, who bankrupted Barings Bank; Robert Citron, who did the same for Orange County; and Joseph Jett, whose "forward recon" trades helped end the independent existence of Kidder Peabody and Long Term Capital Management. These accounts of 20th-century disasters are neither original nor deep, but readers interested in the subject will be pleased to see the links among them. Taken together, common features emerge that are hard to see in detailed accounts of individual collapses. For example, Partnoy makes a revisionist case that credit rating agencies and federal regulators, including Alan Greenspan and Arthur Levitt, bear most of the blame. The author carries his story into mid-2002, evaluating Enron, WorldCom and Global Crossing. His analysis here is more original, reversing the popular perception by claiming Enron was a profitable company that should have survived, while WorldCom and Global Crossing had no economic substance. (Apr. 14) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In this excellent backgrounder to current scandals, law professor Partnoy (F.I.A.S.C.O.: Blood in the Water on Wall Street) provides some valuable historical perspective on earlier problems on Wall Street. Partnoy walks the reader through the evolution of such financial innovations as currency swaps, structured finance, and proto-derivatives, showing how top Wall Street traders utilized them to fleece their clients while making buckets of money for themselves and their respective firms. He explores how traders, notably John Meriwether of Salomon Brothers and later Long-Term Capital Management fame, became wildly successful in their attempts at financial alchemy only to crash and burn later. The book clearly spells out how the misapplication of complex financial instruments such as derivatives, not to mention a grievous lack of governmental oversight, contributed to truly treacherous times on Wall Street. In the final analysis, this well-written, comprehensively documented book makes for compelling reading, much like James Stewart's Den of Thieves, which chronicled the Wall Street scandals of the 1980s. Recommended for larger public libraries.-Richard Drezen, Washington Post/NYC Bureau Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
With hours of expert testimony on Enron before Congress under his belt, Partnoy (Law/Univ. of San Diego) also draws on his own experience in selling the arcane contracts known as derivatives to put an investor’s dilemma into perspective. The author’s previous work, F.I.A.S.C.O.: Blood in the Water on Wall Street (not reviewed), warned of the dangers inherent in financial instruments created for the sole purpose of allowing companies to evade financial regulations. Here, he goes back some 17 years, naming the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Bankers Trust, its CEO and chairman Charles Sanford, and his wunderkind, Andy Krieger, as key figures in the origination of the kinds of investment banking deals and "swaps" that eventually snared firms like Enron, Worldcom, and others. As the banks soon found out, the temptation for companies to place bets on interest or exchange-rate fluctuations in order to fund business ventures as cheaply as possible was irresistible from the start. Partnoy makes it appallingly clear that as these hedges against debt have evolved and become increasingly convoluted, the number of takers who will never understand them, much less profit from them, has continued to swell. For example: one structured note’s terms included a variable based on the number of wins by the NBA’s Utah Jazz. Partnoy makes a telling point in stressing that Enron’s deals and those of other now-scandal-plagued companies were basically not illegal and were all enumerated in annual reports in some occluded form or other. Perhaps the worst news for investors is that in Partnoy’s view the government’s response, last summer’s Sarbanes-Oxley Act, was "weak and limited" becauseCongress "had no blueprint" and was merely responding to public pressure to place blame. The markets today are "like Swiss Cheese," he claims, "with the holes--the unregulated places--getting bigger every year as [rules beaters] eat away at them from within." Riveting, for those who can persevere through the slack prose.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805075106
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/1/2004
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 496
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.18 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Frank Partnoy is currently a professor at the University of San Diego Law School. He has worked as an investment banker, derivatives broker, and corporate securities attorney. He also consults on regulation of the markets and white-collar crime. His expert testimony before the Senate committee investigating the Enron collapse has been widely cited in the media. Partnoy is the author of F.I.A.S.C.O.: Blood in the Water on Wall Street. He lives in San Diego, California.

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Read an Excerpt

From Infectious Greed:

By 2002, the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange was barely relevant, as securities traded 24 hours a day, around the world. The largest markets were private, and didn't involve regulated exchanges at all. Financial derivatives were as prevalent as stocks and bonds, and nearly as many assets and liabilities were off balance sheets as on. Companies' reported earnings were a fiction, and financial reports were chock full of disclosures that would shock the average investor if she ever even glanced at them, not that anyone—including financial journalists and analysts—ever did. Trading volatilities were sky high, with historically unrelated markets moving in lock step, increasing the risk of systemic collapse.

In just a few years, regulators had lost what limited control they had over market intermediaries, market intermediaries had lost what limited control they had over corporate managers, and corporate managers had lost what limited control they had over employees. This loss-of-control daisy chain had led to exponential risk-taking at many companies, largely hidden from public view. Simply put, the appearance of control in financial markets was a fiction.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 Patient Zero 9
2 Monkeys on Their Backs 36
3 Wheat First Securities 62
4 Unreconciled Balances 84
5 A New Breed of Speculator 112
6 Morals of the Marketplace 141
7 Messages Received 187
8 The Domino Effect 227
9 The Last One to the Party 267
10 The World's Greatest Company 296
11 Hot Potato 350
Epilogue 393
Notes 413
Acknowledgments 447
Index 449
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2004

    Excellent book

    This book sheds tremendous light on the financial fiascos that occurred over the past fifteen years. I enjoyed using it to do my report in my Business Ethics course at Loyola, New Orleans. Dr. Capaldi, I highly recommend this book to your future students. Here's a brief summary of what the book entails: `Infectious Greed¿ written by Frank Partnoy is an in-depth look into the corruption that has plagued the market for the past fifteen years. It is a historical account that draws connections among the key players and describes the financial devices they used to pursuit tremendous wealth. Many of the devices were direct contradictions of the law, but even those that were legitimate proved to be too complex for regulators, analysts, credit rating agencies, and especially investors to understand. Consequently, investors devoted their money blindly in the face of incomprehensible risks and were vulnerable to great losses. As corruption of major firms was uncovered, investors scrambled to mitigate their losses and prayed that prosecutors would bring the malefactors to justice. Unfortunately, many of the financial frauds were too complex for prosecutors to successfully build a case, and so, they settled to focus on lesser charges, such as obstruction of justice. As a result, the defendants were given a slap on the wrist and the message was sent that complex financial fraud would not be prosecuted. All these unchecked malfeasances and the excessive risk taking by investors lead to Partnoy¿s main argument that financial markets are not in control as conventional wisdom contends.

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