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On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System -- With Original New Material on the Five Year Anniversary of the Financial Crisis
     

On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System -- With Original New Material on the Five Year Anniversary of the Financial Crisis

3.1 108
by Henry M. Paulson
 

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Former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson -- who was at the very epicenter of the crashing financial markets -- provides a startling, first- person account of what really happened during this time of global financial crisis - and this revised edition features fresh and original material from Paulson on the five-year-anniversary of the 2008 financial crisis.

Overview

Former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson -- who was at the very epicenter of the crashing financial markets -- provides a startling, first- person account of what really happened during this time of global financial crisis - and this revised edition features fresh and original material from Paulson on the five-year-anniversary of the 2008 financial crisis.

From the man who was in the very middle of this perfect economic storm, Paulson puts the reader in the room for all the intense moments as he addressed urgent market conditions, weighed critical decisions, and debated policy and economic considerations with of all the notable players-including the CEOs of top Wall Street firms as well as Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner, Sheila Bair, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain, and then-President George W. Bush.

More than an account about numbers and credit risks gone bad, ON THE BRINK is an extraordinary story about people and politics-all brought together during the world's impending financial Armageddon.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
From the Foreword, by Rep. Barney Frank, especially written for the trade paper edition:

"For many people, what will be most striking about this foreword is the fact that I wrote it. It's not every day a partisan, liberal Democrat gets a call from a conservative, high-ranking member of the George W.
Bush administration asking for a favorable introduction to anything. But when former secretary of the Treasury Henry M. Paulson, Jr., called, I
was quick to agree to express in print my enthusiasm for his excellent recounting of some of the most important and controversial events in our recent national history."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781455582471
Publisher:
Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
09/03/2013
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
333,854
File size:
17 MB
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This product may take a few minutes to download.

Read an Excerpt

On the Brink

Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System -- With Original New Material on the Five Year Anniversary of the Financial Crisis


By Henry M. Paulson

Grand Central Publishing

Copyright © 2013 Henry M. Paulson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4555-5190-3



CHAPTER 1

Thursday, September 4, 2008


Do they know it's coming, Hank?" President Bush asked me.

"Mr. President," I said, "we're going to move quickly and take them by surprise. The first sound they'll hear is their heads hitting the floor."

It was Thursday morning, September 4, 2008, and we were in the Oval Office of the White House discussing the fate of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the troubled housing finance giants. For the good of the country, I had proposed that we seize control of the companies, fire their bosses, and prepare to provide up to $100 billion of capital support for each. If we did not act immediately, Fannie and Freddie would, I feared, take down the financial system, and the global economy, with them.

I'm a straightforward person. I like to be direct with people. But I knew that we had to ambush Fannie and Freddie. We could give them no room to maneuver. We couldn't very well go to Daniel Mudd at Fannie Mae or Richard Syron at Freddie Mac and say: "Here's our idea for how to save you. Why don't we just take you over and throw you out of your jobs, and do it in a way that protects the taxpayer to the disadvantage of your shareholders?" The news would leak, and they'd fight. They'd go to their many powerful friends on Capitol Hill or to the courts, and the resulting delays would cause panic in the markets. We'd trigger the very disaster we were trying to avoid.

I had come alone to the White House from an 8:00 a.m. meeting at Treasury with Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, who shared my concerns, and Jim Lockhart, head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), the main regulator for Fannie and Freddie. Many of our staffers had been up all night—we had all been putting in 18-hour days during the summer and through the preceding Labor Day holiday weekend—to hammer out the language and documents that would allow us to make the move. We weren't quite there yet, but it was time to get the president's official approval. We wanted to place Fannie and Freddie into conservatorship over the weekend and make sure that everything was wrapped up before the Asian markets opened Sunday night.

The mood was somber as I laid out our plans to the president and his top advisers, who included White House chief of staff Josh Bolten; deputy chief of staff Joel Kaplan; Ed Lazear, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers; Keith Hennessey, director of the National Economic Council (NEC); and Jim Nussle, director of the Office of Management and Budget. The night before, Alaska governor Sarah Palin had electrified the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her speech accepting the nomination as the party's vice presidential candidate, but there was no mention of that in the Oval Office. St. Paul might as well have been on another planet.

The president and his advisers were well informed of the seriousness of the situation. Less than two weeks before, I had gotten on a secure videoconference line in the West Wing to brief the president at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and explained my thinking. Like him, I am a firm believer in free markets, and I certainly hadn't come to Washington planning to do anything to inject the government into the private sector. But Fannie and Freddie were congressionally chartered companies that already relied heavily on implicit government support, and in August, along with Bernanke, I'd come to the conclusion that taking them over was the best way to avert a meltdown, keep mortgage financing available, stabilize markets, and protect the taxpayer. The president had agreed.

It is hard to exaggerate how central Fannie and Freddie were to U.S. markets. Between them they owned or guaranteed more than $5 trillion in residential mortgages and mortgage-backed securities—about half of all those in the country. To finance operations, they were among the biggest issuers of debt in the world: a total of about $1.7 trillion for the pair. They were in the markets constantly, borrowing more than $20 billion a week at times.

But investors were losing faith in them—for good reason. Combined, they already had $5.5 billion in net losses for the year to date. Their common share prices had plunged—to $7.32 for Fannie the day before from $66 one year earlier. The previous month, Standard & Poor's, the rating agency, had twice downgraded the preferred stock of both companies. Investors were shying away from their auctions, raising the cost of their borrowings and making existing debt holders increasingly nervous. By the end of August, neither could raise equity capital from private investors or in the public markets.

Moreover, the financial system was increasingly shaky. Commercial and investment bank stocks were under pressure, and we were nervously monitoring the health of several ailing institutions, including Wachovia Corporation, Washington Mutual, and Lehman Brothers. We had seen what happened in March when Bear Stearns's counterparties—the other banks and investment houses that lent it money or bought its securities—abruptly turned away. We had survived that, but the collapse of Fannie and Freddie would be catastrophic. Seemingly everyone in the world—little banks, big banks, foreign central banks, money market funds—owned their paper or was a counterparty. Investors would lose tens of billions; foreigners would lose confidence in the U.S. It might cause a run on the dollar.

The president, in suit coat and tie as always, was all business, engaged and focused on our tactics. He leaned forward in his blue-and-yellow-striped armchair. I sat in the armchair to his right; the others were crowded on facing sofas.

I told the president we planned to summon the top management of Fannie and Freddie to meet with Bernanke, Lockhart, and me the following afternoon. We'd lay out our decision and then present it to their boards on Saturday: we would put $100 billion of capital behind each, with hundreds of billions of dollars more available beyond that, and assure both companies of ample credit lines from the government. Obviously we preferred that they voluntarily acquiesce. But if they did not, we would seize them.

I explained that we had teams of lawyers, bank examiners, computer specialists, and others on standby, ready to roll into the companies' offices and secure their premises, trading floors, books and records, and so forth. We had already picked replacement chief executives. David Moffett, a former chief financial officer from U.S. Bancorp, one of the few nearly pristine big banks in the country, was on board for Freddie Mac. For Fannie Mae we'd selected former TIAA- CREF chief executive and chairman Herb Allison. (He was vacationing in the Caribbean, and when I reached him later and twisted his arm to come to Washington the next day, he'd initially protested: "Hank, I'm in my flip-flops. I don't even have a suit down here." But he'd agreed to come.)

White House staff had been shocked when we first suggested conservatorship for Fannie and Freddie, which had the reputation of being the toughest street fighters in Washington. But they liked the boldness of the idea, as did the president. He had a deep disdain for entities like Fannie and Freddie, which he saw as part of a permanent Washington elite, detached from the heartland, with former government officials and lobbyists cycling through their ranks endlessly while the companies minted money, thanks, in effect, to a federal entitlement.

The president wanted to know what I thought the longer-term model for Fannie and Freddie ought to be. I was keen to avoid any existential debate on the two companies that might bog down in partisan politics on the Hill, where Fannie and Freddie had ardent friends and enemies.

"Mr. President," I replied, "I don't think we want to get into that publicly right now. No one can argue that their models aren't seriously flawed and pose a systemic risk, but the last thing we want to start right now is a holy war."

"What do you suggest?"

"I'll describe this as a time-out and defer structure until later. I'll just tell everybody that we're going to do this to stabilize them and the capital markets and to put the U.S.A. behind their credit to make sure there's mortgage finance available in this country."

"I agree," the president said. "I wouldn't propose a new model now, either. But we'll need to do it at the right time, and we have to make clear that what we are doing now is transitory, because otherwise it looks like nationalization."

I said that I had come to believe that what made most sense longer-term was some sort of dramatically scaled-down structure where the extent of government support was clear and the companies functioned like utilities. The current model, where profits went to shareholders but losses had to be absorbed by the taxpayer, did not make sense.

The president rose to signal the meeting was over. "It will sure be interesting to see if they run to Congress," he said.

I left the White House and walked back to Treasury, where we had to script what we would say to the two mortgage agencies the following day. We wanted to be sure we had the strongest case possible in the event they chose to fight. But even now, at the 11th hour, we still had concerns that FHFA had not effectively documented the severity of Fannie's and Freddie's capital shortfall and the case for immediate conservatorship.

The cooperation among the federal agencies had generally been superb, but although Treasury, the Fed, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) agreed, FHFA had been balky all along. That was a big problem because only FHFA had the statutory power to put Fannie and Freddie into conservatorship. We had to convince its people that this was the right thing to do, while making sure to let them feel they were still in charge.

I had spent much of August working with Lockhart, a friend of the president's since their prep school days. Jim understood the gravity of the situation, but his people, who had said recently that Fannie and Freddie were adequately capitalized, feared for their reputations. The president himself wouldn't intervene because it was inappropriate for him to talk with a regulator, though he was sure Lockhart would come through in the end. In any event, I invoked the president's name repeatedly.

"Jim," I'd say, "you don't want to trigger a meltdown and ruin your friend's presidency, do you?"

The day before I'd gone to the White House, I spoke with Lockhart by phone at least four times: at 9:45 a.m., 3:45 p.m., 4:30 p.m., and then again later that night. "Jim, it has to be this weekend. We've got to know," I insisted.

Part of FHFA's reluctance had to do with history. It had only come into existence in July, as part of hard-won reform legislation. FHFA and its predecessor, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, which Lockhart had also led, were weak regulators, underresourced and outmatched by the companies they were meant to oversee, and constrained by a narrow view of their charters and authorities. FHFA's people were conditioned by their history to judge Fannie and Freddie by their statutory capital requirements, not, as we did, by the much greater amounts of capital that were necessary to satisfy the market. They relied on the companies' own analyses because they lacked the resources and ability to make independent evaluations as the Fed and OCC could. FHFA preferred to take the agencies to task for regulatory infractions and seek consent orders to force change. That approach wasn't nearly enough and would have taken time, which we did not have.

Complicating matters, FHFA had recently given the two companies clean bills of health based on their compliance with those weak statutory capital requirements. Lockhart was concerned—and Bob Hoyt, Treasury's general counsel, agreed—that it would be suicide if we attempted to take control of Fannie and Freddie and they went to court only to have it emerge that the FHFA had said, in effect, that there were no problems.

We had been working hard to convince FHFA to take a much more realistic view of the capital problems and had sent in teams of Fed and OCC examiners to help them understand and itemize the problems down to the last dollar. The Fed and the OCC saw a huge capital hole in Fannie and Freddie; we needed to get FHFA examiners to see the hole.

Lockhart had been skillfully working to get his examiners to come up with language they could live with. But on Thursday they still had not done enough to document the capital problems. We sent in more help. Sheila Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which had ample experience in closing banks, agreed to send me her best person to help write a case.

Finally, Lockhart managed to get his examiners to sign off on what we needed. Either Jim had worn those examiners down or they had come to realize that immediate conservatorship was the best way for them to resolve this dangerous situation with their reputations intact.

Thursday evening, Jim put in calls to the CEOs of Fannie and Freddie, summoning them to a meeting Friday afternoon that Ben and I would attend at FHFA's headquarters on G Street. (Jim didn't speak directly to Mudd until Friday morning.) We arranged for the first meeting to start just before 4:00 p.m. so that the market would be closed by the time it ended. We decided to lead with Fannie Mae, figuring they were more likely to be contentious.

The companies obviously knew something was up, and it didn't take long for me to start getting blowback. Dan Mudd called me on Friday morning and got straight to the point.

"Hank," he asked, "what's going on? We've done all you asked. We've been cooperative. What's this about?"

"Dan," I said, "if I could tell you, I wouldn't be calling the meeting."

We'd been operating in secrecy and had managed to avoid any leaks for several weeks, which may be a record for Washington. To keep everyone in the dark, we resorted to a little cloak-and-dagger that afternoon. I drove to FHFA with Kevin Fromer, my assistant secretary for legislative affairs, and Jim Wilkinson, my chief of staff, and instead of hopping out at the curb, we went straight into the building's parking garage to avoid being seen. Unfortunately, Ben Bernanke walked in the front door and was spotted by a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, who posted word on the paper's website.

We met the rest of our teams on the fourth floor. FHFA's offices were a contrast to those at the Fed and Treasury, which are grand and spacious, with lots of marble, high ceilings, and walls lined with elegant paintings. FHFA's offices were drab and cramped, the floors clad in thin office carpet.

As planned, we arrived a few minutes early, and as soon as I saw Lockhart I pulled him aside to buck him up. He was ready but shaky. This was a big step for him.

Our first meeting was with Fannie in a conference room adjacent to Jim's office. We'd asked both CEOs to bring their lead directors. Fannie chairman Stephen Ashley and general counsel Beth Wilkinson accompanied Mudd. He also brought the company's outside counsel, H. Rodgin Cohen, chairman of Sullivan & Cromwell and a noted bank lawyer, who'd flown down hastily from New York.

Between our group from Treasury, the Fed's team, Lockhart's people, and Fannie's executives, there must have been about a dozen people in the glass-walled conference room, spread around the main table and arrayed along the walls.

Lockhart went first. He took Fannie Mae through a long, detailed presentation, citing one regulatory infraction after another. Most didn't amount to much, frankly; they were more like parking tickets in the scheme of things. He was a little nervous and hesitant, but he brought his speech around to the key point: his examiners had concluded there was a capital deficiency, the company was operating in an unsafe and unsound manner, and FHFA had decided to put it into conservatorship. He said that we all hoped they would agree to do this voluntarily; if not, we would seize control. We had already selected a new CEO and had teams ready to move in.

As he spoke I watched the Fannie Mae delegation. They were furious. Mudd was alternately scowling or sneering. Once he put his head between his hands and shook it. In truth, I felt a good bit of sympathy for him. He had been dealt a tough hand. Fannie could be arrogant, even pompous, but Mudd had become CEO after a messy accounting scandal and had been reasonably cooperative as he tried to clean things up.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from On the Brink by Henry M. Paulson. Copyright © 2013 Henry M. Paulson. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

As the CEO of Goldman Sachs from 1999-2006 and then as the Treasury Secretary of the United States from 2006-2009 Hank Paulson has sat across the bargaining table from countless Chinese politicians as both a banker and a statesman. Since leaving Washington, the former Treasury Secretary has worked on bridging the gap between East and West through The Paulson Institute, which he describes not as a think tank but as a "think and do" tank.

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On the Brink 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 107 reviews.
timetravel More than 1 year ago
I was surprised by the intricate detail of his recall of the events surrounding the financial crisis throughout this 478 page book. It was in his acknowledgements that he explained that he relied not only on his own recall, but more than 20 people with whom he consulted. One of the most striking cuts from the book: "I had come to Washington to make a difference, and we had, I thought, just saved the country - and the world - from financial catastrophe. The next day, Lehman Brothers began to collapse." In fact, this was just the beginning of the financial crisis to come. The ins and outs of our financial system as well as our political system can be quite confusing. In On The Brink the former Treasury Secretary speaks in plain language and has a list of acronyms used in the text so that the reader understands clearly what the Secretary is writing about. It was quite disturbing at times to read about the power plays, the decisions to act without delay, and the information that was withheld from the American people. It was also disconcerting to read how the taxpayer's money was being thrown around as if it was an unending spigot. Secretary Paulson speaks very highly of President Bush and many in Congress on both sides of the aisle. There is an amusing story of when Mr. Paulson's cell phone went off at an inopportune time during a meeting with President Bush, a visiting head of state, and Condoleezza Rice. Not only could he not locate his phone, but it was his son calling to talk about sports. This is an interesting book of Mr. Paulson's view of what happened during this terrible crisis.
RolfDobelli More than 1 year ago
If books about the 2008 financial collapse are starting to run together in your mind, rest assured that former Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr.'s memoir is unique. In the first account by a high-ranking government official, Paulson lets out some juicy details. He describes the dry heaves and insomnia he suffered throughout the crisis, his pithy banter with President George W. Bush and his irritation with the ever-perky Sarah Palin. Even so, readers get the sense from his carefully scrubbed copy that Paulson is holding back. Alas, you may have expected as much - loose lips don't help one become Treasury secretary or CEO of Goldman Sachs (his former job). Still, this memoir is enlightening for his personal perspective. getAbstract recommends it to taxpayers and policy makers seeking insight into the interactions of Washington and Wall Street. To learn more about this book, check out the following link: http://www.getabstract.com/summary/13515/on-the-brink.html
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Paulson's use of the first person account in writing the book makes it compelling to read like you are actually there walking with him or seating on those conference calls that lead to the decisions to take over Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae or on the collapse of Lehman Brothers. His account of being on a first name basis with China's head of Central Bank ( of the Communist People's Republic)- "YOUR" "US/American" biggest creditor which now holds the US in its hands, and this make you really wonder that being friends with people really does help in the long run and his enumeration of a lot of people that he talked to or consulted. Paulson did mention that he studied literature that's why he did get to put this together, as he said he doesn't make notes. His account of meeting Bush the first time, or that his wife was a Hillary Clinton supporter, and that his mother hated Bush, make such account personal and interesting. I did study economics in college, but like everybody else, you do that to fill those gaps of so called "college years" but it does make you realize and understand how did this happen the rest of us ordinary mortals would have no interest in understanding except when your house is already up for foreclosure or your 401K has been diminished or wiped out, or ask why does the US (supposed to be the richest country in the world) have to borrow from China.
Mattoc24 More than 1 year ago
This book was a well written account of the behind the scene decisions that helped save this country from another great depression. Whether you believe in all of the decisions made by Paulson, Bernanke, and Geitner it is hard to not appreciate the effort and reason that led to the decisions that were made. This book can be hard to understand for those not familiar with the nuts and bolts of financial products. For that reason, it is easy for a person to judge the decisions made based on what the media or politicians have told us. Hank Paulson is a truly great american who stepped up to the plate not for financial gain or power but because he knew that with his experience and financial expertise, the country needed him. None of like the debt that the country and government is currently in but the result was not based on the decisions Bernanke and Paulson made but those that were made by the beurocrats in Washington.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It seems there were nothing new here that the newspapers haven't covered during those periods described. However, still Mr. Paulson was able to explain the problems that very likely caused the economic hole we're in now; and the only implied reason why the Bush White House did the bail out was to avoid Hoover Part 2. Mr. Paulson though, despite what we know now, failed to persuade why these risky financial products are still very important to the market than to the bankers; even the mark-to-market accounting issue was not explained thoroughly although he favors it. Overall, it shows why we are in the economic mess we're in, too much specialists and bankers/financial engineers making money from risks without accountability. At the end, the culprits got away free with plenty of money in their pockets - very likely paid from the TARP money.
Artemis- More than 1 year ago
For more of the actual truth of the "financial crisis", better to read the AIG court documents filed in Washington DC court. Can be found on nakedcapitalismDOTcom , and likely closer to the truth. Paulson gave money to AIG to funnel it to Goldman Sachs, one of the biggest recipients of the AIG bailout. That was in addition to the other tax payer dollars that were given to then...Wall St got bailed out in a variety of ways, and it was all done by their friends Paulson, Geithner and Bernanke. The fact these idiots came out with books to further hide/confuse/distract/disguise what they did, is insulting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good book. Most people who one stared this only did so because they think (know) how many conspiracies are in the financial world. None of which are this mans fault. The point of this book is to simply explain his point of view, as he saw it in his eyes. So to "babyman", I say to you, think before you post. Your comment has nothing to do with this book and is very misleading. "babyman" makes it seem as though this book was created to take heat off of Mr. Paulson or the government, but that is simply not the case. If you're interested in reading about derivatives, swaps, spreads and ratios and how greed and bad business practice brought it all down, read this book. If you want to know about Fannie and Freddie, read this book. If you want to know how bad business practices and loose laws brought the economy down, read this book.   
Joeawesome More than 1 year ago
Fantastic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book.
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Tunguz More than 1 year ago
The book wastes no time on lengthy introductions or narrative preambles. The very first sentence is a direct question from President Bush to Paulson. ("Do they know it's coming Hank?" - "they" being Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and "it" being the seizure of the control of those companies by the government.) The overall narrative style of the book is very direct and conversational, which makes for an easy and straightforward read. This tone of voice is at odds with the more deliberate and cerebral image that we've got of Paulson from his public appearances. In my opinion, this is one of the virtues of the book - I don't think I would be able to sit through this many pages of Paulson's monotone, and all the technical jargon would have been unbearable. Instead, we get a very personal and personable account of one of the most difficult moments in the history of US financial system. Paulson is also very generous with bringing up details of his own life, which make him even more relatable. My personal favorite was his admission that he needs eight hours of sleep at night. It may be a small thing, but I believe that good night's rest is severely underappreciated and undervalued, especially in high-power circles like the financial sector. In the chapter on Paulson's personal life before joining the Bush administration we learn about the main highlights of his biography. The chapter is not long, even though Paulson has enjoyed a very versatile and interesting career. He had worked in Nixon administration, but since then has largely stayed out of politics. His family is very liberal, which makes for some interesting conversations at the dinner table and family reunions I'd imagine. The chapter on the economic and financial turbulence that preceded the great banking crash of 2008 is very fascinating and educational. Even though it deals with many subtle and technical topics, it is written extremely well and even people who have never been exposed to the inner workings of the financial system should be able to follow it without much difficulty. Even so, it is impossible to keep track of all the moving parts that constitute such a complex system, so if you feel that you still don't understand everything that went wrong, you are not alone. It is doubtful that even those who were in charge of situation at the time fully appreciated the problems that were brewing. The chapter on Bear Stearns crisis in March of 2008 is a fascinating study in behind-the-scenes happenings of one dire crisis. Most of the most important events happened over one tumultuous weekend, and this chapter details all of the relevant negotiations that were going on at the time. We are led to believe that the bailout of Bear Stearns was inevitable, and the least evil of all options that were on the table at the time. Paulson keeps stressing that a failure of the government to act at that moment would have had major serious ramifications for the entire financial sector (a theme that he comes back to throughout the book), but he doesn't go into the details of why in fact this would have been the case. By late March, however, it became increasingly obvious that another major financial institution was working under an increased strain. Lehman Brothers was having major difficulties, and unless something got done about it the company was headed for a collapse. However, it is still not entirely clear why this should be the government's problem.
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