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

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...

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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.

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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."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781455551903
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 9/3/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 476
  • Sales rank: 318,810
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.60 (d)

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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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.

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