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The Big Short by Michael Lewis

The Big Short (original 2010; edition 2011)

by Michael Lewis

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2,5031052,423 (4.18)92
Title:The Big Short
Authors:Michael Lewis
Info:Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc. (2011), Hardcover
Collections:Your library
Tags:kindle, Wall Street, finance

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The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis (2010)


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Showing 1-5 of 105 (next | show all)
The Big Short by Michael Lewis is a must read for anyone interested in how the financial system works (or doesn't work).
The characters and their stories are very interesting providing the needed personality to keep the reader engaged
It is funny and reads like a novel, very fast, easy and informative.
Reading this book you will understand the 2007-2010 financial crisis in the world.
If you are interested in economics and finance or are one of those still trying to figure out the Great Recession, this is a must read. ( )
  Haidji | Jul 7, 2015 |
I am fascinated so much by something I understand so little. This is THE story of our time, whose fallout still affects all of us. Lewis takes a LOT of information and distills it into the personalities of those on the short end of the sub-prime mortgage machine collapse. It's thrilling, though much of it is still beyond my grasp, and I want more. I'm not quite sure I yet understand why my favorite writer, Malcolm Gladwell, reveres Lewis to the degree that he does, but I'm eager to read more of his work so I can form a more cogent opinion.
1 vote MartinBodek | Jun 11, 2015 |

This book is primarily about greed. I would sum up the moral of this book with Proverbs 22:16:
He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself
Or who gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.

Lewis (The Blind Side, Liar's Poker) is one of the best nonfiction writers of our time, a fantastic storyteller. If you've not read his long-form article in Vanity Fair on the Greek debt crisis from last year, it's very much worth your time and you'll see why any efforts to keep Greece on the euro will ultimately fail.

This tells the story of some of the very few people who called the housing bubble correctly, put their money where their mouth was, and made hundreds of millions of dollars.

Michael Burry (this video posted by Bloomberg today tells his story), a former neurosurgeon turned California hedge fund manager who discovers he has Asperger syndrome during the course of his story. His Aspergers explain why he was so successful at consistently being ahead of the market, but also why he burnt out emotionally.

Steve Eisman, a cynical bond trader who also probably has some mental disorder, who often confronted CEOs and other people he saw as villains. He saw shorting the housing market as part of a greater crusade.

A trio of normal guys who start fund called Cornwall Capital, basically betting on "Black Swan" events, even when they didn't know what they were doing.

These guys didn't get famous like John Paulson, but Paulson might not have existed without Burry originating the idea. But these guys pioneered the market for credit default swaps on housing-related CDOs. For Burry and Cornwall, they got to experience the rough treatment that outsiders get from firms like Goldman Sachs-- who basically cheat their customers when they can. (What are you going to do, sue Goldman Sachs?)

The underlying greed of those making money off of housing is the central theme in this book.
"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."

The loan is an adjustable rate loan made by someone-- a bank or a mortgage broker-- who knows the migrant won't be able to repay, but the lender doesn't care. Because he has already sold the loan to an investment bank and gotten paid a nice commission for it. Reproduce this transaction thousands of times over in the U.S. Lenders even start making interest-only loans where the borrower never pays down any principle. A stripper in Vegas somehow gets five home equity loans...The investment bank takes the loans and packages them into asset-backed securities (ABS), a pool of mortgages of varying quality which it convinces Moody's or S&P to rate AAA.

Moody's and S&P get paid fees for doing this, so they have an incentive to rate as many assets as they can, even if they think the underlying loans are junk-- that's not their problem. Next, another investment bank might buy several of the ABS and strip out some of the worst tranches, repackage them into a CDO. Even though the underlying mortgages are of low quality, the ratings agencies again rate the CDO as AAA. Maybe because their models say that the low-quality loans are from various regions of the country, and U.S. home values have never all fallen at once (no one was alive in the 1930s, right?). Or their models were flawed in other ways -- rating a floating-rate mortgage higher than a fixed rate, assuming someone could make payments just as easily at 12% as 8%, etc. Maybe because the fees they're raking in help their bottom lines and boosts their stock price--they are publicly traded companies. Maybe because they're incompetent (the smartest guys on Wall Street don't work at the ratings agencies).

When there are no more loans to be made, CDOs are re-created synthetically, multiplying the amount of people who are basically betting on these assets. But very few people recognized that these assets would go bust when rates adjusted upwards in a couple years. Their trading desks kept billions of dollars worth on their books. Their risk management models only speculated that maybe 5% of the underlying loans would default. Everyone is basically passing the buck-- we collect our fees and commissions now, worry about the rest later.

Guys like Burry and Eisman bought millions of dollars worth of credit default swaps on these CDOs, insurance that would pay out if the assets became worth less. When they finally did, the biggest financial companies in the world paid up and went bust.

At one point in 2006 Eisman is invited to a subprime conference in Vegas organized solely to promote mortgage-backed securities and convince investors to stay in the market. He is basically awestruck by how how dumb everyone is and how "the world has turned upside down." The guys creating the CDOs, the trading desks buying them up, everyone seems to be drinking the kool aid that these are safe bets.

"Something must have come over Eisman, for he stopped looking for a fight and started looking for higher understanding. He walked around the Las Vegas casino incredulous at the spectacle before him: seven thousand people, all of whom seemed delighted with the world as they found it. A society with deep, troubling economic problems had rigged itself to disguise those problems, and the chief beneficiaries of the deceit were its financial middlemen. How could this be?"

There is a lot of profanity in this book, Lewis wants the world to see that Wall Street, where he used to work, is not holy. The "villains" of the story, the mortgage brokers, the CDO sellers, the traders and CEOs who lost their companies billions betting on CDOs, mostly walk away with their bank accounts intact, and keeping the millions in bonuses they earned along the way. The taxpayers took the ultimate fall along with, of course, those who lost their homes.

Despite the profanity, I have made it a required text in Money & Banking. The students will see that they will be confronted with incentives that may conflict with Christian ethics. Would you really care what the adverse consequences for others might be so long as you're making millions of dollars? Would you pass the buck? They will also see that it's not true or that simple to say "everyone knew the housing bubble would burst," or "it was all the government's fault."

I give this book 4 stars out of 5. What I really gleaned from the book is the importance of the ratings agencies in all of this. There are so many accounting rules and laws in our financial system that revolve around capital cushions and the value of assets, and if something is rated AAA and is really BBB-, that causes a lot of problems. It doesn't appear to me that those problems are very easily solvable. ( )
1 vote justindtapp | Jun 3, 2015 |
Makes the case that rating agencies not doing their job and bankers and money managers not facing downside risk are potent combination, which largely caused the financial crisis of 2007-2010. A case in point is the collateralized debt obligations created by in a way combining debt repayments, which were divided up into tranches according to default risk. So far, so good, however, of these "towers of debt," even when consisting of only "ground floors," as much as (the top) 80 % could be rated as AAA. And this could be done again and again... One is left wondering why so many investors seemed to pay so little attention, but the book is in any case a good and entertaining exposition of one account of the crisis. Like most of Lewis' books, recommended. ( )
1 vote ohernaes | Mar 25, 2015 |
Have you ever wondered what the fuck actually happened back in 2008 that caused a global meltdown of debt? This book details the decline, with compelling characters telling the story of how they made millions from the total destruction of discount home lending. These few characters saw the decline coming years in advance, and shorted the lending futures accordingly, making shit tons of dough, while the entire economy collapsed.

This book reads like a novel, not some boring non-fiction. Michael Lewis tells the story as a narrative with an actual plot and fitting climax. It's an engrossing read which kept my eyes glued to the pages until the end. ( )
1 vote gecizzle | Mar 5, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 105 (next | show all)
Thinking about the subprime crisis with the benefit of da Vinci’s distance, it struck me anew how Darwinian and predatory the whole system is. One constantly has to ask, Cui Bono: “Who benefits?” And Ubi Est Mea: “Where’s mine?” One of Eisman’s traders was constantly obsessed with how the party on the other side might screw him (though “screw” was not the word used). That is probably a good attitude to have on Wall Street.
By focusing so precisely on the particular, Lewis makes the objects of his scrutiny stand for the whole of the financial world: its obscurantism, under-regulation and wildly short-termist institutional profiteering; the bank bosses’ reluctance to scrutinise the mechanics and risks of their most profitable divisions; and the general refusal to understand the connection between the profits made and the dangerous actuality they were based on: in this case, the deliberately over-complicated financial “instruments” and the poor Americans who were about to default on their mortgages.
In his new book, Lewis is neither obnoxious nor charming. The skies have fallen. The market Wall Street created in the housing debt of the very poorest Americans, so-called "sub-prime" mortgage bonds and various derivative securities, which fell to bits in 2007 and all but engulfed the world in 2008, is the greatest financial fraud since the 18th century. Men and women who once made us laugh now make us shudder. In other words, The Big Short is not half the fun of Liar's Poker, but it is more important.
added by mikeg2 | editThe guardian, James Buchan (Mar 27, 2010)
Lewis is a gifted chronicler and debunker and demystifier of the world of finance.
added by r.orrison | editBoing Boing, Cory Doctorow (Mar 18, 2010)
No one writes with more narrative panache about money and finance than Mr. Lewis, the author of “Liar’s Poker,” that now classic portrait of 1980s Wall Street. His entertaining new book does not attempt a macro view of the financial crisis, but instead proposes to open a small window on the calamities by recounting the stories of some savvy renegades who cashed in on their conviction that the system was rotten.
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The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea about them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.  -  Leo Tolstoy
For Michael Kinsley, To Whom I Still Owe an Article
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393072231, Hardcover)

The #1 New York Times bestseller: a brilliant account—character-rich and darkly humorous—of how the U.S. economy was driven over the cliff.

When the crash of the U. S. stock market became public knowledge in the fall of 2008, it was already old news. The real crash, the silent crash, had taken place over the previous year, in bizarre feeder markets where the sun doesn’t shine, and the SEC doesn’t dare, or bother, to tread: the bond and real estate derivative markets where geeks invent impenetrable securities to profit from the misery of lower- and middle-class Americans who can’t pay their debts. The smart people who understood what was or might be happening were paralyzed by hope and fear; in any case, they weren’t talking.

The crucial question is this: Who understood the risk inherent in the assumption of ever-rising real estate prices, a risk compounded daily by the creation of those arcane, artificial securities loosely based on piles of doubtful mortgages? Michael Lewis turns the inquiry on its head to create a fresh, character-driven narrative brimming with indignation and dark humor, a fitting sequel to his #1 best-selling Liar’s Poker. Who got it right? he asks. Who saw the real estate market for the black hole it would become, and eventually made billions of dollars from that perception? And what qualities of character made those few persist when their peers and colleagues dismissed them as Chicken Littles? Out of this handful of unlikely—really unlikely—heroes, Lewis fashions a story as compelling and unusual as any of his earlier bestsellers, proving yet again that he is the finest and funniest chronicler of our times.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:31 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

The author examines the causes of the U.S. stock market crash of 2008 and its relation to overpriced real estate, bad mortgages, shareholder demand for excessive profits, and the growth of toxic derivatives.

(summary from another edition)

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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393072231, 0393338827

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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