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Infectious Greed


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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.

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.

" Ambitious . . . a useful book, bringing together details of half-forgotten scandals from the past fifteen years." -- "The New York Times Book Review" " Frank Partnoy knows the landscape from the inside . . . a good, snappy read." -- "The Washington Post"

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