In other words, it was cheap leverage for the whole house of cards that was Wall Street circa 2007. Lehman wasn’t the only one doing this. Morgan Stanley, Bloomberg reports, did, too. Fortunately for its investors, the government stepped in before it could collapse.
What we have here is a yarn that weaves together several threads of the corrupt Wall Street story: Asian savings, securitization sausage factory, unnecessary complexity and resulting information asymmetry (“smart money” taking advantage of “dumb money”), globalization, dispersal of risk, enormous leverage, financial advisers breaching their fiduciary duty to customers—and to the extent they weren’t technically fiduciaries, all the more reason for that to be legally obligated now. I’m sure I’m missing several.
Bloomberg, with its deep pockets, makes this a human interest story, too, by going on the ground in Hong Kong. Not only do we have Ms. Yu, but we also get Sun Kwan, a retiree who lost nearly $300,000 in Lehman minibonds and joined the protests:
Raindrops beaded on the brim of his blue cap. A sign around his neck, hand-lettered in Chinese characters, read: “The Bank of China is a hooker. Give me back my money earned with blood and sweat”…
“It’s all gone,” Sun said in an interview conducted through a Chinese translator at the demonstration. “I almost wanted to kill myself. I’ve been crying for months, even though I am a man.”
He said he hadn’t yet told his 25-year-old son, Sun Chi Yan, what had happened to his nest egg, most of which came from a settlement when the government bought his family’s land.
But pro investors got taken in, too. See the COO of a private-equity firm in London who jumped in front of a train after Lehman’s failure tied up some of his firm’s assets.
And in what reads like a case of globalization run amok, a group of Chinese employees of an Israeli firm building a hotel in Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean took their bosses hostage after the project ran out of money when Lehman went belly up. Seriously.
What was that about anniversary stories?