In case you missed it, The Wall Street Journal’s Kate Kelly last week produced an exceptional page-one story, known in house at the Journal as a “leder,” that reconstructs the tense days during the collapse of two hedge funds sponsored by Bear Stearns & Co. over the summer. The story reports that Bear’s chairman and chief executive, James Cayne, spent much of the time unreachable on a golf course in New Jersey, playing bridge in Memphis and—get this—smoking marijuana, in one case sneaking a woman into a Memphis men’s room to do so.
Attendees say Mr. Cayne has sometimes smoked marijuana at the end of the day during bridge tournaments. He also has used pot in more private settings, according to people who say they witnessed him doing so or participated with him.
After a day of bridge at a Doubletree hotel in Memphis, in 2004, Mr. Cayne invited a fellow player and a woman to smoke pot with him, according to someone who was there, and led the two to a lobby men’s room where he intended to light up. The other player declined, says the person who was there, but the woman followed Mr. Cayne inside and shared a joint, to the amusement of a passerby.
Dude, where’s my hedge fund value?
Cayne’s denial, in an interview with Kelly, is strangely worded.
Mr. Cayne denied emphatically that such an incident occurred. ‘There is no chance that it happened,’ he said. ‘Zero chance.’
Asked more generally whether he smoked pot during bridge tournaments or on other occasions, Mr. Cayne said he would respond only ‘to a specific allegation,’ not to general questions.
I’m not a linguist, but am I the only one to detect something almost adolescent in the wording of this denial? There is “no chance,” I mean, “zero chance,” that I blew a doobie in the can with some lady, okay?
Right now, of course, our main concern must be with James Cayne and his welfare. Marijuana is a gateway drug, after all. It can lead to LSD, X, CDOs, SIVs, and stuff even further off the balance sheet.
So, The Audit would like a private word with Mr. Cayne. Other readers can skip to the paragraph that begins, “As you can tell”:
Jimmy. It’s us. The Audit. The first thing you need to know is, we love you, man. Elinore (1) loves you. Anna (1) loves you. And I, I love you, man.
The second thing is, we’re going to get through this.
But, Jimmy, we will not stand by and let you throw your life away. Look at you. Playing bridge all day. Golf. No cell phone. Hedge funds melting down. You’re only seventy-three. You’ve got to think about the future. Sure, you’re chairman and chief executive of a first-tier investment bank, but the bottom of the first tier.
As you can tell, I don’t care if someone smokes weed. We’re Columbia, after all. We have no values whatsoever.
And this would be funny, of course, if not for the fact that the subprime mess that Cayne helped create, profited from, then partied through, represents a personal financial crisis for millions of the market’s most vulnerable borrowers, many of whom are, as we speak, in the process of losing the only equity they’ve ever had. We are learning that the subprime phenomenon—touted as a means of increasing the number of home owners—may serve to decrease it as a tidal wave of people default on those loans sold through boiler-room operations like Countrywide Financial and repackaged by Wall Street pillars like Bear and Citigroup Inc. (or in Citigroup’s case, it did both) .
As The New York Times put it last April:
Now that prices have started to fall, these products look instead like a transfer of wealth to mortgage lenders from those who can least afford it: subprime borrowers.
(The Times’s Gretchen Morgenson has another great story today on the ugly aftermath of the debacle that paid for Cayne’s weed. Don’t click unless you’re prepared to be infuriated.)
The power of Kelly’s story can be found in the responses it provokes.