The Journal’s big story of the day pieces together what happened to Morgan Stanley a couple of months ago when it briefly looked like it was about to get swamped by the crisis.
It turns out that some of its key competitors were instrumental in furthering the panic around the firm.
Trading records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal now provide a partial answer. It turns out that some of the biggest names on Wall Street — Merrill Lynch & Co., Citigroup Inc., Deutsche Bank and UBS AG — were placing large bets against Morgan Stanley, the records indicate. They did so using complicated financial instruments called credit-default swaps, a form of insurance against losses on loans and bonds.
A close examination by the Journal of that trading also reveals that the swaps played a critical role in magnifying bearish sentiment about Morgan Stanley, in turn prompting traders to bet against the firm’s stock by selling it short. The interplay between swaps trading and short selling accelerated the firm’s downward spiral.
Now, all these firms say they were hedging against a Morgan Stanley collapse, which would have been a reasonable thing to do at the time. So it will be up to the folks with subpoena power to determine if any were illegally manipulating Morgan Stanley’s stock.
But in the meantime, pass the popcorn and watch as the Wall Street folks and the Greenwich guys tear at each other’s throats.
… Mr. Mack had made it clear that he intended to press regulators to rein in short sellers. When word about that got out, hedge-fund managers were up in arms. Some yanked business from Morgan Stanley, moving it to rivals including Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and J.P. Morgan…
Hedge-fund veteran Julian Robertson Jr. and James Chanos, a well-known short seller, both longtime Morgan Stanley clients, were both angry. Mr. Chanos says he “hit the roof” when he heard about Mr. Mack’s memo.
After the stock market closed that day, Mr. Chanos decided that his hedge fund, Kynikos Associates, would pull more than $1 billion of its money from a Morgan Stanley account.
“It’s one thing to complain, but another to put out a memo blaming your clients,” says Mr. Chanos, who adds that the development all but ended a more-than-20-year relationship with Morgan Stanley…
But within days, more than three-quarters of Morgan Stanley’s roughly 1,100 hedge-fund clients had put in requests to pull some or all of their assets from the firm, according to a person familiar with the operation. Even though most kept some money at the firm, Morgan Stanley couldn’t process all the withdrawal requests at once, adding to market fear.
So much for relationship banking.Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.