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THE FORGOTTEN BAILOUT OF THE 90s [which did indeed help Sachs]
LONG TERM CAPITAL MANAGEMENT
Hedge fund bailed out by the Federal Reserve Bank in 1998, on the grounds that its bankruptcy could cause worlwide financial panic.
LTCM was founded in 1993 by Nobel Prize winners Robert C. Merton and Myron Scholes, together with Wall Street giant John Meriwether. LTCM involved the biggest investment banks, including Chase Manhattan, Citigroup, J. P. Morgan; Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, UBS, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, and Societe Generale. By early 1998 LTCM had assets of $130 billion and commanded a derivatives portfolio with a notional value of $1.25 trillion.
“The slide toward financial panic would have begun with a flutter of pages off a fax machine in Greenwich, Conn., each a notice of foreclosure. The instant that Long-Term Capital Management missed a payment to a creditor, it would technically have been in default to all of its roughly 75 creditors, thanks to loan provisions that required it to remain current on all its debts. Facing losses, those creditors would have sold assets that the firm had pledged as collateral, sending prices plunging. Dozens of markets, from Denmark to Brazil, would have bucked like terrified stallions. The selling frenzy would have roiled American markets in junk bonds, corporate takeover stocks, mortgage securities and even Treasury bonds. Businesses that depend on those markets for money to expand and add jobs would have suffered. So would consumers whose mortgage rates are influenced by those markets and who have billions in retirement savings in them. Fears of such a financial panic and its economic aftershocks prompted the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to help arrange an 11th-hour rescue of the fund by 14 Wall Street banks and brokerage firms in September... Top executives of banks and brokerage firms estimate privately that the collapse of Long-Term Capital alone could have cost their businesses a total of $8 billion to $15 billion, and one senior executive said he believed that the amounts could have been 10 times higher in a market stampede. “It would have turned a machine gun on the Street,” he said.” (Diana B. Henriques, Back From The Brink, New York Times, Dec 6, 1998).
The near-collapse of Long-Term Capital Management in October 1998 led to a $3.5 billion emergency bail-out organised by the New York Federal Reserve. Fourteen investment banks, including Goldman Sachs Group and Merrill Lynch, saved themselves by providing a $3.5 billion cushion to support LTCM while it was dismantled. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan cut interest rates to revive world markets. (Irish Times, Nov 26, 1999, p. 58).
Under the terms of the LTCM bail-out, the fund managers had to wait until 90% of the money was repaid before starting a new fund. William McDonough, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, was quoted as saying that “I don’t think we quite said they were criminally stupid, but if you have any ability to read between the lines, it was there,” and in regards to LTCM staying in business, McDonough said, “If they continue in business at all it will be by another name, and they may not be in business at all, never mind by another name. I can assure you that is a result that pleases me considerably.” (Houston Chronicle, Oct 2, 1999, p. 2).
“Lawyers from the 14 financial institutions that bailed out Long-Term Capital Management in September have discussed how far they should comply with a request from the US General Accounting Office for detailed information on the events surrounding the rescue of the hedge fund. The GAO has been asked to report on the LTCM issue by Congress, which is considering whether there is a need for new legislation to regulate either hedge funds or the financial intermediaries whose lending activities allowed LTCM to build up massive exposure. It wrote to lawyers for the institutions, which include Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, several weeks ago, asking for detailed information and analysis on issues such as the role of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in co-ordinating the rescue, and the need for further regulatory action.” (Financial Times (London), June 22, 1999, p. 1).
GAO report: “GAO noted that: (1) LTCM was able to establish leveraged trading positions of a size that posed potential systemic risk, primarily because the banks and securities and futures firms that were its creditors and counterparties failed to enforce their own risk management standards; (2) other market participants and federal regulators relied upon these large banks and securities and futures firms to follow sound risk management practices in providing LTCM credit; (3) however, weaknesses in the risk management practices of these creditors and counterparties allowed LTCM’s size and use of leverage to grow unrestrained; (4) the effects of these weaknesses became apparent during the unsettled market conditions that occurred in the summer of 1998; (5) LTCM began to lose large amounts of money in various trading positions worldwide and by mid-September was on the verge of failure; (6) the Federal Reserve facilitated a private sector recapitalization of LTCM because of concerns that a rapid liquidation of LTCM’s trading positions and related positions of other market participants in already highly volatile markets might cause extreme price movements and cause some markets to temporarily cease functioning; (7) although regulators were aware of the potential systemic risk that hedge funds can pose to markets and the perils of declining credit standards, until LTCM’s near-collapse, they said they believed that creditors and counterparties were appropriately constraining hedge funds’ leverage and risk-taking; (8) however, examinations done after LTCM’s near-collapse revealed weaknesses in credit risk management by banks and broker-dealers that allowed LTCM to become too large and leveraged; (9) regulators for each industry have generally continued to focus on individual firms and markets, the risks they face, the soundness of their practices, but they have failed to address interrelationships across each industry; (10) lack of authority over certain affiliates of securities and futures firms limits the ability of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to identify the kind of systemic risk that LTCM posed; and (11) the President’s Working Group report recommended that Congress provide SEC and CFTC expanded authority to obtain and verify information from unregistered affiliates of broker-dealers and future commission merchants.” (U.S. General Accounting Office, Long-Term Capital Management: Regulators Need to Focus Greater Attention on Systemic Risk, Letter Report, Oct 29, 1999, GAO/GGD-00-3).
“By mid-1999, David Mullins, a former vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Greg Hawkins told LTCM staff that they will not be part of the attempt by some of the original partners to start a new company and attempt to take back control of the fund. Other original partners, including Myron Scholes, had already announced their departure from LTCM. It leaves a core group of six original LTCM partners negotiating with the institutions that now control the hedge fund’s assets. The six are led by John Meriwether and are all former employees of Salomon Brothers, the investment bank now called Salomon Smith Barney. They also include Larry Hillibrand, and have been dubbed “Larry and the Leftovers” by LTCM staff.” (New York Times, Jan 29, 1999, p. C3).
But by November 1999, with the fund nearly repaid, Meriwether and five other founding members of LTCM were planning to launch a new hedge fund called JWM with between $ 300 and $500 million in assets. (The Guardian (London), Nov 5, 1999, p. 27).
“It shouldn’t take international financial regulators long to sort out the problems thrown up by the near-collapse of Long-Term Capital Management. The issues are devilishly complex - but those involved all seem to know each other. When a dozen large banks and investment houses got together this week to figure out how to handle hedge funds, who better to lead their deliberations than Steve Thieke of J.P. Morgan, and Gerald Corrigan of Goldman Sachs? Experienced hands, both. It should help that Thieke used to work for Corrigan when he was president of the New York Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, Bill McDonough, Corrigan’s successor in that post, is chairman of the Basle committee of banking supervisors, also grappling with the problem of how to control hedge fund exposures. The only face missing from the reunion is Ernie Patrikis, who left the New York Fed last year to join American International Group, the insurer. Still, with regulators trying to grapple with banking and insurance conglomerates, it can’t be long before he joins the party.” (Financial Times (London), Jan 8, 1999, p. 15).
“Bank regulators meeting in the Basle Committee, under the auspices of the BIS [Bank for International Settlements], as well as securities regulators in the International Organisation of Securities Commissioners (Iosco), have been looking at ways of avoiding a repeat of LTCM’s problems.” (Financial Times (London), April 14, 1999, p. 4).
Sources of information:
Roger Lowenstein, When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long Term Capital Management.