Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Book Review: The End of Wall Street

The End of Wall Street (2010) by Roger Lowenstein

I read this book about the 2008 financial crisis soon after I finished The Big Short by Michael Lewis, which deals with the same topic but from a different perspective. This book addresses the main causes and consequences of the crisis, covering the proliferation of mortgage-backed securities, the increasingly dangerous lending practices of financial institutions, the greed of big banks, and the ignorance of regulators. Two particularly bad practices involved (a) lending to people who provided no documentation of either income or assets, and (b) having loans start with low, short-term "teaser" rates that subsequently were adjusted to much higher rates that borrowers could not pay. These predatory subprime lending practices led to an astounding number of defaults and foreclosures when the housing bubble finally burst. In addition, they resulted in massive losses for financial institutions that invested heavily in mortgage-backed securities and other products that were nearly worthless despite having "AAA" ratings (which is one reason why I do not rely much on the opinions of rating agencies).

In contrast with Lewis, whose book focused on the personalities and actions of a few astute hedge fund managers who profited from the crisis, Lowenstein offers insight into the minds of the big names who were directly involved in mortgage-related lending, banking, or investing. For that reason, I thought this book provided a more well-rounded view of the situation and how it unfolded. Finally, consistent with Lowenstein's previous books (Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist and When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management), the quality of the writing was excellent and made for an enjoyable reading experience.

Note: I read this book in July 2012.

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