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While Wall Street continues to enjoy a nice summer rally, trouble in the market for so-called subprime loans continues to threaten the bulls picnic as we head into the dog days of the season — which is why the behavior of one big hedge fund manager has had tongues wagging on Wall Street.
What do you do when the hedge funds you manage are in a death spiral and in need of a headline-making multi-billion dollar bailout? Well, you take in the new Kevin Costner thriller, of course, and then blog about the experience to friends and family.
Well, that's what Rich Marin of Bear Stearns Asset Management did several weekends ago as his two extremely leveraged mortgage securities funds were hitting the skids in a meltdown that threatened the entire stock market. So far, the Bear has had to pony up $1.6 billion to help save the less leveraged of the two funds, but the full extent of the losses to investors and lenders has yet to be counted.
Until this month's epic fund flame-out, Marin enjoyed a long and successful career on Wall Street, but that's not what they've been talking about on trading floors all over Manhattan. This week, Marin's blog, Whim of Iron, became a must-read on Wall Street after The New York Times reported on it. The blog, full of alpha-male inspired phrases likening the demise of his funds to the attack on Sparta would have provided comic relief if it weren't otherwise decidedly disturbing.
That's because the blog opened a window on the wild west mentality at Bear Stearns Asset Management — reinforcing the public's perception that too many hedge fund cowboys are at the helm of funds that are too leveraged and too opaque for comfort. With Wall Street having loaned an estimated $500 billion dollars to funds with collateralized mortgage obligations similar to those in the Bear Stearns funds, the public has plenty of reasons for concern.
"Nothing like a good dog fight 24x7 for a few weeks to remind you why you chose the life you chose," was how Marin described the events of the past few weeks. Never mind that the fund folly at Bear Stearns put its lenders at risk and has likely decreased the availability and affordability of mortgages for millions of American homebuyers. Forget about all that, as Marin's blogs clearly show, this was a tale about a "master of the universe" running on a full tank of testosterone.
With Bear Stearns facing the worst crisis in its history as a public company, its stock down 12 percent this year, and now the subject of takeover talk in the wake of its fund debacle — the firm finally got serious last week. On Friday, it brought in new management for its hedge fund group, demoting Mr. Marin in the process. (Access to his blog was also was restricted, presumably on the advice of his employer.) But, the damage clearly has been done.
Surely no one has trouble with Marin taking time out to enjoy a movie or two, and he looks like a good guy. No that's not the issue. It's the arrogant blogging about dramas on the big screen and off that underscores valid concerns that a lot of hedge fund managers are not only long on leverage they're even longer on hubris — a toxic cocktail when markets swing against you.
No doubt, Mr. Marin's days as a blogger are probably over, but it's a fair bet he'll now have more time to go to the movies. In that case, he and his colleagues may look forward to seeing Michael Douglas in a reprise of his role as Gordon Gekko: the sequel to Wall Street is entitled "Money Never Sleeps." Word from the movie's producers has it that this time, Gekko will be running a "hedge fund in the global arena."
Terry Keenan is anchor of Cashin’ In and is a FOX News Channel business correspondent. Tune in to Cashin' In on Saturdays at 11:30am and find out what you need to know to make your money grow and keep what you already have!