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Wall Street's Money Machine Breaks Down
Article from Bulletin/Magazine
Fortune vol. 156 no. 10 (Nov. 2007)
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Two things stand out about the credit crisis cascading through Wall Street: It is both totally shocking and utterly predictable. Shocking, because a pack of the highest-paid executives on the planet, lauded as the best minds in business and backed by cadres of math whizzes and computer geeks, managed to lose tens of billions of dollars on exotic instruments built on the shaky foundation of subprime mortgages. Predictable because whether it's junk bonds or tech stocks or emerging-market debt, Wall Street always rides a wave until it crashes. As the fees roll in, one firm after another abandons itself to the lure of easy money, then hands back, in a sudden, unforeseen spasm, a big chunk of the profits it booked in good times. "The fee engine becomes so huge that these products take on a life of their own," says Tiger Williams, CEO of Williams Trading, a leading financial services firm for hedge funds. "Everyone rationalizes that it's safe because they're making so much money. But it's far from safe."
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