Quote of the Day: Blaming Short Sellers

There is a fascinating article about John Paulson in this month’s Portfolio.

What is so intriguiging is not the billions Paulson made on the collapse, but this exchange between short fund manager Jim Chanos and Bear Stearns CEO Jimmy Cayne.

Chanos, for one, is tired of the blame-the-shorts litany, and he recalls a conversation with Bear Stearns’ Schwartz to make his point.

The day before the Fed’s rescue of Bear Stearns, Chanos says he was walking to the Post House restaurant in New York City, when, at 6:15 p.m., his cell phone rang. He saw the Bear Stearns exchange come up on his caller I.D. and took the call.

“Jim, hi, it’s Alan Schwartz.”

“Hi, Alan.”

“Well, Jim, we really appreciate your business and your staying with us. I’d like you to think about going on CNBC tomorrow morning, on Squawk Box, and telling everybody you still are a client, you have money on deposit, and everything’s fine.”

“Alan, how do I know everything’s fine? Is everything fine?”

“Jim, we’re going to report record earnings on Monday morning.”

“Alan, you just made me an insider. I didn’t ask for that information, and I don’t think that’s going to be relevant anyway. Based on what I understand, people are reducing their margin balances with you, and that’s resulting in a funding squeeze.”

“Well, yes, to some extent, but we should be fine.”

“This is now 6:15 on Thursday night, the night before the collapse,” Chanos says. “It was after a meeting with Molinaro”—Bear Stearns C.F.O. Sam Molinaro—“who basically told him at that meeting, ‘We’re done. We’re gone. We need money overnight we don’t have.’  So here he is, calling one of his biggest clients to go on CNBC the next morning to say everything’s fine when clearly it’s not. And he knew it wasn’t.”

Chanos refused to go on CNBC. By 6:30 the next morning, word was out that the Fed was engineering the rescue of Bear Stearns. Chanos realized that he could have been on CNBC while that was announced. “I thought, That fucker was going to throw me under the bus no matter what.”

“So here it is,” Chanos says. “Alan Schwartz takes the position ‘Short-sellers were our problem,’ and who did he try to get to vouch for him on the morning of the collapse? The largest short-seller in the world. You want to talk about ethics and who’s telling the truth on these things? It’s unbelievable.”

Schwartz, not surprisingly, has a different version of events. “I did not make the statements attributed to me by Mr. Chanos,” he says through a spokesperson


Between the two, I believe Chanos . . .


The Man Who Made Too Much
Gary Weiss
Portfolio, February 2009

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