Lehman Check

72 Comments

Darren Lehmann, ex-Australia cricketer and ace beer-drinker is sitting in his living room lovingly caressing his beer gut. As he lifts a Fosters to his lips,  the bell rings. Ever since he joined the Rajasthan Royals as a stop-gap player covering for Graeme Smith and dropped two catches and overall looked as match-fit as Guddi Maruti , Lehman has stayed clear of the cricket pitch as a player and instead concentrated on landing a coaching gig with Laxman’s Chargers. So who could it be that was ringing his bell at 5 in the afternoon?

He opens the door and finds three men standing there. Three men he has never seen before.

One of them says: Khuda ke liye, kuch paisa de do baba

Lehmann, who learnt Hindi to understand the Indian sledging, especially from Nayan “Aigaaa” Mongia says:  Go go you beggars, you wont find anything here.

Another says: Bhai bhai ke kaam naheen aayenge to…

Lehman is surprised: “Bhai”? What brother? You guys aren’t my brothers.

The third one says (in English): Actually we are. We are your brothers. We have fallen on very hard times. We could do with a few dollars. Even a beer.

Lehmann stands silent. Confused. What the hell is going on?

Brother1: Let me introduce ourselves. We are the Lehman brothers. Tum bhi humare bichre hue bhai ho….the one we lost in Kumbh ka mela.

D. Lehmann: Stop the crap. Wait. You guys are the Lehman brothers? As in Lehman brothers of the famous financial services firm?

Brother2: Yes the one that filed for bankruptcy.

D. Lehmann: Ya right. As long as you guys were raking in the cash, tumhe mujhe yaad naheen aaya. And I had to dry Steve Waugh’s socks and lie to Shane’s wife to just stay in the team and earn a living. Now that you guys are penniless, you come here with some cock and Kumble story. Plus I have one more “n” in my last name than you guys. Bhago bhago…

Brother3: What’s an “n” between brothers?

Brother1: Come on you played 2 matches in the IPL. Your net worth is worth more than us combined. Allah ke naam pe at least loan us some money then. Please.

Darren Lehmann: Do you have any collateral? Any assets?

Brother2: Didn’t you read the papers mate? I mean bhai. We don’t have anything. Loot gaaye…hum barbaad ho gaaye. If we could do it, we would sell your kidney. Sorry sell our kidneys but we have been dead for many years now. So we don’t even have that.

D.Lehmann: No collateral, horrible credit state. And you ask me for a loan? Chutiya laagta hoon main?

Brother3: Sigh. Chutiya to hum hain.  People took our money and loaned it out to people with no collateral, often without a single cent down-payment thinking they would make a killing with the high rates of interest. Of course all that money went down the gutter, and the domino effect of the bad loans crippled our economy.

Brother2: And now when we ask for a loan, noone helps us.

D. Lehmann:  What do you mean people took the money from you? Well you guys are responsible for this state, your company thought it would make money of the housing boom too. Don’t come looking for sympathy from me, you brought it upon yourselves.Gawd, I never thought I would meet people who give out more bad loans than the First citizen of Bharat, Tai-ji of the Holy Spirit. Well now I have.

Brother1: Yeah yeah I know I know. But to be honest, it’s all very complicated Darren-bhai. Our system is so complicated and secretive even we, three brothers whose name the company is, never understood what is going on.

Brother3: Aare bhai. Dont be so Stern. Bear hug de do yaar. And a beer.

D.Lehmann: So the government didn’t bail you out eh? Not like Bear Sterns or like AIG or like Fanny Mae..?

Brother1: Yeah. Our failure was not considered critical to the economy unlike that of Bear Sterns. Truth is we oiled the wrong wheels. Damn our lobbyists.

D. Lehmann: Wait wait. I got a swell idea. You guys want to get some free money? Have any of you ever played cricket?

Brothers shake their head in unison. They have not.

D. Lehmann: Very good. That’s perfect. Here is a number of Zee supremo Subhash Chandra. Go and tell him you want to play for the India Cricket League and that I Lehman recommended you. He will buy you guys for $200,000 each. Guaranteed.

Brother1: I think you didn’t understand what we said. We have no idea of what cricket is. Honest. We cannot play with anything except for investor confidence.

D. Lehmann: That’s the beauty. You don’t need to know how to play cricket. You just say you do. Look at this. The ICL took 13 players from the Bangladesh cricket team——people whom even Bangladesh, and trust me they are no New York Yankees, have rejected. Oldies and never-been-theres. Each for serious dollars. I am sure you guys know more cricket than them.

Brother2: I dont get it. If these Bangladeshi guys cannot play cricket, as you say they cannot and I have no reason to mistrust you ( you are, after all, the only Lehman(n) among us whose words have some credit rating left), why pay so much money for them?

D. Lehmann: Beats me. Why loan money to a person whom any dimbulb would know is not going to pay it back?  Why spend more than 50 cents to buy Habibul Bashar, who is known in Bangla cricket as “Haba” (Haba= Bengali for “not very bright”), years after his best. And let me tell you even his “best” wouldn’t get him into a B-side in most Test cricket nations. Why do that? Why bother wondering? Just take the money and run.

Brother3: This sounds too good to be true. Tough to believe, that even in this economic climate, there still exists a guy who keeps throwing money at a business idea doomed to failure,  being even more cavalier than the guys in the sub-prime market. Somehow even though I am broke and humiliated, I  don’t feel as stupid any more.

D. Lehmann: Well you do have to wear pink clothes and fluorescent greens and pretend to be all pumped-up and engaged in front of sparse crowds who are more interested in the cheerleaders skirts and Kareena Kapoor item number than whats going on in the game . But what’s a bit of disingenuity and play-acting for old Wall Street hands?

Brother2: No no problem at all.

[Update: For a brief and yet fairly complete explanation of the historic market meltdown, here is a nice article.]

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72 thoughts on “Lehman Check

  1. one of your worst pieces. Trying to link totally unrelated topics, falls flat in between. Contrived, laboured “humour”, writing isn’t of the usual top quality either. Won’t be a bad idea to even pull it out.

  2. Fantastic!! The only person in the whole wide world to bring cricket with the Wall Street Mess ………… May be you should flesh it out some more and make a play out of it!!!

  3. Yeah! Could have been much better. The humor is of a hindi movie quality! One could almost visualize Salman Khan as one of the Lehman brothers, trying out some wierd facial expression while saying ‘Whats an n between brothers?’. Not expected of your usually very high standards.

    However, are ICL trying to ruin international cricket. I doubt Bangladesh has cricketers better than these, judging by Habibur Bashar’s prolonged international career. Officially Bangladesh IS a test playing nation. This coup might endanger that status. One can almost hear SC humming ‘Hum toh dubenge hi sanam, saath me tumhe leke dubenge.. yada yada!’

  4. oh, it may be a bit too early to dismiss the ICL as an idea doomed to failure. A recent article on Cricinfo suggests that the ICL attracted more eyeballs than both the recent India-South Africa and Indi-Sri Lanka Test series.

    “The Twenty20 games played out from March-April, 2008 in the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) on Ten Sports and Zee Sports also managed a healthy 55 million with the final match between the Lahore Badshahs and Hyderabad Heroes drawing 6 million viewers. And this given the ICL is the pariah of international cricket.

    In contrast, India’s three-Test series at home against South Africa during March-April 2008, telecast on Neo Sports, Neo Cricket and Neo Cricket Plus, attracted 48 million eyeballs, the same number as for the final of the Twenty20 World Cup alone.

    The picture gets marginally brighter when we take a look at the figures from the recently concluded series between Sri Lanka and India. The three-Test series aired on Ten Sports in July and August managed a viewership of 50 million viewers – an increase of just 4.16% from the South Africa series.”

    Now that IPL has popularised the concept of club-based cricket, next edition of ICL should have even better viewership.

  5. grand post GB,

    back to your humourous best, I liked Darren Lehmann in his prime though, one toughie he was. His left eye had almost come out of its socket sumtym in mid 90’s when he was hit by a Brad Williams bouncer.he still continued to play 1st class cricket for his State and went on to play for his country.He was one toughie.
    Lalit Modi however didnt know this but still bought him 3 years after his retirement.

  6. Could do Better .. 🙂
    Agree with mohan ..

    The coupling of sports/economics and humour falls flat ..

    PS: Am a old reader of this space .. but a new commenter as such ..

  7. Your effort to make this post humorous is quite apparent. But many (the old time readers) know that this is not what GB is famous for. You do humour effortlessly & probably that’s what makes this post …um…not so good.

    Nevertheless, even with my bare minimum knowledge of financial sector, I find it really amazing how easily (?) they (LB) could play their game in the sub-prime market.

  8. Brilliant piece GB. Only you could have connected things as far apart as cricket and wall street.

    And don’t worry about them commentators who criticize just for the heck of it. Sometimes its good to have such light hearted post after the heavy dose of Kashmir and Bomb blasts

  9. This was a vintage GB. You’ve been writing too much of serious stuff of late. Not that I don’t like that, and people do metamorphose, but I still missed the GB of yesteryears.

    Kudos! Keep writing.

  10. And I suppose Subhash Chandra signed those 13 Bangladeshi players so that he could penetrate into the Bangladeshi market. We already have a Lahore Badshahs in the ICL, the next edition will most likely see a Bangla outfit too.
    Not that bad an idea, actually.

  11. Pure comic genius ! Linking Habibul Bashar with Lehman Brothers and alternating betwen farce, sarcasm and commentary are all strokes of GB-patented dementia ! Ignore the haters please. We want more.

    Sameer,
    “The humor is of a hindi movie quality! One could almost visualize Salman Khan as one of the Lehman brothers, trying out some wierd facial expression while saying ‘Whats an n between brothers?’. Not expected of your usually very high standards.”

    Did you even wonder while writing this comment that perhaps this was exactly the impression that GB wanted to create? Think about it. Salman Khan and Govinda and Johnny Lever as the Lehman Brothers. Not only is that image insanely funny, it is also a biting indictment of how much of a farce Wall Street is today.

  12. Linking Bangladeshi cricketers to Lehman Brothers – some creativity !!!
    Only you can do this.

    “you are, after all, the only Lehman(n) among us whose words have some credit rating left”…LOL 😀 😀 😀

    However, on a more serious note, it was really heartbreaking to see this 158-year-old organization going into the womb of oblivion within the span of a week. Having been right in the den right at this time, I couldn’t even look at the employees’ faces. They are still recovering from the shock of their lives.
    Because of the tight job market, most of them are finding it really hard to get even interview calls, and the others who already have some job offers are hesitant to put their papers as resigning now would mean no compensation, no termination benefits (although I wonder if there would be any considering the fact that Lehman has no money left).
    Their faces say they all are actually feling some Dick up their arses.

  13. Debolin – the NY employees of Lehman’s broker dealer business will get something. Barclays is taking over the entire business and they pay severance to the folks they fire. For the others, no idea. Apparently, in London Pricewaterhouse Coopers said that Lehman doesn’t have money to pay salary arrears so of course a severance package is out of question. In any case, secured creditors get first dibs, so everyone else gets in line behind them.

    Arnab, lovely post. I had no idea Habibul Bashar’s nickname was Haba – hilarious!

    And it’s not just Subhash Chandra who’s a deluded moneybags throwing good money after bad assets. All those global acquisitions that Indian businesses made at the peak of the global market will bite them in the ass in the years to come. We’ll be like Japan Inc. in the 1980s.

  14. Bong bhai, I think you must be out of your minds. I’m a cricket fan and I really don’t think that Bangladeshi players are any worser than our Indian regional players. If they can take part and make merry in ICL/IPL or any other form of the game, why can’t Bangladeshis?

    I also differ on the view that ICL is banal. I think it’s fun to watch. I agree crowds aren’t as high as for IPL. But sometimes, the games are better balanced.

    Having said all this, I love IPL!

    Krsi

  15. Bong,
    You seem to be getting mad:) Do not be ultra imaginative. I know your mithun da blog( the one that first brought me to your blog) was the creation of the same mindset… but you seem to getting carried away a bit too much. If there is nothing intresting to write dont write … but don’t write such crap.

    Have a few beers and go.. relax. People will visit the site and just go away assuming that you were busy and you could not write anything. But please stop such item articles.

    No offense intended…

    regards
    Rajkishore

  16. Rohan,
    Can’t help you if you find the combination of Johny Lever, Salman Khan and Govinda insanely funny.

    Ignore the yes men GB, you can do much better!

  17. GB i saw some folks commenting on the quality of humour … forgive them coz they know not what they speak … the lateral connections were priceless … “Dont be so Stern. Bear hug de do yaar. And a beer.”, “Dinesh AIGaaaa Mongia” … very cool !!!

    I’ll Merrily Lynch the “dimbulbs” on your behalf :-))

  18. Nice article. The Lehmann meeltdown was a huge surprise. It could have been controlled but boom time leads to stupid decisions.

    However do not underestimate the nuisance power of ICL. With ICC dithering on Pakistan, you have millions of disgruntled Pakistani viewers hungry for cricket action. Step in ICL, Lahore Badshahs and Ten Sports!

    You have cricket mad Bangladeshis wanting to see their team play well against opposition. Bangladesh have the most chance to win against first class opposition in 20-20 which suits their “attack or die”. Step in ICL, Dhaka Warrioirs and Ten Sports.

    Plus ICL has thrown up some good matches.

  19. After seeing the comments here, I must agree to the fact that GB, you are wasting your wisdom among fools; fools who cant get to a simple piece of sarcasm, let alone your wittiest satires.

  20. well ,that seriously funny ,i have been reading ur posts since last few months ,i think u can surely try for script writing in bollywood films ,

  21. Sameer,

    Yes I am an yes-man. You got me there. While the bunch of iPods that GB gives me after every post may be the reason why I am an yes-man, I would like to think that the real reason for my fan-dom is that GB *consistently* writes the best content, humorous and serious, in the blogosphere and also in the Indian main stream media. That’s not just my opinion but that of many other yes-men and yes-women like me, many of whom have called this post brilliant.

    When I see people like you coming here solely to disparage a work of art, which you are getting for FREE, it really gets me riled up. It is as if GB is a clown who is somehow obliged to entertain royalty like thyself whose only contribution is to say “Rubbish”.

    I know what the next retort will be. It is your personal opinion whether you like the post or not and you have the same rights to express it as any “yes-man”. But then one jackass tells GB to stop writing for increased traffic [why GB should care for traffic and that too for such readers is beyond me] and another jackass tells him to pull the post from his blog [his point is that GB is trying to link two unrelated topics, the fact that the said commenter thinks that two unrelated topics cannot be unified, even when it is done as brilliantly as this, is of course a testament to his comprehension skills. Don’t get mad here, dear commenter, as it is another person’s opinion on your comment !]

    It is this sense of entitlement to GB’s personal space and when he chooses to write and what he chooses to write which I find utterly and absolutely distasteful.

    Does saying that make me an yes-man? I suppose it does.

    At least it doesn’t make me a no-man, or as they say in the heartland: *na-mard*, like some others 🙂

    (No) offense intended.

  22. To The people who are criticizing this post ( and must I say, rather unhealthy criticism)..

    I am following GB’s post since early 2005, and no doubt there have been vicissitudes in quality ( and that is natural), but this post ..no wonder one of GB’s most wittiest (for idea of linking up these two unrelated topics alone)

    ..This post reminded me of GB’s article on OBC reservation , where he amazingly linked the issue with Narmada Bachao Andolan…

    I do not agree with GB’s views on many occassions, but GB still observes and communicates events from multpile perspectives, an ability which I dont see anyone ( apart from Atanu Dey)in Indian blogosphere to possess

  23. anyone else notice how the people who have not liked the post refer to themselves as ‘old time readers’ – as if they and they alone have been following GB’s blog, and they are alone capable of passing judgment over what constitutes wit and what doesn’t.

    forget the levels of humour/satire/sarcasm and peoples’ perceptions of the same, the most un-GB like thing in this post is too much condescension in the comment space – which is of course not GB’s fault, but i’d like to think that the best of the blogosphere would attract comments (especially from the regulars) that are in keeping with the blog’s standards.

  24. Umm ..let me don the mantle of a reality show judge( why! these days even Chunkey Pandey gets to judge people far better off than him :P),
    ‘ye aapka sarvshresht pradarshan nahi tha’ . Joke aside, this linking of Lehman’s was very very creative. Though at times the humour appeared a tad ‘manufactured’, unlike the mellifluous effortless pieces i am used to read here. A good read nevertheless.
    Meanwhile there are cracks in ICL barricading , with sri lanka board allowing ‘rebels’ to play in their domestic league. I bet Chandra would have hoped a little more courage from the bangladesi board. All is not lost for ICL . It can still be a poor man’s, poor nation’s, and poor sponsor’s league. May be poor francises too.

  25. Hmm…very interesting post. I guess people who do not take any interest in the current financial crisis are likely to find this post dry. And apparently many have. But I found it funny. Because unlike many people, I do feel the need to be sad just because everybody says it is sad. There is nothing to feel sorry about Lehmann Bros. If you are going to use high leverage and use that to buy risky assets, you are taking high risks. So if your Ivy educated liberal arts mbas figured that risk management was not exactly a big deal, but just went for money Gordon Gecko style, then it is not exactly being ambitious. It is foolishness. So now the assets became worthless and you are bankrupt. Its that simple! I mean Goldman is struggling but at least it didn’t go bankrupt. Just proves that they had better risk mgmt. Why should anyone feel sorry for Lehman or its employees is beyond me. I have heard reports that people are feeling sorry for big b school grads in India who got Lehmann jobs. Sorry for what? That now they have to take up lower paying jobs? Would they have parted that cash with you? So why should you feel sorry for them? Or is it the vicarious pleasure of patriotism seeing headlines like “7 IIM grads snapped up by Lehmann for $$$”? I dunno.

    The point is that people in US have been riding on a gravy train for a long time with most people just spending and spending and accruing debt. People have forgotten that there can be troughs in economic cycles too. People who could not afford homes were given home loans. All that courtesy of the man who reads housing data while in a bathtub- I mean the rates in the early part of this decade were ridiculously low. What happened on Wall Street is just recklessness on a bigger scale. It is in times like this that you should listen to what Dr. Doom (http://tinyurl.com/4fv84j) says. :))

    The asymmetrical bailouts are actually further proof to the fact that the US never had a free market economy. So they should now stop lecturing other countries about opening their markets. Take the ban on short selling. Even though this helped stocks like WaMu, this proves that the rules of the free market were not in effect. Or maybe that the free market is a myth and there ought to be tailored but minimum regulations. I heard people on NPR gaining the impression that short sellers created this crisis. Amazing! Hedge funds made most money last year from short sales. Just look at the T bills. But I think that this crisis is the thing that has kind of sealed the presidency of Barrack Obama. The debates start on Friday and hes gonna hammer McCain using the economy weapon. And he has and will gain considerably new supporters – after all US is a capitalist country and people are most likely to change their views when they feel /fear about a likely pinch in their wallets.

  26. @ yourfan2 – Given how joined at the hip most investment banks were/are, I highly doubt Goldman was using risk management models that were so very radically different from the ones used at Lehman. I think the crucial differences are:

    a) Goldman actively hedged itself against a mortgage securities market downturn. It made a lot of money on those hedges that partially offset its mortgage security losses.

    b) It has been alleged that Goldman has been more “creative” with its Level III assets, managing to keep them from causing too much trouble for them.

    c) Lehman was ridiculously over-levered (gross leverage 29:1, I cannot even wrap my head around that one). Which means they controlled nearly $639 bn assets with a piddling $26 bn equity. Fundamental principle of accounting Assets = Liabilities Equity. You do the math.

    d) Goldman’s Q3 profits this year are actually down 70 per cent this year compared to last year. That should spell doom for any company’s stock. But that looks positively like a windfall in comparison with the other banks. Hence the free pass.

  27. Spot on yourfan2! US can stop lecturing other countries for not opening up their markets or not following capitalism. Everybody is a capitalist on the way up and communist or socialist on the way down. But the breathtaking hypocrisy of the fair weather capitalist is breathtaking. Practice capitalism, because like democracy, is the best we have found so far but dont just preach it.

  28. Thallasa,

    Well a 70% drop in profits is kind of expected with all that happened. They had to write down a few hundred million dollars of credit loss. But the thing is that that firm was one step ahead of the rest even in bad times (http://tinyurl.com/3h3b87). A lot of water has flowed since then and analysts changed the stock to “sell” even before the third q results. GS also sold many of its assets and thereby had a lot of cash on the side, unlike LB. I have read that they also simultenously shorted a bond index right after selling it. Its just that they had different baskets for their eggs. But as you said, a 29:1 leverage ratio on that kind of assets with ineffective hedges means doom and gloom when things backfire. And that is what exactly what happened to LB.

  29. @yourfan2 – Spot on analysis. Goldman did do a lot of things differently. However, right after I wrote that comment I went and looked up Goldman’s Balance Sheet (unfortunately not very detailed). Guess what?

    Here’s the breakdown –

    Total Assets – 1119 bn (I’m assuming that works out to 1.119 trillion. Correct me if I’m wrong)

    Total Liabilities – 1076 bn
    Equity – 43 bn

    If I’ve got my calculations right, that’s a leverage ratio of 25:1. So I guess such sky high leverages were pretty standard for the investment banking industry.

    That kind of leverage provides a very succinct explanation for everything that happened. In good economic times, that kind of leverage provides you with crazy high profits However, when prices start to fall, even a small drop in the market magnifies your losses several fold.

    Goldman’s long term investments are $821 bn and I haven’t been able to find a breakdown for this. How much of this amount is subprime mortgages?

    No idea. Suppose that the default rate on subprime is 25% and GS holds $200 bn of this stuff. Then we are looking at a $50 bn loss. Suppose you can recover about 40% of these defaults. Even then your loss is about $30 bn.

    Enough to wipe out a substantial chunk of your capital.

  30. Sorry GB, this one was bad. I have read each and every one of your posts and this is the only one that sucks and it sucks big time.

  31. I love your humor but here I thought the theme and the plot went in two different directions. Can’t have it everytime

  32. As usual, another great and imaginative conversation between the Lehmans of the world!! And it had me thoroughly entertained!!

    LOL @ Subash Chandra being the cavalier millionaire pouring money into a doomed business venture …. LOL @ Lehmann and Lehman!

    Keep us updated on the financial melt-down via such fictitious and highly amusing conversations/write-ups!

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