The chatter on the web about the collapse of Lehman Bros and the bailout of AIG offers a fascinating snapshot of the chaos on Wall St that goes beyond the obligatory shots of employees carrying cardboard boxes…

My role in the collapse of Lehman Bros. I worked at Lehman Brothers in the late 80s, and attended meetings with people who are now listed as key players. Over the weekend, I watched the financial newswires with the same fascination that I watched the weather channel as Ike pulled into Texas, or during Katrina a few years ago. When I worked at Lehman, I worked with mortgaged backed securities, those currently much maligned financial instruments that seem to be at the center of so much of the financial turmoil these days. We calculated the probability of home owners prepaying their mortgages and sliced and diced the cashflows from pools of mortgages to sell off the different pieces at a profit.

Even back then, I wondered if this financial engineering was really making lives better for people other than those getting rich at Lehman and it’s related firms. Friends reassured me that by increasing liquidity in the mortgage market, by creating securities that tailor the risk to people most interested in it, we were making mortgages easier to obtain for more people. We were reducing the price of mortgages. — Orient-Lodge

I am bereft. I am just so sad. I realize this may sound a bit odd, but the first real job I ever had in New York (you know, the old 9 to 5 routine) was Lehman Brothers, where I worked for many happy years with a wonderful, wonderful boss who was also a friend. I am just terribly sorry about this whole thing.

For those of my readers who may not have been alive (for God’s sake) back in the early 70’s, Wall Street was a miraculous place to work. We damn near killed ourselves (70 and 80 hour weeks were not in the least unusual), but we were paid enormous amounts of money and enormous bonuses, and oh, my God, we had fun. Yes, and I was a secretary. Even we had fun. It seems to me that there was a LOT more teamwork and a lot less of the gulf between boss and secretary back then. My boss and I became the best of friends (still talk to each other on occasion). Neither of us were dating anybody for any length of time back then (mainly because nobody else would put up with those insane hours we worked), so we’d often go out to dinner after work (this would usually be around 10 or 11 at night) or have a couple of drinks. And it was nuts. I mean, NUTS. You couldn’t walk out at lunch without somebody trying to sell you dope. All the associates kept stashes in their desk drawers. People were calmly smoking joints in the street. — Wendy from Encore

“We are counting on you to be at work on Monday and ready for business as usual,” writes Lehman managing director Hari Gopalkrishan in an email obtained by Wall Street gossip blog Dealbreaker that we’ve copied below. In case you’re curious, popular lore has it that the last song Titanic’s musicians played while the ship went down was “Nearer My God to Thee.” 

From: Gopalkrishnan , Hari (Technology)
Sent: Sun Sep 14 19:51:49 2008
Subject: Business Support for Monday

Team,

Given the recent press reports regarding Lehman, I wanted to communicate that we are counting onyou to be at work on Monday and ready for business as usual. In fact, I ask that you take the extra time necessary to coordinate with your teams to conduct a “ready for business” check on all mission critical activities before the day begins. As I learn more, I will communicate with you.

Thanks as always for your commitment.

Regards

Hari  — Valleywag

The photo below was taken Friday — it’s a shot of the London office of Lehman Brothers in Canary Wharf. Note the gathering in the window on the upper right and the body language of everyone except the guy on the left in the khaki pants:

On working for HBOS. Of course, if HBOS went bankrupt (which it will not – it holds £295 billion in customer deposits) or if it got nationalised, or if it got bought and destroyed then no doubt all offers would be off the table, all Severance packages would be up for renegotiation and there’s a chance I could end up in the worst possible situation of all: Losing my job, keeping the debt and desperately needing to find a job with a salary considerably higher than average in the area I live, just so that I can continue enjoying my burger flipper’s lifestyle. Oh yes, and lots of other people would lose their jobs too – those that, because of family commitments, mortgages and all the other reasons people get bound to their particular circumstances have not applied to voluntary severance – and that really would be the worst case scenario.

It’s easy to jeer and yell at banks, and I suspect very few people will shed a tear for the staff of Lehman Brothers, but up here in Halifax this company is the lifeblood of the whole area. If you don’t work for HBOS, you’re related to or friends with someone who is. It is a company town and the end of HBOS is … well it’s unthinkable. — Charlotte Gore Blog

I work at AIG and it’s not looking good … layoffs AIG should have thrown Moody’s more money under the table to bring the rating back. People in the office are finding it ironic the Reserve is probably going to give money to AIG straight out of our taxpayer money and fire us. They better go private equity … AIG employees where are you?

AIGforever |16 Sep 11:29| says:

NY isn’t going to let us go down. We already have backing from them and my manager says we are so relied on by the mortgage and financial industries that we can’t go down.

nonfed |16 Sep 12:36| says:

are you kidding? how is $20 billion going to help against this:

“As the markets closed, its stock slid to $4.76 a share, down from a 52-week high of $70 a share, representing the evaporation of $176 billion in market value in less than one year.”

$20b against a $176b loss… good luck with that. i’m looking for another job already. thanks managers and CEOs, you’ve screwed us again!!!!

* Iusedtoworkthere |17 Sep 03:06| says: 

I used to work for aig before getting laid off earlier this year. it was a mess months before this occurred. all they cared about was outsourcing jobs and moving all the operations to houston making one decision after another without regard to employees.  — Urumor.com

Argument with an AIG worker. Within minutes of the FED announcing the rescue of the crumbling insurer, I had the luck of being able to chat with an AIG employee about the Government’s repsonse and AIG’s current financial situation:

AIG employee looks like the Fed will be bailing us out. take THAT, taxpayers!

xyz ugh. this is really sickening.

AIG employee bwahahahaha!!

xyz you do realize that youre part of that “tax payer” category, right?

AIG employee yeah but the money this will bring me personally is probably more than Ipaid in taxes in the past year or so. finally the government does something right for a change. yay Fed!

xyz i disagree

AIG employee No, if AIG bit the dust then I just would’ve been canned with everyone else. Now we’ll be offered buyouts. That’s a lot of money for me.

xyz you should have been canned, just like lehman brothers. AIG was bankrupt and deserved to fail

AIG employee No, AIG is solvent and I did not deserve to be canned. There is a liquidity due to the Financial Services arm of the company. liquidity *issue*. Anyway, the insurance part of the company (where I work) is healthy and we have $1 trn in assets worldwide.

xyz an $85 billion rescue plan is solvent?

AIG employee You’re talking about something you don’t know anything about. it’s a bridge loan. AIG has more than enough assets to cover its credit default swaps, but not enough to capitalize them. enough *time* to capitalize them

xyz right. so therefore they are not solvent

AIG employee management should have raised more capital earlier in the year by selling off some of our assets, but lacked the foresight

xyz right. therefore they deserve to fail.

AIG employee you are confused about this. when investment banks run out of liquidity, they are insolvent because investments are all they have. they don’t have any other assets, except maybe office equipment and the buildings they work in. with AIG it’s totally different. as for management failing…yes they deserve to be thrown out and they will, since the Fed is now taking over and replacing the board. — Blogofbile

Don’t worry kids, capitalism alive and well As the world’s financial markets melt, Lehman Bros merchandise is being snapped up like hotcakes on eBay

 

Peter Fray

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