Thursday, March 04, 2010

Michael Burry: Betting the Blind Side

Michael Lewis has a new book coming out called, The Big Short. It's supposed to be an account of the financial crisis and how the "US economy was driven off a cliff", thanks to the drive for cheap housing and the toxic investments Wall Street packaged around this goal.

Vanity Fair has published an excerpt from Lewis' book called, "Betting on the Blind Side", which highlights the subprime-housing short trade of California hedge fund manager, Dr. Michael Burry.

In early 2004 a 32-year-old stock-market investor and hedge-fund manager, Michael Burry, immersed himself for the first time in the bond market. He learned all he could about how money got borrowed and lent in America. He didn’t talk to anyone about what became his new obsession; he just sat alone in his office, in San Jose, California, and read books and articles and financial filings.

He wanted to know, especially, how subprime-mortgage bonds worked. A giant number of individual loans got piled up into a tower. The top floors got their money back first and so got the highest ratings from Moody’s and S&P, and the lowest interest rate. The low floors got their money back last, suffered the first losses, and got the lowest ratings from Moody’s and S&P.

Because they were taking on more risk, the investors in the bottom floors received a higher rate of interest than investors in the top floors. Investors who bought mortgage bonds had to decide in which floor of the tower they wanted to invest, but Michael Burry wasn’t thinking about buying mortgage bonds. He was wondering how he might short, or bet against, subprime-mortgage bonds."

We mentioned Burry in yesterday's post, highlighting a passage from Greg Zuckerman's book, The Greatest Trade Ever, which pinpoints the moment that Michael Burry and John Paulson's subprime short aspirations were realized in the creation of credit-default swaps (CDS) tied to mortgage bonds.

I'm halfway through Greatest Trade Ever now, and Lewis' account of Burry's subprime trade should prove to be an engrossing companion piece to Zuckerman's book. You may even want to print the VF article out, as it's a lengthy excerpt from Lewis' book.