Excerpt #1 from my upcoming book “The American Spellbound”

My book is set to be released on November 11th. It’s fiction based on real-life events. I will be posting random excerpts between now and November.

Here’s the first sample.

In the fall of 2006, everyone flew down to Florida for the 12th Annual Mortgage Industry Conference.  Over the years, the industry’s annual soiree became the hottest ticket for every player, big and small, attracting inevitable hordes of private lenders, regional banks, broker-dealers, government agencies, media, and various vendors pushing analytics software. The outing was the place to be for Who’s Who of the industry. Manhattan and Greenwich, Conn., became ghost towns during these three-day bashes in the warmer climates. Trading desks were left to be tended by younger aspirants. But no major market moves were expected during those days, as all the rainmakers were busy drinking and schmoozing on yachts’ decks and at nightclubs down in Miami.

The biggest parties were headlined by the Doobie Brothers and ZZ Top — darlings of the middle-aged white men. The men assumed a relaxed, giddy mood, donning print shorts and worn-out boat shoes without socks, the kind of fashion statement intended to evoke their boyhood of forty years ago — a time when things were simpler and carefree, when their major daily preoccupations consisted of smoking weed and playing in a garage band. In their minds, in those moments, they were still those young boys. What a great venue to show the world their playful, human side, a side carefully and deliberately buried under the suit and tie and shoptalk during the usual business conduct back in New York.

For the industry women, a younger, prettier and less numerous lot, it was a time to shine. They wore their cocktail dresses and high heels, and danced to classic rock hits as if it were disco, hoisting drinks in the air. The drunken conversations were a much-needed break — the escape from the office, the chance to get out of the suffocating suits — a pseudo liberation, an attempt at playing up their humanity and normalcy.

Vika had attended this annual gathering for several years. During her first conference, she made sure to audit all of the relevant panels, studiously scribbling bits of wisdom from industry bigwigs. But the real intel, the kind that would make one fly to Miami and endure the small talk face-to-face, always floated at private parties by the pool or at the bar, where each side tried to gauge what the other was up to. The buy side tried to figure out where to get yield, and the sell side tried to figure out what the buy side was interested in and how much money they were prepared to spend.

Nascent concerns about the “frothy” mortgage market were squashed by the optimism of big-name economists associated with big investment houses. They pulled out their graphs and charts and assured everyone that, given the historical data, there was nothing to worry about. Whatever small disruptions may occur would be over rather quickly and should be viewed as an opportunity to buy.

If the fancy charts weren’t enough to convince the skeptics, the forever-elated salesmen — the professional carriers of good news — came in to finish the job: “You worry too much,” they would say to the deep-pocketed fence-sitters. A good salesman knows you better than you know yourself. If you are Chinese, they will sell you yield. If you’re European, they will stroke your sense of superiority. If you’re an ambitious manager of an American pension fund, sitting on piles of money but bound by rules and regulations, they will find a kosher way for you to become the big swinging dick you always knew you were. And if you are an American hedge fund — a serious fund, not two guys and a Bloomberg — a smart salesman cuts the bullshit and both of you reach an understanding.

The big fish out there — pension funds, the cash-rich Chinese, the dumb Europeans, the assortment of late-to-the-party bottom-feeders with cash — are there to be used as a buffer if things go wrong for both of you. And it’s not like the clients put up much resistance. Throw in a couple of steak dinners at Peter Luger, and any concern evaporates.

“Eightee percen yier! I rike!” Vika overheard a salesman describe his Chinese client’s investment strategies to the delight of the group of bankers having drinks, who then burst into a smug, loud laughter. “That’s all it takes, man!”

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