Sunday, May 03, 2009

Lehman's Real Estate Adventure
This New York Times article on the former head of Lehman Brothers' global real estate group provides a recent history of commercial real estate's rise and fall, all driven by financial wizards. It shows the power of securitizaton and how it fueled real estate transactions by allowing banks to get risky loans off their balance sheets, freeing up capital for more loans. And all decisions predicated on the assumption that real estate values would continue to increase.

The US attorney's office is looking into Lehman's real estate activities for any wrong doing, which I find troubling. You can debate the merits of Lehman's excessive leverage, decision to move into bridge financing, or a host of other business moves that look bad in retrospect, but nothing I read in the article was a crime. Lehman was a Wall Street firm in competition with other bankers and it devised clever solutions to help clients. Many of these solutions, in hindsight, appear imprudent and risky, but not criminal.

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