Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Salomon Brothers and the Corruption of the Marketplace

by Martin Mayer

Pub Date: June 11th, 1993
ISBN: 0-671-78187-1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

 While the old gray Mayer (Whatever Happened to Madison Avenue?, 1991, etc.) ain't what he used to be, there still are few to rival his command of high--and low--finance--and so his account of how Salomon Brothers rigged the unregulated market in government securities represents an informed, if sometimes exasperating, contribution to the literature. With little of the cool irony that lit up his best work (The Money Bazaars, 1984, etc.), Mayer recounts how a celebrated trading house's fake bids in Treasury auctions enabled it to corner markets in US government obligations, squeeze short interests, and book millions in illicit profits. He goes on to offer a short-take appreciation of how Salomon Bros. (or ``Solly,'' as it's known on Wall Street) outgrew its roots and developed a dollar-denominated, anything-goes corporate culture that made involvement in a megabuck manipulation all but inevitable. Along his anecdotal way, the author puts paid to any notion that senior management had no idea a scandal was brewing--pointing out, for instance, that someone had to approve borrowing the billions required to carry the positions Solly amassed by abusing its trust as a primary dealer. Nor does Mayer spare federal authorities whose lax oversight stemmed from a different sort of hubris, exemplified by the surveillance official who assured the House Banking Committee that ``people don't lie to the FRB.'' But while the author makes market arcana comprehensible to lay readers, he's irritatingly preachy (albeit not off-base) in his deadly earnest evaluations of lawless investment's implications. On balance, though, an instructive briefing on a capital crime and its punishment. (Eight pages of b&w photographs--not seen)