BEYOND GREED: The Hunts and Their Silver Bubble by Stephen Fay
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BEYOND GREED: The Hunts and Their Silver Bubble

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And almost Beyond Belief: how two members of America's wealthiest family, acting in concert with Saudi highrollers (including a top royal family member), came close to cornering the silver market in the winter of 1979-80, and very nearly shattered the wider financial community in the process. After a brief biographical sketch of Bunker Hunt (brother Herbert gets shorter shrift throughout) and a necessary layperson's introduction to the commodity futures market, Fay unravels the network of accounts and intermediaries used by the Hunts' group in their massive speculation. The strategy was simple, a classic market squeeze: go long (buy) and push the price of silver up; insist (against the market's unwritten rule) on physical delivery of the commodity; keep buying like crazy as the price rises, and borrow from anyone in sight (using the ever-more-valuable silver as collateral) to keep the pressure on. If you have the money, and the exchanges or federal agencies don't handcuff you, you can make real trouble. It very nearly worked, in part because the Hunts' operations were so smooth and secret that it took regulators a long time to catch on, in part because the Commodity Futures Trading Commission proved totally impotent, and in part because the Comex dragged its heels on self-regulation (more greed, Fay argues). What finally stopped the Hunts was a combination of factors: the Comex's belated (and therefore necessarily draconian) introduction of position limits and ""liquidation-only"" trading (i.e., the Hunts could only sell); the Fed's cutoff of bank credit for gold and silver speculation; and massive margin calls on the Hunts as the value of their leveraged silver empire plummeted. The Hunts cried foul and alleged a conspiracy to favor the shorts (buyers). And that wasn't the end, either. All told, the Hunts had borrowed over a billion dollars, and they blithely allowed as how they couldn't pay it back just then, thanks. Rather than see several brokerage houses, a few banks, and (maybe, Fay suggests) the whole financial system go down in flames, the government tacitly endorsed a multi-bank, billion dollar bailout of the Hunts--actually, a massive restructuring of their loans--which was really a bailout of the system itself. It will happen again, says Fay: the system has learned nothing from the experience. Masterful reporting of a complex, amazing story.

Pub Date: April 14th, 1982
Publisher: Viking