“The Greatest Trade Ever: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of How John Paulson Defied Wall Street and Made Financial History,” By Gregory Zuckerman; Broadway Books, 295 pages

In 2006, hedge fund manager John Paulson realized something few others suspected – that the housing market and the value of subprime mortgages were grossly inflated and headed for a fall.  Paulson, who knew mergers and acquisitions, knew little about real estate or how to wager against housing.  But Paulson saw an opportunity to bet against the market in complicated derivative investments.  Colleagues at investment banks scoffed at him and investors dismissed him.  Even professionals skeptical about the housing market shied away from him.  But Paulson, obstinate, bet heavily against risky mortgages and precarious financial companies anyway.  Of course, timing is everything.  And, although Paulson lost tens of millions of dollars as real estate and stocks continued to soar, he redoubled his bet, putting his hedge fund on the line.  Then, the markets imploded in the summer of 2007, and Paulson saw profits.  By year’s end, Paulson had pulled off “The Greatest Trade Ever” in financial history, earning more than $15 billion (gross of fees) for funds managed by his firm, Paulson & Co.  In “The Greatest Trade Ever,” Gregory Zuckerman chronicles the unparalleled and unprecedented trade executed by John Paulson, with the help of analyst Paulo Pellegrini and others at Paulson’s firm.  The book provides insider insight into how Paulson and others profited from the subprime market’s demise.  In doing so, it details not only Paulson’s experience, but the experience of other individuals pursuing the same historic trade: Jeffrey Greene, an investor who emulated Paulson; Michael Burry, an investor who read the same problems in the market correctly but had poor timing; and Andrew Lahde, the hedge fund manager who succeeded like Paulson, but on a smaller scale, and then infamously penned a colorful goodbye letter to Wall Street.  None of these players, however, had quite the “smarts, good timing and a touch of the . . . renegade” of Paulson, according to Zuckerman.  This review examines Zuckerman’s remarkably insightful analysis of Paulson’s character, how Paulson was able to foresee the credit crisis based on a single chart, and how Paulson formulated, pursued and completed the “Greatest Trade Ever.”

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