At the height of the roaring '20s, Swedish 'migr' Ivar Kreuger made a fortune raising money in America and loaning it to Europe in exchange for matchstick monopolies. His enterprise was a rare success story throughout the Great Depression.
Yet after Kreuger's suicide in 1932, the true nature of his empire emerged. Driven by success to adopt ever-more perilous practices, Kreuger had turned to shell companies in tax havens, fudged accounting figures, off-balance-sheet accounting, even forgery. He created a raft of innovative financial products -- many of them precursors to instruments wreaking havoc in today's markets. When his Wall Street empire collapsed, millions went bankrupt.
Frank Partnoy, a frequent commentator on financial disaster for the Financial Times, New York Times, NPR, and CBS's "60 Minutes," recasts the life story of a remarkable yet forgotten genius in ways that force us to re-think our ideas about the wisdom of crowds, the invisible hand, and the free and unfettered market.
Partnoy (F.I.A.S.C.O.) delivers a thrilling account of the grandfather of all Ponzi and Madoff schemes Ivar Kreuger (1880 1932), who made his fortune in the 1920s by raising money from American investors to lend to European governments in exchange for match monopolies. Kreuger was creating more than matches, it turned out; the "master of investor psychology" created "the forerunners of today's derivatives" and techniques that are still used by hedge funds and investment banks. Shortly after his suicide in 1932, his schemes finally unraveled. The "Kreuger crash" bankrupted millions and led to the securities laws of 1933 and 1934 a "political reaction to a single event and to one man." Partnoy achieves a nuanced portrait of the charismatic and corrupt financial genius whose advice was sought by Herbert Hoover and other heads of state. A fascinating depiction of a man and his era (Greta Garbo makes memorable cameos), this book is a snapshot of a time all too familiar now: a speculative real estate bubble, unbridled consumer spending, investors buying derivatives based on sketchy information and a Wall Street operating by its own rules.