The Long Term Capital Management Collapse

What was LTCM?


LTCM was a large hedge fund led by Nobel Prize-winning economists and renowned Wall Street traders that nearly collapsed the global financial system in 1998 as a result of high-risk arbitrage trading strategies. The fund formed in 1993 and was founded by renowned Salomon Brothers bond trader John Meriwether.

How big was it, and what was it's strategy?

LTCM started with just over $1 billion in initial assets and focused on bond trading. The trading strategy of the fund was to make convergence trades, which involve taking advantage of arbitrage between securities that are incorrectly priced relative to each other. Due to the small spread in arbitrage opportunities, the fund had to leverage itself highly to make money. At its height in 1998, the fund had $5 billion in assets, controlled over $100 billion and had positions whose total worth was over a $1 trillion.

What caused it to fail?

Due to its highly leveraged nature and a financial crisis in Russia which led to a flight to quality, the fund sustained massive losses and was in danger of defaulting on its loans. This made it difficult for the fund to cut its losses in its positions. The fund held huge positions in the market, totaling roughly 5% of the total global fixed-income market. LTCM had borrowed massive amounts of money to finance its leveraged trades. Had LTCM gone into default, it would have triggered a global financial crisis, caused by the massive write-offs its creditors would have had to make. In September 1998, the fund, which continued to sustain losses, was bailed out with the help of the Federal Reserve and its creditors and taken over. A systematic meltdown of the market was thus prevented.

Why is it important?

The collapse of LTCM shows just how risky the investment banking industry is. It was run by the best in the industry, who made "sure thing" bets, and lost. Such bets are very similar to those made on the sub-prime mortgage loans.

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