Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lewis Fights The Bear (and Gets Mauled)

One of my favorite David Mamet screenplays is "The Edge", starring that one of my favorite Hollywood actors, the late 'Bart The Bear' (seen here on the right of the inserted photo). The plot is simple: Following a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness, a self-made Billionaire and his posse, face the challenge of surviving both the elements and a determined grizzly, while the Billionaire parries with underling over secret affair with trophy wife. Anthony Hopkins plays "Charles", the stoic and reserved magnate with quiet but steely determination and beaucoup common sense, opposite Alec Baldwin as the young cheeky Photographer doing Charles' wife (Elle MacPherson) on the sly. The plane goes down, several survive with next-to-nothing and exposed to the elements, as they use their wits and Charles ' simple survivalist skills to avoid freezing and starving to death, and being dinner for the giant grizzly (believably played by Bart) that is tracking them. Then "Bob", whose affair with trophy-wife is found out by Charles, but is given the opportunity to safely eliminate his wealthy rival, resulting in superb action, thrills and some unexpected turns. The script has everything suspenseful that insures one is insatiably gripped.

Equally thrilling has been tycoon Joseph Lewis' flirtation with the other Bear (Stearns). Here, too, we see a self-made Billionaire, an apparently stoic and successful FX operative with a steely determination and a stomach for risk, with famous friends such as golfing buddies Els and Woods operating boldly. And like Mamet's character Charles, we are voyeuristically sucked into Lewis' world by virtue of the public disclosure of his stake in The Bear, and the sheer size of the bet amidst apparent market adversity. Morbidly, we watch as Lewis is mauled by the Bear, filing again with the SEC to report additional purchases on the way down that brought his stake to approx 10%. A brief swoon in the BSC stock price in early Feb, and observers are already counting his heady losses for him with wide-eyed disbelief. But then, as with most battles that are deemed worthy by the audience, The Bear bounces from mid-$70s to high $80s and Lewis is again looking the canny operator. "What one man can do, another can do..." - that was Charles' mantra as he set about to turn the table on Bart the Bear from hunter, to hunted. Unfortunately, for Mr. Lewis, here the stories and objectives diverge. "Kill the Bear" was Charles' objective, whereas Mr Lewis simply wanted it acquired for a higher price than paid.

We all know how it has ended for Mr Lewis, who, according to most reputable (as well as less-than-reputable) rags is a billion dollars or so out-of-pocket. This simply cannot be a good feeling, even for the most stoic of traders. Mr Lewis has seemingly learned the difference between the FX markets and the equity markets, which is that doubling-down in a potentially distressed equity holds risks that a rarely mirrored in major liquid FX markets, irrespective of how wrong your FX punts might be. That said, one doesn't make a couple of billion without taking risks, a reality that yields an understanding that not all trades have Disney endings, particularly those penned by Mamet.

But should we feel sorry for Mr Lewis, who is probably a like-able-enough guy, and who has just been dissed, slapped in the face, and humiliated in front of friends, colleagues, and, as it happens, the entire world?? Mamet fortunately answered this very question for us, early on in the film as they are flying over the Alaskan wilderness towards their destination when "Bob" (played by Baldwin), making conversation, taunts Charles (Hopkins) as he says in mocking and faux-concerned tone:
"I feel sorry for you... never knowing who your friends are... or what they like you for....or who you can trust..."
Charles reflects upon this, understanding the barb and at least part of its intention and replies:
"Never feel sorry for a man with his own plane."


RJH Adams said...

or one who is still worth $1.3bn despite losing nearly half his wealth.


PS/Enjoyed prior post; with MM on this one (deja vu) and hoping it signals (haha) decline and fall of "noise" as a method. Some doubt tho - this story has far to run with BB in it to win it. Or at least until the end.

behemoth said...

Lewis ignored a fundamental law of life, to wit: "If
you are a billionaire entering a marriage, get a pre nup."