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Reflections on a Decade of Financial Change


Sharing the journey, one day at a time.

Time can be measured in many ways but through a financial market lens, the last ten years have been nothing short of remarkable.

We witnessed technology stocks that rocketed to the moon crash back to earth.

We watched bipolar disorder come full circle in real estate; a manic craze followed by the depression phase.

China seemingly held the key to world prosperity before the devil of deflation brought the other side of globalization to bear.

Crude was viewed as a new paradigm until we discovered the difference between hiding spots and safe-havens.

Credit, the mother of all bubbles with total debt-to-GDP stretched towards 400%, reached the zenith of its elasticity and unwound with furious vengeance until the government saved the day and mortgaged our future.

And here we are, navigating perhaps The Last Gasp Bubble, that of quantitative easing with the full faith and credibility of governments hanging in the balance.

All Along the Watchtower

Broadening the aperture, the events of the last ten years have been astounding.

AOL (AOL) married Time Warner (TWX) in 2000, only to legally separate ten years later.

Mad Cow Disease panicked the population, as did Anthrax, SARS, and the Swine Flu.

Alan Greenspan concocted his toxic brew, only to be hailed as the greatest Federal Reserve Chairman in history.

The attacks of 2001 shattered our innocence.

Reactive regulation busted the likes of Kenneth Lay, Bernie Ebbers, and Dennis Kozlowski in the first iteration of corporate malfeasance.

Five years later, the same fate befell Warren Specter (Bear Stearns), Stan O'Neal (Merrill Lynch (BAC)), and Chuck Prince (Citigroup (C)), all of whom cashed in before prices collapsed.

We watched Goldman Sachs (GS) take over Washington, one by one until they ruled the roost. Hank Paulson sold upwards of $500 million in stock through a tax-free loophole.

We invaded Iraq after being told they possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction.

There was the blackout in the Northeast -- still yet to be explained -- Abu Ghraib Prison abuse, Hurricane Katrina, election shenanigans, the iPod, Anthrax fears, terror alerts, Patriot Acts, American Idol, "Mission Accomplished," Martha Stewart, Madonna kissing Britney, Howard Dean going nuts, Janet Jackson's nip slip, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, ring-tones, Tsunamis, and steroids. The Soprano's, 24, and Lost faded to black. The Red Sox finally won the World Series. Britney, Lindsay, and Paris captivated the mainstream mindset before falling prey to the trappings of success.

We've shared some great moments and some tough times, with moments of moderation sprinkled in for good measure.

Little did I know that I would embark on a journey to share those events in real-time.

Run, Run, Run for the Roses

History will describe the last decade as a stretch when most folks chased the pied piper of immediate gratification, losing sight of what truly mattered and why. When the dust settled, it was the single worst period in the history of financial markets.

While not everyone transgressed, few emerged unscathed as The Age of Austerity arrived. Many are still learning that lesson, some are experiencing it for the first time.

Flashback ten years today. I was running the trading desk at a $400 million dollar hedge fund when my partner at the time, Jim Cramer, readied for vacation. He was looking for someone to write his column in his absence and as it turned out, that someone was me.

I felt like I was doing him a favor at the time but with the benefit of hindsight, it was Jim that did me the favor. I had never written anything other then letters to my mother from camp and if not for that simple twist of fate, Minyanville would have never been birthed.

I've told the story before, or at least parts of it, and I'm in the process of writing a book that fills in the blanks. But today's column isn't so much about me as it is about us; what we've seen and shared, and how we've smiled and cried.

Old school readers will remember the bull and bear costumes from the bubble days as we navigated triple-digit moves in a single session. Who would have thought Uncle Buck and Microstrategy and Led Zeppelin could commingle into a cohesive stream of consciousness?

They'll recall when I took a leap of faith and shared the tale of Ruby, my beloved grandfather, and explained the reasons behind my weekly trips to Del Boca Vista. I still have the thousands of emails my family read beside his bed as our patriarch passed.

They'll remember the chilling post on when, at 8:47 AM on September 11th, 2001, I wrote, "A bomb has exploded in the WTC. May God have mercy on those innocent souls" as I watched people hold hands and jump from atop the towers.

What followed wasn't easy; post-traumatic stress, a deep-dive into depression, deciding to leave the only profession I ever knew to build some nonsensical community where an animated bull and bear could effect positive change through financial understanding.

While the vision was benevolent, the genesis was entirely selfish: to create a parallel universe devoid of the politics and pain in the real world.
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