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Bailout Nation: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy by Aaron Task, Barry Ritholtz

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Chapter 18. The Year of the Bailout, Part II: Too Big to Succeed?

 

No private enterprise should be allowed to think of itself as "too big to fail." No taxpayer bailouts should allow executives or stockholders to relax.

 
 --William Safire[126]

The month of September 2008 finished the way it began, with a dire combination of volatility and panic. From Bear Stearns to Lehman to AIG, once the dominos began falling, there was no easy way to halt the progression. As traders sensed this, markets began accelerating to the downside; they got worse every week.

Into this cavalcade of collapse tripped the next major domino: Citigroup, the nation's biggest bank. Of the many players in our morality tale, the sprawling mess known as Citi was the oldest. It took two centuries of cautious risk management and careful growth to become the biggest and wealthiest of banks; it took less than five years for Citigroup to virtually collapse.

City Bank of New York was founded in 1812. A century later in 1919 it became the first U.S. bank with $1 billion in assets. Just as the stock market was topping before the 1929 crash, the National City Bank of New York (as it was known then) had become the largest commercial bank in the world.[127] This was a position the bank that would become Citigroup would frequently occupy for the rest of the twentieth century.

As a banking institution, National City introduced many firsts: traveler's checks, compound interest on savings accounts, unsecured personal loans to its depositors, ...

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