All Columns in Alphabetical Order

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

READ THIS: RICHES AMONG THE RUINS: Adventures In The Dark Corners Of The Global Economy By Robert P. Smith with Peter Zheutlin

Whom You Know is dedicated to telling you about quality, and it goes without saying that we are also interested in value in quality.  But we are not talking about the latest sample sale on Cole Haan shoes here, we are talking about bond markets.  Robert P. Smith dedicated his career to finding value in markets that were largely illiquid prior to the age of finding a market for nearly everything on Bloomberg.  (terminal, of course for you non-financials...)

In a career of ups and downs-Smith lost $15 million in a single day in 1998-Smith was able to capitalize on the spread between the seller and the buyer in global markets, but saying this is oversimplifying the matter.  This book is filled with excitement of world travels that for the most part would not show up in our Take a Trip column as Smith found value in markets that were "up and coming."  Smith traded high-yield debt, we believe sovereign and corporate, and we would venture to say that it was even distressed, which is riskier than high-yield.  (Once upon a time Peachy Deegan traded Enron when it was 14 cents on the dollar.  That is an example of a distressed credit.)

Smith states:
"I often had to risk flights on substandard airlines, stay in no-star hotels, and eat strange food.  I sometimes had to dodge bullets and shake down artists.  It's hard work compared to sitting on a trading desk in New York..."

When Smith began in this business in the early 1980's the market was only $300 million a year whereas now it is $1.7 trillion.  Timing is everything and he was there to grow with a market that clearly was expanding.  He not only grew with it, he made the markets by creating opportunities for buyers and sellers of the same paper, once identifying who they were without allowing each other to know who they were.  This is the same market that led to the demise of Long Term Capital Management...

Robert Smith's travels took him to El Salvador, Vietnam, Turkey, South America, Nigeria and Russia but the inspiration for it all started with a stamp collection he had received as a child.    Whom You Know recommends Riches Among the Ruins.  It is a great story of identifying opportunity, adventure and creative thinking.  We love that!

Called the “Indiana Jones” of international finance by Forbes magazine, Robert P. Smith is one of the world's most fearless financial adventurers.  Over the past three decades, he has made, lost, and made back tens of millions of dollars by investing in emerging markets and downtrodden economies.  Despite his unassuming presence, Smith has undertaken daunting risks, both physical and financial, and experienced adventures Hollywood couldn't begin to invent.  As Smith explains, he took the first intrepid steps in the business of “buying promises” — buying various forms of government debt in the world's battered economies from pessimists and selling them to optimists.

In RICHES AMONG THE RUINS: Adventures In The Dark Corners Of The Global Economy (Amacom, $24.95), Smith presents a gripping account of the early days of modern globalization up to the present.  Readers follow Smith as he makes a killing trading dollar-denominated, government bonds in revolution-torn El Salvador in the early 1980s; learns invaluable business lessons in Vietnam; tries to culminate a deal in Baghdad after the fall of
Saddam; and loses more than $15 million dollars in one day betting that post-communist Russia won’t default on its debt.  We travel with him through the precarious and exhilarating world of the debt trader as he negotiates with difficult businessmen in Istanbul; ducks shakedown artists in Nigeria; and alternately charms and infuriates corporate big shots in Guatemala.  At once adrenaline-fueled and utterly compelling, RICHES AMONG THE RUINS is the gripping story of one man’s quest for fortune where others feared to tread.

Beyond the thrill of traveling along on Smith's adventures, RICHES AMONG THE RUINS culminates with an objective analysis of current economic conditions and the future promise of the United States.  Smith cites our politically stable democracy, highly literate and relatively cohesive population, and the fact that millions of people still flock to our shores in search of a better life, as proof to inspire long-term confidence.  “In short, the United States, for all its economic problems, is and will remain a stable and relatively predictable place to invest, create a business, and thrive,” Smith declares.  He does warn, though, that the United States, like the whole global economy, needs to focus on narrowing the growing gap between the rich and the poor.

Riveting reading for anyone interested in how the global economy works, RICHES AMONG THE RUINS is also an exciting adventure story.  Robert Lenzner, national editor of Forbes magazine, says “Smith’s adventures read like a spy novel.”  While Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs declares, “If you want to understand what goes on behind the scenes in international business and finance, and be treated to a fascinating account of the adventures of a financial entrepreneur who knows the most remote areas of the world on intimate terms, this is the book for you.”

About the Authors

Robert P. Smith is the founder and managing director of the Boston-based Turan Corporation, which specializes in trading emerging markets' sovereign debt and evaluating creditor claims against foreign governments.  Smith is a noted authority on developing-world debt and has been cited or quoted in such magazines and newspapers as The Wall Street Journal, Africa Economic Digest, The Financial Times, International Business, and various publications of Euromoney Publications of London.  He is a sought-after speaker and has addressed numerous professional groups on matters relating to emerging markets.  He and his family live in Boston and New York.

Peter Zheutlin, a freelance journalist, is the author of Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride and co-author, with Thomas Graboys, M.D., of Life in the Balance: A Physician's Memoir of Life, Love, and Loss with Parkinson's Disease.  He lives in Needham, Massachusetts.

RICHES AMONG THE RUINS:  Adventures In The Dark Corners Of The Global Economy
By Robert P. Smith with Peter Zheutlin
Publisher:  Amacom
Price:  $24.95 / hardcover
ISBN-13:  978-0-8144-1060-8

Back to TOP