Sunday 2010-09-05

Bernard Baruch by James Grant

Baruch seems to have made his first money by negotiating ( or being given?) a percentage share in the profits of a brokerage (A A Housman) while working there during one of its lean years. Profits and losses from aggressive leveraging show up in his early years; it's not clear that he wasn't just lucky to have used leverage when he had little capital and then not (or little) when he did. This apparently allowed him to survive the 1929 Crash.

(Daniel) Jackling, who was born on a farm in Missouri and whose boyhoood dream was to own 108 acres free and clear, believed in one great idea. It was that a meager copper ore could be profitably mined if there were enough steam shovels to scrape it from the surface and enough mill capacity to refine it. The site he favored was a desolate canyon in Utah. "It's in Bingham," explained Colonel Enos Wall, Jackling's partner, "and it's a mile wide and as long as a railroad...." Jackling, a big, ruddy man, laid out his theory to Baruch in about 1903. Baruch was impressed by the idea, or the man, or both, and he bought "a good many shares" of Utah Copper Company. He was the exception.... Over the next decade, Utah would yield 617,785 tons of copper, pay $76 million in dividends, accumulate $48 million of working capital and establish itself as the greatest copper mine in the world.
-- Chapter 5, His Own Man
As for Baruch, when he was publicly charged (with insider trading based on his World War 1 Washington post on the Advisory Commission to the US Council for National Defense), he had resolved, first, to clear his name, and, second, to have nothing more to do with politics or politicians. So brilliantly did he succeed in the first resolution that he decided to ignore the second.
-- Chapter 8, Poison-Pen Letter
Having made a fortune in Wall Street under a system of low taxes and limited government, Baruch entered public life to help install a regime of relatively high taxes and intrusive government.
-- Chapter 9, Captain of Industry