05 September 2008
A timeline for the fall of Barings Bank
Feb. 25, 1967, Nick Leeson is born. His first home was in Orbital Crescent, North Watford, to the northwest of London, off M1.
1985-1989. During this period, Japan's "bond warrants" market accounted for most of the earnings of Barings Securities. Japanese companies had discovered they could get a substantial discount on the interest cost of bonds if they offered a sweetener, a "warrant" -- a long-duration stock option -- with the bond proper. Due to the relative lack of transparency the market for these warrants was inefficient and allowed an informed trader to make a steady income. This income fueled the ambitons and expansion of Barings in the far East.
1986. Trading began at SIMEX (Singapore International Monetary Exchange) on futures contracts written on Japan's Nikkei 225 index.
1987. Ian Martin becomes the finance director of Barings Securities. Martin will create the Business Development Group (BDG), a corporate trouble-shooting outfit.
1988. Nikkei futures contracts begin to trade on the Osaka stock exchange. Over the following years, there will be small discrepancies between their value in Osaka and the value of the same contracts in Singapore on the SIMEX, creating opportunties for arbitrage.
July 1989. Leeson joins the settlements department (the back office) of Barings. In London.
1990. Leeson, now part of Martin's BDG, is sent to Jakarta, Indonesia, because their back-office has become a tangle of never-completed settlements.
Sept. - Oct. 1991. Leeson, now credited with a success in Jakarta, is given another assignment back in London. Investigating an apparent fraud in derivatives dealing. This, too, enhances his standing in the firm.
Feb. 1992. Leeson applies for a City of London trading license. Some questions arise relative to a judgment against him in a county court, and the application never goes through.
March 1992 Leeson marries Lisa Sims, also a Barings employee. they honeymoon in Venice.
April 1992, Nick Leeson is posted to Singapore, to run the back office of the SIMEX operation there.
July 1992, a software technician establishes account 88888 for Barings at Simex, an "error account." Leeson soon excludes it from all reporting lines.
Late 1992, Leeson takes an exam and becomes entitled to take trade on the SIMEX floor. This means he was hereafter both making and settling trades -- a fateful set-up.
March 1993, Barings senior management is restructured. Longtime head Christopher Heath is out. Peter Norris is in as CEO.
October 1994, Mary Walz, head of Equity Derivatives, starts asking questions about Leeson and the improbable size of the profits he's reporting. This is also the month in which Leeson bares his buttocks in public, is arrested, then bailed out by Barings brass. The incident is hushed up.
December 1994, Walz was right. The profits were fictitious. In reality, by the end of the year his losses exceeded 208 million pounds.
January 16, 1995. Leeson, who has decided that he needs a big score to get out of the hole, places a huge "short" bet on volatility, in both Singapore and Japan. In other words, he bet that there'd be no immediate sudden shift in the value of Nukkei stocks.
January 17, 1995, an eathquake strikes Japan, 7.2 on the Richter scale, with devastating consequences for people, property ... and exchange-traded stock prices. Leeson's accounts head into a final downward spiral.
February 23, 1995. Nick disappears. It was his habit to work on the trading floor until 2:30 PM, then to attend to the office work. This day, he walked off the trading floor at the usual time, talked shop over drinks with colleagues (to whom he seemed his usual self) for an hour, then met up with Lisa and left Singapore.
Barings execs in both Japan and London had become increasingly insistent he "clear up" some problems they saw at last in the numbers, and this was his answer.
Feb. 25-26, the weekend of Leeson's 28th birthday. Barings officials break into a locked desk drawer and discover the remnants of some rather sloppy cut-and-paste jobs Leeson had used to fake crucial documents.
The rest is end game.
Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.