In December 1986, U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani made one of the most extraordinary deals in the annals of American justice. It was with Ivan Boesky, the Wall Street arbitrageur, who had admitted using stolen information to make over a $100 million. Not only was he was allowed to plead guilty to a only a single count of securities violations, but he was permitted to keep secret his foreign bank and brokerage accounts, even if they had been enriched by his criminal activity. Similarly, the accounts in his wife and children's name were protected. This accord was not Giuliani's work alone: it was initialed by the U.S. Attorneys in both Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. What Boesky offered to give in return for this leniency was, among other things, information about the secret dealings of a reclusive financier in Los Angeles-- Michael Robert Milken.
Even as Giuliani hammered out the final terms of this bargain with Boesky, Milken, on the telephone in his trading room in Beverly Hills, was lining up some $20 billion in financing for raids on such corporate behemoths as US Steel, Gillette, and Trans World Corporation. Despite the scope of his operations, he had tried to remain invisible to the world at large by denying all press interviews, avoiding social functions and buying up photographs of himself.
Now, with a stroke of the pen by Boesky and three U.S. Attorneys, Milken was suddenly in the cross-hairs of a highly-visible federal investigation.
Despite this new focus on his activities, and rumors that his indictment was imminent, Milken bravely appeared in Beverly Hills Hilton Ballroom, for his ninth-- and last junk bond convention in April. He walked amid four bodyguards, wearing a beige sports suit and defiant red tie. His Californian sun tan and toothy grin made him look much more boyish than his forty-one years. So did the well-fitting hair piece he wore. The hereditary loss of hair he suffered as a teen-ager added to his painful shyness-- and reclusiveness from the press.
More than 2000 clients of had shown up-- many, if for no other reason, then to show their support for him. They were mainly middle-level money managers from Life insurers, Savings and Loans Associations, Pension funds, College Endowments, off-shore banks, mutual funds, financial syndicates and other institution investors. Over the past decade, they had invested scores of billions of dollars in his junk bonds. Many owed their performance record, if not their careers to him. Even if they had heard his mesmerizing message before--and pointed jokes-- they watched him intently.
Milken flashed a quick smile the audience-- as if to say the world was still under control. But there was also a jarring twist in his face-- suggesting the enormous strain he was under. As he began his lilting, almost preachy cadence, his deep set eyes grew more intense. Like some leader at a revival meeting, he looked dead ahead, making sure he was in total control of his audience.
"We should all recognize from the moment we wake up in the morning, we don't like change. We don't like it when our children stop listening to Mary Poppins and all of a sudden have rock video blasting in the house...we don't like it when they change their hairdo or dress. People who run corporations don't like change either."
He hesitated a moment for effect; a grimace on his face-- as if he could personally feel the pain these "people" were in. As everyone in the room fully realized, the staggering change he was talking about was the one he himself had brought about-- the junk bond revolution.
"One way to insulate yourself is to deny change is occurring. You lash out at people, and whose easiest to lash out at...Wall Street."
He is thin body was suddenly taut with nervous energy. He looked at his supporters, who knew that he was explaining, in his own code, why the government was about tp come crashing down on him.
"Much of American business has run to the [government] and said, 'Let's change the rules, we don't want competition, we don't want pressure....Where the corporate officer has denied the market place its right of judgment, and put up barriers to change... and become an ostrich, eventually change becomes violent.
Milken left the conference mobbed by supporters. Just as they had put their faith in his new bonds-- and profited by doing so-- they accepted his message: the establishment was after him because they feared change. As one supporter stated, "Corporate America is hoping to indict Mike Milken...so it can go back to sleep for another 30 years." It was, to them part of "the war" on Wall Street.
Whatever the reason for the powerful reaction against Milken, one thing was certain: he was no ordinary financier. In a few short years, he had reshaped the financial world in a way that no one else had done since J.P. Morgan in the nineteenth century. What he did almost single-handily was destroy the dam of traditional restraints that had effectively penned in a half-trillion dollar reservoir of capital. When this pool of funds, known as the bond market, which had been retained for more than a century as the private fishing pond for Fortune 500 and utility companies, suddenly was channeled by Milken into new hands-- including non-traditional entrepreneurs and corporate raiders-- it changed not only existing relations on Wall Street but the hold of management over publically-held corporations. For better or worse, it threatened to irreversibly alter the balance of power in corporate America. How one man, an outsider without any connections, could bring about changes of this magnitude, and make perhaps a billion dollars for himself in the process, is a story of American capitalism.
Only a decade earlier, Milken was getting his business degree from the Wharton School. Now, he was the central figure in a struggle for control of a vast part of the corporate wealth of America. "I never saw myself as a revolutionary...all the revolutionaries I know are dead," he told me.
What Milken had sought throughout his remarkable rise to power, he explained, was not chaos-- but control over the things around him. "I don't like it when they change my seat at work, it probably disorients me for a week," he explained. When he moved his 20 man bond trading department from New York to Los Angeles in 1978, he found, when he sat at the center of the new X-shaped trading desk he found it difficult to see the two employees on the corners of the desk. He stormed out of the office, ordering the entire office to be redesigned so that he could see everyone from his seating, at all times. Subsequently, he moved his trading room to the building that houses Gump's on Wilshire Boulevard-- a building that he, and his partners, own. "I have no private office," he said to me, "I never had one in my life."
Ever since he had been a teenager in the San Fernando Valley Milken found one means of getting control was simply working longer hours than anyone else. At high school he was both head cheer leader and Prom Chairman, and earned money for himself working nights at a diner, at Berkeley, he made Phi Beta Kappa while moonlighting at the accounting firm of Touche Ross. He then enrolled at Wharton, where he commuting on a greyhound bus from Philadelphia to New York to trade bonds at Drexel. He told Frederick Joseph, who is now CEO of Drexel, "I don't know if I am smarter than anyone else but I can work 25 per cent harder."
He undertook, as a matter of routine, to work a fifteen hour day. He usually arrives at the trading room at 4:30 a.m.-- toting two dog-eared canvas bags full of reports and memos that he had taken home to read-- and remains there until at least 7:30 at night. "Lunch," usually a sandwich and soda, is brought in on a tray for him, and everyone else, at 10 a.m. He neither smokes or drinks-- not even coffee, explaining, "I don't need stimulants." Three assistants, who work in relays, starting at 4 a.m., try to keep up with him.
He uses the telephone as another means of extending his control. As young women in jeans move around the trading room passing scribbled notes to him, he relentlessly phones clients to tell them the "story" on companies whose bonds he is "placing." His pitch is often in the form of long monologues.
Keeping visitors waiting for audiences is another means of maintaining control. Not uncommonly, corporate executives begin cuing up in the conference rooms outside from early in the morning to late at night. They come typically to discuss borrowing money for their company in the junk bond market. Often, they then wait for over an hour. When Milken finally strides into the room, he is accompanied by a host of his aides, relevant financial experts and executives from Drexel's corporate finance department. There is, not uncommonly, more than twenty people sitting around the oval-shaped table.
According to executives who have gone through such "audiences," Milken usually listens patiently and courteously to their case for getting access to junk bond financing. He then, in another act of control, dismisses from the room all but four or five participants. In this smaller group, he then presents his own analysis of, and strategy for, the company seeking money in the bond market. One industrialist who sat through such an audience was "stunned" as he described it afterwards, by Milken's intimate knowledge of his company's financial situation. Then, suddenly, the audiences would be over and Milken would disappear back into the trading room.
Nominally, Milken is merely a minor executive at Drexel--the vice president in charge of its Beverly Hills branch office. In fact, in an extraordinary arrangement, he operates what is tantamount a company within a company. By moving his staff to LA, he was able to operate outside of the sought of direct supervision that he might have to contend with in N.Y. His inner circle includes Lowell Milken, his younger brother and a lawyer by training, Peter Ackerman, his right-hand man and a Fletcher School Ph.D. and Richard Sandler-- his personal lawyer. He also has his own accountants and consultants. He also takes a large part of Drexel's profit: In 1986 alone, he, and his staff, reportedly got over a quarter billion dollars in bonuses-- much of which was invested in Milken's extramural ventures-- and highly-aggressive tax-shelters. In these investments, he has made many of these top aides multi-millionaires in their own rights and partners of his.
Milken's position proceeded directly from his domination over junk bonds. Once considered something of a joke on Wall Street, they become by the mid-1980s, under Milken's direction, the main means of financing through debt the expansion of medium sized corporations-- which meant 95% of the corporations in America. Although he had no exclusive monopoly on junk bonds, his ability to sell them to financial institutions, through his personal network of money managers, made him one of the most powerful financier in the world.
How Milken created this new universe of money in a few short years, with himself at the center as the "grand sorcerer" of finance, as the Institutional Investor called him, is remarkable testimony to the power of a single idea. The insight came to him gradually in the mid seventies, he explained. He then was working at Drexel in New York as a specialist in so-called "fallen angels"-- which were the bonds of once great corporations that, because they had fallen from grace, had been downgraded by the rating services from investment quality (BB or better) to "junk." His job, figuring out whether the actual risks were of them defaulting was outweighed by the premium interest they paid, led him to question the structure of the entire market for capital in the United States.
When he recounted his thinking on how the corporate economy gets its money, "The World According to Milken," as he put it-- he reminded me of the chess prodigy Bobby Fisher. Just as Fisher could see combinations in a chess board no one else could, Milken seemed to see moves not obvious to others in finance. With a series of assertions, often in incomplete verbal shorthand, he would move from level to level.
Level One. "What is a bank?" he asked rhetorically. "It is nothing more than a bunch of loans."
Level two. " How safe are these loans?" "They are made mainly to three groups that may never repay them in a real economic crisis-- home owners, farmers and consumers of big ticket items."
Level Three. "What guarantees these loans?" "These banks usually have $100 in loans for every dollar of equity-- which means there is very little backing them up."
Level Four. "They are hardly a risk-free investment yet their bonds get triple-A ratings" " What does this tell us about bond ratings?"
This brought him to his main target: the bond rating system. As it had existed for a hundred years, two companies-- Standard & Poor's and Moody's-- assigned corporate bonds a letter grade rating descending from AAA to C. Anything above BB was considered investment-grade, which meant there was virtually no risk of default, and the bond-buyer could count on a fixed rate of interest. Since the rating was awarded on the basis of how large the company was, as well as its historical stability, only "the 600 to 700 largest companies qualified," Milken found. These were companies with assets over $200 million, and which had been in business for decades. Because of the rating system, they were the only companies in which many insurance companies, pension plans, college endowments, banks and other institutions permitted their money-managers to buy bonds. This "half-trillion dollar capital market", as Milken calculated it, was closed to the other "24,000 American corporations." These excluded companies could only borrow from commercial banks, at unpredictable short-term interest rates from banks, or from insurance companies, which attached restrictive covenants to the money.
This "black and white" distinctions made no sense to Milken. As he saw it from his analysis of "fallen angels," the underlying "risk free" premise was wrong: "There is no such thing as a risk free investment." Top rated bonds could fall precipitously in value, not only if the company went bankrupt, but if its credit-rating was lowered because their industry declined-- like steel and ship-building did in the seventies. Ratings measured "the past not the future" risk. "This was crazy," Milken said. "rating services had the wrong computer program."
To correctly weigh the risks, it was necessary to appraise the future. He reasoned: "The value of a company is the sum of two components: its past, as represented by its historic balance sheet, and its future, represented by its prospects." By concentrating on the first component in his equation--the historical balance sheet-- the rating services had seriously neglected the other component--future cash flow.
"And that what bonds are all about-- getting paid off in the future," he added. He cited the case of Metromedia-- which then owned four television stations. "You didn't have to know much about its past record, or the number of years it paid a dividend, or what letter the rating services gave it. All one had to do was be able to add together four numbers-- the value of its stations in New York, L.A., Chicago and Boston-- to find the total value greatly exceeded what it owed." So long as one believed these stations would not decrease in value in the foreseeable future, its bonds would be a safe investment "whatever their ratings."
This brought Milken to the next level of his insight. If bonds were pegged to their future cash flow, rather than past track record, then the old rules would no longer hold. Nor would the investment-grade labels matter. Bonds would then become, like common stock and real estate, just another form of risk management, which is what Milken saw them to be in reality. If the bonds of medium-sized companies were more risky, they could compensate the buyer for the extra gamble by paying extra interest. He assumed that many growth companies could afford to pay this premium interest out of their future earnings (especially since interest, unlike dividends on stocks, is tax deductible).
What he eventually came up with was a cross between a bond and a common stock. It was called a bond, and therefore institutions, restricted to bonds, could buy it for their portfolios, but, in paying out a large slice of its future cash flow to the holder, it acted like stock. Unlike existing junk bonds, which were the debris of fallen companies, Milken custom designed his issues to be unrated bonds. He realized they were "subversive" since they undercut the established rating system, but, as an outsider, this did not disturb him. He had always been, as he described himself, "something of an iconoclast." He, moreover, saw that if he could open up the huge capital market to growth corporations, they would beat a path to his door. Milken conceived of his role as a marriage-broker, "bringing about kind of a marriage between institutions" and aggressive-new corporations.
At Drexel, Milken had already proven himself a money-making phenomena. By 1976, he was earning over 100 per cent on the capital he was given to trade his exotic Fallen Angels -- and got a $5 million bonus (which he immediately re-invested). When Fred Joseph listened to his analyses, he realized that Milken, "understood credit better than anyone else in the country." Joseph then headed Drexel's corporate finance department, which would have to work in close collaboration with Milken in selecting and advising corporations that issued these new bonds. But the profits would be enormous-- if Milken could persuade money-managers of the validity of his concept, and thereby break the strangle-hold the rating services had on the bond market.
The idea required changing the mind set of institutions. Even if it meant earning higher returns, money managers had, as Milken shrewdly recognized, "career reasons" for sticking to buying bonds that carried an investment-grade rating. As long as they bought bonds with this "seal of approval," there careers would not be in jeopardy-- even if the bonds went bankrupt (as, for example, the Washington State Bonds did). On the other hand, if they invested their funds' money in anything else, they would be held personally accountable.
Milken therefore embarked on a determined campaign to bring the more aggressive money managers into an alliance with him. Like any political campaign aimed at changing perceptions, Milken's crusade operated at different levels; public, and hidden.
As if to symbolize his break with the establishment, he moved his headquarters from Wall Street to Los Angeles on July 4th 1978. It was his 32nd birthday-- and his declaration of personal independence from New York. His first order of business was, he recalled teaching his top aides "how to communicate ideas."
His immediate target were the money-managers who invested the portfolio of the highly-competitive thrift banks, pension funds and life insurers. Since the very survival of these institutions, unlike older and more established ones in the East, depended on their being able to attract new clients by paying the highest possible rates of return. They desperately needed some edge over rivals that put their funds only in investment-grade bonds; and Milken offered them the means to save themselves: junk bonds. They still had to be convinced these new instruments were safe.
Milken worked tirelessly to tell them the message what they wanted to hear: ratings were irrational. In his pitch, he compared rating services to movie reviewers that gave theater owners "incorrect reviews" of risks-- with the result that the theaters missed booking the right films. He argued that they ignored the growth potential in their equation. After he laid down the logic of junk bonds, he ran through numbers intended to demonstrate how the higher interest would more than compensate for any losses through defaults in a portfolio of junk bonds. The "bottom line" was that they could earn more money than their competitors in the world of institutional finance. It was a message his audiences evidently wanted to hear.
In a remarkably short period of time, Milken won over a host of money managers with "billion dollar checks in their pocket." As these money managers found junk bonds gave them an edge of over five percent over investment grade bonds-- or $50 million a year for every billion they had in their institution's portfolio-- they were able to attract more institution's to their funds. Other money managers, seeing the results, joined the ranks of the converted.
Many of these fund managers whom I saw, not only accepted his philosophy-- but preached it themselves. Howard Marks, the managing director of Trustco, a Beverly Hills based manager of pension funds, for example, had been convinced by Milken about the bias in the rating system when he was at Citibank in 1977. He recalled Milken talked then not only about making money but, on a more altruistic level, about how the nation would benefit by making capital available to growth companies. He then moved to Trust Company of the West, which invests pension funds; and by investing 1.5 billion in junk bonds, he became one of the top fund managers in America. (He also has been recruited by Milken to help him coach children's basketball team.)
The story was the same with Thomas Spiegel. When Milken met him, his family owned a small thrift, Columbia Savings and Loan, which invested its funds mainly in government-backed 30 year mortgages. As short-term interest rate steadily rose in the 1970s, S&Ls had to pay progressively higher rates to get the public to buy their Certificates of Deposits, which drove many to the brink of bankruptcy. Milken showed Spiegel that the answer lay in substituting higher-yielding junk bonds for mortgages in its portfolio. By doing this, Spiegel had increased his bank's assets from 400 million to 4 billion dollars-- much of it invested in Milken's bonds.
As the number of converts grew, Milken created an annual jamboree for them in Beverly Hills. As part of the logistics, he hired fleets of stretch limos to shuttle the money managers around; plush restaurants, such as Chasen's, to wine and dine them, and entertainers, such as Frank Sinatra, Diana Ross and Kenny Rogers to amuse them. For his more exclusive clients, there was also stag parties in bungalow Eight of the Beverly Hills Hotel. As one participant, who attended in 1985, recalls, about 20 "starlets" were ushered into the room, like " pigeons brought in a net to a skeet shoot-- and then let loose for the guests to shoot at." The "starlets" were arranged through a model agency partly owned by one of his business associates. There was even a plan to charter the Concorde for a supersonic outing to Wimbledon, where Milken's top clients would have their own tennis clinic with Virginia Wade.
But despite such excursions, the purpose of these multi-million dollar conferences was, as Milken explained it, to give junk bond buyers "a sense of purpose." Beginning at 6 a.m, there were presentations by corporations that were issuing these bonds, followed by "news breaks" by Milken, where he acted as both a MC and cheerleader.
Among these carefully orchestrated events were sessions in which speakers stressed the good junk bonds were doing for the economy. For example, in 1985, first, Senator Chick Hechi told how the country needed growth companies, then a series of economists explained how junk bonds were crucial to growth companies, followed by Ralph M. Ingersoll, the CEO of Ingersoll Newspapers, who told how they had made his company more productive. Finally, to unrestrained cheers, Milken summed up the message.
The change he had brought about through his crusade was that the 2000 or so money managers in the audience were no longer limited in the bonds they bought to a few hundred investment-grade companies; they could bonds in thousands of unrated companies. He had opened up a new universe of speculation to them.
Milken accomplished this feat not through his skill as a bond trader but through his skills as a salesman. He was Wall Street's version of the Pied Piper-- leading wayward fund managers from their traditional village. The main occupation of his "traders" was selling bonds to his long list of institutional customers, which they "distributed" according to his instructions-- though they also bought and sold bonds to support the market (and made the spread). The bulk of the profit he generated for Drexel came not from any sort of arbitrage between junk bonds and investment grade bonds-- which, as he explained it to me, he never really did-- but from the fees he got from selling previously unsalable corporate debt.
These money-managers were willing to go along with Milken not solely because of his mesmerizing presentations-- though they provided the "doing good" rationale their superiors might like to hear-- but because of the track record of his junk bonds. The companies he financed boomed, rather than defaulted (In 1986, for example, not a single one of his companies missed an interest payment). He also provided them with a liquid market in which they could quickly sell any junk bonds that made them nervous. Moreover, the prices for these bonds were, despite fluctuations in other markets, moved very little. This established what appeared to be a very stable, as well as profitable, medium for the institutional funds that they had been entrusted with investing.
The means by which Milken maintained the appearance of a stable junk bond market was a far less visible part of his strategy. From the moment he moved to California, aside from giving his pitch to money managers, he sought out alliances with larger financiers who personally controlled other financial companies-- especially insurers with large portfolios of bonds. Among the allies he made were Saul Steinberg (Reliance Group Insurers); Fred Carr (First Executive Life Insurance), Carl Lindner (American Financial Corporation), Victor Posner (..) and the Belzberg Brothers ( First National Corporation). Milken's relation with these financiers went beyond merely selling them bonds. In the case of some, such as Carr and Steinberg, he became their partner in other joint ventures. He also acted as their financier when they need to raise their own money to acquire other companies. What he created was a common set of interests between himself and others controlling financial companies. Fred Carr's First Executive alone invested most of its 1.4 billion dollar portfolio in junk bonds (as well as setting up an offshore re-insurance company, First Stratford, in partnership with Milken. The extent to which he depended on a handful of financiers was revealed by Milken in a deposition he gave in a law suit involving the Green Tree Acceptance Corporation. He acknowledged that "I would not consider it unusual to find six or seven institutions buying anywhere from 50 to 70 per cent" of his junk bonds.
Moreover, Milken, together with present and former Drexel employees, became a heavy investor in his own junk bonds. The resources at his disposal included, among other entities, his personal trading account, estimated to be over 150 million dollars, the Milken family foundation ( which in 1984 reported buying $104,621, 379 worth of securities) and a half-dozen partnerships, he had organized with his employees, some dating back to the mid-1970s, in which they re-invested much of the profits and bonuses they had receive at Drexel.
In addition, Milken, with a few top aides, had a controlling interest in First Stratford, the off-shore re-insurance company, which had 734 million dollars in assets.Milken was also a partner in two investment vehicles run by his former trading assistants-- Bass Limited Investment Partnerships, with two billion dollars in assets; and Pacific Asset Holding, run by his former chief aide, Gary Winnick ( who himself invested $30 million), which engages in everything from risk arbitrage of take over stocks to Leveraged Buy Outs. It reportedly has a billion dollars in capital with which to trade junk bonds.Then, Offshore in Bermuda, along with First Stratford, there is Garrison Investments, operated by still another of his former aides, Guy Dove III. It reportedly re-invests over three billion dollars in municipal holdings, pension plan and other institutional funds-- much of it in junk bonds.
Finally, Milken also has a powerful voice in Drexel's own $3 billion bond portfolio, if not total control. He is its third largest share holder-- after Bank Lambert in Brussels and its own pension plan. According to estimates of former associates of Milken, all these funds-- either controlled by Milken, his former aides or Drexel, may be as much as 10 billion dollars. If effectively traded back and forth between issues, this sum could do much to create the image of a stable market.
Milken thus became, aside from a bond salesman, a market maker for all junk bonds. His Beverly Hills office did, according to a deposition he gave, 250,000 transactions a month. Within this system, money was commonly moved from one coded account to another without the name of the buyer or seller being identified, even to his own employees. "He didn't respect any conventional boundaries," an arbitrageur, who knew Milken well, observed. "It all may have been out of control," a competitor at Morgan Stanley suggested. On the other hand, such formulations, based on orthodox precepts about bond trading, may have seriously underestimated the leverage over the market that wasn't visible to outsiders. With billions of dollars flowing through his various entities, and acting himself, under different hats, as buyer, seller, market-maker and investment banker, Milken had an extraordinary tight grip not only over the prices of bonds in his market-- but over the perception of the entire phenomena.
By 1986, the small stream of money he had diverted from the investment-grade market in the late 1970s quickly turned into a torrential river of funds. Entire industries, such as cable television, health care and regional airlines were developed through the proceeds. And it nurtured a whole new class of entrepreneurs-- men like Henry B. Kravis, who, through his firm, Kohlberg, Kravis Roberts, organized over $30 billion in leveraged buy outs; Rupert Murdoch, who through his "fourth network" and other innovations, forged a global media empire; William McGowan, who, through MCI, built a competing phone system to ATT, Ted Turner, who developed 24 hour cable news and Frank Lorenzo, who, through competition and mergers, created the largest airline in the United States.
If this new source of financing had only been used for helping medium size companies, the corporate establishment might have more easily accepted it. But as it poured in at an accelerated rate, Milken, and his associates at Drexel, began using it to finance corporate raiders, such as Carl Icahn, Ronald Perlman and T. Boone Pickens. Up until the junk bond market became available, few financiers could borrow sufficient capital to get control of multibillion dollar corporations. Now A single client of Milken's, Perlman, who had already taken over Revlon, was now bidding $9 billion for three different companies. Icahn, who had taken over TWA, and going after US Steel, compared management to "gardeners" who had come to think they had owned the estates were paid to take care of." Pickens, who had attacked some of the largest oil companies in the world--including Gulf, Phillips and Unical-- was now spearheading a political movement, the United Shareholders of America, to fight the "corpocracy." All three raiders were seen, for good reason, as "Milken's creations." These raids-- and the leveraged buy outs and restructuring they led to-- rapidly began to change the balance between owners and managers.
Milken pointed out that whereas the entrepreneurs using his junk-bonds owned 30% of their companies, the managers (and Directors) of "Corporate America" owned less than 1% of their company. This swing in the "delicate balance" between entrepreneurial and managerial companies was causing "some pain," as he put it. Although he conceded it "was unfair to blame the manager if the owner had not showed up for 30 years"; now, through his junk bonds, they were showing up. As leader of the junk bond movement, he had to rationalize what was happening in terms of "doing good."
He spoke of the conflict was between value and size. Owners sought the former. They wanted to see the value of their investment increase, even if it meant reducing the size of the overall company by selling divisions that they couldn't themselves manage efficiently to others. The example, he gave was the new owners of Beatrice, who sold its coca cola bottling plant back to Coke, and its Playtex division back to its original founder, increased the value of their investment by over a billion dollars but reduced the size of the conglomerate. Managers, on the other hand, tended to be concerned with the size of their domain, which, in many cases, defined their standing in the community. Milken argued this focus often led to inefficient, citing in the case of Beatrice, that the previous management had spent over 100 million dollars sponsoring auto races, which they evidently personally enjoyed, and for an advertising campaign to create a corporate image for Beatrice-- though none of its products were sold under the Beatrice brand.
The idea that values could be increased by reducing the size of corporations provided an appealing logic for financing takeovers. If the new owners could increase the cash flow by selling off parts of the company, this increment could be committed to repaying the bonds. Moreover, to make this takeover financing less risky, Milken arranged the transaction so that the bonds were only bought when, and if, the raider acquired control of the company. In addition, in case the deal failed to come to fruition-- as most did-- they buyers-in-waiting received a handsome "commitment fee" from the raider. Institutions, seeing a profit with a minimum apparent risk, rushed in to provide this take over financing. (The American Lutheran Church' pension, for example, received a $750,000 commitment fee for agreeing to be a buyer-in-waiting of 10 millions dollars of bonds, without putting up any money). These pledges which Milken lined up allowed Drexel to provide raiders with a letter stating it was "highly confident" the financing could be arranged. For its part, Drexel received a cut of the "committment fees"-- which rarely involved anything more than a promise -- which amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars.
In terms of sheer power, Milken was reached his zenith in the fall of 1986. Over 900 companies had become issuers of junk bonds -- which was larger than the number of companies issuing investment-grade bonds, and the junk bond market was channeling up to four billion dollars a month to companies excluded from the traditional bond market. Because of Milken's money machine, corporations signed on with Drexel (whether they needed the money-- or out of feared, if they didn't, Drexel would supply the money to their competitor). Drexel, which had been a minor brokerage house 5 years earlier, now, in terms of profit, had become America's leading investment bank. Drexel's pre-tax profits were reportedly over $1.5 billion in 1986.
Suddenly, as Business Week warned on its cover, no one was safe anymore. Felix Rohatyn, a senior partner in Lazard Frere, warned "The takeover game as it is practiced today is a really a little like the arms race. You have to stop it before it gets out of control." Lane Kirkland, the President of the AFL-CIO, called it "an outrage and a bloody scandal." Senator William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, stated "The rising tide of hostile takeovers threatens the foundation of the American business system."
Sir James Goldsmith, who has been both a client and an opponent of Milken's, saw the conflict proceeding from the threat to take power away from those who had held it. "I don't know whether or not Mike Milken realized at the time that he had found a way of financing an immense revolution in America, but now he has witnessed the full power of the establishment triangle: big business, big unions and big government." He then added, " As I European, I witnessed the same alliance trying to avoid change and neutralizing those responsible for it."
"It is nothing short of war," declared one of America's leading industrialists, who asked not to be identified out of fear of being caught in the cross-fire.
Wall Street was only one front in this war. It was fought also in court rooms, board rooms and back rooms of state legislations, as well as on television and op pages, where accusations were made that corporate managers were "corpocrats," and raiders "assassins in three piece suits." It even was waged even on the streets of Akron, Ohio, were Goodyear organized workers, wearing rubber face masks, to march in protest against Sir James Goldsmith.
At the center of the conflict is an almost philosophic disputation about the purpose of the large corporation in the scheme of American capitalism. In one camp, the defenders of the present system of corporate stewardship, argue that the corporation must be regarded not just as a private profit-making but as a public institution. As such, they must serves not only their legal owners--the share-holders-- but broader interests, including their workers, suppliers, the local community and the nation. They hold that management, which represents these community interests as well as shareholders, is best suited to run these institutions.
In the other camp, the raiders and their allies, argue that corporation best serve others by serving their legal owners-- the shareholders. In this view, they benefit other constituencies--such as labor, suppliers and communities-- not by being charitable institutions but by making the most efficient use of their resources-- which may mean selling or closing down unproductive divisions. They hold that only managers who are accountable to owners have the incentive to make such hard choices. Such accountability comes down to owners having the ability to fire them-- which may may mean taking over the corporation.
Behind these different rationales (which belligerents may-- or may not-- sincerely believe), both sides are after the same prize: control of the corporate wealth of America. The means for waging this battle is money.
By opening up the capital market, like some Aladdan's cave, to outsiders, Milken has made himself central to this war. To end the threat to take away their stewardship, and power, corporate managers had to somehow close the cave. No unrated bonds, no take overs.
Under siege, corporate managements turned in increasing numbers to State and Federal government for help. By November 1986, some 30 bills had been proposed in Congress, while a dozen states passed or considered anti-take over laws. With the Business Round Table, which represents the Fortune 500, warning that junk bond take overs could bring on a 1929-type depression, the Federal Reserve Bank raised margin requirements on junk bond financing, State Insurance Commissions mandated reduced investment in junk bonds, and Congressmen called for new restrictions on their purchase.
Milken tried to explain these attacks on his junk bond empire to money-managers with a baseball metaphor. "Just imagine there was a baseball team, like the N.Y. Yankees, that won all the time. It even came to believe it had a divine right to win. Then a new team came along whose pitchers knew how to throw curve balls and sliders which its hitters couldn't hit. It began to lose. So its manager decided, rather than teaching them how to hit these pitches, to go to the Commission -- and have them banned."
Senators on the Banking Committee listened, the Chairman, William Proxmire, opened a special hearing on Wall Street by asking "How much do we really about the corporate takeover game and the complex network of information that circulates among investment bankers, takeover lawyers, corporate raiders, arbitrageurs, stock brokers, junk bond investors and public relations specialists?"
This question, which raised the spectre of finding a vast criminal conspiracy behind the battle for corporate control, was directed to Rudulph Giuliani, a prosecuter who had made his reputation proving criminal conspiracies against the Mafia, and Gary Lynch, the Director of the SEC's enforcement division. Senator Proxmire explained that in 1933, the same Senate Banking Committee had "recruited" a young attorney named Ferdinand Pecora to go after "white collar criminals" on Wall Street. Pecora, as the Senate's chosen instrument, went after the villian of that era: The House of Morgan-- who had turned the nation's capital markets into a private preserve.
The Chairman then came to his point: "Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Lynch, you are the Ferdinand Pecoras of the 1980s; through your vigilence, Wall Streer is being rid of some of its criminals whose greed has cut a sorry path through our American system." His message--and charge-- was clear. The new Pecoras' target would be Mike Milken, who ironically was responsible for breaching the walls around J.P. Morgan's preserve.
Giuliani had already cut his deal with Boesky. He also cut deals with the seven other participants in the Boesky ring (who worked for such firms as Lazard Freres, Shearson, Wachtell Lipton, Kidder Peabody and Drexel)-- thus ending the case with 8 guilty pleas. The New Pecora abruptly shifted his investigative focus from the inside-trading scam to possible irregularities in Mike Milken's operation.
Giuliani suggested the tough tactics he planned to employ when he was asked what he believed was the difference between culprits in organized crime and those on Wall Street. He answered the latter "roll easier"-- meaning that Wall Street financiers, when threatened with doing hard-time in prison, could be more easily induced to implicate others to save themselves. To this end, he arrested Timothy Tabor, who had worked in the Kidder Peabody Arbitrage Department, too late in the afternoon for him to arrange bail-- or even a lawyer. No indictment had been obtained, nor was he ever advised he was being investigated. He was then told he would have to spend the night in prison if he did not cooperate with Giuliani's investigation by making a taped phone call to his ex-boss. Giuliani candidly explained "This isn't an invitation to a tea party-- people are arrested in the hope they will tell you everything that happened." (In this case , Tabor proved an exception to Giuliani's prediction and, rather than "cooperating" spent the night in jail. (Giuliani subsequently dropped these charges when it came time for him to have a day in court).
Parking violations, as the name impliees, involves a brokerage house or bank keeping a client's stock in its own name im disregard of its reporting requirements. Such "parking" may allow the client to temporarily bypass his margin requirements, keep secret his position in a company that otherwise he would have to disclose, or stay within limits imposed by other rules. It may also sometimes used by portfolio managers who "window dress" their fund's holdings for public reporting purposes. Such infractions of the myriad of reporting requirements was not a rare occurence. As one Wall Street executive observed,"There is not a firm on Wall Street that can be sure it has not, at one time or another, committed some technical violation of these laws." Although clearly a breach of the securities law, up until now no one ever went to prison for such an infraction. The "new Pecoras" have,according to their testimony, a very different idea about "parking violations." They have over the past 7 months subpeoned numerous Drexel employees and clients, attempting to unravelrelations Milken may have had with clients that, in one way or another violated reporting requirement.
Whatever the final disposition of Mike Milken, the financial world will never be the same. With his multi-billion dollar resources and secret alliances, he has created the image of a viable and liquid market in junk bonds. By any standard, this is a truly extraordinary accomplishment which has changed the way that funds held in trust are invested.