Every financial bubble has its popular phrases, initialisms and acronyms. In the 1980s they were junk bonds and LBOs. The most recent bubble offered CDOs, Option ARMS, Structured Notes and a virtual lexicon of complex and convoluted financing. Though it all started to fray early in 2008, the Sept. 15 bankruptcy filing by Lehman Brothers began a new, far more frightening chapter. Today the Lehman Brothers building in Manhattan carries the name of Britain's Barclays bank, the stock market is up more than 40% from its lows, and the ailing automotive industry has registered a couple of months of healthy growth. But while talk of economic recovery fills the air, there's quiet acknowledgment that the economy is still on life support. Without hundreds of billions of dollars in government assistance, we don't know quite where the economy would be, but we do know it would be worse. Even with it, economists are talking not about a V-shaped recovery but of possibly a double-dip, the dreaded W.
Did all this have to happen? The consumer excesses were building for years, and the structural flaws in our financial system as President Obama emphasized in his Monday, Sept. 14, address to Wall Street were a slow build as well. But it is also clear that the mad scramble for safety among financial institutions, which sent bond-market spreads out of sight and shut down access to credit for virtually everyone, began in earnest the day Lehman went down.
In the year since, institutions have changed some grown larger, others gone as have the people who lead them. Here's a gallery of major players in the financial crisis how they got into trouble, and where they are now.