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NYT: The Wolf Hunters of Wall Street

Author: Michael Lewis
March 31, 2014

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"Katsuyama and his team did measure how much more cheaply they bought stock when they removed the ability of some other unknown trader to front-run them. For instance, they bought 10 million shares of Citigroup, then trading at roughly $4 per share, and saved $29,000 — or less than 0.1 percent of the total price… It sounded small until you realized that the average daily volume in the U.S. stock market was $225 billion. The same tax rate applied to that sum came to nearly $160 million a day."

Before the collapse of the U.S. financial system in 2008, Brad Katsuyama could tell himself that he bore no responsibility for that system. He worked for the Royal Bank of Canada, for a start. RBC might have been the fifth-biggest bank in North America, by some measures, but it was on nobody's mental map of Wall Street. It was stable and relatively virtuous and soon to be known for having resisted the temptation to make bad subprime loans to Americans or peddle them to ignorant investors. But its management didn't understand just what an afterthought the bank was — on the rare occasions American financiers thought about it at all. Katsuyama's bosses sent him to New York from Toronto in 2002, when he was 23, as part of a "big push" for the bank to become a player on Wall Street. The sad truth was that hardly anyone noticed it. "The people in Canada are always saying, 'We're paying too much for people in the United States,' " Katsuyama says. "What they don't realize is that the reason you have to pay them too much is that no one wants to work for RBC. RBC is a nobody."

Before arriving there as part of the big push, Katsuyama had never laid eyes on Wall Street or New York City. It was his first immersive course in the American way of life, and he was instantly struck by how different it was from the Canadian version. "Everything was to excess," he says. "I met more offensive people in a year than I had in my entire life. People lived beyond their means, and the way they did it was by going into debt. That's what shocked me the most. Debt was a foreign concept in Canada. Debt was evil."

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