Today I have the first television interview with Jeff Greene, a Beverly Hills real estate mogul who single-handedly shorted subprime. His $50 million investment is up tenfold, to $500,000,000. He is apparently the first individual investor to do such a trade.
I met Greene at his 40,000 square foot estate on 27 acres off Coldwater Canyon. He took me by surprise--a nice, smart, focused and somewhat eccentric man of contrasts. He is someone who lives large, but always expects the worst. He's ostentatious, yet can't shake his New England sense of modesty.
As you can see from the television interview segments posted here (more coming through the day), Greene tells his story of working his way up from nothing to something, then nearly losing it all in the housing bust of the '90s. After rebuilding his portfolio, he vowed not to get burned again. "Every year I'd go into a mini-panic mode," he told me, "and think 'I need to protect myself.'" Greene says that two years ago, he asked a friend, hedge fund manager John Paulson, about a hedge. Paulson said he was starting a fund to short subprime bonds through credit default swaps. "I asked him, 'John, can I do this on my own?'" He says Paulson told him, "You won't get approved.'"
Greene tried anyway, finally convincing Merrill Lynch and JP Morganto let him short bonds backed by risky mortgages through these swaps. It took a lot of convincing. But it has paid off handsomely, though it may have cost him a friendship--he and Paulson are no longer talking. When we asked Paulson to talk to us about Greene, we were given a firm "no comment."