It was Monday night on the Strip, and John Devaney was giving a party for himself and fellow connoisseurs of risk who have seen their hot hands go cold.
In a gilded ballroom at the Venetian, the revelers sipped cabernet, dined on surf and turf and crowed as the Blue Man Group put on a private show.
The partygoers had traveled to Sin City this week — Mr. Devaney by chartered jet — for an event that before the current credit squeeze might have been called the Predators’ Ball of this era.
This time, with mortgage securities replacing the junk bonds of the 1980s, the gathering felt more like group therapy.
The occasion was, officially, the 5th annual conference of the American Securitization Forum, a celebration of the financial wizardry that supposedly turns risky mortgages and other loans into gilt-edged securities but, as Mr. Devaney belatedly discovered, does not always make them safe. Mr. Devaney, a 37-year-old money manager, lost big on bond investments last year. This week, in Las Vegas fashion, he said he was doubling down.
The four-day event at the Venetian drew more than 6,500 financial professionals from across the country. Many came in search of ways to ride out — or better yet, to profit from — the mortgage mess their industry helped to create.
Wall Street banks played a crucial role in the mortgage crisis by buying home loans and bundling them into securities. Regulators are examining whether investment banks and mortgage lenders hid the risks of subprime debt from investors.
While the mood was more somber than in years past, when home prices were soaring and mortgage lending boomed, there was plenty of fun and games. Countrywide Financial , the troubled lender that has come to symbolize some of the excesses of the mortgage business, was the host of a party on Sunday night where people cheered while watching the Super Bowl on big-screen televisions. On Monday came the gala dinner sponsored by Mr. Devaney. On Tuesday the conference organized an outing on a golf course near the California border.
Between such revels, attendees spent their time in meeting rooms with golden trim, listening to panel discussions with titles like “Transparency, Valuation and Rebuilding Investor Confidence” and “Legislation, Regulation and Market Oversight — A Global Review.”
At the conference last year, Mr. Devaney grabbed headlines — and was proved prophetic — when he said he hated subprime mortgage securities and was “hoping the whole thing explodes.” In March, before he incurred his big losses, he told The New York Times he was hoping to expand and diversify his trading business.
This year, Mr. Devaney, a brash bond trader, said he had grown cocky during the mortgage boom and paid the price. A hedge fund run by his company, United Capital Markets, plummeted last year, and he lost $100 million. The rout prompted him to sell a mansion on Key Biscayne, near Miami, his private jet and his yacht, Positive Carry, named after a financial maneuver in which the cost of financing an investment is less than the return obtained from it.
Mr. Devaney has, however, profited from turbulent markets in the past, and made his name earlier this decade trading troubled bonds backed by trailer home loans and business-franchise loans.
“In a funny way I want to thank the market for dealing me a direct hit,” Mr. Devaney said during one panel discussion, drawing laughter from the crowd. “As a trader, if you make money for too many years you lose sight of risk unless you get sucker- punched.”
Mr. Devaney said he was now buying beaten-down bonds for pennies on the dollar, betting their prices would revive.
But his financial troubles are small compared with losses in the housing market and broader economy. Many people are struggling to pay their mortgages and hold on to their homes. Nearly a quarter of home loans made to people with blemished, or subprime, credit are delinquent or in foreclosure, and defaults now are rising even on loans made to people with good credit. Some of the people who attended the Las Vegas gathering had recently lost their jobs and came hoping to find new ones.