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9:00 AM EST, Tuesday, September 9, 2008: Strange, hard times.

Today's gamble: Shares of Washington Mutual (WaMu) at around $4. Alan Fishman is my friend. He's good. If anyone can save WaMu, it's Fishman. By the way, Fishman is already rich. He doesn't need this. But knowing Alan, he's doing it because he see it as a fun challenge, as solvable, and quick.

A Sinking WaMu Snags Fishman
By PETER EAVIS, the Wall Street Journal
September 9, 2008; Page C14

Anyone capable of leading a bank as embattled as Washington Mutual out of a credit-crunch crater deserves to get rich.

But new Chief Executive Alan Fishman will have to perform miracles if he wants to make out in his new gig. Mr. Fishman gets a signing bonus of $7.5 million. But even bigger money is, rightly, tied to the performance of WaMu's stock and operations.

The latest hurdle: WaMu announced Monday that it has entered a special supervisory agreement with its regulator.

Presumably, Mr. Fishman wouldn't have taken the job if he didn't think he could rescue WaMu, which is sitting on a mortgage book that could, the company estimates, end up showing $19 billion of losses.

The current strategy relies on earnings from the bank's healthy businesses, combined with capital raised in April from private-equity firm TPG and other investors, to absorb credit losses.

But the U.S. housing market still is slumping. Losses could exceed the bank's expectations, putting WaMu in a tight spot. Mr. Fishman could try raising new capital. But an infusion would have to be large enough to convince participants that it would put WaMu on permanently sound footing. And a large deal would be tough, especially since TPG's protection against further equity sales could make them very dilutive to other investors.

As a result, Mr. Fishman might need to start talking to TPG about softening these provisions.

Of course, there is a simpler strategy. Mr. Fishman could see whether J.P. Morgan Chase, which tabled an $8-a-share bid for WaMu before the TPG deal, is still interested. After all, $7.5 million wouldn't be bad for a few months on the job.

And from today's Bloomberg:

WaMu Taps Brooklynite Fishman, Industry Veteran, for Rebound

Sept. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Washington Mutual Inc.'s effort to rebound from $19 billion in losses rests on Alan Fishman, a lifelong New Yorker whose last banking job ended when he sold his Brooklyn lender to WaMu's biggest rival.

Fishman, 62, moves to WaMu's Seattle headquarters after a 39-year career that began at Chemical Bank and included a stint at beleaguered subprime lender ContiFinancial Corp. from 1999 to 2000. Fishman sold Independence Community Bank Corp. to Sovereign Bancorp for $3.6 billion in 2006.

Now, becoming WaMu's first new chief executive officer since ousted predecessor Kerry Killinger took the reins in 1990, Fishman must reverse a 91 percent plunge in the stock price that stemmed from WaMu's decision to wade into the subprime market. He must also contend with heightened scrutiny after regulators told the lender to boost risk management.

"The WaMu problem is really quite simple, but the problem is how the hell to get out of it,'' said Charles Hamm, 71, who was succeeded by Fishman as CEO at Independence in 2001 and played tennis with him in Brooklyn. "Whether the ultimate resolution is a sale or liquidation I'm not sure. Alan is perfectly capable of analyzing that.''

Fishman's tenure got off to a rocky start. WaMu shares lost as much as 24 percent yesterday on concern its accord with the Office of Thrift Supervision will limit the bank's ability to expand. The stock ended the day down 3.5 percent at $4.12.

Fishman must win over investors including TPG Inc., the private-equity firm that led a $7 billion cash infusion in April, only to watch as the stock price kept sliding. TPG's investment has lost half its value.

"He's got his work cut out for him,'' said Gary Townsend, a former bank analyst and co-founder of Hill-Townsend Capital Management in Chevy Chase, Maryland. ``He's viewed as a turnaround person and I guess he can be. It's going to require some assistance from the economy and then finally a willing buyer at some point.''

Fishman, previously chairman of Meridian Capital Group, said that while the bank faces losses and regulatory issues, there are no plans to sell WaMu.

"You don't build a company to sell it,'' Fishman said in an interview late yesterday. "The industry is fraught with this mess, not at WaMu but everywhere, because a lot of guys were building to sell it.''

WaMu ranked 11th among subprime lenders in 2006, according to trade journal Inside Mortgage Finance. The company said in July that rising delinquencies may lead to losses of as much as $19 billion over the next 2 1/2 years.

Fishman began his career at New York's Chemical Bank, now part of JPMorgan Chase & Co., in 1969 and worked there for 19 years. In 1992, he founded Columbia Financial Partners LP, which specialized in buying and resurrecting financial-services companies. While there, he became CEO of ContiFinancial, a subprime lender close to insolvency, and helped guide it through bankruptcy in 2000.

Hamm, who was approaching retirement, knew Fishman from philanthropic and business events in Brooklyn where they both lived. At a gathering in 2000, Fishman told Hamm that he would be interested in taking over as CEO of Independence, Hamm said. He eventually won the job.

"He had a near-perfect background personally, culturally, socially and businesswise to do it,'' said Hamm.

At Independence, Fishman orchestrated the $1.5 billion acquisition of Staten Island Bancorp Inc., bolstering the bank's assets by 45 percent to $17 billion and adding 37 branches for a total of 116. Independence shares almost tripled from the end of 2000 through June 2006 when Fishman sold the bank to Sovereign. Based in Philadelphia, Sovereign is the second-biggest U.S. savings and loan, behind WaMu.

"He's a real problem solver,'' said Robert Catell, 71, who was CEO of Brooklyn-based KeySpan Corp. until it was bought by National Grid Plc last year. Catell was on the Independence board and Fishman was a director at KeySpan. Catell said they've known each other for 20 years.

"We've worn tuxedos together many times,'' Catell said.

As chairman of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Fishman has been involved in all of the organization's major decisions over the past 10 years, including its plans for future facility needs, said BAM President Karen Brooks Hopkins. He's co-chairman of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, which coordinates growth and business improvement.

"They're in for an energetic experience having Alan at the helm,'' Hopkins said of Washington Mutual.

Fishman said he was approached by WaMu last month while on vacation in London. As he was watching the Olympics, a WaMu representative called to ask if he would talk to Chairman Stephen Frank. The deal was completed when he returned to the U.S.

"I think my reputation in New York was that of a pretty straightforward CEO that had taken a pretty quiet, small bank and made it a lot less quiet even in a market like New York,'' Fishman said. "They looked at my age and said, `This is a guy who should be mature enough to step into a very complex situation.'''

So much for the commodities boom: Earlier this year my commodities fund was up around 30%. Now it's up only 1.28% and that's before fees, which will reduce it to 0%. The numbers below are weighted based on how much they own of each. Cast your eyes down the list. You're get a pretty good idea of what's happened to key commodities. This is bad news for Harry. This is good news for companies which buy this stuff and use it to make things. This is good news for inflation and the economy. Crude oil fell yesterday $2.11 to $104.

Lone Ranger and Tonto -- 2
The Lone Ranger and Tonto were holed up in the hills.

Tonto reports back from patrol, "Kemo Sabe, we are surrounded by hostile Indians."

The Lone Ranger looks out and replies, "Looks like were done for for this time."

Tonto replies " What you mean we, White Man?"

The predictable prediction
Jonathan and Renee are on their very first date.

As they are walking to the cinema, Renee says, "If you give me a kiss, Jonathan, I promise I’ll be yours forever."

Jonathan replies, "Thanks for the early warning, Renee."

Business trouble
Aaron and Jonathan, two businessmen both in their 80s, meet one day in Brent Cross shopping centre. Aaron asks, "So nu, Jonathan, what’s new?"

"Vat’s new, you ask me?" replies Jonathan. "Mine secretary is suing me for breach of promise."

"But I don’t understand," says Aaron. "At your age, what could you possibly promise her?"

This column is about my personal search for the perfect investment. I don't give investment advice. For that you have to be registered with regulatory authorities, which I am not. I am a reporter and an investor. I make my daily column -- Monday through Friday -- freely available for three reasons: Writing is good for sorting things out in my brain. Second, the column is research for a book I'm writing called "In Search of the Perfect Investment." Third, I encourage my readers to send me their ideas, concerns and experiences. That way we can all learn together. My email address is . You can't click on my email address. You have to re-type it . This protects me from software scanning the Internet for email addresses to spam. I have no role in choosing the Google ads on this site. Thus I cannot endorse, though some look interesting. If you click on a link, Google may send me money. Please note I'm not suggesting you do. That money, if there is any, may help pay Michael's business school tuition. Read more about Google AdSense, click here and here.