Two days that shook the financial world

“Panic can cause a prudent person to do rational things that can contribute to the failure of an institution.” — William A. Ackman of the hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management.

It was early on Wednesday, Sept. 17, when executives at Pershing Square, Bill Ackman’s hedge fund, began getting nervous calls and e-mail messages from investors. Mr. Ackman, 42, has been a top Wall Street player for 15 years, making his clients — and himself — billions of dollars.

But now, Mr. Ackman and his colleagues were taken aback by what they were hearing. His big investors were worried about all of the Pershing assets held by Goldman Sachs, the blue-chip investment bank, whose stock had come under siege.

Never mind that Goldman kept Pershing’s assets in a segregated account, and that the money was safe. And never mind that Mr. Ackman believed Goldman was the world’s best-run investment bank and would come through the credit crisis unscathed.

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