Posts Tagged ‘outrage’

Open Europe: the Eurosceptic group that controls British coverage of the EU

April 4, 2010

» Open Europe: the Eurosceptic group that controls British coverage of the EU

An interesting article from Charlemagne, writing for The Economist. Regardless of your view of the EU, it is an interesting insight into how lobbyists influence the press.

I may be a banker, but HE’S a journalist

February 5, 2010

I am a banker; I am scum. This is a given.I have accepted it. I am no longer in the closet. Others, though, remain there.

Two interesting examples of interactions with journalists (financial journalists, I have yet to come to the attention of the tabloid press) that our corporate communications department had …

“So, rumour has it you’re going to buy bank ‘X’.”
“We do not comment on this kind of market rumour.”
“So that’s a ‘yes’.”
“No, it’s a reflection of the fact that we don’t comment on this kind of market rumour.”
“So that’s definitely a yes. We’re going to print it.”
“Errrr …”
“Byeee.”
“Look, you really shouldn’t print it.”
“That’s definitely a yes.”
“You shouldn’t print it because it’s completely, utterly, unambiguously false. You’ll harm your reputation, our share price, artificially inflate the price of the stock, mislead the market and generally cause nothing but harm.”
“But I’ve written it now.”

And …

“So, we’re releasing this new product.”
“Sounds good.”
“Planning the press release next week.”
“I’m out next week.”
“Ri-i-i-i-ight. So could someone else write it?”
“No.”
“Would you feel comfortable with us giving the story to another newspaper?”
“No. I’ll write a very negative story when I’m back.”
“So, we’ll delay the go-live.”

I do not think anyone actually thinks journalists are nice people, but I suspect most people think they tell the truth. Well they do. If it’s useful. Otherwise they, errr, fill in the gaps. Truth is so last century. Even this, I suspect, is not a surprise to most people.

What is surprising is how riled we do get about what the press reports. Given that significant proportions of it are untruth, manipulation, distortion or taken out-of-context it does surprise me that we bother.

Goldman says reports of CEO testimony improper

January 17, 2010

» Goldman says reports of CEO testimony improper

There are two ways to interpret Goldman Sachs’ activity here:

  • They ruthlessly and unpleasantly sold products they knew were going south
  • They hedged their position

Personally, I believe the latter. Mostly because, as a broker, Goldman’s main job is to help its clients buy or sell the assets the client wishes to buy and sell. Deciding an investment strategy is the client’s job (or their adviser, or asset manager, or whatever). Judging the quality of the assets is the job of a credit ratings agency. Obtaining the assets is Goldman’s job.

If you go to a fishmonger and want to buy salmon – and the fishmonger tells you he thinks salmon is disgusting and you’d be better off going for cod – then you may be wondering when you invited the fishmonger to lunch or asked him for advice on your menu (you may do many other things, from follow his advice or, if you are a serial killer, batter him to death [batter – food pun, ha ha] with a lump of fish, but you get my point). You want salmon, he sells you salmon. He then buys more salmon from his supplier to restock – and his activities of buying and then selling at the same time are unlikely to lead to him being denounced by, well, everybody.

The fact is, investment banking is not a commune. Some hedge fund wants to go long CDOs or the latest cool stocks? Let them. Just don’t expect the broker to do the same thing. We don’t expect our doctors to get our illness, lawyers to become a party to our contracts, estate agents to move in with us. Brokers are risk averse. They’re not going to pin their entire profits on their clients’ investment strategies or even ask them what they are. Many businesses are the same – they are there to help you buy and sell, they are not there to share your tastes. It is when those riskless businesses screw-up, like Lehman, that things get very fishy indeed.

Sorry is the hardest word to say (at least, meaningfully)

January 15, 2010

I am, apparently, overpaid. My employer does not think so, I am less certain, the public is really rabidly, absolutely, 100% doubt-free need-no-truth-drug call-me-a-liar-if-an-atom-of-doubt-crosses-my-mind certain. This is odd, because they do not know me and most people find my job difficult to describe. However, their basic assumption that I am not saving the world is safe, so this is hardly a Batman-esque public anger at the anti-hero ironic situation; other assumptions that I am as evil as a James Bond super-villain probably need further scrutiny in the court of public opinion.

It has been a tough week to be a banker. Well, no. It’s been a tough week to be a solider, or a Haitian, but bankers? I appreciate the public isn’t exactly in love with the banks (which is a shame because they used to be soooooo close) but it has been tough in the same way that the coffee shop running out of your favourite syrup has been tough. The investment banks are outraged but are not saying so for fear of being lynched (an unusually self-aware move): the world, strangely, did not tremble.

The rest of the script is supposed to work this way: I express remorse at mistakes made, look awkward on the subject of bonuses but insist they are necessary, try not to be too obnoxious and hope it all goes away.

Except I am not sorry. I did not take the government’s dollar. I am happy with the salary I am paid (although to be fair, I still have the mental age of a teenager so find being paid at all is a somewhat perplexing experience) and my employer is happy to pay it (as are others would-be employers). I did not create a housing bubble, encourage mortgage dealers to lend money they would never, ever get back. I did not gave credit ratings to unsound securities. I did not take out a mortgage I would never repay. I did not speculate on house prices (either by buying personally, or trading). I did not create regulators who are too proud to admit they do not understand the markets. I did not change how I viewed risk dependent upon my salary (or my bonus). I did not put my money in Icesave accounts. I spend some of my salary and when I do I try to benefit others. I pay tax. I try to do the right thing. I am not sorry.

With bigger bonuses, another upside for banks

January 2, 2010

» With bigger bonuses, another upside for banks

It’s a strange news story

For all banks and Wall Street firms, “I’m sure we’re talking $200 billion total compensation, which would create a tax savings for the firms of $80 billion,” said Robert Willens, an accounting and tax analyst in New York who runs a consulting firm, Robert Willens LLC. The figure does not include bonus plans by hedge funds, which are likely to reduce their payouts after a down year.

The tax deductions, which will increase the bottom line of the banks, are perfectly legal and not new. They come as compensation for 2009 has roared back after the largest banks paid back billions of dollars in federal aid, an outlay still fresh in the minds of taxpayers. As pay goes up, so do the deductions.

Its category as news is questionable – there is nothing new here – but it is an interesting example of outrage. The more companies pay people, the more tax-deductable costs that they have. This, though, is presented as an extremely sly tax fiddle. (One would think that paying out more costs is generally seen as a negative when it comes to the profit-hungry vampiric organisation that is an investment bank, but perhaps not.)

The most likely culprits are a slow news day or a self-publicist, or possibly both in a thrilling combination. Still, we all have to make our money somehow.

It’s a hard life

December 18, 2009

Well no, no it’s not. Bankers who feel sorry for themselves are a bit like politicians who make moral judgements or newspaper columnists who complain about people being overpaid: hypocrisy crystallised.

That said, it does make you wonder how much of the fervent politician hatred that we’ve experienced since the expenses furore is driven by hard facts, and how much is just, well, our love of outrage. I’d continue with the same theme about newspaper columnists, but this area of potential injustice appears surprisingly under-reported.

Facts, alas, are in short supply. I could pretend I’m trying to bring facts to the debate – but really, it’s just my opinion. But at least I don’t confuse the two.