Thursday, January 29, 2009

Being Really, Really Rich Means You Can Say Whatever You Want to Whenever You Want to, Especially in Davos

A Bloomberg special report may have been fun in a way to write. One can only wonder at some of what was edited out.

"Davos Delegates in ‘Denial’ as $25 Trillion of Wealth Vanishes"

Denial wouldn't be so bad. For example, here's David Rubenstein (Carlyle Group):

"One Davos regular, Washington-based Carlyle Group’s managing director David Rubenstein, said he thinks a key issues at this year’s gathering is “who is at fault.” Yet Rubenstein, who was saying at Davos two years ago that the outlook for leveraged buyouts was “very robust,” says responsibility shouldn’t be tied only to him or his industry.

“There are six billion people on the face of the earth, and probably about five billion participated in what went on,” Rubenstein said in an interview. “Everybody participated in some way or shape or form.'"

What on earth does he mean that 5 billion people "participated"? Excuse me, they went to work, breathed (creating carbon pollution by exhaling?), farmed, went to bed hungry, etc. This is not exactly the meaning that Marie Antoinette had when she said that if they were hungry, they could eat cake, but it could not be any more out of touch (to be polite). No, Mr. Rubenstein, your crowd was at fault. Don't try to pass the billion dollar buck, please, Mr. R.

Then there is the 21st Century Leo Tolstoy:

"Ruben Vardanian, CEO of Russian investment bank Troika Dialog Group, said just saying sorry is not enough."

“'Our values became miserable,” Vardanian said. “We are all guilty, and the scope of attrition is large.'”

How many dollars is this penitent giving to charity?

"Davos has no time for redemption, says Barry Gosin, CEO of Miami-based global real estate firm Newmark Knight Frank."

“'If a shark bites your leg off while swimming in the ocean, can you condemn the shark? This was not an intentioned plan to destroy the world. Wall Street was designed to make money.'”

Wait a minute. This man is from my home region. We really have sharks in the water. Is he really saying that it's not our/their fault, they were just born that way, as sharks actually are?
He and his cohorts perhaps were like Florida Tarzans, and were reared underwater with their shark parents, one would think.

No, Mr. Gosin, we can condemn those responsible for the past decade's orgy of greed and insider deals, culminating in the TARP looting and its aftermath, which continues (see prior post "Up Jesse, Down Goldman) with no end in sight. They were not really brought up by sharks. They may even have been brought up by men of the cloth, or have become them:

"Stephen Green, chairman of London-based HSBC Holdings Plc, also criticized regulators at a panel about capitalism on Wednesday. Green, 60, a Church of England lay minister who has written a book about reconciling a life in banking with his belief in God, called for “an overhaul of the regulatory environment.” He also talked about the need for self-regulation, saying that “no amount of rules is going to enforce good behavior.'”

"‘Everybody Participated’"

"At a press conference on Jan. 28, he dodged the question of personal responsibility, saying only that “the banking industry” has “something to apologize for.'”

Good for you, Mr. Green. Perhaps you could apologize like your brethren at UBS, who did not put much of a fight when most of their ill-gotten prior compensation was taken away. Or at least give a tithe or two to ye olde Banke of Englande.

"At a panel on leadership yesterday morning before hosting a reception with champagne and canapés at the Hotel Europe Piano Bar, JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon expressed frustration at those who seek to pin all the blame on bankers."

"Regulators, he said, should share some of the blame."

“'God knows, some really stupid things were done by American banks,” Dimon said. “To policy makers, I say where were they? They approved all these banks.'”

OK. That's more than enough. These men have no idea how incensed the public is about the behavior of his bank and the other "too-big-to-fail" crowd. And those of us who are following the whole tawdry situation more closely than those who really work for a living are aware that JPMorgan Chase has been favored more than any other money center bank. For him to say that
it's the fault of the lowly-paid regulators and their ilk when his guys have been making the big, big, big bucks is horrifying.

These comments make completely believable the summary comment from a PR man:

“'Nobody in Davos wants to get near a negative like redemption,” said Robert Dilenschneider, chief executive officer of the Dilenschneider Group, a public relations firm in New York. “But the truth is that everyone here is part of the problem, and the public will soon begin demanding a pound of flesh.'”

“'No banker or businessman wants to take responsibility,” said Dilenschneider, who counts 40 Davos delegates as clients, their identities shielded by confidentiality agreements. “It’s their view that everybody else did something wrong.'”

There's another excuse: there were too many guilty parties to punish:

If atonement is difficult, retribution may prove “brutally difficult,” Starwood Capital Group CEO Barry Sternlicht said in an interview in Davos. As Sternlicht sees it, “everyone wants a head, and that’s not reasonable. To do that, you’d need to take out the top 20 executives at the 300 biggest financial firms.'”

No, Mr. Sternlicht. It is your statement that is not "reasonable". Not everybody "wants a head". And none of you were St. John the Baptist. And no one's talking death penalty, anyway.

And the blame really does not involve the 300 biggest financial firms. Maybe not even the 30 biggest. It really does involve the biggest investment banks and money center banks. So far as I know, there is not one Asian bank amongst them and not one bank located in Canada or any country south of Texas. The entirety of Africa may also be in the clear. The fact that many plain-vanilla mid-sized mid-Western banks are in trouble does not mean that anyone in the public or Congress wants any retribution, if they are suffering due to plain old economic problems in their regions. Of course, many made too many residential real estate loans at the top of the market, but they did not create, package, distribute, tout, etc. products such as junk CDOs; and they did not crowd their balance sheets with junk and off-load it into "Tier 3" inventory.

Davos man? Or beast?

Copyright (C) Long Lake LLC 2009

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