Stop the Wall Street pay stories

July 2, 2009

OK. I know it’s probably too hard for an editor to resist running out another story on excessive Wall Street pay–especially on the day when you know the US government is going to release another set of ugly jobs numbers.

So it doesn’t really surprise me to see a story in The Wall Street Journal about “big pay packages” at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Populist outrage sells papers.

Now there’s nothing technically wrong with the Journal story. It does have the benefit of relying on some facts, unlike a story in The Observer that had none when it predicted record bonuses at Goldman.

Then again, the Journal in predicting near record levels of compensation at Goldman and Morgan, relied on analyst revenue estimates for the rest of the year. And we all know what analyst estimates are worth.

But here’s the point: people who work on Wall Street are always going to make a lot of money as long as investors and companies keep giving them their money to manage and play with.  I’m all for restructuring the way bonuses are paid on Wall Street. It’s criminal that traders can get bonuses on multi-year trades that payoff now but may end up going seriously south a year or two later.

Still the best way to stop Wall Street firms from making record revenues at a time of misery for so many others is to simply take your money elsewhere. Put it into an index fund, a mutual fund, or simply manage it yourself through an online broker.

If you don’t want to juice the profits and bonuses shelled-out at a Wall Street firm stop buying what they are selling. That means taking a pass on fee-churning structured notes. Saying no to the next  iteration of auction rate securities. Turning a cold shoulder to any security a broker can’t explain to you in a short email or a phone conversation.

Or if you are a CEO of a company, use more of your own inhouse lawyers to negotiate deals.

The best way to change behavior on Wall Street is to deny them access to your hard-earned cash and making the business of investment banking less important.

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