Wall Street’s trolls

By Felix Salmon
October 3, 2010

There are anonymous commenters on blogs like mine, and then there are the elite and sophisticated investors invited to join a conference call with Ireland’s finance minister. Which group would you think is better behaved? Silly question, really. It’s not even close:

Mr Lenihan had been speaking for less than two minutes on Friday before a mistake by Citigroup meant that the bank’s clients were all able to be heard on the line.

Between 200 and 500 investors are understood to have been on the call, and as they realized their lines were not muted many began to heckle Mr Lenihan.

Some traders began making what one banker on the call described as “chimp sounds”, while another cried out “dive, dive”. A third man said “short Ireland” before adding “why not short Citi too?”

As the call descended into chaos, with one participant heard to say “this is the worst conference call ever”, Citigroup officials shut down the line.

This says a lot about the effects of anonymity on public behavior, and about the manners of Wall Street types, and about the regard in which the markets hold both Ireland and Citigroup.

But I think it also says something about the way in which even rich and sophisticated investors feel as though they don’t have a voice and aren’t being heard. Remember that the Tea Party started with a rant on CNBC. This is a sign of the times, I think: this kind of fiasco wouldn’t have taken place pre-crisis.

Update: The Irish Times pushes back on this story, quoting spokesmen from the National Treasury Management Agency and the Department of Finance saying that the heckling never happened, and that the Telegraph was sold a line by holders of Anglo Irish Bank’s subordinated debt. The Irish spokespeople might well be right, but so far no one has managed to produce a transcript or recording of the call, which would presumably clear things up.

5 comments

Comments are closed.