Opinion

Felix Salmon

Suze Orman’s bad investment newsletter

Felix Salmon
Jan 22, 2012 23:23 UTC

Jason Zweig has managed to get one of the weirdest quotes ever from a would-be investment guru:

In a news release issued in March 2007, Mr. Grimaldi said one of his newsletters had “been ranked #1 by Hulbert Financial Digest” for the five years through 2006… Mr. Grimaldi’s other newsletters, although not the Money Navigator, have featured the claim “Ranked #1 & Recommended by Hulbert Financial Digest!”

Mark Hulbert, editor of the digest, says his publication “doesn’t make recommendations” and that “no matter how I slice and dice the data, I cannot support [Mr. Grimaldi's] claim of being No. 1 for that five-year period.” According to Mr. Hulbert, Mr. Grimaldi’s highest rank from the digest over that period was 25th out of 110.

Mr. Grimaldi says he ranked No. 1 over that period: “I’ll say that to my grave.”

Memo to Mark Grimaldi: whether or not you were ranked and/or recommended by Mark Hulbert is not a matter of belief, it’s a matter of fact. And Hulbert is on the record saying very clearly that he did neither. If you say that he ranked and/or recommended you, to your grave or in any other context, you are lying.

Which brings me to Grimaldi’s strongest defender:

Ms. Orman declined to address specific questions about the newsletter or Mr. Grimaldi’s background. “Mark Grimaldi is my trusted partner in The Money Navigator,” she said in an emailed statement. “He is ethical, honest and achieves stellar results that consistently outperform the market. I’m proud to be able to provide our newsletter to people who are looking for solid financial advice.”

Lying about being ranked by Hulbert Financial Digest is, needless to say, neither ethical nor honest. Which means, on an unsympathetic reading of Suze Orman, that she’s lying too.

When I spoke to Orman last week, she made it very clear that her relationship with Grimaldi’s newsletter was no different than her relationship with the Approved Card — she’s an owner of both of them, thinks that both of them are very good products, and is proud of them both. (The same goes for her FICO package, too.)

Orman also told me twice that the newsletter was rated number one — she was adamant about that. And now it turns out that it isn’t. I spoke to Orman on Tuesday; maybe Zweig hadn’t contacted her with his questions yet at that point. But at best Orman is extremely incurious about the “fabulous” newsletter that she is so keen to hawk and defend. And at worst she’s happy lying about it being ranked highly by Hulbert.

And that’s not the end of the Grimaldi/Orman sins, either. Check out this table — which is still up on Grimaldi’s website:

old.tiff

It shows that the S&P 500 rose by 19.79% in 2009. Which, as Zweig points out, isn’t true: the S&P 500 actually rose by 26.46% that year. And that’s no isolated mistake, either:

In nine of the 10 years cited, the newsletter understated the performance of the S&P 500. “I’m not perfect,” Mr. Grimaldi says. “We don’t claim to be.”

Getting the performance of the S&P 500 right isn’t something only perfect people do — it’s a basic prerequisite for anybody claiming to beat the index, and it’s pretty easy to find. And given that Grimaldi can’t get the performance of the index right, I have no faith whatsoever in the numbers he’s putting forward for the performance of his portfolios — numbers which are very hard, if not impossible, to check.

This week, the newsletter carried a note saying that the 2009 performance return was a “typographical error”. And indeed the same table on Suze Orman’s site has been fixed:

new.tiff

The 2009 figure has been corrected to the right number. But 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010 are still too low, while 2006 is too high — 2009 is the only year which is exactly right!

Here’s something else which is weird: check out the total return for the S&P 500 in each of the two tables. While the 2009 return has gone up, the value of a $100,000 investment on 1/1/2001 has gone down! Only by a little bit, of course. But it’s hard to see what calculation could possibly have resulted in that small decrease.

Meanwhile, as Mick Weinstein points out, the portfolio recommended by Grimaldi’s newsletter prominently features Grimaldi’s own Sector Rotation Fund — and Grimaldi’s Sector Rotation Fund is the kind of thing that no sensible long-term investor should touch with a bargepole. When Weinstein wrote his post, the single largest holding of the Sector Rotation Fund was the ProShares Ultra S&P 500 leveraged ETF — and, if you look today, it’s still the top holding.

But levered ETFs, as we all know, are short-term investments, which to a first approximation should never be held for a period of longer than one day. They have no place at all in a long-term retirement fund. And the fact that Grimaldi is investing in a leveraged ETF at all is all the information any investor — including Suze Orman — needs to steer well clear of him.

Orman and Grimaldi defended their newsletter, both to Zweig and to me, by saying that it doesn’t really cost $63 per year: Orman is always out there with offer codes allowing you to get a trial issue for free, without even handing over your credit card information. But a free newsletter is no good at all if it gives bad advice — and any newsletter which thinks you should buy Grimaldi’s Sector Rotation Fund as part of a long-term retirement strategy — or at all, really — is giving bad advice.

I’m disappointed in Orman for telling her readers that they can beat the market. I’m disappointed in Orman for implying to readers that if they spend $63 per year on her newsletter, then they are likely to beat the market. And I’m extremely disappointed in Orman for getting into bed with Grimaldi in particular, who charges a management fee of 1.65% for investing in his Sector Rotation Fund, despite the fact that all he’s doing is buying ETFs.

And of course all of this rubs off onto Orman’s other products, too: the tar of the Money Navigator newsletter is going to wind up getting brushed onto the Approved Card, whether it deserves it or not. Which is yet another reason why we need a new personal-finance guru — someone who can replace Orman and judge her products impartially.

COMMENT

“she did tell you to shop around for car insurance”

…a product that can’t (or shouldn’t) be selected strictly on price. Try filing a claim with the wrong insurer and your headache will be three times the check that they grudgingly cut you a month later.

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive

ETF datapoints of the day, market-share edition

Felix Salmon
Jan 20, 2012 23:03 UTC

Conceptually, it makes sense that ETFs would be a winner-takes-all phenomenon. Expenses rise much more slowly than assets, which means that the bigger a fund gets, the cheaper it can be. And given that ETFs compete first and foremost on expense ratio, money is likely to pour into the cheapest-and-biggest funds, which allows them to get even cheaper. And so on.

So this chart, from Lipper, comes as little surprise.

image003-22.jpg

In many ETF categories, it turns out, one ETF has the lion’s share of the market — Vanguard in total stock market ETFs, Market Vectors in precious metals, iShares in TIPS and investment-grade bonds.

So one would expect that those big dominant funds would be significantly cheaper than their competition — that would explain their dominance. And, one would be right — if you just look at precious metals. But elsewhere, that’s not the case.

Among total stock market ETFs, the Vanguard VTI fund is extremely cheap, charging just 0.06%, but the Schwab US Broad Market ETF charges exactly the same, and has just 0.46% of the assets in the class.

The cheapest investment-grade bond ETF is the Vanguard Long-Term Corporate Bond ETF, with an expense ratio of 0.14% — but it has only 2.3% of the purple pie. The iShares is only 1bp more, but has 90% of the assets.

And when it comes to TIPS funds, all of the big ETFs — iShares, Pimco, and SPDR — charge the exact same 0.20%. But iShares gets nearly all the business.

Now we’re not talking, here, about the kind of small, illiquid ETFs which can easily underperform. All of these funds are big enough that, to a first approximation, they’re all as safe as each other.

But still, at the margin, a big ETF is always going to be safer than a smaller one. And I suspect that most of these funds have a first-mover advantage, and that their competitors might well be losing money in their attempt to stay competitive with the giants in the space.

Is there any reason, for an individual investor, to choose one of the smaller ETFs rather than the big ones here? I don’t think so. Big mutual funds can be lumbering and dangerous, but big ETFs just have that much more clout in things like the repo market. And all ETFs get front-run by algorithmic high-frequency traders in exactly the same way: I don’t think big ones suffer more on that front.

My feeling is that if you choose the big fund, the fees might come down as it gets bigger; if you choose something small like the Schwab broad market fund, by contrast, the fees might well go up if its managers give up trying to compete with Vanguard. So if you’re going to buy one of these ETFs, you might as well follow the crowd. This is one area where contrarian investing will likely get you nowhere.

COMMENT

It’s all about the bid/ask spread. Most users of ETFs are relatively high-frequency trading hedge funds, so that matters a lot more than a couple basis points on fees.

Posted by right | Report as abusive

How the taxi-medallion bubble might burst

Felix Salmon
Jan 20, 2012 21:21 UTC

Remember the sharp rise in taxi medallion prices over the past few years? I thought that the price was pretty justifiable back then, in October, although I did have my concerns:

Any time you see a chart like the ones above, you have to worry that there’s a bubble. Plus, there’s political risk: the mayor can print new medallions, making the existing ones worth a little less (but not a lot less, given that the income from medallions is largely fixed).

Since then, however, two things have happened. First, New York City agreed to print 2,000 new medallions — that’s a very large increase. And secondly, Charles Komanoff — you remember him — has done the hard math of what this means for congestion and taxi incomes.

The first thing to understand is that while 2,000 cars might not seem very much in the context of a city which sees 800,000 cars per day, in fact it’s huge. Taxis spend 40 times as much time driving in congested areas as private cars do, so 2,000 medallions is the equivalent of 80,000 private cars. And when you impact the amount of traffic that much in an area which is already highly congested, the effects can be enormous:

traxi.tiff

The bottom line, here, is not just significantly more congestion, with travel speeds dropping on average from 9.5 mph to 8.4 mph. That inconveniences everybody, of course, not least the cab drivers themselves, who will take a whole extra minute, on average, to get to where their passenger wants to go. That decreases the number of fares they can pick up per day, and hurts their income.

And at the same time, the number of people wanting to take a taxi is likely to go down, when traffic speeds fall, rather than up. If you have fewer people hailing a greater number of cabs, then it’s simple math that the number of fares per cab shift is likely to fall. According to Charles’s calculations, it will fall in total a good 19%.

If taxi fares stay constant, that means a 19% drop in taxi-fare income, per cab. Fares won’t rise enough to cover that fall. And of course the income for the driver is going to fall more than 19%, because the medallion owners are going to be very reluctant to drop the amount they charge the drivers per shift.

All of which implies to me that if there’s a medallion-price bubble, then the introduction of 2,000 new medallions is likely to prick that bubble. And conversely, if medallions keep on changing hands for a million dollars a pop even after those 2,000 new cars are on the road, then we can be pretty sure that there’s no bubble here at all.

COMMENT

@Komanoff,

Your explanation makes sense. Thank you for your detailed response!

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Why Greece has the upper hand

Felix Salmon
Jan 20, 2012 20:09 UTC

Stephen Fidler makes a good point today: the difference between a “voluntary” exchange and a “coercive” exchange, when Greece finally puts an offer to its creditors, is largely semantic. Or, to put it another way, the only real difference is that in a voluntary exchange, you have the IIF’s Charles Dallara saying nice things about the Greeks, while in a coercive exchange, you have the IIF’s Charles Dallara saying nasty things about the Greeks. But the fact is that precious few bondholders who are going to change their vote based on what Charles Dallara thinks.

Most of the bondholders are European banks, and as Fidler says, European banks are subject to “moral suasion” — having their arms twisted by their national governments — which is much more likely to affect their final decision than the official judgment of Dallara. Meanwhile, an increasing proportion of the bondholder base is made up of hedge funds, who certainly don’t care what Dallara thinks.

Landon Thomas reports that the two sides are getting closer to agreement; the sticking point seems to be the coupon on the new bonds, and the likely outcome, on that front, is likely to be just below 4%. No word on the governing law of the new bonds, though I suspect that Greece will go along with doing the market-friendly thing of issuing its new debt in London.

The reason why none of the negotiations really matter very much is, as Fidler says, that “if they don’t agree, the holdouts will have the ‘voluntary’ deal forced down their throats”. Greece is going to bolt collective action clauses onto its outstanding bonds — and use those clauses in what’s known as a “cram down”: the minority has to do whatever the majority wants.

Now with most collective action clauses, this would be non-trivial. Often these clauses require a large supermajority of bondholders to agree before the CAC is triggered — 85%, say. And they’re generally done on a bond-by-bond basis, making it much easier for a hedge fund to build up a blocking stake in one bond.

But Greece is in the very nice position of being able to craft its CACs now, rather than at the time the bonds were issued. As a result, it can set the CAC threshold very low, if it wants, and it can also draft them so that the percentage which matters is the percentage of all bonds tendered into the exchange, rather than the percentage of any individual bond.

All it needs to do then is have a quiet word with the technocrats at the EU, who have a very good idea how much moral suasion they can wield. Greece has a pretty good idea what the minimum take-up of any exchange offer is likely to be. And it just needs to set its CAC level at or just below that minimum take-up level.

Of course, the lower the CAC level, the more coercive the Greece exchange will be considered. If the CACs are set at 85%, the deal will be “voluntary”; if they’re set at 51%, it will be highly coercive. But either way, the deal will get done. And Greece has absolutely nothing to worry about with respect to hedge funds threatening to sue the country in the European Court of Human Rights. Good luck with that one, guys, you’re going to need it.

The only real risk for Greece, as I see it, is that its offer is so bad that less than 51% of bondholders tender into the exchange: you can’t set a CAC below 50%. But I doubt we’ll see that. Banks hate holding defaulted debt. Greece is going to offer them a choice, between holding defaulted debt and holding new instruments which are paying in a timely fashion. When push comes to shove, the banks are going to take the new instruments. Whether Charles Dallara likes it or not.

COMMENT

zerohedge’s romp into the future can be distilled into one paragraph:

(quote) “Yet the biggest concern once again, is that Greece does in fact go ahead and do something unprecedented, such as force all bondholders, not just the Greek-law ones, to be crammed down into a new issue … how many protections would immediately be rendered worthless, and why sovereign bondholders everywhere, not just those with local law indenture, but UK, are following all updates out of Athens very closely.”

Yes, we really don`t know the outcome, but can shed a lot of words guessing …

And going ahead with “cramming” was the nub of Felix’s article.

Posted by scythe | Report as abusive

The hot-young-artists league table

Felix Salmon
Jan 20, 2012 16:54 UTC

Many thanks to Amy King at Artnet, who put this league table together for me, showing the artists who have grossed the most money at auction before their 30th birthday. (Technically, it’s total auction revenue up to and including the full year in which they turn 30.)

Name Nationality Birth year Auction revenue by 30th birthday
Jean-Michel Basquiat American 1960 $16,623,449
Gao Yu Chinese 1981 $2,333,052
Choi So Young Korean 1980 $2,103,046
Jacob Kassay American 1984 $1,777,942
Hernan Bas American 1978 $1,698,134
Ayako Rokkaku Japanese 1982 $1,206,408
Han Yajuan Chinese 1980 $962,410
Dan Colen American 1979 $864,271
Ilkka Lammi Finnish 1976 $662,156
Chen Ke Chinese 1978 $556,561

In first place, and vastly ahead of anybody else, is Jean-Michel Basquiat, who of course died in 1988 at the age of 27. The overwhelming majority of his $16.6 million was posthumous: $15.3 million came in 1989 and 1990. And dying young is not a career strategy I’d necessarily recommend to any artist.

Basquiat aside, there’s an impressively Asian tinge to this list, with 5 of the other 9 artists coming from China, Korea, or Japan. Notably, the appositely-named Choi So Young saw more than $2 million of her work sold at auction before she was 30 — an achievement which, historically, neither female artists nor Korean artists would ever dream of.

This does not mean that Asian artists have more success at a younger age than their US and European counterparts; it probably just means that hot young US and European artists have galleries which are better at keeping close tabs on their work and preventing it from coming up for auction. But still, it’s a glimpse at just how incredibly successful young artists can be, these days.

COMMENT

This is all in nominal dollars. Which only serves to underline just how far ahead of the pack Basquiat is. For everybody else, it doesn’t make much difference.

Posted by FelixSalmon | Report as abusive

Chart of the day, FOMC laughter edition

Felix Salmon
Jan 20, 2012 15:41 UTC

FOMC Funnies v2.0.jpg

I was hoping someone would do this — and now The Daily Stag Hunt has come to the rescue. All I can say is, thank you. It turns out that if you’re on the FOMC, then being in a credit bubble is really funny!

(h/t Elfenbein)

COMMENT

I would be interested to see if the meetings in 07 and 08 were more somber.

Posted by onepointoh | Report as abusive

Contingent liability of the day, force-placed insurance edition

Felix Salmon
Jan 19, 2012 21:38 UTC

The wheels of justice grind slowly — it’s well over a year since Jeff Horwitz’s stunning report on the force-placed insurance scandal, and only now does it seem like the other shoe might be beginning to drop, with the enormous monetary settlements that probably implies.

In his latest update, Horwitz fills us in on what’s going on: there’s not only a big investigation by New York State’s Department of Financial Services, but there’s also a separate investigation by the broad coalition of state attorneys general, as part of the mortgage-servicing settlement which never seems to get anywhere. On top of that, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau might be getting involved as well.

And then there’s private litigation, led by a four-firm, ten-lawyer class action effort in Florida. As Horwitz writes, it’s too early to know how all these suits will turn out, but what precedent we have is not looking good for the banks:

The suits are generally in their early stages. But the only one to have advanced past class certification, Hofstetter v. Chase Home Finance LLC, suggests serious trouble for banks.

In depositions made public following the defense’s failure to properly request confidentiality from the court, Chase employees described a system in which Chase collects hefty commissions on force-placed insurance — yet does no work in relation to the policies.

“What function does Chase Insurance Agency, Inc. perform with respect to flood insurance?” the plaintiffs’ attorney asked in a deposition.

“I would say no function,” Chase’s employee responded…

One Chase employee testified that, despite Chase Insurance Agency Inc.’s name, the division employs absolutely no insurance agents.

Chase settled that one case for an eight-figure sum; there will certainly be more where that came from. I only wonder whether the banks might not be hoping that a big umbrella deal with the state attorneys general might give them some kind of immunity against these class actions.

In many ways, the banks don’t want to settle: they’d rather fight, and keep their money while doing so, even if fighting ends up costing them more over the long term. Better to push off losses onto your successor than be responsible for them yourself. And probably the expected losses on class actions related to force-placed insurance won’t make the difference between the banks making or rejecting any proposed offer. But Horwitz’s story is an important reminder that banks’ contingent litigation liabilities are enormous, and largely unknown. Which is one reason, surely, why they’re all trading at such low ratios these days.

COMMENT

This is only the latest in the scam. My wife and I uncovered this before Horowitz. The mortgage servicers list themselves as the mortgagee on the forced placed policies, but have never filed all the proper paperwork in the counties to be able to even collect a payment on the mortgage much less name themselves as the mortgagee on a forced place policy. This is a major RICO violation but once again the taxpayers will be forced by our corrupt politicians to pay out the wazoo for the bailout of the insurers all the while not getting any compensation for our sufferings. Read my article where we summarize much of the scam and how it is perpetrated. http://royblizzard.hubpages.com/hub/Crim inal-Issues-of-the-Mortgage-Servicing-In dustry

Posted by royblizzard | Report as abusive

How much do Apple employees earn?

Felix Salmon
Jan 19, 2012 17:30 UTC

Adam Lashinsky, in an excerpt from his new book, says that Apple employees aren’t paid particularly well:

If they don’t join for a good time, they also don’t join Apple for the money. Sure, Apple has spawned its share of stock-options millionaires — particularly those who had the good timing to join in the first five or so years after Jobs returned. “You can get paid a lot of money at most places here in the Valley,” said Frederick Van Johnson, a former Apple marketing employee. “Money is not the metric.”

By reputation, Apple pays salaries that are competitive with the marketplace — but no better. A senior director might make an annual salary of $200,000, with bonuses in good years amounting to 50% of the base. Talking about money is frowned upon at Apple. “I think working at a company like that, and actually being passionate about making cool things, is cool,” said Johnson, summarizing the ethos. “Sitting in a bar and seeing that 90% of the people there are using devices that your company made — there is something cool about that, and you can’t put a dollar value on it.”

This is interesting — but I think it understates the importance of stock options and restricted stock units. Apple is that rarest of beasts, a fast-growing company with a low stock price. And you don’t need many RSUs at $430 a pop before you’re talking real money. A job offer from Apple is certainly a treasured thing and most people aren’t going to turn it down just because the salary isn’t north of $300,000. But money’s still important and Apple employees have actually been much better paid than Lashinsky implies.

We can do some very basic back-of-the-envelope math here. When Apple went public in 1980, it had 61 million shares outstanding. It has since split three times, so those original 61 million shares have now become 490 million shares. Today, however, Apple, has 929 million shares outstanding. Which means that over the years, Apple has issued 439 million shares.

Where did those shares go? There haven’t been any secondary offerings, so none of them went to investors. And Apple is not particularly acquisitive, so few of them went to buy companies, either. Apple does buy some companies with stock, but those deals are rare and don’t account for all that many shares: even the NeXT acquisition, which brought Steve Jobs back to the fold, was paid for with $429 million in cash and only 1.5 million shares of stock.

So it’s fair to assume that the lion’s share of the newly-issued shares — let’s say 400 million, to keep numbers round — have gone to employees. And 400 million shares, at $430 each, is $172 billion.

To put that in perspective, Apple now has 60,400 employees. 36,000 of those work in the retail segment; we can assume they don’t get options or RSUs. So excluding retail, Apple has about 24,400 employees. Let’s double that number, to include all the employees who have left over the years — call it 50,000 in all. $172 billion divided by 50,000 employees is $3.4 million per employee.

Now I’m not saying that the average Apple employee has made $3.4 million in stock options and RSUs. Most of those options and RSUs will have been exercised, at prices well below $430 per share. (On the other hand, most current employees have options and RSUs which haven’t yet vested and therefore aren’t included in the 929 million number of total outstanding shares.) But the fact is that Apple has been generous in terms of handing out equity to its employees, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t be just as generous going forwards. And the most recent datapoint we have — the 1 million RSUs given to Tim Cook when he became CEO “as a promotion and retention award” — certainly doesn’t make it seem as though Apple is stingy with its equity-based pay.

I’m sure that Apple doesn’t pay more than it needs to and I’m also sure that demand for Apple jobs significantly exceeds the supply of those jobs. But if you properly account for options and RSUs, I suspect that Apple turns out to be a pretty generous employer — more so, in any case, than Lashinsky implies.

COMMENT

Interesting article Felix

Posted by cortesr | Report as abusive

We’re in the dark about Wall Street pay

Jan 19, 2012 16:49 UTC

Today is a very big day at Goldman Sachs.

It’s bonus season on Wall Street and Goldman’s employees are about to learn their “number,” the annual object of obsession that makes up the bonus portion of their compensation. Depending on the number of zeros attached to that number, Wall Streeters will rejoice, buy big homes or quit in a huff.

In turn, many of us will be instantly disgusted by Wall Street’s pay.

There’s a problem, though, with anger about Wall Streeters’ paychecks: we know almost nothing useful about the way the industry rewards its employees. We know that Wall Street pay is high, and certainly far higher than the median American income, which is a serious problem. A battery of studies have linked Wall Street’s pay practices to skewed incentives, outsized risks and short-termism.

Beyond that, though, talking about Wall Street pay becomes an exercise in gossip.

Here’s a sample of recent reports: Bloomberg, relying on bank sources and pay experts, reports junior bankers won’t see annual guaranteed salary increases this year. The NYT reports executive compensation experts charge $11,000 for an annual report which helps banks determine how much to pay top traders. Andrew Ross Sorkin posited that pay on the Street will actually be higher this year if you compare it to revenue.

But, by far, the most common figure you’ll hear during bonus season is average pay per employee. The WSJ declares: “Average pay at Goldman Sachs: $367,057”. It’s a figure that nearly every news organization bandies about, often without caveats.

Unfortunately, using averages to describe Wall Street pay is a bit like writing about baseball salaries if you included A-Rod in the same data set as peanut vendors. Average Wall Street bonus figures come from compensation set-asides that include support staff and IT workers along with, as the Epicurean Dealmaker points out, workers who generate real revenue.

Then there are the outliers at big banks, whom we know nothing about. Goldman Sachs is about to lose two of the four heads of its largest division, but you’d be hard-pressed to find detailed information on their compensation. Most banks, unfortunately, don’t give headcounts for their various divisions, so getting a sense of pay-per-person in specific bank divisions is usually impossible.

Remember Andrew Hall, the former Citigroup trader whose Phibro unit pulled in 10 percent of the bank’s net income in 2007? (Hall, famously, demanded a $100 million payday in the middle of the financial crisis). You won’t find full information on Hall’s pay in Citi’s U.S. SEC disclosures, even though he was known to out-earn some of the bank’s top executives, including Citi’s CEO; his compensation was first sussed out by the Wall Street Journal.

There’s vital information in these pay practices: We didn’t learn that Joseph Cassano’s pay from AIG peaked at $44 million until the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission released its findings, some two years after his unit nearly took down the economy.

And we also don’t know how much of Wall Street’s pay is relatively unobjectionable. Investment banking can be, as the Epicurean Dealmaker suggests, about moving relatively safe products that people want:

Business like M&A, where you earn a fee for helping a client buy or sell a company, or security underwriting, where you earn a fee for placing client securities with outside investors, or securities market making, where you earn a spread for standing between buy- and sell-side investors as a middleman and temporary warehouser. None of these businesses entailed any material amount of persistent or hidden financial risk to investment banks: we did the deal, we got paid, and we moved on. There are no meaningful, dangerous “tail” exposures from such activities.

In any given year, we have no real idea how much Wall Street pays for its more socially redeeming functions, compared to how much it pays the Joseph Cassanos of the world.

Even a simple tally of the number of six, seven or eight-figure earners in any big bank, broken down by division, would give us a clearer picture of compensation. And it would be great if banks were forced to reveal how much they paid their highest earners every year, and what divisions those earners worked in. Shareholders and regulators might then form useful observations about risk, talent and reward.

But for now, all we can do is guess about what Wall Street banks really value.

COMMENT

Strych09, do you have a reference for the $10,000pm? Thanks

Posted by DrRajT | Report as abusive
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