Opinion

Felix Salmon

The multimillionaire men of Lehman

Ben Walsh
Apr 30, 2012 21:54 UTC

On Friday, the LA Times published the of pay for Lehman Brothers’ top 50 employees in 2007.  That’s employees as in managing directors and below: pay for “named corporate officers” like Dick Fuld was publicly disclosed. This is how much you make if you’re not running the company, but just working there and making lots of money.

While LAT’s originals contain lots of interesting information like year-over-year comparisons, they’re not easy to read, and not searchable. So, as a public service, Ben Walsh put together the list in searchable form.

It’s worth noting a bunch of people with incredibly vague job titles like “MD, Executive Administration” (Benoit Savoret, $18 million in 2007.) These are managers — and pretty important ones, judging by their paychecks — yet not important enough that their pay needs to be disclosed to the SEC or to investors. Collectively, they’re more perpetrators than victims when it comes to the financial crisis: they can all live quite happily for the rest of their lives on what they made in that one single year.

To get into the Lehman Top 50 in 2007, you needed to be earning more than $8.2 million a year — that’s $158,000 a week. One man earned $9 million, six men earned $10 million, and four men earned $11 million, with no one earning anything in between: Lehman clearly found it easiest to round up or down to the nearest million. You know, as you do.

Of course, there’s nothing special about Lehman, in terms of pay. If we saw the Top 50 list for a really big investment bank, like JP Morgan or Goldman Sachs, it would have higher salaries and a higher cut-off, almost certainly north of $10 million.

The one thing which is most startling about this list is the number of women on it: exactly zero. (Update: It seems I missed one, Ros L’Esperance, #33.) One can’t help but suspect that the all-male culture at the upper reaches of Lehman was a corrosive and damaging thing, which in some way helped lead to the bank’s demise. Erin Callan, in 2007, was already a named corporate officer at Lehman, so she doesn’t make this list. (She was named CFO in September 2007.) From the outside, it looked as though Lehman had at least one woman in a senior leadership position. But looking at this list, it’s clear just how much of an exception Callan was.

Callan, it turns out, was the highly visible lone woman at Lehman, competing with and against nothing but men. I wonder what she thought, at the time, looking down this list, and seeing not but a single woman on it. At Lehman, it seems, in Dick Fuld’s immortal words, “the bros always wins”.

1. Millard, Robert B: $51,347,377 (MD, Global Trading Strategies)
2. Schwartz, Marvin C: $31,141,337 (MD, Asset Management)
3. Hoffman, Jonathan: $30,850,000 (MD, Trading – Global Rates)
4. Cassarini, John: $18,500,000 (SVP, Trading – US Proprietary)
5. Klein, Henry: $18,200,000 (MD, Global Trading Strategies)
6. Penkett, Paul Alexis: $18,000,000 (SVP Trading – Asia Proprietary)
7. Savoret, Benoit C: $18,000,000 (MD, Executive Administration)
8. Walsh, Mark A: $17,500,000 (MD, Fixed Income Administration)
9. Kirk, Alex: $17,000,000 (MD, Fixed Income Administration)
10. Glasebrook II, Richard J: $16,757,246 (MD, Asset Management)
11. Shafiroff, Martin: $16,495,404 (MD, Private Investment Management)
12. Bouzouba, Rachid: $15,000,000 (MD, Equities Administration)
13. Felder, Eric J: $15,000,000 (MD, Trading – High Grade)
14. Fee, Hyung S: $15,000,000 (MD, Fixed Income Administration)
15. Taussig, Andrew R: $14,085,000 (MD,  Retail/Transportation Investment Banking)
16. Donini, Gerald A: $14,000,000 (MD, Equites Administration)
17. Whalen, Patrick J: $13,005,000 MD, Equites Administration)
18. Kramer, Jeremy R: $12,875,403 (MD, Asset Management)
19. Amin, Kaushik: $12,500,000 (MD, Fixed Income Administration)
20. Fuchs, Benjamin A: $12,500,000 (MD, Global Opportunities Group)
21. Morton, Andrew: $12,500,000 (MD, Fixed Income Administration)
22. Mumphrey, Thomas P: $12,500,000 (MD, Fixed Income Administration)
23. Banchetti, Riccardo: $12,000,000 (MD, Executive Administration)
24. Nagpal, Ajay: $12,000,000 (MD, Equities Administration)
25. Thorkeisson, Sigurbjorn: $12,000,000 (MD, Equities Administration)
26. Weiner, David: $11,922,906 (MD, Asset Management)
27. Duramel, Olivier: $11,700,000 (SVP, Quants – US Systemic Trading)
28. Schneider, Gregoire: $11,700,000 (SVP, Quants – US Systemic Trading)
29. Shafir, Mark G: $11,500,000 (MD, Global M&A Investment Banking)
30. Weiss, Jeffrey L: $11,500,000 (MD, Financial Services Investment Banking)
31. Jotwani, Tarun: $11,250,000 (MD, Executive Administration)
32. Wickham, John R: $11,250,000  (MD, Equities Administration)
33. L’Esperance, Ros: $11,000,000 (MD, Financial Sponsors Investment Banking)
34. Parkor, Paul G: $11,000,000 (MD, Global M&A Investment Banking)
35. Rieder, Rick: $11,000,000 (MD, Global Principal Strategies)
36. Wieseneck, Larry: $11,000,000 (MD, Global Finance Administration)
37. Dauhajre, Munir: $10,000,000 (MD, Equities Administration)
38. Gatto, Joseph D: $10,000,000 (MD, Global M&A Investment Banking)
39. Higgins, Kieran Noel: $10,000,000 (MD, Trading – Global Rates)
40. Hoffmeister, Perry C: $10,000,000 (MD, Investment Banking Administration)
41. Meissner, Christian Andrea: $10,000,000 (MD, Investment Banking Administration)
42. Psaki, Jeffrey: $10,000,000 (SVP, Trading – High Grade)
43. Pearson, Thomas M: $9,000,000 (MD, Origination – Real Estate)
44. Ramallo, Henry: $8,579,023 (MD, Asset Management)
45. Assi, Georges: $8,500,000 (MD, Tradlng – Collaterallzed Debt)
46. Corcoran, Joseph: $8,500,000 (MD, Equites Administration)
47. Jordan, Nicholas: $8,500,000 (MD, Equities Administration)
48. Bacha, Mohamed-Ali: $8,250,000 (SVP, Trading – Volatility)
49. Mattu, Ravi K: $8,250,000 (MD, Fixed Income Administration)
50. Brewer, Paul E: $8,250,000 (MD, Global Trading Strategies)
51. Tarnow, Joshua R: $8,200,000 (MD, Global Trading Strategies)

COMMENT

Will have to agree to disagree… Shame someone mentioned Hoffman rather than say Walsh who most certainly did contribute in a major way to LEH collapsing along with their loan portfolio to companies and private equity. If someone had said these guys were brilliant, it would be a much shorter conversation.

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Counterparties: The global economy’s Scarlet A

Apr 30, 2012 21:44 UTC

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Less than a week ago, we suggested that austerity, Europe’s great experiment in cutting its way out of an economic slump, was coming to an end. Now every bit of economic data, including today’s news that Spain, like the UK, is officially back in recession, seems to come with a gigantic Scarlet A across it.

“The tide appears to be turning” on fiscal austerity, Reuters declares, as European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has called for a “growth compact” to complement the last two years of mass budget cutbacks. The ECB’s internal markets chief agrees and, in characteristically European fashion, is calling for a plan-to-make-a-plan for economic growth.

There’s a flood of anti-austerity op-eds. Larry Summers writes that Europe’s maladies were misdiagnosed: “High deficits are much more a symptom than a cause of their problems,” he argues – and calls for the world to make EU aid contingent on a plan for growth. Mohamed El-Erian slams austerity in Spain, and calls for a focus on both “the deficit containment (numerator) and growth (denominator).” Christina Romer, former top economic adviser to President Obama, argues for a “backloaded consolidation” version of budget cuts in Europe; essentially, spending cuts and tax increases that are slowly implemented as economic growth recovers.

Of course, all of this anti-austerity talk comes much too late. But there’s some reason for optimism: The European Investment Bank may get more funds for real, growth-driving investments. Marc Chandler lays out the early speculation, noting that EIB funds could rise to $264 billion, which could go to infrastructure, technology and renewable energy.

European spending of any kind is politically fraught, and the EIB’s is definitely not a quick fix. Compare, as Reuters did, the EIB’s reported size with the 1 trillion euros created by the ECB to prop up the economy. These are baby steps during a crisis, in other words.

And on to today’s links (scroll down for readers’ suggestions for Occupy Wall Street’s future):

Tax Arcana
How Apple sidesteps billions in taxes – NYT

#OWS
Occupy Wall Street now “fighting the man through the Byzantine regulatory process” – WashPost

TBTF
Your latest highly levered, possibly Too Big to Fail nonbank entity: Mortgage REITs – Bloomberg

New Normal
Welcome to housing’s “prolonged bottom” – WSJ

Crisis Retro
Dick Fuld, in an email: “The Bros Always Wins” – Dealbreaker

Welcome to Adulthood
Congress is rethinking the idea that student debt should follow you to the grave – WSJ
Dealing with student loans and a mortgage: It really, really sucks – NYT

EU Mess
Spain is the latest European country to fall back into recession – Macroscope
Spain is the new Greece, except possibly worse – EconoMonitor

Deals
Microsoft buys a 17.6% stake in Barnes & Noble’s nook unit – NYT
Microsoft enters the e-book wars – Felix

Charts
Our depressed fiscal situation in 4 charts – Krugman
2030: The world in 5 graphs – Finance Addict

Startups
The “no-revenue formula” for startups is a real, proven strategy that works (for investors) – Nick Bilton
Yes, there’s a tech bubble, but it’s not that simple – Chris Dixon

Takedowns
The Economist‘s exquisitely refined example of “globollocks” – Crooked Timber

Now He Tells Us
Kashkari: America needs to quickly figure out how to help homeowners – WashPost

Legalese
Madoff trustee’s legal fees are dwarfing the amount he’s recovered for Madoff Victims – Bloomberg

Financial Arcana
Models don’t cause crises, people do. And models help – FT Alphaville

Shocking
Romney fundraiser a large crowd of “older white people, mostly men” – The Daily Beast

Your Daily Outrage
NYC considering banning Happy Hour, for some reason – NY Post

Old Normal
A map of LA when streetcars, not freeways, dominated – Flickr

#OWS’s Second Act: Your reactions

Last Thursday, ahead of mass protests planned in hundreds cities on May 1, we asked Counterparties readers to tell us the one issue the Occupy Wall Street movement should hang its hat on. We’ve included the best responses below; they’ve been edited for length. We’ll be sending along books from Felix’s desk to the winners!

Bill writes:
It seems pretty clear to me that Occupy should, at least for the moment, sharply focus on student debt and higher education financing. The iron is hot, with the issue in front of Congress right now, so there is an opportunity to push through a substantive political victory that Occupy never quite had during the first go-round…
That victory would also come on an issue that is acutely important to the constituency the movement is clearly going after – if you think back to a year ago, the “stereotypical” protestor was a recent graduate having trouble finding work, and weighed down by immense educational debts… By starting off the season with an issue of much more direct relevance to its strongest constituency, OWS can 1) make a difference, 2) demonstrate its commitment to effecting actual policy change, and 3) in the process, draw the people and positive media coverage that will give it serious political momentum moving forward.
I don’t even like the Occupy, but I think it’s plainly obvious what they need to do.

Roger writes that it’s still too early for Occupy to rally around a single cause:

OWS and Tea Party together have public support approaching 75%, though neither alone has the power to produce anything meaningful. The forces of the status quo will continue to prevail unless and until both movements unite on a common theme. The movements are so ideologically different that their only area of common ground lies in opposition to the status quo. “Opposition” must, at this time, be the one and only objective of all insurgents. We’ll deal with what replaces the status quo AFTER the status quo has been displaced from power, not before then.
Andrew adds:
The one single issue that the OWS movement should concentrate on is very simple, but at the same time controversial, and that is the idea of debt relief. By removing at least a large percentage of the outstanding personal debt pile, OWS would be able to have an issue that is controversial for most media outlets and a significant amount of the population, but at the same time a serious proposal that resonates with a large minority of the population and actually works to decrease the last decades’ increases in inequality.

 

 

COMMENT

@MrFox: Yeah, the system has been falling back on its third line of defense (riot cops) more than usually lately. Still, the main challengers to the system, OWS and TEA, are divided along the usual American political faultlines, and aren’t likely to start working together. I have a hard time imagining Tea Party activists taking OWS types seriously. OWS, for its part, seems to actively try to prevent leadership from emerging that could organize it into anything capable of challenging the powerful; squatting just doesn’t get it done.

Like I said earlier, I think the best analogy is the Soviet Union circa 1970. The system is losing legitimacy, but it will be a while before it comes down. Just as well, because it’s very likely that what comes next will be worse.

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Eli Broad’s conventional art

Felix Salmon
Apr 30, 2012 17:29 UTC

166249456.JPGEli Broad’s new book comes out tomorrow, and the cover alone speaks volumes. The title is “The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking”. And the way that Broad has decided to illustrate how unreasonable and unconventional he is? He’s posing next to Jeff Koons’s Rabbit.

Now I happen to be a fan of Rabbit: I think it’s a genuinely excellent and important piece of 20th Century art. I’m also not alone in that view. Ingrid Sischy explained it well, back in 2001, writing of the “Neo-Geo” show where it was first exhibited:

The piece that grabbed the spotlight was Rabbit, his flawless stainless-steel casting of an inflatable bunny. It was a 41-inch-high art-bomb that thumbed its nose at the aesthetics of high art and yet at the same time embraced them, a fusion of Pop and Brancusi. With its wit, its physical simplicity, and its characteristically Koonsian reference to sexual symbols and childhood pleasures, Rabbit has become one of the artist’s most famous and enduring icons…

Kurt Varnedoe, today the chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, is one of many viewers who stayed put when he saw that silver bunny. He recalls, “There are just a few occasions in my art experience in New York where I’ve been sort of knocked dead by an object instantly. This piece was just riveting. You wanted to laugh, you were shocked, you were planted to the floor. I was galvanized by the object. It has such an amazing physical presence… ‘Uncanny’ is the word that comes to mind. There were so many different things going on at once in the piece. It was hilarious, it was smart, and it was chilling… It had that kind of Utopian high-gloss modern clarity to it.”

In 2001, Sischy estimated Rabbit’s value at somewhere in the $2-3 million range; today, it’s probably closer to $100 million. (One Rabbit reportedly sold for $80 million back in 2008.)

Rabbit exists in an edition of three, plus one artist’s proof; Broad owns the artist’s proof, which he bought from Koons in the mid-1990s when the artist needed money to pay the enormous fabrication bills for his Celebration series. Of the other three, two are promised to museums — the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and MoMA in New York. It’s almost the perfect artwork for a financially-minded collector. Because it’s part of an edition, it’s possible for the piece to be owned by MoMA and by Eli Broad at the same time. Because it’s owned by MoMA, it has the best possible institutional legitimacy. And because there’s a “spare” privately-owned Rabbit out there somewhere, Broad can mark his Rabbit to a private market in the piece.

In the book, Broad says that “people often think it’s strange how briskly I go through museums”: he explains that “I’m there to learn and apply my knowledge to our collections. As much as I would like to stay, I have to move on.” Basically, the job of a museum, in Broad’s view, is to ratify Broad’s own collection. In that sense it’s very different from art fairs, where he can go shopping and build his collection: “While I may dash through a museum,” he writes, “I do give myself time to take in artists’ studios and art fairs in Miami, London, Venice, and Basel.”

All of which is to say that Broad’s Rabbit is an example of unconventional thinking in much the same way as a Saudi oil well is an example of an unconventional energy source. Broad’s famous for buying most of his collection from a single gallerist, Larry Gagosian; the piece he chooses to pose with for the cover of his book is the most valuable and recognizable object he owns. It’s a piece which has been ratified by both museums and the market; a piece which is about as mainstream as contemporary art gets.

The cover of Broad’s book does not depict a man who’s secure in his own taste. Instead, it shows a man who collects trophies and prowls museums looking to make sure that he’s collecting the right ones. Yes, Broad’s collection is extremely valuable. But there’s nothing unreasonable about it.

COMMENT

$100 million, huh?

Proof that the 0.0001% are out of control.

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Microsoft enters the e-book wars

Felix Salmon
Apr 30, 2012 14:15 UTC

You think markets are efficient? Check this out: Barnes & Noble stock opened 2012 at $14.75 per share and falling fast; by January 5, the opening price was just $9.50. At that price, the entire company was worth just $550 million, and there was a very real fear that the entire company could go to zero, following in the footsteps of Blockbuster and other real-world retailers selling content more easily bought online.

Today, of course, all that has changed. Barnes & Noble has sold a 17.6% stake in its digital and college businesses to Microsoft, for $300 million — a deal which values B&N’s remaining 82.4% stake at $1.4 billion. And while the $300 million is staying in the new joint venture and therefore not available to help the bookstore chain with cashflow issues, the news does mean that Barnes & Noble won’t need to constantly find enormous amounts of money to keep up in the arms race with Amazon. That’s largely Microsoft’s job, now.

This deal is a bit like one of those high-profile investments by Warren Buffett in a distressed company: a vote of confidence by someone powerful enough to be able to fund the struggling firm through its troubles. Except in this case, the Microsoft investment is much bigger than that, since it comes with deep integration into the Windows 8 operating system. Barnes & Noble no longer needs to sell Nooks, or persuade people to download the Nook app on their iPad: everybody with a Windows 8 device will have the Nook reader built-in.

The e-book market is still young; if Amazon continues to be seen as the enemy, there’s no reason in theory why the Nook shouldn’t become just as popular, if not more so. It’s true that you can’t read Kindle books on your Nook, or vice versa, but over the long term, we’re not going to be buying Kindles or Nooks to read books. Just as people stopped buying cameras because they’re now just part of their phones, eventually people will just read books on their mobile device, whether it’s running Windows or iOS or something else. And that puts Amazon at a disadvantage: the Windows/Nook and iOS/iBook teams will naturally have much tighter integration between bookstore and operating system than anything Amazon can offer.

All of which has lit a real fire under the Barnes & Noble stock price, which opened at $25.79 this morning and looks as though it’s going to close somewhere between $20 and $25 per share. That’s an increase of much more than $300 million in market capitalization, and there’s upside, too: the valuation of the parent is now equal to the value of its stake in the subsidiary. So if the subsidiary rises in value, or if the rest of the company is worth anything at all, then the shares can rise further from here.

The one thing you can certainly expect, though, is volatility. Because Barnes & Noble is no ordinary stock. There are 60.2 million shares outstanding, but of that total the free float — the shares freely traded on various stock exchanges — is just 26.82 million. Meanwhile, at last count, the short interest in Barnes & Noble — the number of shares which had been borrowed by people selling them in the expectation that they would fall — was a whopping 19 million shares.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what is commonly known as a short squeeze. All those shorts have lost a fortune today, and they’re going to have to cover sooner rather than later, driving the price up artificially. So at least for the next few days, it’s probably worth taking any market valuation for Barnes & Noble with a bit of a pinch of salt: technical factors are likely to overwhelm fundamentals until the shorts have retreated, licking their wounds.

After that, however, we finally have a real three-way fight on our hands in the e-book space, between three giants of tech: Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. And that can only be good for consumers.

COMMENT

One of the knives on which this discussion turns is where the consumers are. With digital cameras, you don’t buy film. With ebook readers, you do purchase content, though. So a person can certainly read an ebook on an ipad or smartphone or laptop, but those devices also do other things. Which means that if a nook or kindle owner buys 40 books a year, while an ipad owner buys 5 books a year that kind of matters. Even if there are millions of ipads vs hundred of thousands of dedicated ereaders. Those numbers are completely fabricated, but reading is and always has been a niche. It would be nice if every book sold millions, but because sales are so low, where heavy readers are matters and maybe moreso than what the general public is doing over the longterm.

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Two views of financial innovation

Felix Salmon
Apr 29, 2012 23:26 UTC

The final hour of Frontline’s Money, Power and Wall Street documentary will air on Tuesday; I’ll be participating in an online chat about the program with producers Martin Smith and Marcela Gaviria on Thursday at 1pm ET. I watched a preview this weekend, while also reading the World Economic Forum’s 92-page report on “Rethinking Financial Innovation”.

The two could hardly be more different. Frontline concentrates on international finance’s discontents, most of whom are convinced that no matter how assiduous financial-market regulation, the big banks will always find a way to extract enormous rents for themselves. The WEF, by contrast, is convinced that financial innovation is nearly always a good thing, and that a few tweaks to internal risk controls, and maybe a high-level council of graybeards thinking deeply about systemic risk, should suffice to protect us all from any downside it might have.

The WEF report is not an easy read. Literally: it’s printed in a light-grey sans-serif font on a white background. And for anybody hoping for an indication that the highest levels of the financial-services industry are taking the problems with financial innovation seriously, it’s particularly depressing. Taken as a whole, the report is a full-throated defense of financial innovation, says that substantially all financial innovations are good things, and downplays all possible downsides to the maximum possible extent.

innov.jpg

The first words of the executive summary are “Financial innovation has a long history of success” — and that very much sets the tone for the rest of the report. Weirdly, the success of financial innovation is invariably asserted, rather than argued. For instance, on the left you can see the report’s list of financial innovations since the debit card. “Many of the historical examples of financial innovation listed in the timeline have at some point been misused and misapplied by market participants, and have contributed to significant financial system disruptions,” says the report. “Over time, however, most have been accepted as beneficial.” The passive voice is telling: nowhere are we informed who is accepting these things as beneficial, or what criteria they may be using.

Looking at this list, I can see three unambiguously good innovations: point-of-sale terminals, ACH, and CHIPS. All of them represent evolutionary improvements in the banking system’s payments and clearing architecture. With the rest, I certainly see a lot of innovations which resulted in banks and other private-sector finance players making lots of money. But was the publication of the Black-Scholes equation really a great thing for society as a whole? Are we better off now that we’ve moved from defined-benefit to defined-contribution pensions? Or, to take a slightly earlier innovation which the report dates to 1968, did the originate-to-distribute securitization model really help society as a whole?

It’s disappointing that over the course of its 92 pages, the WEF report never attempts to answer these questions. Instead, we just get lots of unsupported assertion, like the statement on page 40 that “most financial institution failures and insolvencies are not linked to financial innovations”. Well, I’m glad that’s cleared up. Eventually, we end up with a series of recommendations for regulators. The very first one? “Acknowledge the importance of innovation and its role in a competitive, free-market structure.”

From the point of view of someone who has been writing about the failures of various financial innovations for the past four years, there was very little in the Frontline documentary which was new to me. I would hope, similarly, that the documentary would also come as little surprise to any of the financial-services industry’s leaders. Reading this WEF report, however, I’m forced to conclude that they don’t actually have a clue how bad the 2008 crisis was; how closely the devastating global fractures coincided with various financial innovations; and how much it’s necessary to revisit all our priors in the wake of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

The fact is that there’s almost nothing in the WEF report — beyond the simple fact of its existence — which demonstrates that anything at all has changed since 2008. The world’s most important bankers are desperately trying to convince themselves that they’re wonderful people doing God’s work, and that somehow the financial crisis was just one of those unpleasant hiccups along the way. Which it was, for the people who still have jobs at the top of the financial sector, paying millions of dollars a year.

All of which is to say that the WEF report suffers deeply from an unreliable-narrator problem: sometimes the people closest to an issue are the people who are the least trustworthy on that subject. The Frontline documentary might not talk about how it’s trying to “encourage dialogue among stakeholders” by providing “a taxonomy of potential negative outcomes”: that would be Swiss Re’s Stefan Lippe, a chief architect of the WEF report. But if you want to see what kind of damage the financial sector can wreak, you’ll be much better off with the TV show than with the WEF.

COMMENT

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Counterparties: Obama’s hypothetical middle-class tax hike

Ben Walsh
Apr 27, 2012 21:53 UTC

Welcome to the Counterparties email. The sign-up page is here, it’s just a matter of checking a box if you’re already registered on the Reuters website. Send suggestions, story tips and complaints to Counterparties.Reuters@gmail.com

As Mitt Romney pivoted toward the general election – and not for the first time – his chief economic adviser, Glenn Hubbard, ignited an econo-spat by slamming President Obama’s budget in the WSJ. It’s a wonky argument, but at issue is whether taxes will eventually rise on the middle class:

All these tax increases [proposed by the president] on upper-income taxpayers are projected to raise $148 billion per year. Viewed next to proposed additional spending of roughly $500 billion per year, or this year’s federal budget deficit of $1.3 trillion, the president’s budget faces an arithmetic challenge.

That challenge, Hubbard said, would require an across-the-board 11 percent tax increase on Americans earning less than $250,000. Tim Geithner shot back, calling Hubbard’s numbers a “completely made up, remarkably hackish observation for an economist”.

Larry Summers, formerly the director of the White House Economic Council, also stepped into the argument, accusing Hubbard of playing politics. President Obama’s budget, at least, was specific enough to be scored by the CBO, Summers says:

Hubbard constructs a budget plan he imagines that President Obama might propose someday, engages in a set of his own extrapolations and then makes a set of assertions about it.

Austan Goolsbee also waded in, slamming Hubbard’s logic. Hubbard then responded to Summers’s response with two points: that the president’s proposed tax increases would not raise enough revenue to close the budget gap and that spending was set to grow too fast without some sort of tax hike on the middle class.

How to sort through the online version of three econ PhDs arguing in the faculty lounge?

Ezra Klein points out that Romney’s budget “doesn’t make tough choices” about how to close tax loopholes, a fair point. But Josh Barro reminds us that all budgeting is an exercise in guesswork: Under Obama’s plan, our debt-to-GDP ratio would still be far too high by 2022. Considering the spending reforms in Obama’s budget, Barro writes, it makes sense that that gap can only be closed by taxes. – Ben Walsh

And on to today’s links:

Wonks
America was extremely innovative and inventive, “then the Internet happened” – Harvard Business Review

Takedowns
White House Correspondents’ dinner a vomitous, “shameful display of whoredom” – Gawker

EU Mess
Spain’s unemployment rate now worse than the U.S.’s during the Great Depression – Sober Look

New Normal
Multinationals are increasingly cutting U.S. jobs – and making more money overseas – WSJ

Crisis Retro
Lehman’s top 50 employees were paid nearly $700 million in the year before the bank collapse – LA Times
The SEC would like to remind you that it’s still looking into that whole “Lehman Brothers” thing – Reuters

Remuneration
Remarkably, nearly one-third of shareholders voted against Barclay execs’ pay packages – The Guardian
UK unemployment is over 8%, while real wages are lower than they were a year ago – Shewing the fly

EU Mess
Spain in “crisis of huge proportions” after S&P downgrade – Reuters
SocGen: Spain’s downgrade “a belated recognition of reality” – FT Alphaville

Primary Sources
U.S. GDP comes in at a disappointing 2.2% in 1Q – Bureau of Economic Analysis

Deals
Twitter made a secret offer for Instagram that forced Facebook to pay $1 billion – VentureBeat
Felix: Marc Andreessen’s “entire fortune has been built on the greater-fool theory” – Reuters

Tax Arcana
AIG is healthy again – as long it gets many billions in tax waivers – Bloomberg Businessweek

Long Reads
A great read on America’s massive (and growing) prison state – Jacobin

Wonks
“Policymakers, like all of us, are slaves to fashion.” – Project Syndicate

Servicey
Gawker’s handy tips on how to leak to them – Gawker

Concerning
30% of the workforce sleeps less than 6 hours a day – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Popular Myths
Obama hasn’t stacked the Fed, you know – WSJ

Investigations
Another Goldman exec is under investigation for Galleon-related leaks of confidential info – DealBook

 

 

COMMENT

The summary of the WSJ article here says “Multinationals are increasingly cutting U.S. jobs – and making more money overseas”. That’s not what the article says.

Actual quotes from the WSJ article -

“[These companies] boosted their employment at home by 3.1%, or 113,000 jobs, between 2009 and 2011, the same rate of increase as the nation’s other employers. But they also added more than 333,000 jobs in their far-flung—and faster-growing— foreign operations.”

“Economists who study global labor patterns say companies are creating jobs outside the U.S. mostly to pursue sales there, and not to cut costs by shifting work previously performed in the U.S., as has sometimes been the case.”

and

“The Journal’s results are consistent with more extensive surveys by the U.S. Commerce Department, which found that U.S.-based multinational companies added jobs in the U.S. between 2004 and 2010, but added far more jobs overseas. That partly reversed the trend between 1999 and 2004, when the department said U.S.-based multinationals cut jobs in the U.S. while adding them overseas.”

Posted by realist50 | Report as abusive

Is sovereign immunity hurting America?

Felix Salmon
Apr 27, 2012 16:18 UTC

Back in November, Alison Frankel had a very sensible and clear-eyed analysis of the lawsuit which a Cayman-based hedge fund, Fir Tree, is bringing against, essentially, the government of Ireland. In short, Ireland has sovereign immunity, so, no dice. Sorry, better luck next time.

Since then, there’s been no real new news in the case. But for some reason the Economist has decided all of a sudden that this is a terribly important case which “eviscerates law in New York” and which raises a host of worries:

If America’s legal system cannot be relied on for deals done in America, it will become a less attractive place to do business. Borrowing costs may rise, which could prompt non-American companies to take business elsewhere. At the very least, terms will be tweaked.

To make a long story short, the saga here is that Fir Tree wound up buying Anglo Irish debt obligations which were written under New York law. But then Anglo Irish got nationalized, so Fir Tree no longer has a simple commercial contract in New York, facing a bank: it’s now having to line up with other bank creditors of the Irish government.

That’s not a great outcome for Fir Tree, but it’s simply what happens when a bank gets nationalized. Fir Tree would have been no better off had Anglo Irish simply been left to go bust, which was the only other alternative. And any time anybody lends money to a foreign company, they know there’s a risk of nationalization — especially when that foreign company is a bank.

The law in New York, it’s important to emphasize, has not been eviscerated at all. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act is the law in New York, it has been the law in New York for as long as anybody can remember, and anybody writing contracts in New York knows about it. Does the existence of the FSIA make New York “a less attractive place to do business”? Not really: it’s been around for a long time, with no visible effect on New York’s attractiveness as a commercial center.

What’s more, you can’t “tweak” the terms of a contract to get around the risk that a foreign company will become nationalized and thereby subject to the FSIA. That’s a known risk for any lender, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. Moving the contract to some other jurisdiction wouldn’t help, either: the world’s major commercial centers all have laws giving foreign sovereigns immunity on a very broad front. New York is in no way exceptional in that.

As we’re seeing in the saga of Elliott vs Argentina, any attempt to sue a foreign sovereign in New York court is going to be extremely fraught and difficult at best. Some market fundamentalists might have a problem with that: if “corporations are people too”, then why shouldn’t entire countries be people as well? But for the time being, and for the foreseeable future, foreign sovereigns are special in the eyes of the law. And that’s not an evisceration of anything.

COMMENT

Um … there’s actually a little more going on with this than Felix and Frankie seem to appreciate. It’s a front-burner topic just now because the appellate briefs were filed, and because of YPF/Argentina and the Elliott case.

The lessons –

- Secured loans beat the hell out of unsecured every time. Not news.
- Don’t plan on using pre-judgment attachment against sovereign assets to turn an unsecured loan into a secured one. This is big.
- No kind of contract with a private sector party will help you when you’re facing a sovereign successor-in-interest. This is maybe new, and maybe big or not.
- The US government seems to love foreign dead-beat sovereigns more than it loves anyone who lends good money in good faith to them or their nationals. This is sadly unsurprising.

Posted by MrRFox | Report as abusive

Can gold be used as a currency?

Felix Salmon
Apr 27, 2012 04:59 UTC

It worked! Kinda. I took Matthew Bishop’s challenge, and tried to spend a gram of gold like I would any other currency. And, frankly, didn’t have a lot of luck — until I managed to find a small business where the owner just happened to be standing around. In the end, I got three lobster rolls (and free drinks, too) for one gram of gold. Which were very tasty — thank you Snack Box!

So, what did I learn on my expedition in Times Square?

  • When I tell the Snack Box owner that the gold is real and that “you can tell by how shiny it is”, I’m not kidding. Pure gold is really shiny.
  • The most surprising people turn out to know how much a gram of gold is worth, with an astonishing level of accuracy.
  • Gold is not a currency. I’m reasonably sure that Andrew, the guy behind the counter at Snack Box, would not have accepted my gram of gold unless his boss was telling him to.
  • If you do want to spend gold, then try your luck with small businesses, and don’t expect a good implied exchange rate.
  • Also, bringing a film crew along is unlikely to help you at any big chain store.

Most interestingly, however, at least to me, was how much it actually cost us to obtain that gram of gold. For the purposes of the video, I was using the value of one gram of gold based on its market price per ounce. But if you go out and attempt to buy a gold bar, you’ll never be able to find one for a mere $53. In fact, my producer wound up paying double that, in Manhattan. Even if you do a lot of searching online, you’ll be hard pressed to find one for less than $80. We didn’t try to sell the gold — we wound up getting a delicious lunch instead — but my guess is that in most cities the effective bid/offer is absolutely enormous. And much bigger than for any major global currency.

Still, it was a fun — and tasty — experiment. If you try it yourself, do let me know the results!

COMMENT

I’m not as optimistic as TFF about how much the lobster rolls cost in Time Square. It’s probably more than $20 for the three of them. But still, Felix and his crew paid $26 per lobster roll. Clearly we need to get off gold and get us some lobster & bread futures.

Posted by GregHao | Report as abusive

Counterparties: Occupy Wall Street’s Second Act

Ben Walsh
Apr 26, 2012 21:50 UTC

Welcome to the Counterparties email. The sign-up page is here, it’s just a matter of checking a box if you’re already registered on the Reuters website. Send suggestions, story tips and complaints to Counterparties.Reuters@gmail.com

Occupy Wall Street is not calling May 1 a comeback. After bringing income inequality and economic fairness to the national conversation, the group’s organizers tell Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones that the demonstrations in 40 cities will be the “big kickoff of phase 2 of Occupy”.

In New York, Occupy will start May 1 in Bryant Park, before marching to Union Square and ending with a 5:30 p.m. march on Wall Street. Additional demonstrations could also shut down subways, tunnels, bridges and the NYSE.

But beyond greater numbers and bolder national action – like possibly attempting to shut down the Golden Gate Bridge – it’s unclear what precisely the second phase of OWS will look like. The organization has successfully focused its message at times, as its highly technical yet well-argued comment letter to the SEC on the Volcker Rule showed. But even if a bullet-pointed plan would capture short-term media credibility, this is still a movement built on the idea of protest-as-message.

If Occupy is searching for a way back into broader relevance, it’s already on the radar of their main target. Bloomberg’s Max Abelson looks at how banks are joining forces and working with police and private security firms to track OWS’s return act. Abelson gives his interviewees enough rope to hang themselves on their own tone-deaf quotes:

Banks cooperating on surveillance are like elk fending off wolves in Yellowstone National Park, [Brian McNary, director of global risk at Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations] said. While other animals try in vain to sprint away alone, elk survive attacks by forming a ring together, he said.

That concern, however poorly articulated, seems to rise to the top at financial firms. After offering to meet with OWS last October, Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit hasn’t followed through, and the movement is asking him why. New York‘s Joe Coscarelli reports that Deutsche Bank is planning to close its public atrium at 60 Wall Street.

What single issue should Occupy Wall Street focus on? Email us at Counterparties.Reuters@gmail.com and we’ll post the best responses in tomorrow’s newsletter. If we include your comment, we’ll send you a book from the pile on Felix’s desk.  – Ben Walsh

And on to today’s links:

Tax Arcana
AIG is healthy again – as long as it gets many billions in tax waivers – Bloomberg Businessweek

New Normal
Big banks increasingly targeting low-income customers with glorified payday loans – NYT

Oxpeckers
Vogue has scrubbed its glowing profile of Asma Al-Assad – WashPost

Wonks
Why you should ignore the Bernanke vs. Krugman feud – The Economist
The detailed case against the Ryan budget plan – Gene Sperling

Good Pork
A much-derided, $250,000 government-funded study may have saved $20 billion – Wonkblog

Reuters Opinion
Who cares if Murdoch lobbied? – Jack Shafer
Apple and the innovation dilemma – John C. Abell
Stop blaming the statisticians – John Kemp
Can Silicon Valley fix the mortgage market? – Christopher Papagianis

Politicking
Both Obama and Romney have budgets that won’t work without middle-class tax hikes – Forbes
Glenn Hubbard’s controversial claim that Obama’s budget will lead to big tax hikes – WSJ

Remuneration
How big company boards justify “competitive” CEO pay packages by defining much larger companies as “peers” – Bloomberg

Indicators
How the labor-force-participation rate could deal a big blow to Obama – Fortune
We’ve now had three straight weeks of disturbingly high unemployment claims – NYT

More Returns/More Problems
Instagram investor defends himself for only making 312 times his money, quotes Ma$e – Ben Horowitz

Compelling
Memory as a durable good (or why you should go on vacation ASAP) – The Atlantic

Oxpeckers
The econoblogosphere: The totem that reminds Bernanke that the real world exists – Modeled Behavior

For the Record
Chesapeake: When we said we were “fully aware” of our CEO’s personal loans, we meant “generally” – Reuters

Startups
“It’s about more than underwear, it’s about redefining what it means to be made in America” – Kickstarter

Investigations
Ex-Morgan Stanley exec pleads guilty in conspiracy – Bloomberg

Shocking
Thoughts, jokes and honest emotion do little to help your Klout score – Wired

Inanities
“Marketing,” “Strategy” and “Big Ideas” are all dead, says purveyor of “Marketing,” “Strategy” and “Big Ideas” – The Drum

COMMENT

Elk don’t form circles to fend off wolves. Musk oxen do, but you won’t find those in Yellowstone.

Posted by JimInMissoula | Report as abusive
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