Global Investing

Regulate Us? We’re Hurt.

Obama advisor Paul Volcker wants more regulation.

Obama advisor Paul Volcker wants more regulation.

The popular image of Wall Street institutions involve swagger: the ability to absorb the competition’s blows, taking no prisoners, raking in the money… until it seems like the government could force them to rein in their excesses. It’s at that point that Wall Street’s tough guys suddenly sound wounded.

In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, an article about the derivatives legislation being considered in Washington has this comment from Bank of America spokesman James Mahoney—the bank is “concerned that we won’t be able to provide our customers with financial products they need to manage risk and grow and that foreign banks will step in and take that business.”

There are several layers of bruised egos at work here – the assertion that America’s economic future is imperiled by the regulation of derivatives, and the boogeyman specter of a “foreign bank” that will take over. Add the obligatory reference to customers (which recalls the braying from various corners about how the threat to BP’s dividends are really an attack on “pensioners” and “retirees”), and there’s a lot of guilt being laid on in the statement.

Our question: Is Bank of America right? Every time the government gets ready to regulate any business, members of those communities warn of doom, apocalypse, you name it, and start using buzzwords like “risk appetite” and “free markets,” no matter how stifling those things can be if left completely unchecked.

Kevin Flynn of Avalon Asset Management put it well in his commentary this past weekend: “Talk of regulating any derivatives market, and the players immediately get on the phone to the press and politicians, feeding them lurid tales of vanishing liquidity and withering markets, killing all hope of economic recovery.”

Bosch Boss Bashes Bloated Bank Bonuses

Bosch CEO Franz Fehrenbach

Bosch CEO Franz Fehrenbach

Everyone complains about fat banker bonuses, but Bosch Chief Executive Franz Fehrenbach is taking the debate to a new level. The head of the world’s biggest car parts maker is going to review ties with its financiers and may break off business with those that pay excessive bonuses, he told reporters. “We find it irresponsible if some big banks more or less go back to business as usual before the crisis despite what we have gone through,” he said.  He cited HSBC and JP Morgan as positive examples of good corporate behaviour. Of course it’s easier to be picky when you are unlisted and generate huge cash flow.

Stressed out?

Trying to second guess reaction to news during this financial crisis has been a fraught exercise and the U.S. Treasury may have a few advisers playing game theory to assess the impact of results from bank stress tests.

The tests are an attempt to determine which banks can survive more trouble, and who can’t. And how big any balance sheet holes might be. The results are due out on May 4.

If the results look too good, the process will look like a whitewash. Too negative, and it will destabilise still-jumpy markets. Yet showing up problems at one or a few banks could hang them out to dry.

Icelandic saga spreads chill from freezer cabinets to soccer clubs

icelandic-glacier.jpgIt’s already on a geological fault line — now the economy of Iceland risks being torn apart by the banking crisis.

But the saga of the North Atlantic island of Iceland does not stop at its own rocky shores.

Riding a wave of cheap borrowing, Icelandic investors spread their interests far and wide, taking stakes in companies as diverse as New York department store Saks, Finnish insurer Sampo and English soccer club West Ham United.