The Great Debate

New BofA chairman must prove independence

bofa– Jonathan Ford is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Shareholders in Bank of America must be hugging themselves at their sheer audacity. They have plucked up the courage to say boo to Ken Lewis, the bank’s all-powerful chairman and chief executive.

A shareholder vote on April 29 forced Lewis to relinquish the first of those roles to an “independent chairman”. This role will now be taken by Walter Massey.

Their celebration, however, should be muted. Massey doesn’t seem very independent. He has been a director of BofA since 1998 and therefore participated in all the contentious decisions the board took during Lewis’s tenure as CEO, especially the financially crippling acquisitions of Countrywide Financial and Merrill Lynch.

So shareholders should put Massey under pressure to demonstrate whose side he is really on. And here are two suggestions as to how they might go about this.

Buffett’s big bet


– Jonathan Ford is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

The credit crunch has exposed many one-time financial heroes as having feet of clay. Even the great Sage of Omaha, Warren Buffett has fallen from grace.

The shift in mood has been brutal. The price of shares in the Sage’s investment company, Berkshire Hathaway, has more than halved since last September. Meanwhile, his one-time iron-clad balance sheet now looks rather frail. The credit default swap market is saying that the company’s vaunted AAA rating is so much baloney. Berkshire’s bonds are trading close to junk levels.