Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Goldman Sachs as viewed from the inside top

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Not a pretty picture. Greg Smith is resigning today as a Goldman Sachs executive director and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He explains why on the Op-Ed page of the NY Times:

TODAY is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm — first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.

To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.

But this was not always the case. For more than a decade I recruited and mentored candidates through our grueling interview process. I was selected as one of 10 people (out of a firm of more than 30,000) to appear on our recruiting video, which is played on every college campus we visit around the world. In 2006 I managed the summer intern program in sales and trading in New York for the 80 college students who made the cut, out of the thousands who applied.

I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.

When the history books are written about Goldman Sachs, they may reflect that the current chief executive officer, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and the president, Gary D. Cohn, lost hold of the firm’s culture on their watch. I truly believe that . . .

Continue reading. UPDATE: Here’s a list of 13 reasons he has a point.

Joe Nocera also comments in the NY Times on how Jon Corzine and the M.F. Global guys got away with it:

It’s sure starting to look as if Jon Corzine is going to get away with it.

By now, it has been well established that Corzine’s former firm, MF Global, committed the sin of sins for a broker-dealer. In late October, during the final, desperate days before it entered bankruptcy proceedings, its executives took money from segregated customer accounts — money that belonged not to MF Global but to the farmers and commodities traders that were its clients — and used it to prop up its rapidly collapsing business. Nor was this petty cash: of the $6.9 billion in customer assets that MF Global held, a stunning $1.6 billion is missing. There is virtually no chance that the full amount will ever be recovered.

Let’s not mince words here. These executives committed a crime. Virtually every knowing violation of the Commodities Exchange Act is a crime, but taking money from segregated customer accounts is at the top of the list. And for good reason. Customer money is supposed to be sacrosanct. If a broker-dealer goes bankrupt, the segregated accounts are supposed to remain safe, a little like the way bank deposits remain protected if a bank goes under. Indeed, customers need to be able to trust the fact that their money is segregated and protected at all times. Otherwise, the markets can’t function.

Yet, a few weeks ago, Azam Ahmed and Ben Protess, who have done a remarkable job covering the MF Global bankruptcy for The Times, wrote an article suggesting that prosecutors were having trouble putting together a criminal case against anyone at MF Global. So far, wrote Ahmed and Protess, they’d been “unable to find a smoking gun.” In fact, they continued, “a number of federal prosecutors have expressed doubts” that MF Global “intentionally misused customer money.” Apparently, the current theory is that it was all just a big accident, the chaos of those final days causing the firm’s executives to tap into customer funds without realizing it.

Excuse me while I roll my eyes. Of course there isn’t a smoking gun. As a general rule, financial professionals tend not to write e-mails that say, “Hey, we’re desperate. Let’s break into the customer accounts!” And, of course, they are always going to say it was unintentional. They are saying it already, starting with Corzine, who told Congress last year that “there was no intention to violate segregation rules.”

As for the chaos, you bet it was chaotic at the end. How could it not have been? . . .

Continue reading.

Apparently we, as a nation, have really embraced the idea that people with sufficient money can do whatever they like and suffer no negative repercussions. I did not think I would see the day, but the American public seems to be divided between the cowed—who see what’s going on but simply allow it—and the controlled—those so totally misled by their masters that they ignore evidence and follow blindly.  Gary Weiss comments for Salon:

When word of the obscene bonuses being doled out to top executives of Jon Corzine’s failed MF Global went public the other day, I expected white-hot fury. A major brokerage had gone belly-up, $1.6 billion had simply “vanished,” and the people responsible for the mess are about to be enriched. But except for isolated pockets of outrage like congressional fist-shaking and a Minnesota farmer protest — victims demanding that the money go to them and not to the fat cats who ran the company into the ground — reaction has been subdued.

Call it Wall Street greed fatigue. You say there is a group of devious men (and they are usually men) who lost or stole the money from a large group of trusting and trustworthy people and then enriched themselves for their atrocious behavior? And we’re supposed to be surprised? As a news story, the MF Global bonuses is familiar. The headline “Vultures Flourish in the Great Recession” reeks of 2009. Besides, what can you do about it?  Not a single executive responsible for the crash of 2008 has gone to jail or even visibly suffered. After a while the story gets tiresome.

Whatever the cause of Greed Fatigue, its  prevalence today is a shame because MF Global, headed by former New Jersey Sen. Corzine, may well have engaged in criminal conduct. The rewarding of their irresponsible behavior with bonuses ought to get free-market types and Republicans fired up alongside the usual progressive Wall Street-bashers. Perhaps the fact that Corzine is a liberal Democrat may encourage right-wingers to overcome their Greed Fatigue. We can only hope. The MF Global fiasco is not only the best example I can find of how the culture of greed has survived in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. It’s also an example of crony capitalism at its most pernicious.

To understand the MF Global story, you’ve got to explore a bit why the firm went belly-up last October, and why we even know in advance that these bonuses are going to be paid. Unless they are publicly traded companies, Wall Street trading firms don’t disclose to a soul how much they pay their top people, and only do so after the fact.

MF Global used to be known as . . .

Continue reading.

Of course, even for those not cowed, having big business take control of the government pretty much makes action against those companies impossible, though very easy to take action against individuals (which, as you note, the government increasingly is doing, with punishment preceding trial).

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2012 at 9:04 am

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