There is an interesting piece in the FT this morning about the growing pressure on Marcel Ospel, chairman of UBS, over the bank’s cumulative $18bn write-down on US mortgage securities.
The article refers to his "reputation as a cold-blooded power broker". I have no inside knowledge of that but I do know that he has remarkable staying power.
My column in the Financial Times this week compares Jérôme Kerviel of Société Générale with Tom Cruise. Yes, seriously. You can read it here and comment below.
On the plane on the way back from Davos to New York, I caught up with The Bourne Ultimatum, the Paul Greengrass-directed action thriller, starring Matt Damon.
Like many Hollywood films these days, it was a travelogue of countries as well as a drama. Madrid, Tangiers, Manhattan, Waterloo Station . . . it went to all the most glamorous spots.
Further to my admiration for the supermarket in Davos that did not offer me a plastic bag, I note that it is only part of Switzerland’s green credentials.
Yale University’s environmental performance index, which was released at Davos, places Switzerland top of the league on factors including air pollution, water quality, greenhouse gas emissions per head etc. The study notes that wealth correlates closely with environmental performance: the richer you are the more you tend to care about such things.
One further thought on le rogue trader, Jerome Kerviel of Societe Generale (further apologies for the lack of accents).
As I wrote before, there are striking similarities between him and Nick Leeson, the Barings rogue trader. The biggest relates to his motivation. Read more
I am afraid I have been a bit distracted from my blogging duties in Davos by Jerome Kerviel, the rogue trader at Societe Generale (forgive me, but I do not know how to insert the many French accents required here in Typepad, which is our blog publishing tool).
Anyway, here is a column I wrote for Saturday’s FT to sum up the week at Davos. I hope to post some more things that emerged from the week over the next few days.
Here is a column I wrote for today’s Financial Times on the Societe Generale rogue trader. It brings back a few memories, since I wrote a book about the collapse of Barings with Nick Denton, who has since gone on to greater, or at least other, things.
I was looking forward to a somewhat more relaxed afternoon at the World Economic Forum this afternoon and popping in to listen to a couple of debates. Well, so much for that. Societe Generale’s rogue trader has grabbed all the attention and pinned me down in the media centre.
Here is a piece I have just written about the comparisons between this fraud and the one at Barings in 1995 which led to the bank’s collapse. It brings back old memories.
My column in the FT this week is tangentially related to Davos. It is about an absentee from this year’s World Economic Forum: Bill Clinton. You can read it here and post comments below.
One thing you can never accuse the secret service bodyguards who look after bigwigs in the US administration of is secrecy. They have been very hard to miss, or to escape, in Davos this week.
The most obtrusive presence has been that of Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state. Each time she passed through the Belvedere Hotel the security men and women shut down access to the lobby for 15 minutes. Read more
George Soros made an interesting point about Sovereign Wealth Funds yesterday and one that the US Treasury may be counting on to counteract any Congressional pressure to block SWFs from investing more money in the US.
"The role that sovereign wealth funds have played so far [in helping to re-capitalise US banks] might buy them a certain amount of protection," he said at a lunch I went to in Davos. That was about the most optimistic thing he said since he largely expanded on his comment piece in the FT on Wednesday suggesting that this financial crisis is the worst for 60 years.
Amid all the financial gloom, the most cheerful person is Howard Stringer, Sony’s chief executive. When I encountered him today, he was complaining about “the aroma of disaster that is wafting through the halls of Davos.”
He cited Sony’s strong Christmas sales as the reason for his equanimity. “It does not feel like customers are deserting the stores. It is easy to be gloomy here because there are lots of economists here and if you laid them end to end, that would be great.” Read more
I spent some time this morning spitting into a plastic tube and was rewarded for my endeavours with a woolly hat with the slogan: I Spat.
I was contributing saliva for a genetic test that will be carried out by 23 and Me, a Silicon Valley start-up that is attempting to bring genetic testing to the masses. It has launched its service, which costs $999 per person, in the US and is launching this week in Europe.
Wikipedia, the peer-produced online encyclopedia is a popular way for people to gain information about companies and business people. But it does not always please the latter.
Klaus Kleinfeld, the former chief executive of Siemens, described his reaction to the growing influence of Wikipedia concisely at a Davos breakfast this morning: “Scary. Absolutely scary”.
I hesitate to draw too big a conclusion from a single incident but I was struck by the fact that, when I went to the supermarket in Davos yesterday, I was not offered a plastic bag at the check-out. I was expected to have brought my own bag.
Meanwhile, one of the customers was carefully re-cycling all her plastic bottles in a container near the entrance. Read more
As always at conferences – especially those at which you have to walk about a lot – one of the biggest headaches is how much stuff you have to carry around with you.
The World Economic Forum hands out various briefing books and background documents and it can all get rather heavy. A particularly weighty document is the booklet with the names and details of all of the participants. Read more
It was snowing when I arrived in Davos this afternoon, after an overnight flight from New York and a train ride up from Zurich. There is a lot of snow blanketing the ground and there is talk of freezing weather on the way. I leave it to you to draw an analogy with the global economy.
The mood here is different from last year when the biggest media story of the opening days was an insubstantial tale about Todd Thomson’s departure from Citigroup. Then, there was a lot of talk about whether the good economic and financial times could last. This year they are obviously over.
I am going to Davos for the World Economic Forum this week and will be blogging from there. If you see me, say hello.
Howard Stringer, Sony’s chief executive, seems to have come to the same conclusion as me about his company’s struggles to create a series of proprietary formats that other electronics companies have to follow. This is what he had to say about the approach in the Financial Times last week:
We made a decision to make something proprietary and it sent the signal to the world that Sony was trying to own something. That decision was the wrong decision … it’s stupid for us to be arrogant and say we’re going to build a closed system especially when the competitors – Microsoft and Apple – are very strong. We’ve given up on the idea that [proprietary formats] is how we will make our money.
Sir Howard was talking about Sony’s efforts to promote its Atrac format for digital music files, which was an attempt to create a completely closed platform. The idea was that you would only be able to play digital music files encoded in Atrac on a Sony Walkman so that Sony would not only manufacture the device but control the content.
One of the things I am getting used to, having moved from the UK to the US, is that magazines are free on this side of the Atlantic.
Well, perhaps not free, but certainly very cheap. Magazines offer subscriptions at cheap rates in order to build circulations that they can guarantee to advertisers as the so-called "rate base". Buying magazines on news stands is a very poor financial move because it is so much cheaper to subscribe.
As an example, among the latest magazine offers I have received at home is one to get a year’s supply of Newsweek magazine for $20. That compares with the cover price for a year’s supply of $267 – a handy saving of 92 per cent.