I am taking a Christmas – and Hanukkah and other festivals – break. I plan to be back with you in the New Year. Happy holidays to all and, to those lawyers, bankers etc who have to keeping working through the break, commiserations.
It strikes me that one New Yorker who has reason to be grateful to Bernie Madoff as the year concludes – and there are not many – is Dick Fuld.
Until Mr Madoff came along, Mr Fuld was set to be the face of the 2008 financial crisis, and to attract the lion’s share of the opprobrium that came with it. He had even been pictured on the cover of New York Magazine in devil’s horns. Read more
If Bernie Madoff has lost $50bn of other people’s money, as he is said to have admitted, why did they trust him with it? Read more
I can see two obvious flaws in the proposal by David Paterson, governor of New York (and Eliot Spitzer’s successor) to impose a “fat tax” on soft drinks such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi while allowing the diet versions of the drinks to escape.
One is that, if it really worked as advertised in making people cry off Coke and Pepsi, then the measure would not raise sorely-needed taxes for New York. In practice, the health aspect seems more like a cover story, rather like marketing taxes on petrol as “green taxes”. Read more
If Eliot Spitzer had had to choose a venue at which to make his re-entry into society, he would presumably not have selected a former massage parlour in Chinatown on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
But Mr Spitzer, who resigned as governor of New York state after getting caught up in a call girl scandal this spring, did not get the choice. Happy Ending, the former parlour in question, is now a sleek bar and it is where Slate, the online magazine was holding its seasonal drinks party. Read more
Lawrence Lessig, the Stanford law professor who has become a leading expert on copyright and other matters affecting Silicon Valley companies (including, see below, net neutrality) is moving back to Harvard.
I like the sound of his new job, as director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Centre for Ethics: Read more
The Wall Street Journal has a story this morning suggesting that Google has stepped back from its support for network neutrality by suggesting to internet service providers that it puts technology at their facilities to cache its content locally.
Google has struck back by denying that this idea – which would help to speed up the rate at which internet users can access web pages and video from Google and YouTube – is either a change of its stance, or a breach of net neutrality principles. Read more
The retirement of Robert Scully from the office of the chairman at Morgan Stanley makes me wonder more broadly about how many bankers who have not been forced out by their banks may decide to hang up their hats anyway.
Look at it this way: if you have been with an investment bank for a long time, and have accumulated some wealth, it must be tempting now to step out of the door. Few people think the industry will recover quickly, and there is a decent chance that its best days – certainly in terms of bonuses – are in the past. Read more
This is not exactly news, but I note it anyway. I have just been walking through SoHo in New York at the start of what should be one of the busiest shopping weeks in the year, leading up to Christmas (and Hanukkah).
In practice, the streets were easy to walk around and I would say that fully half of the shops had Sale notices in the windows, several advertising up to 50 per cent off some goods. That does not bode well for retailers’ holiday sales. Read more
The alleged fraud of $50bn at Bernard Madoff’s investment advisory business will send a scare through the fund-of-funds that put investors’ money in hedge funds in return for a fee, but the implications for hedge funds are less obvious.
His business, although hedge fund-like, was not structured like most hedge funds, and there would have been more safeguards if it had been. It would be very hard for most hedge funds to operate Ponzi schemes, as Mr Madoff is alleged to have done. Read more
I have written a column for the Weekend FT on government bail-outs and industrial policy:
The failure of the Detroit bail-out bill in the Senate was caused by tensions between right and left, Republicans from the south and Democrats from the unionised rust belt, and purists and pragmatists. Above all, however, there is confusion about what governments should do. Read more
I think Jim Surowiecki is right that a government attempting to set precise wage levels as part of a rescue package – as the Senate Republicans were trying to do with the ill-fated Detroit bail-out – is less than ideal.
He puts it this way: Read more
Further to my column on US newspapers below (and the Drudge link to it) I did not have the same experience as Gideon Rachman of Drudge readers.
True, I have been receiving a few emails suggesting that it would be a good idea if the FT went out of business and I lost my job (one, for example, starts: “You half-wits in the industry still don’t get it.”) Read more
Well, I think I had that coming.
Having suggested in a recent column that Matt Drudge was losing influence, I was awaiting some response. Read more
My FT column this week is on the problems of US newspapers and what society will – and will not – lose by their disappearance. Read more
I neglected to post my review of Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity, the new book edited by Michael Lewis, in last weekend’s FT.
Michael Lewis is a first-rate chronicler of financial excess and the way that the best hedge fund managers and sports team coaches work. In Liar’s Poker, his description of the Salomon Brothers trading floor in the 1980s changed the way we regard Wall Street. Read more
The wiser part of John Thain’s head prevails.
The Mumbai terrorists used VoIP phones. Read more
John Thain’s decision, according to the Wall Street Journal, to press for a $10m bonus this year as chief executive of Merrill Lynch surprises me.
It evokes Barack Obama’s nice comment on the leaders of Detroit car companies flying to Washington by private jet to ask for a federal bail-out: “Well, I thought maybe they’re a little tone deaf to what’s happening in America right now.”
Indeed, that is what surprises me about Mr Thain’s stance, since he has built a reputation as among the most tone-sensitive of Wall Street chief executives. He restored stability at the New York Stock Exchange after the departure of Dick Grasso.
Jim Surowiecki asks: “Does John Thain deserve a bonus?” before concluding that he, in fact, does. He cites Mr Thain’s adeptness in guiding Merrill Lynch into the embrace of Bank of America while Lehman Brothers collapsed, which was about the best Merrill shareholders could have hoped for. Evan Newmark agrees.
But that depends, pace Bill Clinton, on what the meaning of “deserve” is. Read more
I have written a column in the Weekend FT about the travails of hedge funds:
“Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it,” says Malcolm about the Thane of Cawdor in Macbeth. The epitaph could be applied to thousands of hedge funds that are, like Cawdor, facing execution. Read more