Monthly Archives: December 2008

John Gapper

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My FT column this week is on the problems of US newspapers and what society will – and will not – lose by their disappearance. 

John Gapper

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. 

John Gapper

The wiser part of John Thain’s head prevails.

The Mumbai terrorists used VoIP phones

John Gapper

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. 

John Gapper

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. 

John Gapper

What happens when you try to use a Canadian device on a German network at an event held by a Finnish mobile phone company in Brooklyn? Forget about it.

That was my experience this morning when attending Nokia’s annual capital markets day in my home city (OK, it’s a borough of New York these days, but it’s still a city to me). I could not get a decent signal on my T-Mobile BlackBerry.

That reflects on the spotty mobile phone coverage one gets even in big US cities, but it also seemed to symbolise something about Nokia’s struggles in this market. 

John Gapper

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My FT column this week is about Robert Rubin and Citigroup: 

John Gapper

The news of cholera outbreaks in Zimbabwe reminds me of reading The Ghost Map, Steven Johnson’s gripping account of the discovery of the causes of cholera in London in the 19th century. This was my review of it in the FT.

It seems improbable now that there could be cholera in Soho in the middle of London, but an outbreak there in 1854 led to the proof that the deadly illness was caused by drinking sewage-infected water. 

John Gapper

The decision of the chief executives of the big three Detroit companies to fly by corporate jet to Washington to seek a federal bail-out two weeks ago must rank as one of the great corporate public relations blunders of our time.

Now, it seems, Rick Wagoner of General Motors and Alan Mulally of Ford are going to waste time by driving themselves to the Capitol to have a second go, while Bob Nardelli of Chrysler is pondering his transport options. According to the Wall Street Journal this morning

John Gapper

I went to see Bolt, the new Walt Disney film, this weekend (along with my target audience). I watched it in 3D with the help of a pair of Elvis Costello-like spectacles given out at the door.

Bolt is one of the new wave of 3D films now pouring out of Hollywood in an effort to give the technology another chance. The 3D films of the 1950s initially caused great enthusiasm and talk of a revolution but the excitement faded

John Gapper

The news that Barclays Capital is staffing up to become a full-service investment bank – or at least expanding out of fixed income into equities – is, I suppose, not unexpected. Barclays did, after all, snap up Lehman’s US operations for a song.

But it makes me think again of the entropy that exists in investment banking – or what is left of it. Banks start dabbling in one corner of the industry and then steadily get pulled into expanding into other areas.