I note that Bill Clinton, whom I warned last year was in danger of tarnishing his Davos brand by being nasty about Barack Obama on the US campaign trial, seems to have bounced back.
The absence of any senior figures from the US administration at the World Economic Forum this year has left Mr Clinton to re-occupy his place as the well-loved philanthropist and former president who represents the acceptable – even loveable – face of the US in Europe. Read more
The latest recipient of a bail-out seems to be Matthew Bishop, the author with Michael Green, of Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World, a book about the new wave of philanthropy by business leaders and billionaires.
Matthew, who works for The Economist, had the misfortune to publish his book last August, at precisely the moment when the financial bubble popped and the notion that the such people were benefactors from whom traditional foundations and governments should learn lost its appeal. Read more
I ran into Nouriel Roubini, the New York University economist who made his name by being very gloomy about the world economy and the financial system before both came crashing down, last night. I think it is fair to say that he was looking extremely cheerful.
For one thing, Prof Roubini – who is known as Doctor Doom – is omnipresent in Davos this year, along with his fellow seer of pessimism, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan. He is officially on four panels (Mr Taleb is on six) but he told me he is speaking at 10 events in Davos altogether. Read more
My column in the FT this week, as promised, relates to a certain Swiss ski-ing resort: Read more
I have a review of Jeff Jarvis’s What Would Google Do? in Thursday’s FT. I enjoyed reading it but I disagreed with much of what it said.
It took a long time to work out what was wrong with this book. But near the end, Jeff Jarvis himself, in his agreeably open manner, comes close to pointing it out. He has got the wrong company. Read more
On my travels, I neglected to post the review I wrote for the FT on Monday of Kenneth Roman’s The King of Madison Avenue, a biography of the late David Ogilvy:
In 1989, having dismissed Martin Sorrell as “this gnome” and vilified him in the Financial Times, David Ogilvy took up Mr Sorrell’s offer to absorb Ogilvy & Mather into WPP and make Ogilvy non-executive chairman. Read more
I started my day in Davos with Richard Edelman of the eponymous public relations company at a breakfast to launch its annual trust barometer report.
The conclusion is that trust in chief executives and private enterprise is at an all-time low. Trust in US business fell from 58 per cent last year to 38 per cent, bringing it in line with levels similar to the other side of the Atlantic. Read more
Here I am in Davos and where is everyone else?
A lot of chief executives have signed up for the World Economic Forum but seem to be getting cold feet, so to speak, at the last minute. Today, we learned that Bob Diamond, president of Barclays, will not attend after all. Read more
Philip Stephens writes about the ghosts of sterling crises past in the FT this morning. I only have one observation, as I pass through London on my way from New York to Davos for the World Economic Forum.
It is this: when sterling was at its peak of around $2.10 to the pound and the UK house price and economic booms were at their height, I found it rather frightening to return to my home country bearing my weak dollars. Read more
Without wishing to harp on about John Thain’s last-straw decision to accelerate bonus payments at Merrill Lynch, seemingly to get them in under the wire before the new bosses at Bank of America could cavil, it symbolises a huge clash of consciousness.
On one side are politicians, government regulators, commercial bankers such as those at Bank of America and the general public, most of whom are now outraged at the lavish rewards on Wall Street over the past decade. On the other side stand the investment bankers themselves, who would naturally prefer the system to continue much as before. Read more
I note that Michael Lewis agrees with me about my assessment of his recent anthology of pieces about financial crises. He too thinks it was deceptively marketed by the publisher, and feels ashamed.
Here is what I wrote: Read more
Reputations get shredded fast in a financial crisis, but the speed of John Thain’s descent from hero to zero is extraordinarily rapid.
In mid-October, he seemed like the smartest guy in the pack, delivering Merrill Lynch into the hands of Bank of America for $50bn during the weekend that Lehman collapsed and obtaining a premium for Merrill shareholders amid the chaos. Read more
My FT column this week is on bank nationalisation (and, for regular readers, contains a mea culpa on Lehman Brothers): Read more
I am afraid I failed to post my review in the Weekend FT of Steven Johnson‘s new book, The Invention of Air. Here it is:
Joseph Priestley was an awkward, provocative man who so angered a royalist mob in Birmingham in 1791 that it burned down his house, complete with all his scientific equipment, and propelled him to the New World. Read more
One passage of Barack Obama’s inaugural speech as US president that struck me forcibly was his reference to the economic crisis and his assertion that “the national cannot prosper long when it favours only the prosperous.”
The full quote was as follows: Read more
I can see why Gordon Brown is annoyed at the former management of Royal Bank of Scotland, given that his government has had to take a 70 per cent stake in the bank in order to keep it afloat.
Still, I wonder about the prime minister’s portrayal of its problems being caused by foreign adventures such as its role in the ill-timed acquisition of ABN Amro. The implication is that things would have been all right if RBS had stuck with being a UK bank, taking deposits and making loans at home. Read more
Like pretty much everyone else, I feel plenty of sympathy for Steve Jobs, who is now taking leave from Apple until the summer because his medical condition, whatever it may be, turns out to be “more complex than I originally thought”.
Having said that, I give up. Ten days ago, I wrote here that Mr Jobs appeared to have done all he could reasonably be expected to do to clarify things for Apple investors. Now it seems that Mr Jobs’ statement at the time is inoperative. Read more
Further to my column, Dick Parsons’ likely appointment as Citigroup chairman raises the question of whether his time at Dime Savings Bank in the 1990s taught him how to be a banker.
I don’t know the answer to that, but it is interesting to read the story in the New York Times in 1990 marking his appointment. One notable thing is that the similarities with today’s housing and financial market (albeit on a smaller scale):
My FT column this week is on Citigroup: Read more
Michelle Leder points to the latest filing by Alvarez & Marsal, the US bankruptcy and restructuring firm that is sorting out the remains of Lehman Brothers. We knew Wall Street operated like this, but it is interesting to see precise details of Lehman’s stock of private jets and paintings before the fall.
Page 21 of the Powerpoint update lists the 12 corporate jets and one helicopter, with an estimated value of $164m, that are in the process of being sold. That includes one Gulfstream IV jet that was sold last month for $21m. I suppose that owning the jet that used to ferry Dick Fuld around the world has curiosity value. Read more