Monthly Archives: February 2009

John Gapper

The bankers’ grilling did liven up a bit – or get somewhat fiercer – in the afternoon. At one point, Ken Lewis of Bank of America showed signs of finally losing his temper during what became a seven-hour marathon of questions and speeches, many of them repetitive.

The heat was turned up in the afternoon by Michael Capuano, the representative from Massachusetts, who devoted his five minutes to an impressively outraged rant about how awful bankers are, starting with the memorable quote: 

John Gapper

Well, here I am in Washington, sitting in the House financial services committee room, listening to the House representatives laying into the Wall Street bosses. We have now taken a break for lunch and so far, US politicians have proved less fearsome than British ones.

When the former bosses of Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS appeared before the UK Treasury select committee this week, they received an undiluted dose of scorn and criticism of the kind in which British members of parliament specialise. 

John Gapper

I have never known quite what to make of Bob Lutz, the “product czar” of General Motors, who has decided to retire in April on the grounds that the industry is no fun any more.

Mr Lutz, who is 76 and therefore about the oldest person left in the Detroit auto industry, was a journalists’ dream – accessible, funny, tactless and full of provocative (if sometimes contradictory) views about an industry he knew well. 

John Gapper

I have just watched Jeff Bezos (and Stephen King) introduce the Kindle 2 at the Morgan Library in New York. It had the feel of an event at which people were just waking up to the possibility of an entirely new category of device or software, like Windows 3 or the Apple iPod.

The attendance at the launch certainly suggested that. Quite a large auditorium was packed with journalists, publishers,  photographers and assorted hangers-on and, after the presentation had finished, there was a crowd of people hanging around to try out the device. 

John Gapper

Lloyd Blankfein’s opinion piece for the FT on the lessons for Wall Street from the financial crash is thoughtful and well worth a read.

Among the striking suggestions he makes are that hedge funds and all financial vehicles that are an integral part of the financial system should be regulated to some degree, and that, if a trader and a risk manager at an bank disagree, the latter’s view should always prevail. 

John Gapper

Jeff Jarvis was not happy with my review of his book in the FT the other day, which is fair enough since I disagreed with him.

(Incidentally, I found the experience of meeting the person whose book you have just criticised on the morning the review is published rather disconcerting – we were both in Davos). 

John Gapper

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My FT column this week is on today’s announcement of a $500,000 salary cap for executives of financial institutions that get into serious trouble and are bailed out by the US government. I think it is both inevitable and justified: 

John Gapper

I like Sergio Marchionne’s attitude to Chrysler, the troubled US car company in which Fiat plans to take a 35 per cent stake in exchange for helping it to make small cars.

Most chief executives who form joint ventures such as this have extravagant promises for how they will transform the prospects of the company with which they are linking up. No so the boss of Fiat. 

John Gapper

So Sandy Weill, the former chief executive of Citigroup, has retreated from using the bank’s corporate jet fleet in the face of hostile headlines, notably “Citi’s Sky-High Arrogance” in the New York Post.

It is a further indication of the extreme inadvisability of companies and banks that have either been given public money, or are seeking it, allowing their executives to fly in Gulfstreams and the like. 

John Gapper

There is a fascinating interview in the FT today with Sir James Black, the scientist who helped to discover beta blockers and cimetidine, a stomach ulcer treatment. The thing I took from it was his extreme scepticism about drug company mergers, which seem to be revving up again.

Sir James view of mergers such as last week’s $68bn takeover by Pfizer of Wyeth is: