Michael Corbat looks like the most conventional chief executive Citigroup has appointed for 10, even 20 years. Certainly over the past decade, for a blue-chip, Fortune 500 banking institution, Citi has been led by a remarkably diverse range of CEO types:
1) An entrepreneur: the irrepressible Sandy Weill with his gargantuan appetite for deals. Having alienated his protege Jamie Dimon, Mr Weill appointed….
2) A lawyer: Chuck Prince, his general counsel and long-time legal fixer, who lasted only four years before being forced out as the banking crisis built, to make way for…. Read more
Antony Jenkins, new chief executive of Barclays, and Rich Ricci, chief executive of corporate and investment banking, have said the right thing. Can they now do the right thing?
The rhetoric of their speeches to analysts on Monday was fine. Mr Jenkins said Barclays would “operate to the highest ethical standards. It will be balanced, less risky and more profitable”. Mr Ricci expanded on this:
We have always scrutinised our businesses based on their ability to generate returns, with careful evaluation of risk and controls embedded in that analysis. Now however, I feel it is appropriate to modify that assessment by explicitly looking at reputational risk as the first hurdle. We have to take a fresh look to see if there are products and services in which, given the changing environment, we no longer deem it appropriate to do business, regardless of financial return.
There’s a famous scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Meryl Streep, as the terrifying editor of a Vogue-like fashion magazine, lectures dowdily dressed Anne Hathaway on the way her “lumpy blue sweater” is, in fact, distantly influenced by the catwalk collections of Oscar de la Renta and Yves St Laurent.
In the same way, are the recent votes of institutional shareholders against executive pay somehow an echo of the Occupy movement’s vocal, if ill-focused, protests, from Wall Street to the City of London?
I think they are. But it suits both sides to disagree, even if the most productive changes in the way capitalism has historically functioned might be achieved by greater engagement. Read more
I have a soft spot for US judge Jed Rakoff, who has just thrown a large legal wrench into the decades-old mechanism of redress between Wall Street banks, investors and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
I first came across him nearly 10 years ago when he presided over the extraordinarily complex litigation between JP Morgan and a bunch of insurers about offshore financing the bank had arranged for Enron. Witty, sharp, quoteworthy and unmistakeable – with his white beard, he looks like one of those wise judges who administer 23rd century justice in sci-fi movies – he is a journalist’s dream. Read more
The Cinderella story of the unexpectedly successful Citigroup auction of EMI – with the business being sold in two halves to Vivendi’s Universal and Sony – is the recorded music division.
The FT reports that Universal is paying about $1.9bn – more than the $1.7bn-$1.8bn that Citigroup, which took over the business from Guy Hands’ Terra Firma, initially hoped to get. That appears to signal some life in recorded music, after all.
The conventional wisdom of recent years has been that, while the music publishing companies that hold the back catalogue rights for well-known music, still had some value, recorded music values were slipping due to mass piracy and the digital revolution. Read more
My FT column this week is on Magnetar:
Two years after the subprime mortgage lending bubble started to pop with the collapse of Bear Stearns, politicians still want to know who to blame. They are making slow progress. Read more
Watching Chuck Prince and Robert Rubin, the former Citigroup chairmen, giving evidence today on the bank’s losses in “super-senior” sub-prime mortgage securities, was not reassuring for anyone seeking lessons from the 2008 financial crisis.
In summary, they told the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in Washington that the risk management and management structures at Citigroup were state-of-the-art, that regulators were keeping a close eye on the business, and that the board was functioning correctly.
The problem was that no-one actually saw a hole looming in the $40bn portfolio of triple-A tranche collateralised debt obligations being held on Citi’s balance sheet. Read more