Morgan Stanley

Every once in a while I almost write “I don’t envy big bank CEOs,” and then I consider my own finances and the mood passes. But it does seem hard, no? The job is basically that you run around all day looking at horrible messes – even in good times, there are some horrible messes somewhere, and what is a CEO for if not to look at them and make decisive noises? – and then you get on earnings calls, or go on CNBC, or sign 10Ks under penalty of perjury, and say “everything is great.” I mean: you can say that some things aren’t great, if it’s really obvious that they’re not. If you lost money, GAAPwise, go ahead and say that; everyone already knows. But for the most part, you are in the business of inspiring enough confidence in people that they continue to fund you, and if you don’t persuade them that, on a forward-looking basis, things will be pretty good, then they won’t be.

Also, when you’re not in the business of convincing people to fund you, you’re in the business of convincing people to buy what you’re selling and sell what you’re buying, which further constrains you from saying “what we’re selling is dogshit.”1

Anyway I found a certain poignancy in Citi’s correspondence with the SEC over Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, which was released on Friday. Citi and Morgan Stanley had a joint venture in MSSB, and MS valued it at around $9bn, and Citi valued it at around $22bn, and at most one of them was right and, while the answer turned out to be “neither,” it was much closer to MS than C. Citi was quite wrong, and since this was eventually resolved by a willing seller (Citi) selling to a willing buyer (MS) at a valuation of $13.5bn, Citi had to admit its wrongness in the form of a $4.7 billion write-down, and the stock did this: Read more »

Financial innovation gets kind of a bad rap, and one of my favorite parts of this job is when I get to celebrate it just for being itself. Sometimes this means breathtaking magic like the derivative on its derivatives that Credit Suisse sold to itself, or elegant executions of classic ideas like the Coke shares that SunTrust sold for regulatory purposes but not for tax purposes. Other times it’s a more prosaic combination of already-existing building blocks to allow people who were comfortably doing something to keep comfortably doing it in the face of regulations designed to make it more uncomfortable.

Yesterday a reader pointed me to a Bond Buyer article that, while perhaps neither all that scandalous nor all that beautiful, is sort of cozy. It’s about a new issue of callable commercial paper issued by a Florida municipal financing commission, and here’s the joke:

JPMorgan came up with the new product as a solution for variable-rate municipal issuers facing impending Basel III regulatory problems. The proposed regulations would require banks to have a certain higher value of highly liquid assets to be available to turn into cash to meet liquidity commitments that could be drawn within 30 days. Maintaining higher liquidity would be expensive for banks, which may try to pass on costs to its issuers, according to an analyst at Moody’s Investors Service. “What we did, starting over a year ago, is ask what we can do to change the product that will still work for all the players, including issuers, investors, and the rating agencies,” Lansing said. “And the ultimate result was this product.” The new product allows banks to continue to support variable-rate products after the regulations are implemented. The paper has a variable length of maturity, but always at least 30 days. Several days before the paper would have 30 days left to its maturity, the issuer calls the paper.

The joke isn’t that funny, though I giggled at the phrase “a solution for variable-rate municipal issuers facing impending Basel III regulatory problems.” Municipal issuers face no Basel III problems: municipalities are not subject to Basel III. Read more »

  • 24 Jan 2013 at 6:38 PM

Bonus Watch ’13: Morgan Stanley CEOs

The bad news: James Gorman’s pay fell 30 percent this year. The good news: he’s now in a position to show employees how to take these setbacks like a man, rather than grumbling like someone who puts their compensation in a one-year context to define their overall level of happiness. Read more »

Great news for anyone who’s been sitting nervously at their desk at Morgan Stanley the last few days, wondering whether or not their boss was about to tap them on the shoulder to go have a chat with HR: if you’ve made it this long, you’re safe! There will be no more human layoffs for the foreseeable future (plants may still be at risk). Read more »

Since taking the reins at Morgan Stanley in 2010, CEO James Gorman has guided the firm with a managerial style that boils down to telling people, more or less: You’ll get it when you’ve earned it, “it” being anything from personal space to money to his respect. On the point of compensation, last year he told employees complaining about what they were paid to either open a newspaper and get over themselves or do everyone a favor and quit. Today brings news that this year, he’s doubling down on that mandate and daring anyone to make something of it. Read more »

Sort of a trick question since, as you all know, banks haven’t held firm-wide holiday parties in quite some time but if they did, is that what we could expect? Based on recent reports about a new approach James Gorman is taking with his staff, yes. Read more »

Point: “Our enthusiasm about MS’s turnaround benefits from our generally macro views. We expect CEO confidence to rise and global corporate activity levels to increase markedly in 2013. Morgan Stanley, with its sterling reputation, talent pool, and record in execution in investment banking advisory and capital markets, is uniquely positions to benefit from this improvement.” Counterpoint: “Even in early 2010, however, it was clear to many inside the firm that [James Gorman] would have his work cut out for him. Every Wednesday, executives from various corners of the bank who belonged to what was known as the asset liability committee would meet at noon to examine the cost to the firm of everything from looming credit-rating downgrades to regulatory changes. ‘It was the most depressing meeting ever,’ said one attendee who spoke on the condition of anonymity. ‘It was very clear the Morgan Stanley we knew was never coming back.’”