A thing you might want is for investors to be able to understand the financial situation of the companies they invest in. Traditionally, that is a thing that many people want, anyway.* Much of our system of corporate finance is dedicated to that and it mostly works okay.
A place where it breaks down a bit is in financial institutions. Because big financial institutions more or less take shareholder money, leverage it 10 or 30 times, and invest it all in a large and ever-changing mix of mark-to-market assets, some of which they mark themselves. Then they tell you things like “our assets have a current expected value of around X, with a daily variance of around Y” and since they’re sporting they also give you some sort of rough breakdown of what classes those assets fall into and stuff. This does not give you precise confidence about what those assets are worth today or what they’ll be worth in a week. And you can’t really find out much granular detail about the assets, because disclosing them all would be a competitive problem and/or just take too long / make your eyes glaze over. If you’re lucky maybe the banks disclose in some useful form actionable information about whatever you’re currently worried about, but you’re probably worried about the wrong things anyway.
So you do the best you can, and rely on external sources, like ratings agencies, who might know more than you, maybe, sometimes, or like Warren Buffett. Or you rely on government oversight to keep your financial institutions more or less solvent. But regulators, too, need some sort of heuristic for figuring out what assets are risky and how risky they are. After all, a big part of their job is regulating those risks, by doing things like setting capital requirements. It turns out that this is hard. So they sometimes outsource that job to ratings agencies. That doesn’t always work. Then they get all “we’re going to stop outsourcing risk regulation to ratings agencies.” That doesn’t always work either.
Last month, Citigroup announced that it was mulling over the idea of relieving 3,000 employees of their commitments to the firm. A couple weeks later, it decided that yes, that sounded like a good idea, and begangiving peoplethe signal. Perhaps to a) send a message that no one should get comfortable yet and b) make it clear to existing staff holding out hope that it was true their direct report just ran out for a pack of smokes and would be “back in 10″ that no, Daddy’s not coming home, Uncle Vik announced today: Read more »
What do top financial services employees think of the month-long protests headquartered in Zucotti Park, which took over Times Square over the weekend? So far the most vocal people have expressed support for the movement, like Jim Chanos, who said, “New York is so finance-centric that people here underappreciate the reaction of the rest of the country” and that OWS shouldn’t be underestimated; Larry Fink, who told reporters, “I believe we should not turn our backs on these protests…Maybe we will get some balance”; Jamie Dimon, who told those listening to the JPM conference on Thursday, “I do vaguely remember the First Amendment that it is legal to demonstrate and it is completely fine. You should listen and not just have a knee-jerk reaction”; and Vikram Pandit, who in addition to saying that “trust has been broken between financial institutions and the citizens of the US,” told protesters he’d love to chat over the phone. With the exception of John Paulson, however, who last week issued a statement telling protesters to 1) beat it and 2) thank their lucky stars that as the founder of a ‘most successful business‘, he chose to set up shop in New York, most financiers with less then charitable feelings have kept their feelings to themselves, fearing retribution from the anti-Wall Street group. Until now. Read more »
The New York bank reported third quarter earnings rose 74 percent in the third quarter, to $3.8 billion, due to lower losses from loans and an accounting gain. Its international consumer lending business grew in Asia and Latin America. The bank also decided to keep its credit card partnership with retailers as that business improved…Last week Vikram Pandit, CEO of Citigroup, said he understands the sentiments of the protesters and was willing to meet with them. Citi spokesman Edward Skyler said no one had reached out from the organizers to talk with Pandit yet. [AP, earlier]
Earlier this morning, Fortune hosted a breakfast with Vikram Pandit to pick his brain on what’s been a’ poppin’ at Citi and the economy in general. According to Pandit, the Big C will report a profit for the third quarter and he does “not expect the U.S. to go into a recession,” which is all very exciting news. When asked about the individuals occupying Wall Street, he said that their grievances are “completely understandable” and that “trust has been broken between financial institutions and citizens.” And that’s not all. Read more »
“Citi North America Markets is raising money for the Police & Fire Widows’ & Childrens’ Benefit Fund- with an official food eating challenge. From an email sent today to all markets employees (Fixed Income, Equities, Commodities, Currencies)…” Read more »