An Interview With Benjamin N. Dover, III

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Muffie Benson-Perella (muffie AT muffmarkets.com) was an Associate in the Investment Banking Division of a "Bulge Bracket" bank. She holds a B.A. in French and Art from Vassar College and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. She concentrated in Contemporary French Poetry at prep school where she was awarded the exclusive premiership of the school's "French Club." Today, Ms. Benson-Perella is the Founder and Managing Director of "Muffie on Markets" (http://www.muffmarkets.com), a deep dive into capital markets, finance and investment strategy. She is also the Founder and Managing Director of Muff Cap, LLC., an invitation only, private investment vehicle for non-existent, prestigious and accredited investors only, employing an actively managed, long-short strategy.
Certainly history will write its own lists of heroes and villains with respect to the credit crisis. It is a sort of mandatory, cleansing practice that collates the pages of the current time of troubles. And, while many of history's verdicts may form less than a consensus, it seems clear that the verdict rendered for Benjamin N. Dover, III will be one of the rosier ones.
Mr. Dover's sometimes controversial, but always insightful observations writ large by the disclosure requirements of the SEC and FDIC public comment process have set the cutting edge for debate on everything from short-selling to the PPIP programs for the last several weeks. Here is a passage of his work:

Truth #1: Stock Market Crashes Are Caused By Stock Sales.
It should be painfully obvious by now that the market's decline since November 2007 was caused by stock selling. Not even pernicious speculators like George Soros would dispute this basic truth. Similarly, the market's steep fall after several large bank failures and the deepening of the economic crisis in September 2008 also was the result of stock selling. We can safely conclude, therefore, that had stock sales been banned in 2007 the stock market crash of 2008-2009 never would have happened. Logically, it follows that banning stock sales would also prevent future market crashes.

Agree or disagree, you simply cannot ignore his common sense approach to markets, finance and economics. But who is Benjamin N. Dover, III? Very little biographical information is available on the maverick finance expert, but I decided to find out. Accordingly, to lift the curtain on this modern finance mind I sat down with Benjamin N. Dover III at the Peninsula for his first public interview:
Muffie Benson-Perella: Benjamin Dover, is that British? Perhaps Irish?
B. Dover: I'm an American original. (Not be confused, of course, with Native American.) And I appreciate your calling me by my given name. For some odd reason, many people seem to find it amusing to use its abbreviation.


Muffie Benson-Perella: I'm sure my readers would like to know: Why public comments? Why not a more conventional means of expression? Something like a mass mailing? Weblog? Interpretative dance?
B. Dover: The intention was never to try to enlighten the benighted masses. It was to remind the government bureaucrats of their statutory mission to further the interests of corporate America. People like Mary Schapiro, Sheila Bair, Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke do seem to understand that they serve as the public support staff of capitalism, but sometimes they need reminding. (They are, after all, government employees.) And one can't expect that these people do a lot of reading unless it's directly addressed to them. Besides, I don't dance unless it's necessary as a prelude to, shall we say, a more worldly objective.
Muffie Benson-Perella: I was intrigued by the inspiration Jimmy Buffett has provided you on investment time horizons. I heard somewhere that only fraternity brothers and alcoholic girls from the South like Jimmy Buffett. Why would a Harvard graduate seek wisdom from a source like that?
B. Dover: Don't knock drunken Southern girls - I learned plenty from them in my youth. Cute as a button Southern girls go a long way.
Muffie Benson-Perella: Uh... you know, does this suit make me look fat?
B. Dover: No, your accent does. As for Buffett, he's one of the geniuses of our time (except, of course, for his socialist political, economic, social and philosophical sympathies). His bold annual letter to shareholders - "Wasting Away in Mark-to-Marketville" - will be remembered as a classic. Also, I didn't go to Harvard.
Muffie Benson-Perella: What do you mean you didn't go to Harvard?
B. Dover: I'm not at liberty to say which schools I attended. For some reason, my alma maters have insisted that I not divulge their identities. But my attorneys tell me we have excellent grounds for appealing the restraining order.
Muffie Benson-Perella: Do you think the sexual harassment witch hunts at investment banks in the 1990s were overblown?
B. Dover: Normally, I'm in favor of witch hunts, especially the original one, but going after investment bankers for sexual harassment like that made no sense at all. Why would men who spend a sizable portion of their incomes groping strippers in Champagne Rooms be inclined to harass their co-workers? I-bankers know well how to compartmentalize their office lives and personal lives. There's a good reason i-bankers say they "work hard and play hard".
Muffie Benson-Perella: So, I ask this of all my interviewees. You're not Pro-Life or something are you?
B. Dover: It's a very difficult issue that requires thoughtful consideration of both sides. On the one hand, of course, we want to discourage the wrong sort from reproducing. On the other hand, giving women free rein to decide the fate of their own bodies is a troubling slippery slope....
Muffie Benson-Perella: Hmmm, ok. In one of your missives you equate investing to patriotism. What do you think the role of the investor is in promoting the welfare of the United States at large?
B. Dover: It's a symbiotic relationship that benefits all of society. Investors provide the capital that allows banks and large firms to trickle down onto the lower rungs of the ladder. And in return for this service, the government ensures that there's an equal playing field for all banks and large firms. That's why the government's latest plans -- mark-to-management reform, reinstating the upskirt rule, TARD, and the PIPI -- are so important. It's these kinds of thoughtful, well-developed, and equitable government interventions that allow laissez-faire capitalism to thrive. As you know, I shy away from ad hominem attacks, but I think most right-minded people would agree that those who oppose these plans are obviously rooting for the other team.
Muffie Benson-Perella: "Symbiotic?" What the hell have parasites got to do with investing?
B. Dover: It's a reciprocal parasitism in which each party gives and takes. Investors give corporations their money, and corporations give investors the dream of striking it rich. In this way, it's much like the lottery -- you have to be in it to win it. Now, just like lottery participants don't protest every time they don't win the jackpot, equity investors shouldn't gripe when their investments don't appreciate over the course of a decade or two. In the cases of both the investor and the lottery participant, whether they win or lose, they've had the invaluable benefit of fleeting hope. Except, in the case of the investor, the hope lasts decades rather than a few days, because that's how long it takes to see a return.
Muffie Benson-Perella: Have you noticed that Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke often wear matched ties? Do you think they wife-swap?
B. Dover: I've noticed that. I think it's part of Bernanke's agreement to move in lockstep with every initiative the Administration takes. The fact that their ties match, but aren't exactly the same is what proves the Federal Reserve nevertheless retains its independence. As for wifeswap, I would hope they're drawn to more intellectually-minded TV fare. (But, again, they are government employees.)
Muffie Benson-Perella: What role do you think deficits will play in the market for debt?
B. Dover: None at all. History has proven that that deficits and debt simply don't matter. In the last 30 years, the US deficit and national debt have skyrocketed, and yet interest rates have remained very low. And in the last few months, the US has assumed a deficit and debt that, as a percentage of GDP, make the typical banana republic look like a paragon of fiscal virtue. Yet, in that same time, the US's cost of borrowing has dropped to record low levels - almost zero. The policy prescription is obvious: keep borrowing more and more money until at some point creditors will begin paying us to accept their cash. By my calculations, if the US debt were to balloon to 600-700% of GDP the US could be earning 3-4 percent on the short term money it borrows. That may seem like an ambitious goal, but we're well on our way there thanks to the Federal Reserve's foresight.
Muffie Benson-Perella: Everyone always orders Absolut martinis here. I can't stand Absolut.
B. Dover: I couldn't agree more. Everyone that matters knows it's the old Grey Goose.

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