Monday, April 19, 2010

Oldie But Goldie

Well, well... Turns out that Goldie wasn't "doing God's work" after all. The SEC has just charged the world's biggest investment bank with defrauding investors in a sub-prime mortgage synthetic CDO (i.e. a virtual bond made up of credit default swaps). 

I will spare you repetition of details - readers of this blog  being a well-informed crowd - and just share a Wall Street joke of old, applicable to this situation.

A broker invites his customer - the manager of a large pension fund - to a dinner meeting of Wall Street big shots.  They arrive together at the fancy restaurant promptly at 7.30 pm and, as they make their way towards the private dining room in the rear, the broker confides to his customer - sotto voce, of course - that amongst those attending the function tonight will be a wold-class sucker, a schmuck whose perennially misguided investment decisions provide untold millions in  profits for all the rest.

As the customer makes the rounds during the pre-dinner cocktail hour he stares at the attendees, trying to identify the "mark": "That's Lloyd, certainly no sucker.. and that's Ken, certainly no fool.. and there's Bill, a really sharp guy".  

After a while, the customer gives up shaking his head. "Oh well, I guess he never made it to this dinner", he says as he heads to the bar for one more drink.

P.S.  Given that structured finance hanky-banky has certainly occurred at many other financial institutions, it is very interesting that for its first serious action after the meltdown SEC is going after Golman, Wall Street's most emblematic firm.  It could be a sign of seriousness, or it could just be political smoke.  We will just have to wait..


  1. Tssk tsssk.
    I told Edwardo recently that he shouldn't put all his eggs into the rant basket.
    It eats away at your soul...
    I always say... I would rather be the sucker than the swindler any day.
    What's the deal, didn't anybody here read Harry Potter ? J.K. Rowling was rather insistant on the FACT that there are some things worse than death... Harry is light years away from being cynical. That's WHY he pulls through at the end.
    A prophetic series of books for our time, I say.
    And what is this deal with swindlers ??
    Why are we seeing so many of them these days ?
    Could... WE possibly be missing something ?
    Rest assured that when you are at the party congratulating yourself that nobody is going to pull the wool over YOUR eyes, you have a peculiar blind spot to the wool that is ALREADY over your eyes.
    Ask Thai... the ONLY place where the wool could possibly NOT be over your eyes... is already taken.
    I'll stop.. ranting now.

  2. Nice post, hell.

    But once again, I'll take the monetary standpoint. There's no way you can be a smart guy when you stand as a pension fund manager during a monetary crisis.

    No way that pension can be funded when the basic instrument is in the process of been destroyed.

    Pension systems rely heavily on the monetary system. There is no way out. You need a monetary system you can trust.

    You should read about Rueff or Röpke about sound money and... stop joking on pension fund managers trying to cope the impossible challenges:)

  3. Off the cuff, here's a monetary system you can trust.. maybe.

    A fiat currency that issues NO MORE DEBT, in absolute terms. This gives it scarcity value, for one.

    But we've been through all this b4, haven't we?

  4. But is the problem REALLY that the monetary system is funded by debt ?
    Isn't the problem that at some point... trust/belief seems to fail ?
    If this is true, then how will we EVER be able to build a system that will get around this problem, debt based or not ?
    We know that the economy functions when there is exchange, and NOT hoarding.
    Hoarding is... based on fear, and the breakdown of trust/faith.
    To a certain extent... even SAVING is based on that fear and absence of trust.
    And THAT is what grips the economy. Ultimately.

  5. Debra,

    "We know that the economy functions when there is exchange, and NOT hoarding. Hoarding is... based on fear, and the breakdown of trust/faith."

    No you do not "know" that. You believe this. This is a belief system. I was lucky to be educated in finance in older days. Where the traditional thinking à la Bastiat was ridiculed but still introduced to students.

    Back in those years - 70s - I was one of those students twiting Jacques Rueff and others. No more.

    The "breakdown of trust/faith" has arrived. At least for those savers reading the financial blogosphere.

    Should you save (I understand you may not be one, question of age) what do no need more as proof in your pudding?

    Time has arrived for a complete overhaul of the academic economics 101 education. Sorry for Krugman.

    I fear it will only arrive after some kind of tragic output. That is why reading German economists such as Roepke makes sense IMHO.

  6. Marin...
    If you want to get technical on me, we are ALL functioning with belief systems, YOU TOO.
    When we start talking about tomorrow, we go into belief system mode, and anybody who tries to tell you the contrary is...
    Bemused by his/her own belief system ?
    When we take this problem all the way down, the question becomes... what do YOU believe in and what are you doing about what you believe in ?
    And... do you want to be safe, or do you want to be free ?
    Can't have them both at the same time.
    Tough choices to be made.
    We have been collectively telling ourselves some BIG lies for quite some time.
    Like... you can be safe and free AT THE SAME TIME.
    Na. Doesn't work that way.
    We SHOULD stop sounding off about freedom all the time, though.
    We are LIGHT YEARS away from understanding what freedom is, these days...
    I maintain that the economy CAN ONLY FUNCTION IF THERE IS TRUST.
    I am categoric on this. WITHOUT TRUST... I don't know what will happen but it will NOT be "the life of the home".
    Why do you think that things are looking so bleak, Marin ? For so many people ?
    How do you restore trust that has been lost ?
    I don't know the answer to that one.
    But I think that we could all start by being... kinder to one another.

  7. It is fascinating to read into another person's comments how we all have our own mental constants that our mind builds a personal mental model/picture of the world around. And then to read how someone else has a completely different sense of permanence on something that we ourselves think of as fleeting or a variable.

  8. Interesting joke, but I like the skit in Michael Lewis's Liar's Poker better. The skit was a tradition, acted out in front of the latest pack of new hires. Two city slicker traders visit a customer in Texas, a banker. The banker is decked out in his plaid pants and golfing cap, as the traders have planned the meeting next to his 3:00 golf outing. "We've got a good deal for you", they say to the banker, in a hurry to go golfing, agrees to buying their stuff...

    Sad to see, with Goldman Sachs, what Lewis so accurately wrote about back in the early 90s, that the stock market is nothing more than a bunch of gamblers - parasites adding nothing to the economy, in fact gutting it like the idiots in Iceland