Some billionaires like cars, yachts and private jets. Others like newspapers.
Wall Street is littered with clever plans to use financial instruments to change behavior – carbon trading, for example. Some have changed the world, and others failed miserably.
No one suggested Lehman deserved to be saved. But the argument has been made that the crisis might have been less severe if it had been saved, because Lehman’s failure created remarkable uncertainty in the market as investors became confused about the role of the government and whether it was picking winners and losers.
I have always looked at the world through the prism of money to some degree. If you could follow the money, it explains a lot of things, in all sorts of aspects of the world. You can look at politics through the prism of money. You can look at art through the prism of money. You can look at sports through the prism of money.
Tiptoeing on a tightrope past insider trading laws may be deft and clever, but it doesn’t make it right.
There’s a good argument to be made that companies that are private, where they’re run by partnerships, where everybody has true stake in them and they’re not playing with other people’s money, that by default it’s a safer system, because you really have skin in the game. You really own the company.
Investors are sometimes too busy looking for profits to notice where the truth ends and the deception begins.
I don’t sleep well. I’m a very nervous – by my nature – anxious, almost paranoid person and reporter.
There are those on Wall Street and in the plutocracy who feel that Geithner is a hero who deftly steered the country from economic ruin. To many ordinary Americans, however, he is considered a Wall Street puppet and a servant of the so-called banksters.
Unfortunately, I think it’s very difficult to separate policy from politics. In a perfect world, in some instances, you probably would want to. In other instances, you’d probably say that the political element is important because it should, in a perfect world, match what the stakeholders need or want, or what the public is after.
Corporate tax reform is nice in theory but tough in practice. It most likely requires lower tax rates and the closing of loopholes, which many companies are sure to fight. And whatever new, lower tax rate is determined, there will probably be another country willing to lower its rate further, creating a sad race to zero.
Debt, we’ve learned, is the match that lights the fire of every crisis. Every crisis has its own set of villains – pick your favorite: bankers, regulators, central bankers, politicians, overzealous consumers, credit rating agencies – but all require one similar ingredient to create a true crisis: too much leverage.
The moment a large investor doesn’t believe a government will pay back its debt when it says it will, a crisis of confidence could develop. Investors have scant patience for the years of good governance – politically fraught fiscal restructuring, austerity and debt rescheduling – it takes to defuse a sovereign-debt crisis.
There is a long list of psychology research demonstrating that appearances matter more than most us would care to admit. As shallow as it may be, better-looking people have been shown in various studies to have higher self-esteem and more charisma, are considered more trustworthy and are better negotiators.
The blowback against a bailout of Lehman would have been fierce. It is often forgotten, but the prevailing wisdom the day after Lehman fell was that its collapse was a good thing.
Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a company is not allowed to provide a personal benefit to a decision maker in return for business. But hiring the sons and daughters of powerful executives and politicians is hardly just the province of banks doing business in China: it has been a time-tested practice here in the United States.
What if lawmakers never spoke to their constituents? Oddly enough, that’s exactly how corporate America operates. Shareholders vote for directors, but the directors rarely, if ever, communicate with them.
The euphoria around economic booms often obscures the possibility for a bust, which explains why leaders typically miss the warning signs.
In truth, a leader should either apologize, mean it and do something about it – or not apologize at all.
We talk about institutions that are too big to fail – I think the story is as much about people who think they are too big to fail.
It’s the people who have an incentive to find the problem who usually find the problem.
Bitcoin, in the short or even long term, may turn out be a good investment in the same way that anything that is rare can be considered valuable. Like baseball cards. Or a Picasso.
In truth, the best Bitcoin can hope for is to be a second-rate version of gold, if that.
What if the slowdown in merger activity isn’t cyclical, but secular? What if corporations have learned the lessons of so many companies before them that the odds of a successful merger are no better than 50-50 and probably less? Is it possible that the biggest deals have already been done?
In truth, in the fairy-tale version of bailing out Lehman, the next domino, A.I.G., would have fallen even harder. If the politics of bailing out Lehman were bad, the politics of bailing out A.I.G. would have been worse. And the systemic risk that a failure of A.I.G. posed was orders of magnitude greater than Lehman’s collapse.
The failure of Lehman may have allowed the government to do more to prop up the economy than it otherwise could.
Several companies have explicit policies against cronyism, with good reason. Hiring a family member simply for a relationship can be troubling and may not necessarily serve a company’s interests. But by and large, financial firms in particular commonly hire people who have certain connections, whether through family or a business relationship.
The genre of narrative business books that I love so much – the ones that have a you-are-there quality – was invented, or so it is said, in 1982 by David McClintick, who wrote ‘Indecent Exposure,’ a rollicking good read about a Hollywood scandal and the ultimate boardroom power struggle at Columbia Pictures.
What keeps me up at night? Waking up to a scoop at another newspaper or on TV. I’m probably competitive, almost too much so. I will stay up till the Web sites at night roll over. And if they don’t roll over, I’ll stay up until it’s done. I’ll wake up at the crack of dawn, or in the middle of the night even, just to go and check and see.
In many ways, education is a lousy business. Teachers are not normal economic actors; almost all of them work for less money than they might fetch in some other industry, given their skills and advanced degrees.
I think you tell the story that has to be told. You tell the story that’s the truth. You tell the story that readers will be interested in and should know about.
I was always one of those people who would watch the Super Bowl as much for the sports as I did for the ads. I was always just sort of fascinated by the fact that when you turn on the TV, there was motion, there was moving pictures on it.
I got my start in the ‘New York Times’ because I used to read Stuart Elliot, the advertising columns. I still do. And I read him so religiously, I wanted to work for him before I died.
I’m probably a believer in abandoning too-big-to-fail firms or breaking them up in some way so that the system can try to take care of itself. I imagine you’re not going to get there, and therefore, I suspect regulation is what’s going to be required.
As a child, I always enjoyed – my parents used to have these little cocktail parties – and I always loved trying to get the adults to tell me things they weren’t supposed to say. And in many ways, that’s what my job is today; it’s getting people to tell me things that they probably are otherwise not supposed to say.
In the age of activism that is clearly not going away, it would seem that some form of engagement from directors with shareholders – rather than directors simply taking their cues from management – would go a long way toward helping boards work on behalf of all shareholders rather just the most vocal.
Forget about banks that are too big to fail; the focus should be on cities, municipalities and countries that are too big to fail.
I don’t want to put words in Geithner’s mouth, but I think he is generally against the revolving door of government officials taking jobs with companies that they have overseen or in roles that involve lobbying. At minimum, I’m pretty sure he felt that way about himself.
The ethos on Wall Street has not changed, and that’s not going to come from the corner office. That’s going to come, for better or worse, from Washington, and the whole idea of greed is still good, that is still pervasive.
Here’s the perversity of Wall Street’s psychology: The more Wall Street is convinced that Washington will act rationally and raise the debt ceiling, most likely at the 11th hour, the less pressure there will be on lawmakers to reach an agreement. That will make it more likely a deal isn’t reached.
By now, it seems as if everyone has already read Thomas L. Friedman’s ‘The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century.’ It changed the way we think about global business, competitiveness and the implication for far-flung economies, governments, education and more.
I started, actually, in journalism when I was – well. I started at the ‘New York Times’ when I was 18 years old, actually, but really got into journalism when I was 15 years old and had started a sports magazine which was trying to become a national sports magazine.
My training really was at the ‘New York Times,’ you know. When I got there, I was literally supposed to stay there for five weeks, and I got lucky like nobody, you know, like nobody’s business.
When you can’t lend or trade – and you can’t invest with the leverage that juiced returns to support seven- and eight-figure bonuses – how exactly are you going to make money?
In truth, Wall Street is in for a radical makeover. Fewer people, lower margins, lower risk, lower compensation – and ultimately, fewer talented people. It is likely to change the culture of an industry that for nearly a century has been the money center of the world.
Let’s start with a basic question: Do we, as a country, want our most highly qualified employees from the private sector to pursue public service? The answer, I would imagine, should be yes.
TARP became so politicized that having money from it was almost like a scarlet letter. There were debates over compensation, worry that the rules were going to get changed. All the banks were desperately rushing to get that money back as soon as possible – in part, so they could pay themselves bonuses without any government restrictions.
There’s something called, ‘resolution authority,’ which gives the government the power to takeover a failing bank – something they didn’t have pre-Lehman Brothers.
The rating agencies historically actually did a pretty good job rating regular bonds.
The lesson of 2008 is that ultimately our markets are driven by confidence.
One of Obama’s first major acts as president was to sign the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and some of the money in that bill went to Saft.
The economic meltdown that would define every aspect of Obama’s economy came to a head well before he became president, of course, and so did the legislation that would be the basis for everything that came after.
In September 2008 – as Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and AIG, the world’s biggest insurance company, accepted a federal bailout – Senator John McCain of Arizona, in what was widely viewed as a political move, suspended his presidential campaign and called on Obama to rush back to Washington for a bipartisan meeting at the White House.
Wall Street’s biggest fight with Obama was over the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which Obama signed into law in the summer of 2010.
The Saft America plant, a giant 235,000-square-foot mass of concrete, is a modern marvel: its roof covered in row upon row of solar panels, embodying the renewable future that the batteries manufactured within are meant to sustain.
Unemployment in Florida peaked at 11.2 percent in 2009, higher than the national average, and the state was a center for home foreclosures.
Whether a president can truly improve, or damage, an economy remains an open question.
The greatest economic power might in fact remain in the hands of the Federal Reserve. Economists credit the Fed’s policy of keeping interest rates at historic lows with helping to pump up the economy and bring unemployment down.
Perhaps the biggest economic shift during Obama’s presidency came from a piece of legislation that wasn’t sold as such. On March 21, 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. It was Obama’s boldest piece of legislation and the one that will most likely define him.
I would say that my whole career is effectively trying to be a storyteller within the context of financial news.
As a journalist, a big part of what you do is search for drama and conflict. And a lot of the backstory with ‘Billions’ is grounded in my journalistic background.
Traditionally, we think that people with ideas are innovators – that Silicon Valley is the world of ideas. But within the hedge-fund world, they believe that they are men of ideas – that the trade is unto itself one of ideas.
Since JPMorgan Chase announced its surprise $2 billion-and-growing trading loss, there have been renewed calls from economists, pundits, and politicians to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era law that prevented commercial banks from participating in investment banking activities.
Bringing back something akin to Glass-Steagall would clearly help limit risk in the system. And that’s a very good and worthy goal. Letting banks sell securities and insurance products and services allowed them to grow too big too fast and fueled a culture that put profit and pay over prudence.
Why do we have financial crises? Why do banks lose money? If history is any guide, it hasn’t often been the result of speculative bets. It has been the result of banks making loans to individuals and businesses who can’t pay them back.
I think, with Hank Paulson, the concept of a bailout was anathema to him from day one. He was a Republican; he’s a free marketeer. He believes in capitalism, and part of capitalism is believing in failure. And so the idea of bailing out an institution, I think, went against every part of him.
Hank Paulson, obviously, had spent his career on Wall Street, had a deep knowledge of the Street, and also was a very forceful personality, had a very good relationship with the president, and was in a very different place, for example, than Ben Bernanke, who is an academic, quiet guy: spent most of his time thinking about monetary policy.
I think Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner shared the view that they shouldn’t be in the business of bailouts, but you know, you’re not in the business of bailouts until you frankly think you need to be.
If I could only follow one person on Twitter, it would be Heidi Moore. She’s a financial journalist at NPR’s Marketplace.
If I have a spare second, I usually catch up on the many magazines I’m behind on or watch the latest movies on demand that I usually missed at the theater. I love magazines. My top three: Graydon Carter’s ‘Vanity Fair’, Adam Moss’ ‘New York magazine’ and David Remnick’s ‘New Yorker.’
On TV at night, I DVR lots of programs – I use it more like a magazine rack flipping through shows than actually watching them in full. ‘Charlie Rose,’ ‘Meet the Press,’ ’60 Minutes’ are musts for me. I also DVR ‘NBC’s Nightly News’ and ‘The Chris Matthews Show’ on Sunday.
I’m not a real sports guy, but I check ESPN.com just so I know what people are talking about.
More and more smaller entities, such as Politico or TechCrunch, have been able to come out of nowhere and own entities. Dealbook, like them, now has an even greater opportunity, through additional resources, to drill down and offer even more breaking news and deep analysis of the issues that matter to our audience.
Before the web and these highly focused entities, journalists got to decide what was important to tell their audience and educated their readers. Now, journalists have to try and understand what their consumer actually wants to read and what angle they are looking for in order to keep audiences engaged in a highly competitive world.
Hard paywalls will never work because, just like at a newsstand, the reader likes to browse the cover and a few articles before choosing to buy. Even if the material is truly unique, a consumer likes to try a little before buying.
Great stories are still just great yarns. News remains the best human drama ever. Technology is not changing the story; it is just changing the way in which we deliver it.