Wish I Could Bring Myself to Giggle (or At Least Smile) in Public

There’s nothing to smile about in the world financial markets. The pain is spreading by the nano-second. But it’s hard not to giggle at least a little. Just watching these Geniuses-of-Wall Street, who had Paul Simon perform at their kids’ kindergarten graduation parties, pissing on one another is such an incredible spectacle. First, pissing on oneself: Former Citigroup chieftain John Reed celebrated the 10th anniversary of the mega-mega-mega Citicorp-Travelers merger he crafted by calling the deal a “mistake.” Reed: “Stockholders have not benefited, employees certainly have not benefited and I don’t think the customers have benefited.” (Thanks, Johnny boy.) Mr Reed and his partner in crime, Travelers honcho Sandy Weill, of course benefited with a capital “B.” Weill, having deposed Reed and run Citigroup, hand-picked Chuck Prince to succeed him, then blamed the Citigroup mess on Prince, calling the problem “poor management,” as opposed to an infantile theory Weill and Reed concocted in the first place (e.g., “huge-er is better than merely huge”).

Speaking of partners in crime, former Merrill Lynch boss of bosses David Komansky called the work of his chosen successor, Stan O’Neal, “absolutely criminal,” the Financial Times reports. (Not a whole lot of restraint, or even vaguely adult behavior, there.) UBS, the Swiss gang of geniuses, spent a decade relentlessly “consolidating” to provide wall-to-wall-to-wall financial services to retail and commercial clients alike; and as part of the UBS flavor of the blame game explaining the loss of billions of Swiss Francs, in addition to crapping all over America per se for its bad genes, have decided that breaking up may be the new, revised wisdom du decade. For what it’s worth, there’s a pretty vigorous move afoot to chop up Citigroup as well; and pretty much everybody else, whose “realized synergy” was, in fact, measured by the barrels of red ink.

And, naturally, you heard it here last, Jerome Kerviel, the “rogue trader” who trashed France’s SocGen almost single-handedly, is defending himself by blaming the bank for not catching him sooner!

As I said, it’s all rather amusing, or would be, absent the global economic chaos that continues to boil. As an avowed enemy of almost any giant consolidations in the name of either “synergy” or the provision of “one-stop shopping,” I am secretly, until now, drowning in smugness. Also, watching these geniuses turn out to have feet of maggot-infested clay is also chortle-worthy to one who has trouble with the whole Welch-ian (Jack, he who walkethed on water for 20 years—then bequeathed his successor a financial mess), “leader-as-God” phenomenon.

There’s such a bizarre element of “obviousness” to this fiasco. E.g.: (1) That which goeth up and up and up doth not goeth more up and more up and more up forever and ever and ever. (You may want to write that one down.) (2) The fact that the experts (economists and mathematicians, for God’s sake) had-have no idea how to value the derivatives-of-derivatives-of-derivatives, created by the bucket-load (to the tune of trillions and trillions of buckaroos), should have told anybody with a brain that the doggy doo-doo would splatter all over the fan sooner rather than later. (3) Then there was the notion that these un-understandable instruments could banish risk from the face of the earth “forever and ever and ever and ever, Amen.” (4) And anybody near the coal face, with the greed meter dialed down even a little bitsy bit, might, just might, have seen that lending a half-mil or so to a jobless-homeless person might “eventually” present a problem. (Of course, history tells us that the greed meter is never dialed down in the slightest—never has been, never will be.) (5) And now the tragicomic spectacle of the creators of the mess calling the guys they stuck with the mess “criminals” for executing with vigor the strategies they concocted in the first place. (6) Not to mention Tom’s favorite: Big mergers suck in 9 cases out of 8 and produce “synergistic-value” in 9 cases out of 7 and destroy lots and lots (and more lots and more lots) of value along the way.

What a hoot.
(Okay, sorta.)

Tom Peters posted this on April 7, 2008, in Markets.
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