23 Nov 2010

Lehman bankruptcy administration costs reach $1 billion mark

Regulators worldwide can be congratulated for contributing so generously to the fortunes of lawyers, accountants and assorted advisers who reap this windfall at the expense of savers and investors. A special thank you must be reserved for Hank Paulson was instrumental in orchestrating this signature disaster during the Credit Crunch.

22 Nov 2010

Kafka alive and well in US Government

The absurd consequences of the obsession with fighting symptoms rather than causes and increasing the reach of government and civil servants at all costs is demonstrated by news (Wall Street Journal, 20 Nov 2010) that major US banks are intimidated enough to refuse to conduct business with a large number of foreign embassies in the USA. In countries such as the UK opening a bank account is a major burden for consumers and achieves no demonstrable benefit in terms of fighting crime or terrorism. The costs of complying with regulations that become more complicated by the day is immense, not only in direct costs related to the governmental enforcement agencies but also in terms of additional staffing in financial service firms.

11 Nov 2010

Troubled Borrowers should not be treated too leniently

One of my favourite City Commentators, Anthony Hilton, writes in his Evening Standard column that it would be in EMI's interest that Terra Firma and Citigroup 'talk' to resolve their dispute. But all too often these negotiations are a win-win situation for the over-leveraged borrowers. Any concession by the lender is in effect a gift as the really logical situation would be a write-off of the equity and the transfer of ownership to the lenders. This would also be beneficial from a societal point of view as it would redistribute wealth in a more equitable way, preventing capitalism from becoming a one-way bet for the borrowers. 
From a business point of view, banks must look after their profits, this benefits not only their shareholders but also taxpayers as any capital cushion they build up will also reduce the amount of any future bailout that may be required.

9 Nov 2010

Staff Performance Reviews under Fire

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal takes aim at staff performance reviews. Temple Associates has long argued that the present performance review system is a ritual and platform for political power plays - especially in large, bureaucratic organisations. In addition, the secretive and arbitrary way that bonuses are awarded does little to alleviate this problem. While well-intentioned, making awards too dependent on subjective opinions (even worse on a 360 degree basis) would often turn out to be ludicrously discriminative if it would be brought out into the open - or even subjected to legal test. While maligned by regulators making performance-based pay dependent on numbers would be a more objective and less controversial way of establishing fairness. In addition, company-wide bonus schemes on an equal percentage basis could be administered for all employees. This would allow to incentivise those employees who work in areas where performance cannot be assessed based on numbers alone.

8 Nov 2010

Pitfalls of Acquisitions

The 2005 takeover of Eurohypo by Commerzbank is just another example in a long list of acquisitions that led to disastrous consequences for the acquiring party. While not many people could have predicted the Credit Crunch at that time it confirms the conclusion of many studies that say that at least half of all acquisitions are not successful. Utmost due diligence is therefore the order of the day when undertaking M+A projects. Unfortunately, too many deals are driven by egos - especially those of CEO's who brush aside all concerns - quite often even those voiced by their internal strategy and planning departments.

7 Nov 2010

Bankers need to find bonus accord?

That seems to be the opinion of Mark Kleinman (FT). But quite apart from the legal aspect of companies coming together on a sensitive subject I would be sceptical about the success chances for any such accord. As long as economic pressures lead to competition for the services of quality professionals there will be upward pressure on the compensation packages for those most in demand. Salaries (and employment numbers) among the run-of-the-mill employees may well be under downward pressure at the same time but top performers should remain well bid for. This trend is exacerbated by the fact that alternative investment managers in the hedge fund and private equity sectors are continuing to benefit from an extremely lax regulatory environment that gives them a leg-up when competing for staff with banks, traditional fund managers as well as industry and commerce in general.

6 Nov 2010

How to protect bankers from themselves

The story of then 34-year old Moses Stern who - despite having no experience in the real estate business - obtained a $126 million loan from Citigroup to buy a chain of shopping malls demonstrates that bank regulations are needed to protect bankers from themselves. Bank Lending must be made subject to much stricter regulation with respect to loan-to-value limits and the quality and amount of underlying collateral. If there can be margin rules for share buying there is no reason that similar rules cannot be applied to lending - especially in property lending which seems to be to bankers what drugs are to drug addicts. Property lending appears to be easy as there are no tricky judgements to be made about the value of a business and bankers can push up the lending volume quite easily.

3 Nov 2010

BBVA acquires 24.9 % stake in Turkey's Garanti Bank

While the price may appear to be high compared to still depressed share prices in most banks it is not a dramatic premium compared to prices paid for banks in emerging markets during the pre-crunch euphoria when they were way above intrinsic value.

Basel III - 'Dangerous Nonsense' - discriminates against small banks

A report by the respected Austrian lawyer Gerhard Wildmoser comes to the conclusion that the new Basel III regulations favor big banks at the expense of smaller - and often much more conservative - banks. The key causes of the Credit Crunch - the careless attitude to customer's deposits, the purchase of questionable assets and the reliance on the state as a lender of last resort - would not even be addressed by the new regulations. In my view, the unelected bureaucrats and lobbying dominated by 'Too-big-to-fail' banks and their assorted 'research institutions' is on course to score another magnificent own-goal at the expense of taxpayers and citizens in general.