27 Jan 2015

Single Capacity to protect counterparties - notes on Goldman/LIA dispute

Not a question of being smarter, though that may well be the case. It is a question of morality - or lack thereof. When firms are feted as being the 'most powerful' investment bank this may go into the head of staff and senior management. That success is only measured by the size of the pay packet shows that morality is unlikely to be top of the priorities in the organisation. The setup of financial markets invites problematic relationships between firms and their customers (client would be an inappropriate term though it is used ad nauseam by staffers). A lawyer is smarter than the average user of legal services, but only in this narrow field of expertise. No one would need a lawyer unless he has an informational advantage, i.e. knows the law better than the client (here the term can be applied with justification). Goldman and other financial service providers WILL know more than the client, that is their job. But the (moral) imperative is not to abuse this advantage. This particular case will make its way through the courts but it appears from the outside that the Libyans were in all likelihood even more in need of being protected as a client and not just considered a counterparty in an equal exchange. A system of single-capacity, splitting market making and 'advice' would go some way in preventing similar scenarios. It would not automatically eliminate conflicts of interest, maybe a code of practice for the protection of customers would also be appropriate. Self-styled 'Business principles' devised by the firms themselves are not sufficient.
Goldman Sachs profit on disputed LIA trades back in focus (Financial Times)

21 Jan 2015

QE - should you laugh or cry?

More and more desperate calls for all-out QE in the Eurozone make me laugh and cry at the same time. Laugh because it is not very likely that the hoped-for revival of the economies in the weak member states of the zone will happen. One has to look at the micro-economic aspect of the problem: why would any business invest/hire just because the rate of borrowing has declined by some small fraction? Given high tax rates - and they are going up all the time, openly or in stealth fashion (think 'fees' and 'charges' by public bodies) it should be expected that the entrepreneurial class will cut back on its work load. Why not take it easy if the larger part (60, 70pct if one adds in tax on taxed income, i.e. VAT, stamp duties etc etc) of additional income is confiscated by a parasitic caste of politicians, bureaucrats and their favoured beneficiaries? And why would I cry? Because the chances that the march into ever-higher control of our lives via the permanent avalanche of ill-thought-out legislation and higher taxation/spending is not going to be reversed anytime soon.

20 Jan 2015

Does Bini Smaghi pass the competency test?

Lorenzo Bini Smaghi may have many (too many?) fine qualifications, but he is basically an academic and bureaucrat who never in his life made a loan or traded a security. So it is not clear whether he would pass the newly-introduced tests that are now de rigueur under the UK 'senior persons regime'. It may well be that he would not want to undergo this water-boarding by anonymous and unaccountable regulators - understandably so as it is nothing but a new version of a black-balling that belongs to a long-gone area. But if he is seen as competent enough to supervise one of the largest banks in Europe one wonders what all the ink and paper worth on banking regulation has really been wasted for.
Regulators must check all senior bankers (Daily Telegraph)