29 May 2016

End of Hedge Funds?

Gloom and Doom may work for Marc Faber but it should not overshadow rational analysis of the Hedge Fund Industry.

26 May 2016

Employee Evaluation - when Common Sense and Human Touch go AWOL

Numerical rankings were already an idea from hell. Trying to achieve precision - am I number 6 or number 7 on the Goldman Sachs list? - is impossible. Anyone convinced of the opposite please contact me - but provide clear examples, not MBA speak that some cloned professor has published in some obscure magazine no one ever reads.
Is the new scheme - a web-based tool to give and receive performance feedback at any time - going to be a change for the better?
I have (serious) doubts. In an organisation where the motto at the top management level is 'Greed is Good' and the only personnel management tool seems to be the doctrine to weed out the 'weakest' 5 percent of the workforce in any given year the human touch and common sense approach is long gone from the organisation.
Does one have to wonder that performance and return for shareholders have been mediocre since the old partnership was killed off (by those keen to cash out at the expense of those following in their footsteps)?

25 May 2016

BHS Pension Fund Debacle

Yesterday's headline read Green 'missed five chances to save BHS pension fund.' But the article missed the possibility that Philip Green and his (well rewarded advisers) were more than happy to 'miss' these opportunities.
They were on the inside and had all the information about the state of affairs at BHS as well as the pension fund.
It could well have been the case that all the 'opportunities' available to extricate Green from BHS would have been more expensive and therefore unattractive.
The fact that the Green camp was advised of the track record of the eventual 'buyer' shows that they can not claim to have been in any way duped or surprised about the eventual outcome.
What is really astounding is the way the pension regulator and the trustees of the pension fund behaved. It can only be described as inept (the most charitable description), in the good old tradition of just trying to be nice to everybody, we are all from the same schools, go to the same clubs and attend the same (free) hospitality at sports and entertainment events....reminds me of a former Chairman of British Airways (it may have been before BEA and BOAC combined) who climbed into the cockpit during a flight and asked the captain 'What model of airplane is this?'. Enough said, British management has improved since those days, but not in the party and state dominated 'public' sector.

24 May 2016

DIY Pensions -like DIY Brain Surgery

The idea that the average person should be wholly/predominately responsible to save for his/her retirement is laughable. It may appeal to doctrinaire free market advocates and it certainly appeals to the providers of the many 'products' that are supposed to provide for a care-free retirement.
But much better for the state to provide a sufficient pension. Longevity and investment risks are truly shared, between all citizens and all generations. Costs are very low - no pass the parcel investment games, no expensive admin (everyone gets the same pension, higher rate taxpayers give back more than those in a low tax bracket or not liable to any income tax). This is to some extent akin to the currently debated 'Guaranteed basic income', but only applied to those already retired.

Anyone who has tried to manage his own investment portfolio will understand how difficult investing is. Even so-called professionals time and again mess up, highly acclaimed 'Masters of the Universe' in the Hedge Fund industry often produce lamentable investment returns. So pushing the masses into the investment game means they are supposed to do the equivalent of Brain Surgery on themselves.

By all means encourage people to save, but this part of their retirement provision should not benefit from overly generous tax benefits (that mostly flow to those already enjoying high incomes) and also be free from all other regulatory and bureaucratic restrictions. These additional nest-eggs can help to provide a more comfortable old age than the universal state pension will be able to provide.

48% of Americans saving for retirement are pretty sure they have no idea what they are doing (Business Insider)

Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2015
(Federal Reserve)

20 May 2016

Deutsche Bank - enough own goals to win any competition

It will be interesting to see how much longer the chairman of Deutsche Bank's Supervisory Board will be able to cling to his seat. The number of own goals at DB is growing remorselessly, the person at the top of the management pyramid must certainly take a lot of the blame. Having worked at Goldman Sachs used to be a badge of quality, but that was a long time ago. Nothing but a 'Grab as much as you can' Culture has survived the IPO and Paul Achleitner's handling of affairs at Allianz Insurance was also not exactly crowned by success (Dresdner Kleinwort may ring a bell).

13 May 2016

Commodity Trading - A Mystery

While this news item illustrates the extraordinary influence the - mostly Switzerland-based - Commodity Trading firms have in the markets the real mystery is the profitability of their business model. Given the nature of the business most transactions - if not all - are conducted with counter parties outside of Switzerland. That leads to the questions where trades are booked and taxes are paid. Do the Swiss really care, do the authorities in Geneva and Zug have the resources to police all transactions? Or are they happy with the taxes they receive, following the motto that something is better than nothing. The trading firms could leave at a drop of a hat and decamp to friendlier climes (Dubai? Cayman?) if tax officials are becoming too nosey. And how are these wondrous profits achieved? Most deals are over-the-counter, in physicals. Counter parties are often little-supervised and basically unregulated entities in places that rank very low on the transparency side. Has any of the numerous regulators that harass the financial industry ever shown interest to have a close look at the commodity trading universe? Not to forget the media that could also stop writing fawning pieces on the 'success' that the trading firms have and the fabulous wealth their senior executives enjoy.

1 May 2016

Credit Suisse CEO without Banking Experience

Can it make any sense to appoint someone to lead a bank when the person has no specific experience in the industry? Recent moves by regulators tended to make it mandatory that senior staff has relevant qualification and experience, so what banking experience does Credit Suisse CEO Thiam have? Sad to see a once-stellar franchise being managed so abysmally! Being well-connected in the higher echelons of politics in Senegal or Ivory Coast should not be a free pass to top management.