Posts filed under “Wages & Income”
Putting an end to Wall Street’s ‘I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone’ bonuses By Barry Ritholtz Washington Post Saturday, March 12, 2011; 6:08 PM > Want to reform Wall Street bonuses? Try clawbacks. That’s right. We need to make executives personally liable for their reckless bets if we want to remove the risk for taxpayers….Read More
I was working on a column for the Washington Post on the IBGYBG Wall Street bonuses, when my partner Kevin Lane (the wizard behind the FusionIQ algorithms) pointed me to this article — Compensation 2011: Your definitive guide to advisor compensation across the industry — published at On Wall Street. Its a little “inside baseball,”…Read More
I’ve written about bank and Wall Street execs who got paid large, then bailed after they destroyed their firms. • Lehman Brothers Chairman and CEO Richard Fuld Jr. sold nearly a half-billion –$490 million – from selling LEH stock in the years before Lehman filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy • Countrywide Financial (now owned by…Read More
The following was co-authored a former UST employee, now working at another bulge bracket firm and Barry Ritholtz. It is a little inside baseball, but is quite instructive as to the state of the finance industry. ~~~ Bloomberg broke the story about U.S. Trust (a division of Bank of America) slapping its advisers with a…Read More
The phrase I was looking for in the last post was “I’ll be gone. You’ll be gone.”
Iain Bryson was the first who suggested it, and I then tracked it down to a few sources, the first of which was Jonathan A. Knee’s “Accidental Investment Banker.”
Its also mentioned in this 2009 video:
Transcript after the jump
Originally published December 4th, 2008,
Our different views prove that hindsight is often myopic. Larry White’s take is that Clintonian regulations perverted private incentives.
The boom and bust happened in a system with … extensive legal restrictions on financial intermediation. Nor have we had banking and financial deregulation since … 1999.
(One can’t explain an unusual cluster of errors by citing greed, which is always around, just as one can’t explain a cluster of airplane crashes by citing gravity. Anyway, the greedy aim at profits, not losses.) [T]o explain industry-wide errors we need to identify policy distortions capable of having industry-wide effects. The actual causes of our financial troubles were unusual monetary policy moves and novel federal regulatory interventions. Regulatory distortions intensified in the 1990s.
Perverse Compensation Systems are the Key
I disagree with Larry’s theses, but have space to demonstrate only an alternative perverse incentive. What went wrong is that modern compensation systems did not “align” interests, but rather created perverse incentives to engage in accounting “control fraud,” where the CEO uses an apparently legitimate firm as a “weapon” to defraud creditors and shareholders.  No regulation forced any lender to make a bad loan. Larry misses the key dynamic: “The greedy” do not “aim at profits, not losses” when compensation schemes are perverse. They maximize short-term accounting “profits” in order to increase their wealth. Making bad loans, growing rapidly, and extreme leverage maximize “profits.” Bad borrowers agree to pay more and it is impossible to grow rapidly via high quality lending. Lending to the uncreditworthy requires the CEO to suborn controls, maximizing “adverse selection.” This produced an “epidemic” of mortgage fraud, particularly in the unregulated nonprime sector. The FBI began warning in September 2004 about the mortgage fraud “epidemic.”  Fraudulent loans cause huge direct losses, but the epidemic also hyper-inflated and extended the housing bubble, and eviscerated trust, causing catastrophic indirect losses. When we do not regulate or supervise financial markets we, de facto, decriminalize control fraud. The regulators are the cops on the beat against control fraud—and control fraud causes greater financial losses than all other forms of property crime combined.
The most relevant economic works for understanding these crises are by Akerlof and Romer, Galbraith, and Minsky. Akerlof and Romer explain why “looting” (control fraud) can occur and the fraudulent steps looters take to optimize short-term accounting profits (which destroy the firm).  Note that they are writing about a form of a “market for lemons” in which the CEO maximizes information asymmetry. The failure of economists discussing the ongoing crises to cite the work of a Nobel laureate writing in the core of his expertise demonstrates why we have failed to learn the proper lessons from prior financial crises. James Galbraith extends Akerlof and Romer’s analysis to show why the state aids fellow control frauds.  Minsky describes the “Ponzi” phase of a crisis and why financial instability reoccurs. 
Modern executive compensation systems suborn internal controls. (Control frauds do not “defeat” controls—they turn them into oxymoronic allies.) The Business Roundtable’s spokesman, Franklin Raines, Fannie Mae’s former CEO, explained in a Business Week interview what caused the epidemic of accounting control fraud that became public in 2001 with Enron’s failure.
> The Bloomberg chart above compares year-to-year percentage changes in labor costs and consumer prices – from 1950 to present, for the past six decades (data source: Labor Department). These indicators had a high correlation — 0.82 during the period — according to Brian Belski, chief investment strategist for Oppenheimer & Co. Labor costs have…Read More
The Finance sector is back to record revenue, and of course, record bonuses and pay. I was surprised to see how much greater the Commercial Bank revenue and comp was versus Wall Street totals. When you think about it, they have many more assets, transactions and commercial activity than Wall Street does, so it makes…Read More