Levine on Wall Street: Make More by Paying Less

Matt Levine is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was an editor of Dealbreaker, an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, a mergers and acquisitions lawyer at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and a clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
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Your pain is Lloyd's gain .

Here is an article about how big banks -- especially Goldman, JPMorgan, and Morgan Stanley -- have cut compensation for their workers while raising their chief executive officers' compensation. This makes sense? If you're a line banker, your job is to increase revenue, so you get paid for revenue. (You get paid an uncertain and arbitrary amount per dollar of revenue -- historically roughly fifty cents, but those times may be gone.) If you're a CEO, your job is to increase net income, so you get paid for net income. (Goldman even formalizes this, paying most people based on revenue but its partners based in part on net income.) You can increase income by firing people or paying them less. So you do. I mean, you didn't used to, but you do now. That's a big shift -- banks used to be run half for the bankers, half for the shareholders, and reducing banker pay wasn't a way to increase your own -- it's a shift that was made possible by the comp structure I guess.

From hedge funds to ETFs .

Here is a story about hedge fund pioneer Michael Steinhardt and "fundamentally weighted index" ETFs from WisdomTree. It is full of interesting stuff, including a claim that "the efficient market hypothesis can run counter to common sense-the theory doesn't allow for market bubbles, for instance." Or: "If you believe that causal outperformance is impossible, then you would also say that asset bubbles are impossible." I don't know about that. At least, you could plausibly say that causal outperformance is unlikely while asset bubbles are likely. That seems consistent.

To Motifs.

If your faith in the efficient markets hypothesis is shaky, maybe you'll want to invest with Motif, I won't stop you. Motif is a thing that lets you pick an investment thesis and then buys the stocks for that thesis, more or less. It lets you choose from a bunch of theses with catchy names and catchy, um, gimmicks. Says a photographer named Clay Enos, "It is a world of ideas there. They're a validation of something you had in mind. I was watching a TED talk about robots and sure enough, there was a robot motif already built." I bet there's a motif for every TED talk, Clay.

Teenagers are too cool to buy clothes now.

"When I think of who is shopping at Abercrombie," says a 19-year-old, "I think it's more of people's parents shopping for them," which I am not quite sure how to process. Last time I thought about Abercrombie it was because parents were getting all mad about the sexy models, and now this. One thinks vaguely of Facebook. Anyway teenagers are not buying clothes at teenage-clothes places, possibly because they're too busy buying apps.

Something will happen with Jos. A. Bank.

Will Jos. A. Bank buy Men's Wearhouse? Will Men's Wearhouse buy Jos. A. Bank? Will Jos. A Bank buy Eddie Bauer? Will Men's Wearhouse buy Abercrombie? I'm sure that would go over well with the teens. "Put down your app and try on this suit," their parents will tell them, via Facebook message, I don't know. Anyway there's enough going on that some sort of strategic transaction for or by or involving or around Jos. A. Bank really ought to happen this year.

How much Super Bowl vega did you have?

I'd normally feel weird linking Bloomberg View stuff here, but here is a post that features footnotes and option pricing and that is not by me, so I'm going to make an exception. It calculates (as of Friday) the betting-market-implied volatility of the Super Bowl as 22.7 points, with an expected line of Broncos by 2. So a 35-point Seahawks win was like a 1.6 standard deviation event.

You can take a dogsled airport taxi .

In northern Norway. I mean, you have to fly to northern Norway first, but once you're there, dog taxi! It sounds fun. But it costs $372 one way, which is almost as bad as the airport taxi from Newark to midtown.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

(Matt Levine writes about Wall Street and the financial world for Bloomberg View.)

To contact the author on this story:
Matthew S Levine at mlevine51@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Toby Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net