Levine on Wall Street: Work in Banking to Learn How to Make Up Numbers

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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You should really work at Goldman Sachs.

Here Bethany McLean describes how much she hated being an investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs, but nonetheless says "If you have the opportunity to work in finance, you should do it." I am not sure that I entirely agree with that conclusion, but the analysis, and the benefits of banking training that she describes, are spot on. Especially this:

Goldman also shook my faith in numbers, and I mean that in a good way. Numbers, especially in a beautifully put together presentation, masquerade as TRUTH. A discounted cash flow analysis seems oh-so-scientific. But many numbers are nothing more than the wobbly assumptions that go into them. There is nothing that will make you understand this better than having a vice president tell you to change the discount rate in that discounted cash flow analysis because he wants to see a different result. "Garbage in, garbage out," I heard at Goldman.

My only quibble is that there is really nothing that will make you understand that better than having a vice president tell you to change a league table ranking because he wants to see your bank ranked at the top.

Or at the following Danish banks .

"Banks Flouting Bonus Rules in Denmark Set to Be Named by FSA" is the headline here, with Denmark's financial services agency apparently thinking that naming the flouters will shame them into paying lower bonuses. I don't know, banks have lots of constituencies, and having a reputation for paying excessive bonuses might be embarrassing in some abstract sense but I bet it's good for recruiting.

What's Argentina up to ?

The story of Argentina's fight to avoid paying its holdout bondholders is among the most interesting in finance, but it is also exhausting. Here Felix Salmon will bring you up to date, explaining Argentina's hopes for its recent Supreme Court appeal and also the math behind the plan to have Argentina's new, cooperative bondholders chip in to pay off the holdout bondholders and make them go away. As one of the new bondholders puts it, "this is a hostage crisis, and we're asking to pay the ransom."

If you need a name for your goldfish, consider "KKR."

What is the best part of the initial public offering of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts-owned U.K. pet supply retailer Pets at Home? Is it that KKR, not normally a capital markets banking powerhouse, has named itself as a bookrunner on the deal? Is it that the prospectus describes the animal ownership of the board of directors, and that the board owns ten dogs, three horses, and only one cat? (Buy!) Nope, it's that the holding company for Pets at Home is named "KKR My Best Friend Cayman Topco Limited." Now I want KKR to be my best friend too.

GMAT study tips .

I hope taking business-related standardized tests as a a stunt becomes a thing. I did it once with the first Chartered Financial Analyst exam, though I did study for it. Here Amy Choi at Bloomberg Businessweek describes taking the GMAT without any preparation for reasons that are not entirely clear. She got a 640, well above the national median (which presumably reflects studying?), though the obvious question -- "is that score good enough to brag about in print?" -- is so utterly dependent on your starting assumptions that I can't begin to answer it for you. Coincidentally I also once took the GMAT without studying.

Jerome Kerviel is repenting .

Here is a strange story about former Société Générale trader Jerome Kerviel, who was fired and criminally convicted for a spot of rogue trading that cost Soc Gen billions of euros, meeting the Pope. So that's nice for him.

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