Levine on Wall Street: Exploding Business Cards
Warren Buffett has some thoughts.
Which he expressed in his annual letter to shareholders this weekend. You can find secondary analysis here, or here, or here, or here, or here, or here, or here, or here, or here, or here, or probably anywhere else. Apparently he wants to make more acquisitions, and now plans to beat the S&P index "through full cycles" instead of over every five-year period. I guess you should allow it because he's Warren Buffett, but goalpost-moving is never the best look. He also seems to think that most of his shareholders have never heard of the biggest leveraged buyout in history, which is surely possible but kind of odd? They have now, though, since Berkshire lost $873 million investing in Energy Futures Holdings' debt.
The Oceanografia saga continues.
The problem with Mike Corbat's forceful threats -- "there will be accountability for those who perpetrated this despicable crime" etc. -- is that, if someone at Citi perpetrated whatever went wrong with its Oceanografia loans, that just makes it more likely that Citi will be held accountable. And so the SEC is investigating whether Citi is guilty of accounting fraud or violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Meanwhile Oceanografia itself, and its chief executive officer Amado Yanez, continue to be bizarre:
"The company is working as normal," Yanez said. At least one unidentified bondholder asked if Yanez was being truthful, according to a transcript. Yanez said a couple times that the company had $50 million in its bank account, before clarifying later in the call that the amount was $15 million.
If you find yourself on a company's investor call asking the CEO if he's being truthful, something has gone wrong.
Corporate governance in action.
Here is a story of the pointlessness of shareholder democracy. A guy who owns about 300 shares of JPMorgan wants JPMorgan to separate its corporate and investment banking businesses, a popular idea these days though not so much at JPMorgan. So he's submitted a nonbinding proposal for JPMorgan to study that possibility. The rules require JPMorgan to include the proposal in its proxy, unless it can find an exception, and it probably can. So a bunch of lawyers will argue to the SEC about whether JPMorgan needs to include a proposal in its proxy that (1) probably will not win a majority of the votes cast, (2) JPMorgan can safely ignore even if it does, and (3) really only calls for further study rather than actually doing anything. People make very comfortable livings doing this stuff, it is amazing.
If you're going to commit corporate crimes, do it in tech, not banking
I suppose a contrarian story of Steve Jobs would be that he was an extremely successful corporate criminal? Also inventing iPhones and stuff, don't get me wrong. But there's no particularly satisfying explanation of why he never got in trouble for options backdating when everyone else did, and now there is the story of his (alleged!) monopolistic efforts to restrain hiring of engineers. "If you hire a single one of these people that means war," he said in an email to Sergey Brin, which was also, you know, possibly not all that legal.
Here is an article about business cards.
You might be all "does it mention that American Psyco scene?" but actually this article starts with "BARCELONA -- Damon Wayans, now a smartphone app developer," so it's just way ahead of you. There's one startup chief executive who got perforated-edge business cards from OfficeMax and then "spent hours waxing the edges on at least 50 cards with either dental floss or candle wax—he couldn't recall which—to smooth them out." There's French telecom company Orange, which gives out business cards with built-in NFC chips that can transmit to smartphones because, and I quote, "It's about 'being dynamic.'" And there's Jack Dorsey's former spokeswoman saying "I was essentially Jack's business card"; later she says ""I would love a business card that would self-destruct. Like a Snapchat business card."
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(Matt Levine writes about Wall Street and the financial world for Bloomberg View.)
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