Category Archives: Corporate governance

Corzine’s Know-Nothing MF Global Defense

Jon Corzine’s evasive testimony before the Senate Agriculture Committee was scripted so as to lay foundations for his defense against customer and possibly shareholder suits and reduce the already very low odds of an indictment.

Although I’ll touch on other interesting elements shortly, the key item from his presentation was one that the New York Times’ Dealbook noted:

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Hubris Watch: US Bank CEO Sniffs About Breaking Rules When His Bank Has Huge Trustee Liability

One of the benefits of the Occupy movement is that it is flushing out some particularly egregious behavior among the top 1%.

A writer for the Minneapolis CityPages managed to worm his way into a presentation to the annual meeting of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce by US Bank’s CEO, Richard Davis. Even though Occupy Minnesota was protesting outside, Davis chose to ignore them. His speech made clear that the business community does not care about long-term self interest, let alone social responsibility. Housing and the foreclosure crisis were absent from the 2012 legislative priorities. But tax reform, which is code for shifting even more of the cost of government on to the small fry? Yeah, that’s a big deal.

Davis’ apparent lone comment on the public ire against the banks was dismissive:

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“Why Pay for Performance Should Get the Sack”

Yves here. Before reacting reflexively to the thesis of the article, consider this corroborating view from the former chairman of Goldman, John Whitehead, back in 2007:

“I’m appalled at the salaries,” the retired co-chairman of the securities industry’s most profitable firm said in an interview this week. At Goldman, which paid Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein $54 million last year, compensation levels are “shocking,” Whitehead said. “They’re the leaders in this outrageous increase.”

Whitehead went even further, recommending the unthinkable, that Goldman cut pay:

Whitehead, who left the firm in 1984 and now chairs its charitable foundation, said Goldman should be courageous enough to curb bonuses, even if the effort to return a sense of restraint to Wall Street costs it some valued employees. No securities firm can match the pay available in a good year at the top hedge funds.

“I would take the chance of losing a lot of them and let them see what happens when the hedge fund bubble, as I see it, ends,” Whitehead, 85, said….

By Bruno S. Frey, Professor of Economics at the University of Zurich and Margit Osterloh, Professor (em.) for Business Administration and Management of Technology and Innovation, University of Zürich; and Professor, Warwick Business School. Cross posted from VoxEU

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Jim Chanos on China’s Contingent Liabilities

Edward here. The overall gist of Jim Chanos’ comments on Bloomberg the other day were that China has off-balance sheet contingent liabilities due to its implicit commitment to state-owned enterprises which are knee-deep in land and property speculation. This speculative excess will lead to credit writedowns. Chanos repeated his contention from CNBC last week that […]

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Matt Stoller: Happy Lehman Brothers Bankruptcy Day

By Matt Stoller, the former Senior Policy Advisor to Rep. Alan Grayson and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. You can reach him at stoller (at) gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @matthewstoller. Cross posted from New Deal 2.0

Lehman’s bankruptcy happened three years ago today. It should be quite clear at this point that another Lehman is going to happen again. Policymakers didn’t deal with the crisis of 2008-2009; they turned it into a much longer crisis with far greater lasting damage.

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Anne Sibert: The damaged ECB legitimacy

Yves here. This post may strike readers as a tad wonky, but the role and governance of central banks has become a subject of debate in the US, and I expect it to move more into the spotlight in the EU as the crisis continues. And as you read the post, the ECB had been trying to avoid scrutiny for good reason. It manages to make the oft-criticized Fed look good.

Anne Siebert is the wife of former central banker, now Citigroup chief economist Willem Buiter, who was a very outspoken and vocal critic of the Fed during the crisis, particularly of its “quasi fiscal role,” meaning the way it subsidized banks in ways that involved taking real balance sheet risk outside Congressional budgetary processes. Buiter argued this might well be a violation of the Constitution.

He and Siebert have written and done advisory work together, often for central banks. They were called in by Iceland shortly before its crisis erupted, and apparently told the central bank it was toast. Her experience makes Siebert a commentator who cannot easily be ignored.

By Anne Siebert, Professor and Head of the School of Economics, Mathematics and Statistics at Birkbeck College, London and a member of the a member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Central Bank of Iceland. Cross posted from VoxEU

The European Central Bank was once known for its obsessive focus on price stability. Since the global economic crisis, however, its role has extended to preventing the insolvency of banks and sovereign countries. This column argues that such a move has badly harmed the institution’s legitimacy – something that will damage both its policy effectiveness and confidence in the governing bodies of the EU as a whole.

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The Decline of Manufacturing in America: A Case Study

One frequent and frustrating line that often crops up in the comments section of this blog is that American labor has no hope, it should just accept Chinese wages, since price is all that matters. That line of thinking is wrongheaded on multiple levels. It assumes direct factory labor is the most important cost driver, when for most manufactured goods, it is 11% to 15% of total product cost (and increased coordination costs of much more expensive managers are a significant offset to any cost savings achieved by using cheaper factory workers in faraway locations). It also assumes cost is the only way to compete, when that is naive on an input as well as a product level. How do these “labor cost is destiny” advocates explain the continued success of export powerhouse Germany? Finally, the offshoring,/outsourcing vogue ignores the riskiness and lower flexibility of extended supply chains.

This argument is sorely misguided because it serves to exculpate diseased, greedy, and incompetent American managers and executives. In the overwhelming majority of places where I lived in my childhood, a manufacturing plant was the biggest employer in the community. And when I went to business school, manufacturing was still seen as important. Indeed, the rise of Germany and Japan was then seen as a due to sclerotic American management not being able to keep up with their innovations in product design and factory management.

But if you were to ask most people, they’d now blame the fall of American manufacturing on our workers, which serves to shift focus from the top of the food chain at a time when they’ve managed to greatly widen the gap between their pay and that of the folks reporting to them.

Let me give you an all too typical example of how American management has contributed to the demise of our industrial competitiveness, namely, the former Mead Corporation paper mill in Escanaba, Michigan, which is now part of NewPage, owned by Cerberus.

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Dumb things bloggers say

Alright, I have a mea culpa here. Check out this quote from June 2008: Bank of America’s Ken Lewis is trying to crack a big nut in taking on Countrywide Financial to its balance sheet. To date, BofA has been fairly successful in limiting its writedowns during this credit crisis, but there are any number […]

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25 Big Corp CEOs Made More Than Their Companies Paid in Federal Taxes

In case you doubted that America needs more progressive taxation, the case in its favor has just been made in a study, “Executive Excess 2011: The Massive CEO Rewards for Tax Dodging,” by the Institute of Policy Studies (hat tip readers aet and Vlad via the International Business Times). The report found that the CEOs of 25 major companies paid themselves more than their companies paid in Federal income taxes. Exhibit 1 on page 31 names and shames them (well, assuming they are capable of shame), and they include John J. Donahoe of eBay, Robert Coury of Mylan Labs, Jeff Immelt of GE, and Robert Kelly of Bank of New York. The New York Times article on the report elicited some not-convincing rebuttals.

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Why “Business Needs Certainty” is Destructive

This is the start of my final guest post in Glenn Greenwald’s slot at Salon:

If you read the business and even the political press, you’ve doubtless encountered the claim that the economy is a mess because the threat to reregulate in the wake of a global-economy-wrecking financial crisis is creating “uncertainty.” That is touted as the reason why corporations are sitting on their hands and not doing much in the way of hiring and investing.

This is propaganda that needs to be laughed out of the room.

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Calpers Waves Wet Noodle at Murdochs, While DoJ Appears to Be Sitting On Its Hands

It’s a bit curious that l’affaire Murdoch, which has dominated the news in England, has gotten some air time here, but not in proportion to its importance in the UK and potentially in the US. True, you have to know a bit of who has done what to whom over time, but stuff like hacking the voicemails of dead little girls and live major government officials, lying in Parliamentary investigations, paying hush money, and suborning the police isn’t that hard to explain. And it’s also hard to imagine that a culture that the US operations didn’t share at least some of the aggressive and reckless habits of its siblings across the pond.

At least one party, Calpers, which is the largest pension fund in the US, appears to have decided to use this revelation of the Murdochs’ feet of clay to open up an issue that was worth airing a long time ago: the hold the family maintains on News Corp.

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Doug Smith: The Maximum Wage

By Douglas K. Smith, author of On Value and Values: Thinking Differently About We In An Age Of Me

We face severe and growing income inequality with negative effects on people and the economy. Yet, no surprise, the ‘can’t do’ right wing continues a scorched earth campaign against the minimum wage. These self-promoting haters actually prefer no wages and indentured servitude – for example using prisoners to replace employees and cheerfully promoting ‘internships’ for the unemployed.

They glory in income inequality and wish it to expand instead of contract. Enough of that. They are destroyers of the American Dream.

But people who seek to shrink income inequality — to insure life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all and not just some — must now focus as much on the maximum wage as the minimum wage.

So, be it proposed:

“That any enterprise receiving taxpayer funds shall not compensate that enterprise’s highest paid person in an amount greater than twenty-five times what the lowest compensated person receives.”

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News Corp Targeted Former PM Gordon Brown: Hacked Police, Medical Records; Obtained Bank Information

The latest revelations in the widening News International scandal are simply stunning. “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” is apparently as true now as it was in Shakespeare’s day. The idea that a news organization would have the audacity to target a head of state, as News International papers the Sun and the Sunday Times did with Gordon Brown, and not with the usual tools of invective and gossip, but via the theft of personal information, raises the scandal to a whole new level.

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Summer Rerun: Geithner and Summers as Obama’s Cheney and Rumsfeld

Readers new to this site may be unfamiliar with Yves’ summer rerun series, in which she reprises vintage NC posts that have stood the test of time. I would like to add a post of mine from Credit Writedowns to the lot. The recent New York Times piece from Joe Nocera on Sheila Bair is […]

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News of the World Scandal: “The Murdochs Have Lost Control of Events” (Updated)

For those of us on the wrong side of the pond, it’s hard to appreciate the significance of the News of the World scandal. A 2009 investigation of this News Corp tabloid for interceptions of messages to royal aides led to a private investigator and a News of the World employee being convicted and sentenced to prison. The current scandal centers on the paper hacking into the voice mailboxes of over 2000 individuals. Sources allege the victims include Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer (Treasury secretary) George Osborne.

But the event that galvanized opinion, as most readers know now, was the hacking into the phone and deleting messages of a girl who was abducted and murdered in 2002, Milly Dowler. The removal of the messages allowed the voicemailbox, which had been full, to take more messages, all for the purpose of getting more juicy messages from her desperate friends and relatives, at the ghoulish cost of giving them the false hope that she had deleted them and was therefore still alive.

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