The Thing with the Goldman Attitude

The Goldman attitude is making me puke.

My reaction to it is similar to that of Louis de Funes in this link.

Numbers make the world go round. The human being will do anything to bring home the right numbers.

Investment banks, normal banks, brokers…are lining up for your account. So that their company’s balance sheets look presentable, they have one thing in mind – brokerage generation. Your prospereity is no longer their foremost thought.

So, to be fair, it’s not exactly a “Goldman attitude” only, it’s fairly universal. Lately, it’s gotten publicity after an ex-Goldman employee spilled the beans.

The thing is, where does that leave you? You used to depend upon sound advice from your trusted broker, right?

Well, not happening anymore. You’re in this on your own. Sink, or swim.

The thing with successful business over the long-term is that it needs to be practised with a “win-win”
ideology. If one party loses, one time too many, it then rightly backs off from the business. Brokers and investment bankers worldwide are noticing this backlash.

Why should I be someone who grudges a broker his or her brokerage?

Nope, I’m not such a person. A broker can make all the brokerage he or she wants as long as business remains ethical. The line for me gets drawn when lousy, synthetic, losing investments start to get touted.

And now we come to the public. Frankly and ultimately, it’s the public’s fault. People want to invest their money, but many don’t know the first thing about investing. That’s when they start throwing their hard-earned money at Mrs. Market, and that’s when they make big mistakes.

How long does it take a brain-surgeon to master his or her art? A good 10 – 12 years, right? Similarly, playing the markets successfully over the long term also takes a long time to master. Markets are complicated too. The difference between brain-surgery and Mrs. Market is, that anyone can take a pot-shot at Mrs. Market without the least bit of preparation. This anyone still has a coin-flip (50:50) chance of success. Early, unqualified, lucky success lures this unfortunate person into huge and back-breaking losses later.

Why, people?

When we’ve decided to do something, why can’t we do it well? And, why can’t we take the time to do it ourselves?

Too busy, you say?

Well, there’s no excuse for lack of that minimum threshold involvement in an investment, even if it’s being handled for you by your bankers or brokers.

Let’s say someone really close to you is receiving critical medical treatment. Don’t you get involved? As in, surf the net, find the best doctor, hospital, clinic, keep yourself updated about the progress of the treatment etc. etc. Why do you not behave in the same manner when your own money goes out to earn?

What makes you hand it over to a third party blindly?

Enough said already.

The thing with the “Goldman attitude” is, that it is a wake-up call.

For all of us.

To get our act together.

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This is Getting Murky

Have you actually seen China’s account books?

Has anyone, for that matter?

How does the US pay for its imports from China?

With treasury-note IOUs?

Are Chinese GDP numbers doctored?

If yes, for how many years have the Chinese cooked their books?

How many more bailouts is Greece going to require?

Isn’t the amount of financial maneuvering increasing from bailout to bailout?

It feels as if real debt is being made to “go away” synthetically.

Things are getting murky in the financial world.

When that happens, the stage is set for tricky synthetic products to be offered.

It’s time to go on high alert.

You see, for the longest time, banks in the “developed” world have not been clocking actual business growth. However, their balance sheets are growing on the basis of trading profits. In almost all cases, the “float” is not increasing significantly from clients’ savings, or from new business. Instead it is increasing from good trading.

However, trading can go wrong for a bank. All that is required is one rogue trader. Blow-ups keep happening. For banks, good trading is at best a bonus. It is not something solid and everlasting to fall back on for eternity.

Well, that’s what most or all “developed” international banks are doing. They are relying on their international trading operations to see them through these times. (((Compare this to an emerging market like India, where an HDFC Bank generates 30%+ QoQ growth, for the last 8 quarters and counting, on the basis of actual business profits from new accounts, savings and fresh real money that increases the float))).

While the scenario lasts, what kind of synthetic products can one expect from the plastic composers of financial products?

And we are going to get something plasticky soon, since “developed” international banks have gotten into the groove of trading, and since trading is their ultimate bread and butter now.

So what’s it gonna be?

The conceivers of plastic in the ’80s still had a conscience. For example, Michael Milken’s “Junk Bonds” still had actual underlying companies to the investment. That the companies were ailing, and could probably go bust, was a different issue. In lieu of that, junk bonds were giving returns that beat the cr#p out of inflation twice over, and then some. Though investors knew that these underlying companies were ailing, greed closed their eyes, as crowds lapped up the product. We know how the story ended.

In the ’90s, anything with the flavour of IT ran like an Usain Bolt. The conceivers of plastic products here were tech enterpreneurs, coupled with bankers that pushed through their IPOs. One had a lot of shady dotcoms with zero or minus balance-sheets clocking huge IPOs, apart from being driven up to dizzy heights by greedy public, from where their fall began.

By the ’00s, whatever 2 pennies of conscience that remained were now out the window. Products like CDOs did the rounds. These had no actual underlying entity, like a bond or a debenture. They were totally synthetic, mathematical products, assembled by bundling together toxic debt. The investment bankers that conceived these products knew that the debt was toxic, and were cleverly holding the other end of the line, i.e. they sold these products to their clients as AAA, and then shorted these very products, knowing that they were bound to go down in value because of their toxic contents.

We are well into the ’10s.

What’s it gonna be?

I think it’s probably going to be a “Structure”.

There is going to be an underlying. The world is wary about “no underlyings”.

The catch is going to come from the quality of the underlying, as in when it’s ailing badly and the world thinks otherwise (in the ’80s, the junk value of the underlying was no secret. Here, it probably will be).

Where is the product going to be unleashed?

Emerging markets. That’s where money has moved to. Also, investors there are not as savvy, since they’ve not been properly hit.

Why is the time ripe?

Interest rates are kinda peaking. Investors have gotten used to sitting back and raking in 10%+ returns, doing nothing. When interest rates start to move down, that would be the stage for the unleashing of the product in question.

Lazy, spoilt investors would probably lap up such products offering something like 13%+ returns, with “certified” AAA underlying entities to the investment.

So watch out. Don’t be lazy or greedy. As and when interest rates start to move down, move your money into appropriate products that are not shady and that have safe underlyings. From knowledge, not from hearsay.

Be very selective about who you let in to give investment advice. Even someone you trust could be pushed by his or her employer institution to aggressively sell you something synthetic with a shady underlying.

Be very, very careful. Do your due diligence.

Don’t get into the wrong product, specifically one with a lock-in.