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Posts Tagged ‘Citigroup’

CEOs From Hell!

Posted by terres on July 2, 2008

Overpaying CEOs
by Ralph Nader
July 1, 2008

The worst top management of giant corporations in American history is also by far the most hugely paid. That contradiction applies as well to the Boards of Directors of these global companies.

Consider these illustrations:

The bosses of General Motors (GM) have presided over the worst decline of GM shares in the last fifty years, the lowering of GM bonds to junk status, the largest money losses and layoffs of tens of thousands of workers. Yet these top executives are still in place and still receiving much more pay than their successful counterparts at Toyota.

GM’s stock valuation is under $7 billion dollars, while Toyota is valued at over $160 billion. Toyota, having passed GM in worldwide sales, is about to catch up with and pass GM in sales inside the United States itself!

GM’s executives stayed with their gas guzzling SUVs way beyond the warning signs. Their vehicles were uninspiring and technologically stagnant in various ways. They were completely unprepared for Toyota’s hybrid cars and for the upward spiral in gasoline prices. They’re cashing their lucrative monthly checks with the regular votes of confidence by their hand-picked Board of Directors.


Chevrolet pickup trucks and SUVs are seen at a dealership in Silver Spring, Maryland, July 1, 2008. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas. Image may be subject to copyright. See RTSF Fair Use Notice!

About the same appraisal can be made of Ford Motor Co., which at least brought in new management to try to do something about that once famous company’s sinking status.

Then there are the financial companies. Top management on Wall Street has been beyond incompetent. Wild risk taking camouflaged for years by multi-tiered, complex, abstract financial instruments (generally called collateralized debt obligations) kept the joy ride going and going until the massive financial hot air balloon started plummeting. Finally told to leave their high posts, the CEOs of Merrill-Lynch and Citigroup took away tens of millions of severance pay while Wall Street turned into Layoff Street.

The banks, investment banks and brokerage firms have tanked to levels not seen since the 1929-30 collapse of the stock market. Citigroup, once valued at over $50 per share is now under $17 a share.

Washington Mutual – the nation’s largest savings bank chain was over $40 a share in 2007. Its reckless speculative binge has driven it down under $5 a share. Yet its CEO Kerry Killinger remains in charge, with the continuing support of his rubberstamp Board of Directors. A recent $8 billion infusion of private capital gave a sweetheart deal to these new investors at the excessive expense of the shareholders.

Countrywide, the infamous giant mortgage lender (subprime mortgages) is about to be taken over by Bank of America. Its CEO is taking away a reduced but still very generous compensation deal.

Meanwhile, all these banks and brokerage houses’ investment analysts are busy downgrading each others’ stock prospects.

Over at the multi-trillion dollar companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the shareholders have lost about 75 percent of their stock value in one year. Farcically regulated by the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs, Fannie and Freddie were run into the ground by taking on very shaky mortgages under the command of CEOs and their top executives who paid themselves enormous sums.

These two institutions were set up many years ago to provide liquidity in the housing and loan markets and thereby expand home ownership especially among lower income families. Instead, they turned themselves into casinos, taking advantage of an implied U.S. government guarantee.

The Fannie and Freddie bosses created another guarantee. They hired top appointees from both Republican and Democratic Administrations (such as Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick) and lathered them with tens of millions of dollars in executive compensation. In this way, they kept federal supervision at a minimum and held off efforts in Congress to toughen regulation. These executives are all gone now, enjoying their maharajan riches with impunity while pensions and mutual funds lose and lose and lose with no end in sight, short of a government-taxpayer bailout.

Over a year ago, leading financial analyst Henry Kaufman and very few others warned about “undisciplined” (read unregulated) and “mis-pricing” of lower quality assets. Mr. Kaufman wrote in the Wall Street Journal of August 15, 2007 that “If some institutions are really ‘too big to fail,’ then other means of discipline will have to be found.”

There are ways to prevent such crashes. In the nineteen thirties, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt chose stronger regulation, creating the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and several bank regulatory agencies. He saved the badly listing capitalist ship.

Today, there is no real momentum in a frozen Washington, D.C. to bring regulation up to date. To the contrary, in 1999, Congress led by Senator McCain’s Advisor, former Senator Phil Gramm and the Clinton Administration led by Robert Rubin, Secretary of the Treasury, and soon to join Citibank, de-regulated and ended the wall between investment banks and commercial banking known as the Glass-Steagall Act.

Clinton and Congress opened the floodgates to rampant speculation without even requiring necessary and timely disclosures for the benefit of institutional and individual investors.

Now the entire U.S. economy is at risk. The domino theory is getting less theoretical daily. Without investors obtaining more legal authority as owners over their out of control company officers and Boards of Directors, and without strong regulation, corporate capitalism cannot be saved from its toxic combination of endless greed and maximum power—without responsibility.

Uncle Sam, the deeply deficit ridden bailout man, may have another taxpayers-to-the-rescue operation for Wall Street. But don’t count on stretching the American dollar much more without devastating consequences to and from global financial markets in full panic.

Consider the U.S. dollar like an elastic band. You can keep stretching this rubber band but suddenly it BREAKS. Our country needs action NOW from Washington, D.C.

END

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Black Holes Suck!

Posted by terres on June 12, 2008

One Day Soon, A Tiny Wall Street Black Hole Will Suck In the Rest of Your Assets! —TERRES

Casinos on Wall Street

by Ralph Nader
June 10, 2008

Move over Las Vegas. The big time gamblers are on Wall Street and they are gambling with your money, your pensions, and your livelihoods.

Unlike Las Vegas casinos, these big investment banks, commercial banks and stock brokerage houses are supposed to have a fiduciary relationship with your money. They are supposed to be trustees for the money you have given them to safeguard, and tell you when they are making risky investments.

Because Washington, D.C. has increasingly become corporate-occupied territory, the Wall Street Boys have been taking even greater risks with your money. The more they produce cycles of financial failure, the more they pay themselves through their rubberstamp boards of directors.

With each cycle of failure, the burden of government bailouts grows larger, meaning debt, deficit and your tax dollars. The Savings and Loan collapse in the late Eighties—costing before the bailout instruments are paid off at least $500 billion, looks small by comparison with what is going on today.

Why is it that these financial bosses never learn? Because they never pay for their gambling. They may be let go, as happened recently to the CEOs of Merril Lynch and Citigroup, but they ride away from their managerial wreckage loaded with compensation and severance gold. Some of it is clearly hush money from those buddies they left behind.

Now comes the latest installment of disastrous management that has been running the venerable Wall Street investment bank, Lehman Brothers. With its stock plummeting because of avaricious risktaking with other people’s money, mixed up with their huge pay packages, Lehman Brothers’ employees look to their leader, Richard S. Fuld. For some time, he and his fellow executives would exude confidence about their ability to manage their risking financial instruments compared to their tanking competitors.

This week, the Lehman Emperor really had no clothes. Mr. Fuld reported a staggering $2.8 billion loss in the second quarter, exceeding the most dire forecasts. Even the hedges that Lehman used to temper the losses from its mortgage investments soured, adding to the losses.

It was just last April that Mr. Fuld announced his belief that “the worst is over” in the markets. For this type of management, he got paid $40 million last year, or nearly a million dollars a week, not counting vacations.

The Wall Street Boys, like all charlatans, develop words and phrases to dress up their megagambling practices. They say they are trying to avoid a “crisis of confidence” when these proclaimed capitalists go to Uncle Sam for a socialistic bailout. That only increases the “moral hazard”—another euphemism—and sets the stage for another round of reckless Wall Street Goliaths being deemed “too big to fail”.

One of Wall Street’s sharpest analysts—Henry Kaufman—believes that the “too big to fail” phenomenon undermines market discipline and encourages the smaller firms to merge with the larger companies to avail themselves of Washington’s bailout criteria.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal last August, Mr. Kaufman acutely traces the growth of ever more complex, abstract financial instruments, removed from their empirical underpinnings in the economy, accelerated by the lightening speed of computerized transactions. He called for “increased supervision over financial institutions and markets.”

“Supervision” was once called federal regulation. Call it what you will, Mr. Kaufman is not expecting anything soon. He writes: “In today’s markets, there is hardly a clarion call for such measures. On the contrary, the markets oppose it, and politicians voice little if any support. For their part, central bankers [read, the Federal Reserve] do not posses a clear vision of how to proceed toward more effective financial supervision.”

Though couched in polite, non-normative language, this is a very troublesome indictment of corporate intransigence and regulatory paralysis. Since August 2007, the situation has gotten worse with the Wall Street Boys producing more huge losses and phony asset valuations.

A few weeks ago, former Federal Reserve Chairman, Paul Volcker, delivered an address in New York voicing similar worries and calls for “supervision,” as did Mr. Kaufman, though in his own inimitable style.

Other astute, former men of Wall Street, have raised alarms about the stock and derivatives marketplace, including former SEC chairman, Arthur Levitt and William Donaldson. Long before anyone came cautionary wisdom of John Bogle, who pioneered stock market indexing and launched Vanguard Fund. (See his new book, The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns)

Still, there is no regulatory action in Washington which doesn’t even move on behalf of consumers to regulate the New York Mercantile Exchange where rampant speculation, not supply and demand, decides what you are paying for gasoline and heating oil.

With the politicians sleepwalking in Washington, while their campaign pockets are filled by Wall Street cash, isn’t it time for the people of America to rouse themselves civically and politically? Act before the financial sector, using your money, shreds itself under the weight of its own top-heavy greed and cliff-hanging mismanagement.

For starters, start demanding more from your politicians, much more!

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