The swimming naked awards
Dec 16th 2008
A year of embarrassment when the financial tide went out
“YOU only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out”, Warren Buffett famously observed. In 2008, the financial tide went out further than anyone expected, revealing a multitude of skinny-dippers. To help them cover up their embarrassment, Business.view is proud to announce the following winners of the 2008 “naked shorts” awards:
Scoundrel of the year: Too many contenders to mention, but the last minute entrant has won by a landslide: Bernie Madoff, who is providing a helpful demonstration of the difference between a financial collapse due to management incompetence (most of this year’s banking failures) and a genuine 100% fraud.
Bernie Madoff, scoundrel of the year
Outstanding Public Relations: No question, the decision of the bosses of Detroit’s shrinking Big Three car makers to fly in separate corporate jets to appeal to Congress for a bail-out. What better way to tell the public that the leaders of corporate America are out of touch? Runner up: John Thain, boss of Merrill Lynch, who looked like a hero for saving his firm, only to blow it by demanding his bonus.
Greatest sovereign risk: In a year of meltdown, Iceland is a fitting winner.
Rumble in the jungle: Dick “the Gorilla” Fuld versus Lehman “Nameless” Employee. The boss who presided over Lehman’s demise was allegedly knocked out with a single punch in the investment bank’s gym, by an angry employee.
Gift horse: Mr Fuld wins again, for reportedly turning down multiple offers of life-saving investment in Lehman. Honourable mentions to the bosses of Deutsche Bank, Barclays and Ford, who all publicly said they did not need an injection of state funds, but may live to regret it.
The Andrew Mellon award for incompetence as Treasury Secretary: Hank Paulson, whose lack of strategy and catastrophic decision to let Lehman Brothers fail made a bad situation far worse.
Best letter: Runner up, for its undisguised Schadenfreude, was Congressman Henry Waxman’s letter to the heads of Wall Street firms after the government bought some of their shares, demanding to know the salaries of their top earners, their bonuses and how these were calculated. But the lifetime achievement award goes to the letter A, as in “triple-A rating”, which is now entering long-overdue retirement.
Most convincing Jekyll-and-Hyde impersonation: Scary sovereign-wealth funds were going to buy up the world. Then they were heroically going to rescue the banking system. Now they are in hiding, counting their massive losses and wondering where all their money went. In second place, and closely related, oil: expensive one moment, cheap the next.
Most dismal scientist: Nouriel Roubini and George Soros battled it out for the role of scarily-accented Dr Doom in the next James Bond movie, “A Quantum of Funds”, but nobody put the dismal science into economics more effectively than the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, during her unforgettable interview with Katie Couric. As she explained: “That’s why I say I, like every American I’m speaking with, we’re ill about this position that we have been put in. Where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy. Um, helping, oh, it’s got to be about job creation, too. Shoring up our economy, and putting it back on the right track. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief for Americans, and trade " we have got to see trade as opportunity, not as, uh, competitive, um, scary thing, but one in five jobs created in the trade sector today. We’ve got to look at that as more opportunity. All of those things under the umbrella of job creation.” Indeed. Perhaps best enjoyed in the Tina Fey version from Saturday Night Live.
Client of the Year: Client Number Nine, aka Eliot Spitzer. Wall Street had little to cheer about in 2008, but the fall of its former persecutor in a sex scandal was one of them. Happily for former New York Governor Spitzer, America’s tradition of giving failures a second chance is alive and well. Starting soon, he will write a regular column in Slate, an online magazine.
Best supporting abbreviation: Last year, it was SIV (structured-investment vehicle). This year, the winner is TARP, which stands for troubled asset relief programme"better known as a blank cheque for Mr Paulson. Runner up: IOU.
Most oligarchic oligarch: Two strong entries: Mikhail Frydman, Len Blavatnik and Viktor Vekselberg (collectively), for driving out Robert Dudley, the boss of the joint-venture between TNK and BP; and the winner, Oleg Deripaska, for embarrassing first Britain’s government and main opposition by inviting two leading members onto his yacht, and then himself by falling foul of the credit crunch.
Party of the year: The $86,000 partridge-hunting trip funded by AIG, a government-rescued insurance firm, for some top clients. They had fun, but the public outcry was such that lots of other firms cancelled their holiday parties lest they be accused of wasting money in tough times. Cheers!
Badly-timed nickname: Awarded jointly to Whole Foods Market and Starbucks. Being known, respectively, as Whole Paycheck and Fourbucks is fine when the going is good, but not when consumers are obsessed with value for money. Both of these pricey retailers have had a miserable year. Whole Foods’ shares are down by 75% so far in 2008, and shares in Starbucks are down by over half.
In memoriam: A posthumous award for this year’s notable departures. Contenders include Alan Greenspan’s reputation as a great central banker; investment banks; the newspaper industry; sport-utility vehicles; fiscal prudence; the inexorable rise of BRIC economies and the theory that BRICs had “decoupled” from rich world economies; pay increases; and capitalism. But the winner is economic growth"gone, though one hopes not forever.
Flash Gordon award for saving the universe: Gordon Brown, Britain’s prime minister, would have won, but the self-proclaimed mastermind of the great global banking bail-out claims only to have been saving the world. The winner is Warren Buffett, whose timely investments seem to have rescued both General Electric and Goldman Sachs, home of the financial Masters of the Universe.
Comeback kid: Not everyone had a bad year. Some of the business winners in 2008 include the value-shopper’s favourite, Wal-Mart, whose chief executive Lee Scott is leaving on a high; Ken Lewis, boss of Bank of America, which now has enough of the country’s money to deserve its name; Paul Volcker, who has replaced Alan Greenspan as everyone’s favourite ex-central banker; bankruptcy lawyers and corporate restructuring experts; sucking up to your boss to keep your job; and nationalisation. But the winner is cash, which once again is king. Hot favourite for next year’s comeback kid award? The Great Depression.
The Siberian flood-volcanic event is the most voluminous and explosive, continental, volcanic event known in the Phanerozoic record. U"Pb perovskite and zircon ages were obtained for lavas of the lowermost unit (251.7±0.4 Ma) and near-uppermost unit (251.1±0.3 Ma), respectively, of the volcanic sequence in the Maymecha"Kotuy area, Russia. Along with stratigraphic correlations and paleomagnetic evidence, these ages suggest that rapid extrusion of the entire not, vert, similar6500 m thick composite sequence occurred in less than 1 million years. The time of extrusion coincides precisely with an age of 251.4±0.3 Ma previously obtained for the Permian"Triassic mass-extinction event, the most devastating biotic crisis known. Emplacement of the Noril’sk"Talnakh ore-bearing intrusions, notable for their prodigious Cu"Ni"PGE deposits, was synchronous with these two major geologic events at 251.2±0.3 Ma.