Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Business Students

As an undergraduate finance major, I am forced every now and then to come into contact with my fellow business students. A few of them, just like in the population as a whole, are worth meeting. The majority, however, might as well be zombies who stumble around aimlessly on the path their parents haphazardly set out for them...just like in the population as a whole. I pick on the business majors because, theoretically, they should be more aware. Theirs is a vital and demanding profession, like medicine. If the poet laureate is a space cadet, no one dies or loses their life savings. Business professionals need to be on their game.

It is for this reason that a piece of me dies every time I have to engage with one of these intellectual Lilliputians. Recently I was required to play boss to some management students pretending to pitch an idea to me. I was supposed to ask them questions and they would show their communication and persuasion skills. The program they were pitching was called "ROWE" or "Results-Only Working Environment."

A few thoughts on my experience in this activity:

First, no one should ever have to listen to eleven business students try to sell an idea in any 24-hour period. Nothing at Guantanamo could approach that level of agony. Second, I motion that the words "like" and "um" be surgically removed from the brains of anyone with an IQ below 130. End of story.

What really depresses me, though, and what shakes my confidence in humanity to the core, is the fact that three of the eleven students came in, and when I asked them what ROWE, the project they were selling to me, stood for, they could not answer. Let me repeat, they could not tell me the full name of the project they were pitching.

The next captains of industry coming soon to a hedge fund near you!

Friday, January 30, 2009

How Much Is Power Really Worth?

Last night, Chairman and former CEO of BB&T (and capitalist uber-BAMF), John Allison, gave a speech on the financial crisis in D.C. as part of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights' Lecture Series. The video is not up yet, but this article sums it up:

Allison: BB&T Grabbing Customers From Rivals To Boost Loans

BB&T is one of the only large banks that has increased its lending in recent months, while the industry as a whole is being criticized for taking TARP funds and sitting on them. Obviously, this criticism exposes deep ignorance of the banking business model, but in addition to that, Allison points out that it isn't even the banks' decision:

"The truth is we're mostly moving market share, because a number of our competitors are under pretty severe duress, so we're picking up clients," he told Dow Jones Newswires Thursday.

"It's not that we wouldn't lend to our own clients," he added. "They're just not borrowing."

Go figure that in a recession, after years of incurring debt and splurging, Americans might shy away from borrowing. But, remember, it's still the banks' fault.

In a somewhat related note, I found this MarketWatch piece on how Obama is picking idiots who helped fuel this mess as his clean-up team, instead of bankers who managed to navigate through it. Here are a few nice excerpts:

"The only question I'd have for Allison is if he wanted to run the Treasury or the Fed."

"It [The author's financial dream team] includes Peter Schiff, a regular on business TV shows, who warned against a real estate collapse. Alone, that prediction was hardly unique, but what set Schiff apart was what he forecast as the fallout: deep recession, credit crunch and bank failures. Yes, that sounds familiar."

"There is one knock on all of these candidates: none has any significant government experience.
Of course, judging by the government's performance, you already knew that."
The suggestion of recruiting the talented business minds listed in this article got me thinking about Mr. Thompson from Atlas Shrugged asking John Galt to be economic dictator. Even if one knows the answer (i.e. knows the proper role of government) how exactly would one bring that about in an industry so intricately tied to the government as banking. You'd have to dismantle the Fed. How do you do that without a run on the dollar? These are interesting questions to ponder, and I'm interested in ideas others have on the issue.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Divine Right of Stagnation-Bailout Edition

The stream of bailouts the federal government has dished out passed ridiculous about a year ago and has now entered a realm the Aldous Huxley could not have imagined even with the aid of his most powerful hallucinogens. Perhaps the porn industry's request for a bailout was more absurd than the latest travesty, but today's example is more insidious:

Rental Car Firms Seek a Bailout

Pertinent tidbits of info are as follows:

"Now, Avis Budget Group Inc., Hertz Global Holdings Inc. and other rental-car companies are lobbying Congress to allow them to use Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to finance new auto purchases. The House of Representatives included a clause in a TARP reform bill that it passed last week to give the government authority to back loans to rental-car companies and other fleet purchasers. The bill has now moved on to the Senate."

"'If our desire is to get car buying and credit flowing again, enabling people who buy hundreds of cars at a time is a good way to do it,' said Steven Adamske, a spokesman for Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee."
This just shows that it is not the health of the economy that politicians like the above-mentioned asshole intend to promote with their bailouts. It is the health of the current economy, specifically the businesses that currently exist and have pull in Washington. Barney Frank doesn't want his friends at Avis to lose their jobs. Still, just as with GM and Chrysler, no amount of federal money will make people want to buy their product. Futile though this attempt is, however, it has the much more harmful effect of preventing new, better firms from rising and taking their place. If large banks fail, yes people will lose money. Soon, though, smaller, better-run banks will take their place. When GM and Chrysler go down, smaller more efficient car manufacturers will rise and take their place. That is, of course, unless you stop them by constantly backing their competitors.

You can't bailout a firm that doesn't exist yet, and that firm has no chance because it has no lobbyist in Washington. Politicians would rather bring our economy to a screeching halt than see one of their friends (read: campaign donors) have to look for work. Directive 10-289 is not far behind.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Abortion Letter Published

Every now and then I read something that is so obvious an affront to anything decent that I feel compelled to respond. The activist in me feels soothed, and I can move on. The latest such event occurred last Friday, when I read this editorial in the Indiana Daily Student:

Stupid Editorial

To my delight, the IDS printed my letter in response here:

Much Better Letter

This one has to do with the double-standard when it comes to abortion. Typical liberals are pro-choice, until that choice involves refusing to perform an abortion, then choice is an antiquated concept. It's hard being consistent. Beat's the alternative, though.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Curious Case of Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett is, as the title of this post states, a curious case. (Much more so than Benjamin Button, in my opinion) On the one hand, he is one of the greatest investors of our time, generating many billions of dollars in wealth for himself, his employees, and countless others. On the other hand, he sees no virtue in his wealth creation. He views it as something he does to make a living, and believes that real virtue lies in giving all that wealth away.

Buffett represents far too many businesspeople today; people who show up at work and approach their tasks with a rational pursuit of their own self-interest, and then go home and feel guilty about what they have produced. Theirs is a contradiction of the worst kind, that of confusing virtue for sin, with all the guilty feelings that accompany it. Periodically on this post, I will post two quotes from well-known, financially successful businessmen and -women. One will be an encouraging quote about the individual's rational approach to business, and the other will be a contradicting quote emphasizing that individual's irrational approach to the rest of his life. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of quotes to form such a juxtoposition.

Here is Buffett:

"As far as I am concerned, the stock market doesn't exist. It is there only as a reference to see if anybody is offering to do anything foolish. When we invest in stocks, we invest in businesses. You simply have to behave according to what is rational rather than according to what is fashionable." -Quoted in One up on Wall Street, by Peter Lynch

"But to the extent we did amass wealth, we were totally in sync about what to do with it - and that was to give it back to society.

In that, we agreed with Andrew Carnegie, who said that huge fortunes that flow in large part from society should in large part be returned to society. In my case, the ability to allocate capital would have had little utility unless I lived in a rich, populous country in which enormous quantities of marketable securities were traded and were sometimes ridiculously mispriced. And fortunately for me, that describes the U.S. in the second half of the last century." Quoted in Forbes

Talk about your self-esteem issues.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Inaugural Post

Well, I finally caved and started a blog. As my field of contacts spreads farther and farther across the globe, I feel it necessary to make sure none of them lacks my unique and valuable insights. As the description for this blog states, I want my friends and acquaintances to feel free to post in the comments section their own thoughts on the material presented. The world today is a dark and scary place, and I feel it my obligation (as well as a fantastic form of catharsis) to try and make sense of it all for the general public. Well, not necessarily the general public. A good way to tell if you're the ideal reader for this blog is if you understand the meaning of its name. If "The Money Speech" doesn't ring any bells, than in addition to reading this blog religiously, you should probably start catching up on your mid-20th century literature. That said, and without further bloviating, the first post:

This article made the front page of the Wall Street Journal today:

Apparently, bank lending fell in the 4th quarter last year among the 20 largest banks. Noticeably deviating from the pack was one of my favorite firms, BB&T. (Get used to that company if you don't know me well. I mention it a lot. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I own some of their stock.) While the top 20 banks averaged a 1.4% decrease in lending, BB&T managed to increase their lending 2.1%. Then the Journal produces this snippet:

At BB&T, a Winston-Salem, N.C., bank that got $3.13 billion from TARP, fourth-quarter lending volume rose about 2%, or $2 billion. While BB&T is making new loans, Chief Executive Kelly King said the bank invested much of its taxpayer capital as a way to earn a decent return while shunning risk.

"We parked it there, and will redeploy it as quickly as we can, not in a panic," Mr. King said last week on a conference call with analysts. "We're not going to make a bunch of bad loans."

Huh, imagine that. This King guy just took over as CEO this month from god-among-men John Allison, but so far I think I'm going to like him. "Not going to make a bunch of bad loans." Too bad Wamu and Wachovia didn't have crack business acumen like that at their disposal back in 2006.