Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bellagio on the East River, MGM Grand on the Mall

Jon Corzine, deck chairs coordinator
Goldman Sachs has had some distinguished alumni, and a string of them have figured how to soil their own nests. The latest, former Goldman CEO Jon Corzine, has taken the wisdom he acquired at G Sachs and applied his best casino moves at his new joint, MF Global Holdings Ltd., where he's the current CEO. MF Global just declared bankruptcy yesterday after 18 months of Corzine at the helm.

It's not like Corzine hadn't read the book before trying to make the movie. Previous musical-chair maestro from Goldman, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, took his talents after-government service to CitiGroup, where he schooled them on the wonders of sub-prime loans during a housing bubble, just in time for the 2008 weenie roast that just about burned down the house. Props for nerves of steel! God bless the taxpayers! Go Fed!

They might not let me do this again...Just kidding!!
This kind of performance, where you go someplace -- like Citigroup -- and break all their toys and smash all their pretty shiny things, gets you, if you're Robert Rubin, oh, say, $126 million in compensation.

(An aside: Was this the same Robert Rubin that supported the repeal of Glass-Steagal while at Treasury during the Clinton era? You know the law that likely would have prevented the 2008 financial collapse were it still in place? Yeah, that Robert Rubin...)

It's not like he didn't do some interesting things while at CitiGroup: Rubin's tenure as CEO and special director for "strategic managerial and operational matters" was marked by a 70% drop in CitiGroup's stock price. Oddly, this qualified Rubin to become an economic adviser to the newly elected Barack Obama. It's all in the family.

So our dear Jon Corzine, fresh off a stint as governor of New Jersey, saw in MF Global a chance to get some skin back in the game. Betting big on European debt made sense. Why not bet the farm on Greece, Portugal, Italy, and Ireland bonds? Surely they'd get bailed out too if they went south. That's what central banks do, for chrissake.

Would MF Global be part of that Non-Bank Private Sector debt? Ya think? Ooooh...

Last week, we found out it's not what the European Central Bank does. So MF Global's clients said, "gee, we gotta go!" Oops.

The only thing left is to see how much of Jon Corzine's golden parachute he gets to keep. Hopefully only the pull chord, a couple of thousand feet above the East River. But hell, that never happens, does it? Not in the ole boys club. If he doesn't end up back in government he can always join a think tank, just in time to plan the next meltdown.

Fun fact: The CEO (or Senior Partner, as they called them then) of Goldman Sachs was none other than Hank Paulson, later to come to prominence as Treasury Secretary under George W. Bush. Paulson oversaw the housing bubble POP and was a principal architect of TARP.

Another fun fact, courtesy Wikipedia:
On December 4, 1928, it [Goldman Sachs] launched the Goldman Sachs Trading Corp. a closed-end fund. The fund failed as a result of the Stock Market Crash of 1929, hurting the firm's reputation for several years afterward.
Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again!

Update:  MF Global Holdings Ltd. has entered the world of real hurt as sources within the company have confessed to using client's money to shore up the company's own funds, a big no-no in the futures market. Who knows where this leaves Jon Corzine. If precedent holds, he'll turn out to be "out of the loop."

At this point, we might as well mention that Robert Rubin "sparked controversy in 2001 when he contacted an acquaintance at the U.S. Treasury Department and asked if the department could convince bond-rating agencies not to downgrade the corporate debt of Enron, a debtor of Citigroup. The Treasury official refused." (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and avoid jail all over again!

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