Saturday, May 29, 2010

From the archives - Sanford Weill before and after the crash

Before the Great Recession, times were good for some. No, not like Clinton's glory days of 1995 or so -- those times were good for most everyone. From Bush's 2004 to 2007 the times were good for the very rich.

Back then The Economist was launching a "lifestyle magazine" (it failed) and William McGuire of UnitedHealth Group had just received a $125 million paycheck. In those days the NYT wrote a paeon to Citigroup's Sanford Weill (which I just found in my archives, hence this post). It makes quite interesting reading now (emphases mine). In those days Citi traded for $55 a share. In Jan 2010 it was $3 a share ...
The Richest of the Rich, Proud of a New Gilded Age - New York Times July 15, 2007
By LOUIS UCHITELLE
The tributes to Sanford I. Weill line the walls of the carpeted hallway that leads to his skyscraper office, with its panoramic view of Central Park. A dozen framed magazine covers, their colors as vivid as an Andy Warhol painting, are the most arresting. Each heralds Mr. Weill’s genius in assembling Citigroup into the most powerful financial institution since the House of Morgan a century ago.
His achievement required political clout, and that, too, is on display. Soon after he formed Citigroup, Congress repealed a Depression-era law that prohibited goliaths like the one Mr. Weill had just put together anyway, combining commercial and investment banking, insurance and stock brokerage operations. A trophy from the victory — a pen that President Bill Clinton used to sign the repeal — hangs, framed, near the magazine covers...
That repealed Depression-era law was Glass-Steagall. The law designed to prevent the crash of 2007 and the subsequent the Great Recession. To continue ...
These days, Mr. Weill and many of the nation’s very wealthy chief executives, entrepreneurs and financiers echo an earlier era — the Gilded Age before World War I — when powerful enterprises, dominated by men who grew immensely rich, ushered in the industrialization of the United States. The new titans often see themselves as pillars of a similarly prosperous and expansive age, one in which their successes and their philanthropy have made government less important than it once was.
“People can look at the last 25 years and say this is an incredibly unique period of time,” Mr. Weill said. “We didn’t rely on somebody else to build what we built, and we shouldn’t rely on somebody else to provide all the services our society needs.”
Cough. Yes, we bailed out Citigroup.
... Only twice before over the last century has 5 percent of the national income gone to families in the upper one-one-hundredth of a percent of the income distribution — currently, the almost 15,000 families with incomes of $9.5 million or more a year, according to an analysis of tax returns by the economists Emmanuel Saez at the University of California, Berkeley and Thomas Piketty at the Paris School of Economics.
Such concentration at the very top occurred in 1915 and 1916, as the Gilded Age was ending, and again briefly in the late 1920s, before the stock market crash. Now it is back, and Mr. Weill is prominent among the new titans. His net worth exceeds $1 billion, not counting the $500 million he says he has already given away, in the open-handed style of Andrew Carnegie and the other great philanthropists of the earlier age...
The NYT returned to Mr Weill after the Crash ...
Citi’s Creator, Sandy Weill, Alone With His Regrets - NYTimes.com Jan 2010
THIS is my final annual meeting as chairman,” says Sandy Weill, standing near the window of his office, peering at a grainy photograph of him and his wife on stage at Carnegie Hall more than three years ago. They are smiling broadly, and behind them is a packed house of cheering Citigroup shareholders. A huge banner dangling from the balcony reads “Thank You Sandy.”
On that day, April 18, 2006, Citi’s share price was $48.48. After studying the photo for a few moments, Mr. Weill says quietly, “I thought the company was impregnable.”...
... Over the last two years, Mr. Weill has watched Citi — a company he built brick by brick during the final act of a 50-year career — nearly fall apart. Although every taxpayer in the country has paid for Citi’s outsize mistakes, for Mr. Weill the bank’s myriad woes are a commentary on his life’s work.
.... Mr. Weill’s legacy has taken on a darker hue. Though he was once viewed as a brilliant dealmaker, some critics now cast him as the architect of a shoddily constructed, unmanageable financial supermarket whose troubles have sideswiped investors, employees and average citizens nationwide.
“The dream, the mirage has always been the global supermarket, but the reality is that it was a shopping mall,” says Chris Whalen, editor of The Institutional Risk Analyst, of Citi’s evolution over the last decade. “You can talk about synergies all day long. It never happened.”
Citi’s troubles are well chronicled: a failure to integrate its disparate parts worldwide or to keep tabs on risky investments and free-wheeling operations. These lapses led to billions of dollars in losses and multiple bailouts, and the government now owns a quarter of the company. Citi’s shares fell from a high of $55.12 in 2007 to about a dollar early last spring, and now trade at $3.31....
... Sitting in his office on the 46th floor of the General Motors building in Manhattan, he is surrounded by reminders of a lifetime on Wall Street. The space is breathtaking with floor-to-ceiling windows and views stretching out over Central Park. One wall is devoted to framed magazine and newspaper articles chronicling his career. A Fortune magazine clipping from 2001 declares Citi one of its “10 Most Admired Companies.”
On another wall hangs a hunk of wood — at least 4 feet wide — etched with his portrait and the words “The Shatterer of Glass-Steagall.” The memento is a reference to the repeal in 1999 of Depression-era legislation; the repeal overturned core financial regulations, allowed for the creation of Citi and helped feed the Wall Street boom...
Remember this story next time you read the praises of the Captains of Industry.

2 comments:

Don Hodges said...

Poor Sandy - retired on a 300 ft yacht instead of a 500 ft yacht.

John Gordon said...

It's all relative. For Sandy, that 300 foot yacht must burn like the finest acid.