Monday, March 16, 2009

How Wall Street Works

"I thought Bear Stearns was honest." Jim Cramer.

I don’t believe this.

I think that Jim Cramer believed that the guys who ran Bear Stearns would pull the same kind of deceptive shenanigans in order to line their own pockets that Cramer pulled when he ran his own hedge fund. Cramer might have thought that there was some limit to what those guys would pull and that wherever that limit lay, there would still be a piece of the pie left over for the shareholders. That is not at all the same thing as thinking they were honest.

This is where I think Jon Stewart nailed it. I don’t think Jim Cramer knew that Bear Stearns was going to collapse. I do think he knew the kind of things that people on Wall Street do to make money and I think he understood the ways in which the interests of the guys running the firms diverge from the interests of the shareholders. The problem is not that the executives at Bear Stearns were not exposed to declines in the stock. The problem is that the benefits of short-term high-risk strategies were enjoyed to a much greater extent by the executives than by the shareholders while the risks were shared equally. This is what I think Cramer understood without ever trying to make his audience understand.

The bonuses at AIG illustrate the problem perfectly. The compensation of the executives who wrote the credit default swaps was structured in such a way that they are entitled to millions of dollars in bonuses even though there actions brought down the company and cost the taxpayers of the United States billions upon billions of dollars. The scale may be enough to shock Cramer, but the basic methodology shouldn't be.

1 comment:

  1. I just saw Peter Schiff on CNBC. You're right; he called the crash back in August, 2006.