Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The History of Wall Street is the History of ... Scandal

The last 25 years of American investment banking and financial services have been marked largely by scandals. A top-of-mind list is below. (Please email me omitted topics that slipped my mind this morning.) During these years if not for longer the history of Wall Street has been the history of scandal. Thirty years from now the recent calamities' cause or causes will become clearer. (Historians can be incisively insightful.) For now, here's a guess: the change in form from private partnerships to publicly-held firms, such that bankers began to deal with an unseen public's money rather than colleagues' and retired former colleagues' money, plays a large part.

E. F. Hutton (check kiting); insider trading (Ivan Boesky; Dennis Levine; many more, including employees at most of the name brand houses); Drexel Burnham Lambert; NASDAQ market maker collusion lawsuit and settlement; Long-Term Capital Management; mutual fund market timing scandals; derivatives abuse (Enron et al.); IPO allocations given to win executives' companies' investment banking business; old-fashioned account churning; co-opting analysts to win investment banking assignments; Barings; the back-channel information sharing and whisper campaigns that led to the SEC's Regulation FD; subprime mortgages; auction rate securities; pay-to-play in municipal bond underwriting; Lehman Bros. ("Repo 105"); Mergers & acquisitions advisers' conflicts of interest (see Berkshire Hathaway's CEO's most recent letter to shareholders); the American rating agencies (... "it could be structured by cows and we would rate it"); and bailouts, including of A.I.G. and its counterparties.

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