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Marketplace Scratch Pad

Morning Reading

Scott Jagow Feb 3, 2010

Good morning. Among today’s starters: Wall Street laughs at Volcker? How to protect yourself from the deficit. And the winner of last week’s Marshmallow Experiment contest…

Wall Street laughs at Volcker (Daily Beast)

All of this has given the heads of the big financial firms–bruised by a vengeful public that can’t seem to accept how the firms are getting ready to dole out billions in bonus money just a year after being bailed out–something finally to snicker about, at least in the private conversations I am having with them. “Joke” is the most common word I hear coming from top Wall Street executives when discussing Volcker’s “reform” efforts.

“If Volcker thinks what he’s saying is going to stop another financial collapse, he’s crazy,” one CEO recently told me.

Dodd calls Obama’s plan too grand (New York Times)

Mr. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, added that the administration was “getting precariously close” to excessive ambition for the legislation. “I don’t want to be in a position where we end up doing nothing because we tried to do too much,” he said.

The Deficit: How to Protect Yourself (Wall Street Journal)

Make sure you are globally diversified and not entirely dependent on the U.S. economy and the dollar. There is a danger of a dollar slump. Those most convinced it will happen should look at having some gold exposure, but it’s volatile and that’s not the only way to reduce your dependence on the greenback. It makes sense to keep plenty of money in overseas stocks and bonds. Many U.S. blue-chip stocks-from Kraft to Apple to Exxon-are really global as well.

Brooksley Born in, Geithner out? (The Street)

The president understands that, unless he starts winning back these independents and fast, he will face a 1994-style rebuke from voters at this fall’s mid-term elections. From a financial reform perspective, he must show voters that he’s not a toady to Wall Street — and I expect he will replace secretary Geithner with Brooksley Born, the former head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission who sounded the alarm on credit default swaps long before the housing crisis swallowed the economy.

In California, small businesses hit by a perfect storm (NPR)

“This is by far the busiest we’ve been in the last 12 years, and there’s no end in sight right now,” says Erik Clark, a bankruptcy lawyer with the Southern California firm Borowitz and Clark.

Clark says tight credit, falling home prices and high unemployment have contributed to what he calls a perfect storm for small business bankruptcies in the state. And people like the Grays, he says, are typical of those coming into his office.

“Obviously, they are entrepreneurial in spirit,” Clark says. “Most of their life savings in a lot of these cases have been poured into these businesses … Their entire sense of self is tied up in the success of their business.”

And finally, the winner of last week’s Marshmallow Test post is… Ben. It was a tough call among several excellent comments, but I gave Ben the nod because he correlated the experiment with his own investment decisions:

The kids have faith that if they wait and are patient, they will be rewarded. Similarly, when investing we have faith that over the long term, our investments will grow and multiply. However, the children undergo severe (for their age) emotional stress by having the marshmallow placed directly in front of them as they undergo the experiment, causing some of them to lose their focus to satisfy short-term happiness at the expense of guaranteed long-term gains.

This translates over to adults as well. I’ll admit I have my stock portfolio posted on my iGoogle, causing me to “check-in” with my stocks every time I go to search. This is probably a poor choice because it causes me to second-guess my long term strategy each time I see a new gyration in the market. Sometimes the temptation to tinker is too great, causing me to make an investment decision that I later regret.

If the marshmallow had been placed in a box, most likely the children would have had an easier time waiting for their reward to double. Perhaps I should step back and remove my stock portfolio from my daily routine. I have chosen the right long-term strategy for me, and now I need to have the patience and resolve to let it work for me.

Congrats Ben. Your prize is in the mail. I’ll try to come up with another contest soon.

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