Easy Street

Easy Street: Is Goldman Sachs Doomed?

Heidi Moore May 23, 2011

Easy Street is our daily roundup of the most interesting news stories and commentary about Wall Street, Washington and the curious world of finance. You can see more of what we think are the biggest stories of the day on our News in Brief page. Every day, you can download Marketplace’s daily show on iTunes and follow us for more headlines at twitter.com/mktplaceradio. If you want to listen to Marketplace on the radio, find your local station and time here.

Finance: The Bankers

Stephen Gandel over at the Curious Capitalist makes the case that Goldman Sachs is doomed and in its last days.

Related: Ian Rosen, a former banker, tartly replies “I’d take Goldman Sachs’ chances over Time’s any day.

Janet Tavakoli is displeased with the IMF’s handling of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s charges on alleged sexual assault.

Nick Lemann’s great article on McKinsey, circa 1999. Hat tip to Felix Salmon.

Markets: The Traders

Financial planner Carl Richards has just about had it with gold: “Gold has no real underlying value. I know there is a market for it. I know it is real, just like real estate was real in 2007.”

The U.S. government is in horrible financial shape – but the bond markets are refusing to acknowledge it and keep showing blind faith in Treasurys. Contrast this unconcerned reaction with the absolute paranoia that bond investors have shown towards Italy, Greece and others at any sign of trouble. The contrast in panicked reactions certainly supports the idea of America’s financial exceptionalism.

Related: Powerful Saudi investor Prince Alwaleed (you will know his investing work from such hits as Citigroup) believes in American exceptionalism too – which is why he is aghast at our cavalier treatment of the debt ceiling.

The WSJ’s Mark Gongloff traces the municipal bond market’s latest non-reaction to “professional scary person Meredith Whitney.”

Investing: The Fund Managers

In the world of investing, the power lies with “limited partners,” better known as LPs. They are also known as institutional investors – the mutual funds, the pension funds, the endowments who give Wall Street their money to manage. Just before the financial crisis, LPs loved to take risks. Now they’ve been chastened and are looking back on what happened. A nice roundup of what institutional investors have to say for themselves from Vyvyan Tenorio at The Deal.

Bernie Madoff is still trying to clear his name, if all those judgmental people out there will let him: “I was worth a billion dollars before any of this nonsense started,” he tells Jeff Toobin. Boy, a guy makes ONE mistake, every day, for a couple of decades, worth billions of dollars, and you never let him forget it.

Magic Johnson, media mogul.

The scrutiny of powerful hedge fund SAC Capital is getting more pointed and heated.
The upshot: Right now, the government seems to have very little to go on. Still, Chuck Grassley seeks to be to SAC what Carl Levin is to Goldman Sachs.

China is in talks to take a stake in private equity firm TPG. TPG was one of the first firms to invest in Asia – back in 2007, it was putting in $800 million to $900 million a year. It also has seen the ugly side of China: back in 2008, TPG disappointed some local officials financially, so they shut down one of the firm’s investments.

Regulation: The Politicians

The Federal Reserve is now largely out of the propaganda business – which is a shame, because history shows that the Fed made some cute and informative posters. Hat tip to Josh Brown.

Gary Gensler finally gets another ally on the CFTC – this increases the chance for some actual regulation on derivatives.

Three related stories make us wonder why regulators and lawmakers think they’re going to really nab firms that commit mortgage fraud. Why is this time different?

California creates a mortgage-fraud task force to pursue corporate fraud and scams. As one tweeting wag put it, “hopefully they will also create a time machine.” The point: the government’s delayed response to mortgage wrongdoing is focusing on the issue when the trail is cold.

Related: State AGs are stepping up their mortgage probes.

Related: Prosecutors promised to catch the “bandits” of mortgage fraud before, back in 2009 – but obviously, they didn’t.

Corporate America: The Executives

IBM is now bigger than Microsoft by market cap. It’s 1985 all over again.

Recreational Reading

100 fantastic pieces of journalism: the art of storytelling, characters and more.

Why does anyone pay off debt? Marketplace Weekly Wrapper John Carney explains, and uses the same exact stock photo that Easy Street uses every day.

New York Magazine’s Jessica Pressler has a charming conversation with the New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin about the HBO premiere of Too Big To Fail tonight.

Anyone can accept a credit-card payment now through a little smartphone reader. Thank Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter, who tells Wired a little more about his gadget.

The next bubble: Farmland. Yes, valuations are going sky-high.
Related: Hedge fund managers, coincidentally, are buying a lot of farmland. Surely a coincidence.

LinkedIn is easily hacked – and the hackers wouldn’t even need passwords.

Chicago is so sure of global warming that it is paving its streets and ordering new Southern, tropical trees that are better for wet, steamy environments like Baton Rouge.

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