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January 26, 2010 Tuesday 12:01 AM EST
SECTION: NEWS & COMMENTARY; Commentary; David Weidner’s Writing on the Wall
LENGTH: 815 words
HEADLINE: How the little guy ruined Wall Street
BYLINE: David Weidner, MarketWatch mailto:email@example.com.
David Weidner covers Wall Street for MarketWatch.
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — Sorry always seems the hardest thing to say.
But isn’t a big apology exactly what we owe Wall Street today?
We’ve foolishly given the financial industry a trillion dollars in support of its balance sheets and markets. We did so even though the big banks and brokerages clearly didn’t need or want our help. Things were just fine in September 2008, but then we had to go and stick our noses into the world of high finance.
Now, we’re making matters worse by trying to tell them how much to pay their people, how much risk they can take and what businesses are kosher. Suddenly, we feel we’re better bankers than the bankers. We know to whom they should be lending. We have strong opinions about what they do with our money.
We’re sorry about that.
We’re sorry that we want strong control of our money supply. We regret that we want to have government protection of our deposits, our checking accounts, mortgages and credit cards. Maybe it’s our simpleton ways. We get nervous when we lose our jobs and have to sell our homes at a discount to eat.
That’s our bad.
The fact is Wall Street has done as masterful job of handling these accounts. And we should acknowledge that the overdraft fees, escalating interest rates and calamity in the mortgage market are really our fault, not the banks’.
It’s funny that Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) should have to keep apologizing for his firm’s success. He said that given hindsight Goldman would have done things a lot differently. Goldman engaged in “improper” behavior, he said. But when he made those comments Jan. 14, he wasn’t talking about the bets Goldman made against toxic mortgage securities it was selling clients. That’s the lord’s work after all.
I think I speak for everyone when I write, sorry Lloyd, I don’t know how we got that one confused. I guess that’s why they pay you the big bucks ($68.5 million in 2007).
But please understand, we only had the best of intentions with our meddling.
When your balance sheets looked like they were in trouble we forced the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program on you.
We only wanted to prop you up with the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, a program designed to give the industry $200 billion in loans against “top-rated” credit-card, small business, student and auto loan debt.
The $30 billion Public-Private Investment Program was intended to only lighten the load of bad assets on your books. When that program didn’t look promising we just tried to let you wipe it away yourselves by eliminating accounting rules that made you value the junk for what it’s worth.
When you couldn’t issue debt, we told the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the institution in charge of our nest eggs, to back your bonds. Reluctantly you took us up on it. Eighty-four bond issues for $309 billion were made under the program. Citigroup Inc. (C) issued $64 billion. Goldman issued $21 billion. Bank of America Corp. (BAC) issued $44 billion.
We know, you did it just to make us feel better.
And when all of that didn’t work, we simply told the Federal Reserve to step up to buy an unlimited amount of mortgages and hand one of your trading partners, American International Group Inc. (AIG) a $182 billion lifeline.
How any of this stuff would be interpreted as backing banks while they continued to take bets “with their own money” on proprietary trading desks, hedge funds and private equity, is a mystery.
Compared to our squeeze on your bonuses, this stuff was just kids’ play. At Goldman, the average bonus worked out to just $460,000 per employee — just a little more than nine-times the U.S. median income. Sorry, there’s no way anyone can buy a Bugatti Veyron, even used, for those peanuts. So much for stimulating the auto industry.
In retrospect, all of that bailout money should have been earmarked for Wall Street bonuses. Without deep cash, your bankers are probably considering jumping to more lucrative jobs elsewhere, perhaps in Major League Baseball or playing the lottery. They’re not focused on stabilizing the financial system, and the resulting problems are our fault for questioning you. Understand that we don’t get paid the big bucks for a reason.
No, we just have our shrinking 401(k)s, our individual retirement accounts and maybe, if we’re lucky, our homes. We’re too dense to see how bulletproof the financial system is and really no amount of taxpayer support could ever pay you back for all of the good times we’ve had during the last two years.
So, Wall Street, forgive us for our meddlesome ways. Forgive us, and Paul Volcker, for wanting a return to boring old banking. Forgive us for the sarcasm.
Most of all, forgive us for ever trusting you in the first place.
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