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Abigail with Attitude

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  • So the long awaited and much anticipated correction to global markets finally came to pass. Although, if you had been away for an autumn mini-break, you would have missed all the action.
  • Perhaps the most interesting story of the month was the news that Paul Taubman was selling his recently formed corporate finance firm, PJT Partners, to Blackstone, and that Blackstone would spin off its entire advisory arm in to a standalone entity. Ostensibly this is a good thing as Blackstone, which manages over $200 billion of assets in private equity and real estate, is often accused by advisory clients of having conflicts of interest. The new advisory entity will still be 65% owned by Blackstone, so I’m not convinced this new structure answers the conflict of interest criticism. But perhaps I’m missing something.
  • In the past, it has been forced by regulators to raise capital unexpectedly. Nevertheless, as far as I am concerned, Credit Suisse is stuck in the middle of nowhere and has lost a huge amount of momentum since the tumultuous crisis era, when, ironically, it looked like the smart kid on the block. I have lost count of how many senior management re-organizations chief executive Brady Dougan has announced that juggle the same, long-serving employees but don’t seem to move the business forward. In mid-October, yet another Credit Suisse investment banking re-jig crossed the wires. Jim Amine and Tim O’Hara have been promoted to lead the division jointly with Gael de Boissard. They will join the executive board. Eric Varvel, who previously co-headed investment banking with de Boissard, changes his role to chairman of the bank’s Asia Pacific and Middle East regions. Amine, (advisory), O’Hara (equities), and de Boissard (fixed income) will each continue to look after their original areas of focus.
  • It has been a difficult year for big European and American banks. But then come to think of it, none of the years since the demise of Lehman Brothers in 2008 have been easy for them. That makes six full years that banks have been in the doghouse. In the first few following the crisis, they were derided as greedy, evil rogues who had nearly crippled the global economy.
  • This month, this column is all about investment management. For as long as I can remember, investment bankers and traders have been the rock and roll stars of the financial world.
  • I was intrigued to see that Blackstone, the leading private equity firm, is disengaging from Russia.
  • European financial markets were shaken in September by the sudden death of Emilio Botín, the chairman of Banco Santander.
  • The month of August is supposed to bring peace of mind to busy bankers: the frenetic pace of markets diminishes and the bosses depart for their villas in Tuscany or mansions in the Hamptons.
  • For those of you who were dozing on the beach this summer, with your smart-phones switched off, a leading Portuguese bank was restructured in August and no one, least of all the regulators, seems to have forewarned us of this impending disaster.
  • As regular readers might remember, I have long been worried about the inflationary impact of the extraordinary zero interest-rate policy which central banks have foisted on us.
  • A hedge fund manager came to see me recently and we talked about the state of the market. As US equity indices hover near all-time highs, cynicism prevails.
  • UBS was named Euromoney’s best global bank for 2014 at the awards dinner, held at London’s Natural History Museum. Having attended nine such dinners in my role as a columnist for Euromoney, I was struck by how restrained the atmosphere in the room was.
  • L’Roubi may be a chameleon when it comes to his sartorial mores but Bank of England governor, Mark Carney resembles a chameleon when it comes to his views on UK interest rates.
  • Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank, has firmly rebuffed the bears and those who believed in him made a fortune with timely purchases of periphery European bonds and stock markets.
  • Jenkins is at a dead-end. This is what happens when you have no strategy and just muddle through instead of taking the necessary and painful decisions.
  • Shades of Gwyneth and Chris: Simon Robey and Simon Warshaw consciously uncoupled from Simon Robertson.
  • There is a whiff of hysteria haunting markets. Many of the big players have found themselves wrong-footed. The sands are shifting, and it’s difficult to know who or what to trust.
  • In April, it was also announced that Barclays would scale back its commodity trading operation. I have written about Barclays’ chief executive, Antony Jenkins, in recent columns and how the supposed new broom is lurching from one pitfall to the next.
  • Another banker whose surname begins with “M” hit the headlines in April. Blythe Masters, the veteran JPMorgan banker, left the US firm.
  • Some have dubbed Antony Jenkins' reign at Barclays a work in transition. To me, it is undoubtedly a mess in transition.
  • By coincidence, also in February, Euromoney hosted its annual awards dinner for the private banking industry and Tom Kalaris, Barclays’ former head of wealth management, sat at the top table. Kalaris resigned from Barclays last June. I have always liked Tom and will watch with interest how his career progresses. The compere for the dinner was Alastair Campbell, director of communications from 1997 to 2003 for prime minister Tony Blair. Campbell offered one key nugget of advice to the group of assembled financiers: "In order to win the public relations battle, you have to convince public opinion that banks and bankers provide a real service that individuals and the economy need." Obviously, Campbell is correct, but is anyone listening in the banks’ luxurious executive suites?
  • I hear that an article published recently by Reuters is causing waves at Morgan Stanley. The thrust of the piece – entitled ‘Wall Street’s most eligible banker Fleming waits for a suitor’ – is that 50-year-old Greg Fleming, the head of Morgan Stanley’s wealth and investment management business, might succeed James Gorman as chief executive. According to the piece, Fleming is also a flight risk as he possesses the talents to be chief executive of another financial firm.
  • The question I would want to know, were I a Euromoney reader, is: what is really going on out there? Is the world healing? Has it healed? Or indeed, has the world healed so completely that we are now about to suffer another bout of illness?
  • The financial landscape is changing and certain macro themes are beginning to emerge.
  • Against this confusing backdrop, life goes on. A friend who is a senior banker in Asia reports that during a brief visit to London he arranged to meet one of his best clients, an Indian tycoon, at Claridge’s Hotel for tea. Suddenly, the wife of the tycoon jumped up and started embracing what appeared to be an elderly gentleman. "How are you?" she exclaimed. "What are you doing now? We’ve missed you."
  • Given I am writing this column in December just before the magazine closes for Christmas – I have been pondering what presents I would give certain bank chief executives.
  • It was a dank, dark autumn morning. My alarm shrilled and I stumbled into the kitchen to brew a pitch-black espresso. On auto-pilot, I reached over and switched on CNBC. Someone was lamenting the most recent "disappointing" set of Credit Suisse earnings. "Same old, same old," I thought to myself as I grumpily switched off the television.
  • I was interested that the renowned banker James Leigh-Pemberton, who used to head Credit Suisse’s UK operations, left the bank late last year to become chairman designate of UK Financial Investments, the British government unit that manages the taxpayer shareholdings in Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland.
  • Anyway, back to Switzerland and the Swiss banks. Things do appear to be stabilizing at UBS. Sergio Ermotti was appointed chief executive in late 2011 and a year later he installed the long-term Merrill Lynch banker Andrea Orcel as head of UBS’s investment bank. UBS underwent an epiphany and scaled its fixed-income division back drastically. The new focus was to be wealth management and corporate finance, which would hopefully flourish untainted by scandals in the fixed-income division. However, in the third quarter of 2013, UBS suffered a setback. The bank announced that it would delay, by at least a year, its aim to reach a 15% group return-on-equity target. This retreat was due to an unexpected demand from the Swiss regulator, Finma, requiring UBS to set aside more capital against "known and unknown litigation".
  • Someone else who also recently stepped down is Sir Hector Sants, the former head of compliance at Barclays. Sants, a one-time Credit Suisse banker, ran the wholesale division of the British regulatory authority, the Financial Services Authority, from 2004 to 2007. He was then promoted to run the whole organization, which he did until the FSA was dismantled in the middle of 2012.