Abigail with attitude: High-powered animation around the dinner table
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Abigail with attitude: High-powered animation around the dinner table

Who’s right: the doom-mongers or the Cassandras?

I have always been frugal. When I was a banker, I was probably the only person on the trading floor who saved 99% of their annual bonus. But in May, I decided to splurge. I organised a dinner at my house for seven financial chief executives and I served wine that cost £40 a bottle rather than £4.99. The do was a round-table format where everything discussed is unattributable so participants can have a forthright exchange of views. Although there were a lot of egos in the room, I noticed how several titans did not feel the need to dominate but were happy to listen to what others said. Several topics caused animated discussion. Most participants felt that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former IMF managing director who stands accused of sexual harassment in New York, is the victim of an elaborate plot.

The table was divided as to whether Goldman Sachs’s position as the premier investment bank was irretrievably damaged. One smart chief, a former Goldman alumni, said he had left the firm because the high calibre of his colleagues meant he had less chance to shine. And he was sure the quality of Goldman’s employees had not deteriorated substantially. An investment-banking chief demurred, arguing that Goldman Sachs had not fundamentally altered its business model and thus, as regulatory pressure increased, they were doomed.

I was most interested in how there were two distinct views of the world. Several of the bankers and hedge fund players were negative: they pointed to a lot of bad news for the macro economy and numerous potential black swans. However, the head of a long-only asset-management firm took a very different stance. He argued that most western companies were in good shape with strong balance sheets. If you bought such companies, in the long term you would do fine. As I am a born-again Cassandra, I fervently hope Mr Long-Only is correct.

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