Macaskill on markets: Bitcoining it in 2018

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Jon Macaskill
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Jon ‘Mystic Mac’ Macaskill looks ahead at possible highlights for markets in 2018.

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January 

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein tweets news that the firm will auction the opportunity to host its post-Brexit European Union headquarters site to the highest bidder.

“If Amazon can generate a bidding war for its second US business hub, I think we can sell the rights to host a few hundred bankers to some lucky European city,” says Blankfein.

“We are just like any other fast-moving technology company, except for the revenue growth, obviously. And now that I don’t have to worry about Gary Cohn breathing down my neck, I aim to spend most of my time wandering around our different European offices in my socks, posting occasional tweets. All staff should feel free to do the same – once they have completed 15 hours at their desks and started making some proper money again, that is.”

February 

President Donald Trump unveils a reshuffle of his key economic advisers. “Gary Cohn is going to become the White House majordomo, which is a word I just made up, it’s like a butler but much, much better,” says Trump. “I know we played a prank on Gary when we told him he might be the next head of the Federal Reserve and I felt bad – not too much, but maybe just a little bit. This new job comes with a wonderful uniform designed by Kellyanne Conway, and Gary will still get to be in many, many meetings, serving us soft drinks.”

Trump also announces a surprise appointment as new Treasury secretary, by replacing Steve Mnuchin with his wife Louise Linton. 

“Steve has been the best Treasury secretary we have ever had – certainly since Alexander Hamilton, maybe even before that too,” says Trump. “But Ivanka has been reminding me that this administration is all about empowering women, so it is time for Steve to give Louise her chance to be the new Treasury apprentice. And doesn’t she look great in those black leather gloves with all of the dollars? I have to say I like this look.”

March 

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon renews his attack on bitcoin trading. “So it’s up a bazillion per cent in the last year, so what?’ Dimon asks. “The only people actually trading this bunch of tulips are tech nerds sitting at home in their ninja pyjamas or a few coked-up former hedge fund guys who miss the good old days. Plus Michael Novogratz, I guess.”

After Dimon throws the CNBC crew interviewing him out of his office, investment bank head Daniel Pinto manages a quick on-air pitch for JPMorgan’s latest blockchain initiative. 

“Jamie can get a bit grouchy sometimes, but I would like to stress that we are fully committed to the transformation of finance by new technology,” says Pinto. “And if Goldman starts making markets in bitcoin, we probably will too, though unlike them we won’t be ‘managing our own inventory’ to make a profit. That means we’ll stick to the letter of Jamie’s instructions about not trading bitcoin. That is still pretty important round here!”  

April

Icap founder Michael Spencer announces that the compliance-focused startup he backed as an investor in late 2017 is thriving and will soon be ready for an IPO. 

“I know there is some irony in me funding a compliance business, given Icap’s role in the Libor trading scandals, but I can assure you this is not an April Fool,” says Spencer. 

“Since I offloaded those oiky brokers to Tullett and turned NEX into a respectable fintech outfit, I don’t need to drop Latin tags into conversation to differentiate myself from the staff, but I’m going to carry on anyway. Our old motto at Icap was ‘manus manum lavat’, or one hand washes the other, but I think ‘quis custodiet ipsos custodes’ would work for this new compliance venture. I mean who better than me to guard the guardians? Did you know NEX is Latin for death, by the way?” 

May 

Barclays CEO Jes Staley reveals that his firm is one of the bigger clients of the new compliance startup that was funded by Spencer.

“I’d be the first to admit that I need to bone up on my compliance do’s and don’ts,” says Staley. “I nearly blew it the way I handled that whistle-blowing scandal. I mean, who knew you can’t pay the US postal service to give you video of someone posting a letter to your own bank? Anyway, everything is going to be on the up and up from here on in.”

Staley adds that he has authorized a push into bitcoin trading by Barclays. 

“This will be the first time I have disagreed with Jamie Dimon – I certainly didn’t do it when I was at JPMorgan! – but I think a bitcoin push could be just what our investment bank needs,” says Staley. “Plus our CIB head Tim Throsby’s middle name is Danger, and he just hired a crack new trading team, so what could possibly go wrong?”

June 

Morgan Stanley CEO-in-waiting Ted Pick helps incumbent James Gorman to celebrate the sixth quarter in a row in which the firm has outpaced Goldman Sachs in both fixed income and equities revenue. 

The dour duo takes the opportunity to remind employees about dress codes and some crucial differences between the two rival banks. 

“A Morgan Stanley banker wears a suit and tie at all times, and black shoes are not to be removed,” says Pick. “And a Morgan Stanley employee does not think outside the box – he or she stands on whichever one of the nine boxes of success has been allocated by me or my nominee until instructed otherwise. 

“Please return to your desks and increase your productivity until our return on equity finally exceeds our cost of capital. My human resources mentor Colm Kelleher says I am taking the ‘fun’ out of funding. Whether that was a joke or not, I fully endorse the goal.”

July

An unlikely rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Qatar is revealed to have been partly driven by an agreement to pool ownership stakes taken by their sovereign wealth funds in European banks, including Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank.  

“Some of the ex-Deutsche Bank guys at SoftBank ran into Gael de Boissard and Brady Dougan as they were pitching a break-up of Credit Suisse, and before you know it they had sold the Saudis and Qataris on the idea of a ‘basket-case basket’ of stakes in floundering European banks,” a source tells Euromoney. 

“A quick call to Cerberus, an unwind of the HNA stake in DB and bada-bing! – you’re in business, plus you can offload your own shares from old bonus schemes. Someone should probably talk to John Cryan before he starts getting sniffy again about the way people build stakes in Deutsche Bank, though. Tidjane Thiam will be fine with whatever goes at Credit Suisse, so no worries there.”

August

HSBC is among a number of banks accused of ‘greenwashing’ by making exaggerated announcements about the impact of environmental and socially responsible financing initiatives.

Recently installed HSBC CEO John Flint hits back at critics of the bank. 

“No good deed goes unpunished does it?” says Flint. “You pledge $100 billion of sustainable financing and investment and put out enough ESG brochures to use up a small renewable forest, and all you get are complaints that you are trying to divert attention from money laundering scandals. 

“Of course it is entirely possible that mistakes were made, but if they were I blame Stuart Gulliver, or maybe even Mike Geoghegan. I was probably in Hong Kong booking trades for Chinese billionaires at the time, it doesn’t get much more ethical than that.”

September

The Luxembourg Stock Exchange hails the success of its green bond exchange LGX on the second anniversary of its launch. 

“There is now clear evidence of a premium, or ‘greenium’ for bonds that have ethical labelling,” says CEO Robert Scharfe. “And that is great news for ethical borrowers such as, ahem, Repsol. Bien sur, some dedicated green-bond investors may feel that they are now paying an extra fee to get paper that has minimal liquidity, but they can rest assured that Luxembourg, with its hard-won reputation for transparency, will do everything it can to ensure that nothing untoward goes on in this important new market.”

October 

The price of bitcoin plunges after it emerges that hackers operating via Russian servers have been able to steal from at least half of the most widely used cryptocurrency wallet services.

Goldman Sachs CFO Marty Chavez admits that third-quarter results have been hurt by “bitcoin inventory management issues” but tries to play down the effect of the losses. “This sort of thing could happen to any technology company that combines proprietary trading with a growing retail lending business and a traditional M&A advisory operation,” Chavez says. “Chillax people!”

November

Barclays CEO Jes Staley reveals that third-quarter bitcoin losses have reversed all the trading gains seen in what had been a strong first half to the year for the bank.

“I should probably get my coat this time,” says Staley, in a curiously upbeat conference call with analysts. “But there are definite upsides: I can now move back to the States and track down that whistle-blower, if it’s the last thing I do. Plus, I’ll never have to sit through another compensation review with John McFarlane, or ‘yer annual bollocking’ as he calls it. I don’t know what he’s saying half the time, but he’s pretty scary.”

December

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon brings forward the publication of his widely read annual letter to shareholders, which had been scheduled for spring 2019.

“I hate to tell you mutts that I was right again, but guess what?” Dimon says. “I was right again, on bitcoin and all the rest of it. Sure we had some losses here making markets in this cryptogarbage, but the relevant people have been punished, we move on and our Fortress Balance Sheet remains intact, which is more than I can say about some of the other firms on the Street.”

Dimon downplays media speculation that he will finally step down from running JPMorgan. “I wish there was someone else who could do this job – do you think I enjoy cleaning up after these idiots? But it looks like I’m going to be stuck here for another year, so just get used to it.”