Explaining Southern California's economy

Banking on a Moody's credit downgrade of Morgan Stanley

Morgan Stanley Reports Their Quarterly Profits Fell 48 Percent In First Quarter

Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 21: Pedestrians cross the street by the Morgan Stanley building in Times Square April 21, 2011 in New York City. Morgan Stanley profits fell 48 percent In the first quarter of 2011. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty Images)

How do you think it would feel to be cut not one, not two, but three levels on your credit score? All at once? 

If you answered, "Not too good!" then you're in the same boat as Morgan Stanley, one of the last two big independent U.S. investment banks (the other one is Goldman Sachs, and neither are as proud as they once were, after converting themselves to bank holding companies during the financial crisis so that they could get more money from the government). Moody's, one of the three main rating agencies, has said that it may knock Morgan down three notches. It may take other banks, such as Goldman, down two.

This is from Bloomberg:

The potential downgrades, which may raise borrowing costs and force banks to increase collateral, put the ratings company at odds with bond investors, who are sticking with bets that new capital rules and trading limits will make the financial firms safer in the long run. Funding costs have climbed for banks worldwide as Greece’s debt woes roil markets.

“In the next two years, these big banks will be less robust than they used to be, that’s for sure,” Jim Antos, a Hong Kong-based financial analyst at Mizuho Securities Co., said by telephone. “For any bank that has to raise capital today, it’s already very difficult. This makes it just that much more expensive and difficult.”

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Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein and gay marriage: Why not?

This was unexpected news! It turns out that Goldman Sachs embattled, controversial CEO Lloyd Blankfein is a supporter of same-sex marriage. Now he's recorded a short video for Human Rights Campaign, an organization that, according to DealBook, has "persuaded" him to be its "first national corporate spokesman for same-sex marriage." 

Susanne Craig, the NYTimes writer, goes on to express what many were probably already thinking:

[T]he campaign is sure to turn heads on Wall Street, which despite having made progress on equality issues over the last decade, is still considered to be a male-dominated, testosterone-driven place.

But if you thought Blankfein was emblematic of that culture...well, you were wrong:

Behind the scenes, Mr. Blankfein has long been a supporter of same-sex marriage. Last year, he signed a letter urging state lawmakers to vote for a bill legalizing same-sex marriage and encouraged other chief executives to do the same. He also called lawmakers directly on the matter. The New York Legislature passed the law last summer.

Under Mr. Blankfein’s guidance, Goldman has also pushed employment policies that promote equality. It reimburses employees for the extra taxes they pay on domestic partner benefits. In 2002, the company made headlines for offering gender reassignment operations to employees.

[...]

The Human Rights Campaign approached Mr. Blankfein in November through a gay executive at Goldman, and he was immediately receptive to the idea, according to people briefed on the matter but not authorized to speak publicly. As part of a national effort, Mr. Blankfein, wearing a crisp white shirt and red-patterned tie, appears in 32-second Web spot intended to drum up support and donations.

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Will Goldman Sachs lose out on Facebook IPO?

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Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a news conference at Facebook headquarters on October 6, 2010 in Palo Alto, California.

The long-awaited day will finally arrive next week, when Facebook files for its initial public offering (IPO) later this year. According to the Wall Street Journal, the offering — which will be fairly limited as far as actual stock sold goes — will price the social network at $75-$100 billion. That would make it one of the biggest IPOs of all time. It could actually help California balance its budget.

But there's more!

The Vampire Squid — aka Goldman Sachs — may not get to lead the IPO. the WSJ reports that Morgan Stanley, Goldman's main Wall Street rival, will get the plumb role. 

Let's not sugar-coat it: This would be humiliating for Goldman, which has been angling to lead Facebook's IPO ever since it set up a private market in Facebook shares in 2011 (and likely before that). It would also be costly. While Goldman will certainly participate, it won't get the millions in fees it was probably expecting, and definitely lobbying for.

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Why is Occupy Wall Street protesting the ports?

Grant Slater/KPCC

Protesters blocking the Port of Long Beach

It's a good question. What's the relationship between protesting the ascent of a global financial elite and protesting regular old trade in and out of the nation's largest Pacific coast ports?

Evidently, there's a Goldman Sachs tie-in. The Vampire Squid owns 51-percent of SSA Marine, a global mega-shipper that has major operations at the Port of Long Beach. The general idea, according to Occupy the Ports, is that SSA is somehow contributing to America's rather substantial trade imbalance with China. Greaterlongeach.com summarizes:

[A] flyer [circulated to protesters] cites a variety of reasons for focusing protests on SSA Marine. These include two specific claims—that the company the company failed to alert workers about potentially hazardous cargo in Oakland, and that it was fined for building an illegal road to a project in Washington. They also point to wider policies that protest organizers say have depressed wages and benefits for truck drivers and de-industrialized the United States so that incoming shipping containers at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles outnumber outgoing shipping containers 7-1.

Michael Novick, a retired schoolteacher who is part of the Occupy the Port movement, responded to a call from GreaterLongBeach.com and expanded on the implications of the imbalance of import-export traffic through the local ports.

“If there were as many containers going out as there are coming in there would be 10 times as many jobs,” said Novick, who said he expects Occupy the Ports to protest in front of SSA Marine this Monday from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m.

But coordinating a protest at SSA Marine isn’t easy. The company is so big that it has five locations within the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles: Pacific Container Terminal, Terminal A, Terminal c60, and Pier F, Berth 206 in Long Beach, and Outer Harbor 54/55 in San Pedro.

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MF Global CEO Corzine was 'rusty'

Maybe this should be his nickname, henceforth: Jon "Rusty" Corzine. The former Senator and New Jersey governor — not to mention former Goldman Sachs CEO — marched up to Capitol Hill today to explain how his most recent firm, MF Global, was plunged into bankruptcy, taking $1 billion in supposedly protected client funds with it.

MF Global was no Goldman Sachs, and various theories have been offered about how that's a significant difference. Like, Corzine wasn't being dogged by the crack, risk-assessment pros he dealt with at Goldman. He could make bets on European sovereign debt based on his own sense that Europe would solve its financial mess. 

But I like Marketplace's Heidi N. Moore's take, which is that Corzine had been out of the Wall Street action for too long. His ambition was to take MF Global, a respectable broker-dealer but hardly a Goldman-level investment bank, and turn it into a junior Goldman. It was a bold move. But maybe he wasn't up to the job.

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