Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Dick Parsons' Misleading Remarks In This Morning's CNBC Interview

I caught some of Citigroup chairman Dick Parsons' interview with Becky Quick this morning on CNBC. The interview seemed like an exercise in futility, as Quick lobbed softballs at Parsons, and he replied with some misleading and almost delusional responses.

Parsons' off the cuff numbers on Citi's TARP bailout made light of the real risk undertaken by taxpayers. Of course, now, it looks like a great profit- something like $12B on $48B. But this obscures the capital flows and sources of the profit. That is, existing shareholders were just about wiped out, while subsequent "profit" to the government came from the markets. It's very difficult to assess a proper risk-adjusted return for the deal, since the government has unique characteristics as an investor, including the ability to rig market and economic conditions to favor its investments.

Further, Parsons delusionally claimed that the government never interfered with the firm's operation. What was the special compensation czar's job? Did I miss something over the past few years when Ken Feinberg  was fighting with commercial banks over compensation levels? Does anyone really believe there wasn't behind-the-scenes arm twisting of banks which had taken TARP funds?

Then, in a completely surreal moment, Parsons began to lecture Quick on how banking works. How banks intermediate savers and borrowers. I guess this stuff is news to Dick, and he assumes nobody else watching CNBC knew these important details, either. But he then went on to claim, on that basis, that banks were 'special,' at the 'heart of the economy,' and could not be allowed to fail!

Wow. How convenient, Dick. Your predecessor, Bob Rubin, helped leverage and direct Citi into the mortgage-backed mess, it should have gone bankrupt, its parts sold to other banks, and you claim that your, and, by extension, all large, globally-connected banks must be saved.

Anna Kagan Schwartz correctly noted over two years ago that the problems with the US financial sector in late 2008 were solvency-based, not liquidity-based. Closing losers like Citi would have improved counterparty trust throughout the sector. Propping it up with printed government liquidity simply prolonged and rewarded incompetent bank managements and their boards.

So now, we have faulty, inept managements continuing to function along with better banks, when we had an opportunity to weed out the bad managers and allocate, by market mechanisms, their salvageable businesses to better-managed competitors.

But, of course, Parsons is in a delusional, self-serving mode now. As chairman of Citigroup, he has to distort and misrepresent that bank's and the meltdown's realities, in order to justify the firm's current existence.

No comments: