Monday, November 17, 2008

The Bull That Killed Pension Funds


Another volatile day in the stock market as stocks swung wildly before finishing lower as recession worries deepen:

Wall Street finished sharply lower Monday as investors pored over more signs of economic weakness, including a huge round of layoffs in the financial sector.

After a turbulent week that sent the Dow Jones industrials down nearly 340 points, investors found little solace in the latest news. Stocks zigzagged throughout the session, finally giving way to a stream of late-day selling that left the Dow Jones industrials lower by 223 points.

In a signal that banks are still struggling in the wake of massive losses tied to bad mortgage debt, Citigroup Inc. is cutting another 53,000 jobs in the coming quarters. The company said that in addition to job cuts, it plans to lower expenses by about 20 percent and has reduced its assets by more than 20 percent since the first quarter of the year.

Citigroup (C) is currently trading at $8.89 and my prediction is that when it's all over, it will head back down to where it came from in the late 70s. No sovereign wealth fund will get burned again recapitalizing this bank, attempting to rid it of its toxic debt cancer.

In fact, bankers are worried and as Michael Hudson points out in his latest brilliant essay, they are busy shaking down Congress and the G-20:

Mr. Paulson under George Bush in 2008 is looking like the U.S. counterpart to Anatoly Chubais under Boris Yeltsin in 1996. Just as Russian neoliberals led by Chubais were promoted by Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin of Goldman Sachs, today’s Wall Street power grab to replace the government as the economy’s central planner is being orchestrated by another Treasury Secretary from Goldman Sachs, empowered to decide which kleptocrats are to receive what public resources and on what terms, aided by “Helicopter” Ben Bernanke at the Federal Reserve.

Mr. Bernanke’s famous quip about helicopters dropping money to get the economy moving seems to be limited to Wall Street for use in buying financial assets, not real goods and services for the population at large.

The road to G-20

Speaking on Thursday, November 13, before the Manhattan Institute, a lobbying organization for finance and real estate, President Bush repeated the myth that foreign countries recycle so many dollars to America because of our “strong economy” and free markets.

The reality is quite different. There is no such thing as a “free market.” For a few days after announcement of the $700 billion giveaway, some knee-jerk opponents of government spending accused this of being “socialism,” but they quickly discovered that not all government spending is socialist. Regardless of what economic system is followed, all markets are planned, and have been ever since calendars were developed back in the Ice Age.

Most market structures throughout history have been organized in a way that provides the vested interests with a free lunch. This remains the essence of post-feudal capitalism – or as some have expressed it, corporativism.

What happens in practice is that foreign central banks recycle the dollars that their exporters and asset sellers receive because (as noted above) their currencies would rise if they failed to do this. That would price their exports out of world markets, leading to unemployment. Foreign countries thus are in a dollar trap. They send their savings to finance the domestic U.S. Government budget deficit instead of helping their own domestic economics, because they have not been able to create an alternative to the dollar.

Next to Treasury debt, real estate mortgages are the only category large enough to absorb the excess dollars being thrown off by the U.S. payments deficit – thrown off, that is, by U.S. military spending abroad, consumer spending to swell the trade deficit, and investment outflows as investors here and abroad diversified their holdings outside of the United States.

The upshot is that world monetary reserves have come to consist of central bank loans to finance the U.S. bubble economy. But the knee-jerk deregulatory philosophy of the Clinton and Bush eras has killed the U.S. investment market.

What makes this dynamic unstable is that U.S. exports become even less competitive as higher housing costs and debt-service charges push up the cost of living and doing business. The more dollars foreign countries recycle, the less the U.S. economy will be able to work off its debts by exporting more. So the dynamic is guaranteed to be a losing game for foreign governments – unless anyone can explain how the United States can generate the $4 trillion to repay its debt to the world’s central banks. To make matters worse, the dollar’s downward drift against the euro and sterling obliges foreign creditors to take a loss on their dollar holdings as denominated in their own currencies.

Nobody has found a “market-oriented” solution to this problem. That is what doomed the G-20 meetings this weekend to failure, just as there could be no agreement at the G7 meetings a few weeks ago. In the face of U.S. Treasury dreams of re-inflating the mortgage market, Europe is trying to draw the line at financing a losing proposition.

'But now that gold no longer is the means of settling balance-of-payments deficits, foreign central banks lack an alternative to the U.S. dollar to hold their monetary reserves. This leaves them with (1) U.S. Treasury securities, and (2) U.S. mortgage securities. Recent years have seen a further diversification via “sovereign wealth funds” into (3) direct ownership of mineral resources, industrial companies, privatized national infrastructure and other equity investment rather than debt.

But rather than welcoming this, the U.S. Government seeks to limit foreign central banks to buying junk mortgages, junk bonds and other financial garbage. To call this “market equilibrium” is to indulge in the feel-good argot that fogs today’s international financial dialogue.

To put matters bluntly, the issue at the G-20 meetings is mistrust of the unregulated U.S. banking system and, behind it, government “regulators” who refuse to regulate.

China and other foreign dollar recipients have been treating the dollar like a hot potato, trying to spend it on buying foreign minerals, fuels and other assets from any country that will accept payment in dollars. Most of the takers are third world countries still committed to paying the heavy dollarized debts owed to the World Bank and other global creditors. The price of their remaining in the Bretton Woods system is to sacrifice their public domain in a kind of pre-bankruptcy sale rather than repudiating their debts under the “odious debt” and “fraudulent conveyance” escape valves. What is needed is not to “reform” the World Bank and IMF, but to replace them. But that is another story, one that other countries dared not even bring up at the November 15-16 meetings.

Euroland is officially in a recession for the first time since the birth of the single currency. Part of the reason is that its member countries have felt obliged to use their monetary surpluses to support the dollar – and hence, the U.S. Treasury’s budget deficit – instead of supporting their own domestic economies.

Just before flying to America this weekend, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced his position: “‘The dollar, which at the end of World War II was the only world currency, can no longer claim to be the sole world currency … What was true in 1945 can no longer be true today.’” Stating this fact was not a matter of ‘courage,’ but ‘good sense.’” Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi made a point of defending Russia, criticizing the US for “provoking” Moscow with its missile defense shield. But Mr. Paulson insisted that the global financial crisis was “no nation’s fault.”

U.S. officials chose to brazen it out, including a new wave of American protectionism for the auto industry in what may be a foretaste of economic nationalism to come. “Bankers complain that the financial rescue plans put in place in many countries distort competition because they operate on very different terms while others say that the bail-outs under consideration for U.S. carmakers represent a classic effort to protect national champions that could inspire copycat efforts elsewhere.”. So wrote Krishna Goha in the Financial Times, describing why, when G-20 finance ministers reaffirmed their support for free trade, they were talking largely at cross-purposes.


The past eight years have demonstrated the folly of imagining that the stock market and real estate can provide steady rates of return that compound into exponential increases in savings sufficient to pay retirement income and make homeowners and small investors rich without really having to work. Money managers advertise “Let your money work for you,” but only people actually work. Financial returns are paid in the form of command over labor power – workers “doing time.”

What banks do provide is debt, and this remains in place after the force of asset-price inflation is spent and market prices fall below liabilities to cause Negative Equity. That is how economic bubbles operate. But to hear Wall Street’s neoliberals tell the story, it is not necessary to pay retirees out of what is produced. Finance capitalism can replace industrial capitalism without a “real” economic base at all.

Who Really Gets the “Free Lunch”?

So much for the material conditions of production! We can all live free as financial engineering replaces industrial engineering. The Treasury is now reported to b discussing bailouts for credit card issuers by taking over their bad debts. The banks presumably would even be able to charge the government for the accumulation of exorbitant penalty fees.

The banks and Wall Street are threatening to wreck the economy by “going on strike” and creating a credit squeeze forcing foreclosures and economic collapse, if Congress and the Federal Reserve don’t save them from taking a loss on their bad loans and financial derivatives. Foreigners also must play a subordinate role in this game, or the international financial system itself will be collapsed. Financial customers must absorb the loss.

The most reasonable response to this brazen stance may be to return the Federal Reserve’s monetary functions to the U.S. Treasury. This is where they were conducted with great success prior to 1913. Back in the 1930s the “Chicago Plan,” put forth in the wreckage of the banking system’s and Wall Street misbehavior that aggravated the Great Depression, proposed to turn commercial banking into classic-style savings banks with 100 per cent reserves.

A modernized version is put forth in the American Monetary Institute’s proposed Monetary Reform Act as an alternative to the dysfunctional high finance that Wall Street lobbyists have created as a Frankenstein debt-selling machine. The U.S. economy has been living on a combination of foreign dollar recycling and bank credit that has been used simply to “create wealth” by inflating asset prices, not by financing new capital formation.

As matters have turned out, the banks have gone broke doing this. The Treasury has given them trillions of dollars of aid, and even more as special tax favoritism, loan and deposit insurance guarantees. This can only continue as long as banks can make the inevitable collapse of compound interest schemes appear to be unthinkable. That attempt is what doomed the G-20 meetings this weekend, and it will doom any future U.S. administration that tries to follow in its footsteps.

In another brilliant essay, Michael Lewis, author of the classic Liar's Poker, wrote why this is The End (of the Wall Street Boom):

Eisman started out running a $60 million equity fund but was now short around $600 million of various ­subprime-related securities. In the spring of 2007, the market strengthened. But, says Eisman, “credit quality always gets better in March and April. And the reason it always gets better in March and April is that people get their tax refunds. You would think people in the securitization world would know this. We just thought that was moronic.”

He was already short the stocks of mortgage originators and the homebuilders. Now he took short positions in the rating agencies—“they were making 10 times more rating C.D.O.’s than they were rating G.M. bonds, and it was all going to end”—and, finally, the biggest Wall Street firms because of their exposure to C.D.O.’s. He wasn’t allowed to short Morgan Stanley because it owned a stake in his fund. But he shorted UBS, Lehman Brothers, and a few others. Not long after that, FrontPoint had a visit from Sanford C. Bernstein’s Brad Hintz, a prominent analyst who covered Wall Street firms. Hintz wanted to know what Eisman was up to. “We just shorted Merrill Lynch,” Eisman told him.

“Why?” asked Hintz.

“We have a simple thesis,” Eisman explained. “There is going to be a calamity, and whenever there is a calamity, Merrill is there.”

When it came time to bankrupt Orange County with bad advice, Merrill was there. When the internet went bust, Merrill was there. Way back in the 1980s, when the first bond trader was let off his leash and lost hundreds of millions of dollars, Merrill was there to take the hit. That was Eisman’s logic—the logic of Wall Street’s pecking order. Goldman Sachs was the big kid who ran the games in this neighborhood. Merrill Lynch was the little fat kid assigned the least pleasant roles, just happy to be a part of things. The game, as Eisman saw it, was Crack the Whip. He assumed Merrill Lynch had taken its assigned place at the end of the chain.

There was only one thing that bothered Eisman, and it continued to trouble him as late as May 2007. “The thing we couldn’t figure out is: It’s so obvious. Why hasn’t everyone else figured out that the machine is done?”

Eisman had long subscribed to Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, a newsletter famous in Wall Street circles and obscure outside them. Jim Grant, its editor, had been prophesying doom ever since the great debt cycle began, in the mid-1980s. In late 2006, he decided to investigate these things called C.D.O.’s. Or rather, he had asked his young assistant, Dan Gertner, a chemical engineer with an M.B.A., to see if he could understand them. Gertner went off with the documents that purported to explain C.D.O.’s to potential investors and for several days sweated and groaned and heaved and suffered. “Then he came back,” says Grant, “and said, ‘I can’t figure this thing out.’ And I said, ‘I think we have our story.’ ”

Eisman read Grant’s piece as independent confirmation of what he knew in his bones about the C.D.O.’s he had shorted. “When I read it, I thought, Oh my God. This is like owning a gold mine. When I read that, I was the only guy in the equity world who almost had an orgasm.”

On July 19, 2007, the same day that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told the U.S. Senate that he anticipated as much as $100 billion in losses in the subprime-mortgage market, FrontPoint did something unusual: It hosted its own conference call. It had had calls with its tiny population of investors, but this time FrontPoint opened it up. Steve Eisman had become a poorly kept secret. Five hundred people called in to hear what he had to say, and another 500 logged on afterward to listen to a recording of it. He explained the strange alchemy of the C.D.O. and said that he expected losses of up to $300 billion from this sliver of the market alone. To evaluate the situation, he urged his audience to “just throw your model in the garbage can. The models are all backward-looking.

The models don’t have any idea of what this world has become…. For the first time in their lives, people in the asset-backed-securitization world are actually having to think.” He explained that the rating agencies were morally bankrupt and living in fear of becoming actually bankrupt. “The rating agencies are scared to death,” he said. “They’re scared to death about doing nothing because they’ll look like fools if they do nothing.”

On September 18, 2008, Danny Moses came to work as usual at 6:30 a.m. Earlier that week, Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy. The day before, the Dow had fallen 449 points to its lowest level in four years. Overnight, European governments announced a ban on short-selling, but that served as faint warning for what happened next.

At the market opening in the U.S., everything—every financial asset—went into free fall. “All hell was breaking loose in a way I had never seen in my career,” Moses says. FrontPoint was net short the market, so this total collapse should have given Moses pleasure. He might have been forgiven if he stood up and cheered. After all, he’d been betting for two years that this sort of thing could happen, and now it was, more dramatically than he had ever imagined. Instead, he felt this terrifying shudder run through him. He had maybe 100 trades on, and he worked hard to keep a handle on them all. “I spent my morning trying to control all this energy and all this information,” he says, “and I lost control. I looked at the screens. I was staring into the abyss. The end. I felt this shooting pain in my head. I don’t get headaches. At first, I thought I was having an aneurysm.”

Moses stood up, wobbled, then turned to Daniel and said, “I gotta leave. Get out of here. Now.” Daniel thought about calling an ambulance but instead took Moses out for a walk.

Outside it was gorgeous, the blue sky reaching down through the tall buildings and warming the soul. Eisman was at a Goldman Sachs conference for hedge fund managers, raising capital. Moses and Daniel got him on the phone, and he left the conference and met them on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. “We just sat there,” Moses says. “Watching the people pass.”

This was what they had been waiting for: total collapse. “The investment-banking industry is fucked,” Eisman had told me a few weeks earlier. “These guys are only beginning to understand how fucked they are. It’s like being a Scholastic, prior to Newton. Newton comes along, and one morning you wake up: ‘Holy shit, I’m wrong!’ ” Now Lehman Brothers had vanished, Merrill had surrendered, and Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were just a week away from ceasing to be investment banks. The investment banks were not just fucked; they were extinct.

Not so for hedge fund managers who had seen it coming. “As we sat there, we were weirdly calm,” Moses says. “We felt insulated from the whole market reality. It was an out-of-body experience. We just sat and watched the people pass and talked about what might happen next. How many of these people were going to lose their jobs. Who was going to rent these buildings after all the Wall Street firms collapsed.”

Eisman was appalled. “Look,” he said. “I’m short. I don’t want the country to go into a depression. I just want it to fucking deleverage.” He had tried a thousand times in a thousand ways to explain how screwed up the business was, and no one wanted to hear it. “That Wall Street has gone down because of this is justice,” he says. “They fucked people. They built a castle to rip people off. Not once in all these years have I come across a person inside a big Wall Street firm who was having a crisis of conscience.”

Truth to tell, there wasn’t a whole lot of hand-wringing inside FrontPoint either. The only one among them who wrestled a bit with his conscience was Daniel. “Vinny, being from Queens, needs to see the dark side of everything,” Eisman says. To which Daniel replies, “The way we thought about it was, ‘By shorting this market we’re creating the liquidity to keep the market going.’ ”

“It was like feeding the monster,” Eisman says of the market for subprime bonds. “We fed the monster until it blew up.”

About the time they were sitting on the steps of the midtown cathedral, I sat in a booth in a restaurant on the East Side, waiting for John Gutfreund to arrive for lunch, and wondered, among other things, why any restaurant would seat side by side two men without the slightest interest in touching each other.

There was an umbilical cord running from the belly of the exploded beast back to the financial 1980s. A friend of mine created the first mortgage derivative in 1986, a year after we left the Salomon Brothers trading program. (“The problem isn’t the tools,” he likes to say. “It’s who is using the tools. Derivatives are like guns.”)

When I published my book, the 1980s were supposed to be ending. I received a lot of undeserved credit for my timing. The social disruption caused by the collapse of the savings-and-loan industry and the rise of hostile takeovers and leveraged buyouts had given way to a brief period of recriminations. Just as most students at Ohio State read Liar’s Poker as a manual, most TV and radio interviewers regarded me as a whistleblower. (The big exception was Geraldo Rivera. He put me on a show called “People Who Succeed Too Early in Life” along with some child actors who’d gone on to become drug addicts.)

Anti-Wall Street feeling ran high—high enough for Rudy Giuliani to float a political career on it—but the result felt more like a witch hunt than an honest reappraisal of the financial order. The public lynchings of Gutfreund and junk-bond king Michael Milken were excuses not to deal with the disturbing forces underpinning their rise. Ditto the cleaning up of Wall Street’s trading culture.

The surface rippled, but down below, in the depths, the bonus pool remained undisturbed. Wall Street firms would soon be frowning upon profanity, firing traders for so much as glancing at a stripper, and forcing male employees to treat women almost as equals. Lehman Brothers circa 2008 more closely resembled a normal corporation with solid American values than did any Wall Street firm circa 1985.

The changes were camouflage. They helped distract outsiders from the truly profane event: the growing misalignment of interests between the people who trafficked in financial risk and the wider culture.

I’d not seen Gutfreund since I quit Wall Street. I’d met him, nervously, a couple of times on the trading floor. A few months before I left, my bosses asked me to explain to Gutfreund what at the time seemed like exotic trades in derivatives I’d done with a European hedge fund. I tried. He claimed not to be smart enough to understand any of it, and I assumed that was how a Wall Street C.E.O. showed he was the boss, by rising above the details. There was no reason for him to remember any of these encounters, and he didn’t: When my book came out and became a public-relations nuisance to him, he told reporters we’d never met.

Over the years, I’d heard bits and pieces about Gutfreund. I knew that after he’d been forced to resign from Salomon Brothers he’d fallen on harder times. I heard later that a few years ago he’d sat on a panel about Wall Street at Columbia Business School. When his turn came to speak, he advised students to find something more meaningful to do with their lives. As he began to describe his career, he broke down and wept.

When I emailed him to invite him to lunch, he could not have been more polite or more gracious. That attitude persisted as he was escorted to the table, made chitchat with the owner, and ordered his food. He’d lost a half-step and was more deliberate in his movements, but otherwise he was completely recognizable. The same veneer of denatured courtliness masked the same animal need to see the world as it was, rather than as it should be.

We spent 20 minutes or so determining that our presence at the same lunch table was not going to cause the earth to explode. We discovered we had a mutual acquaintance in New Orleans. We agreed that the Wall Street C.E.O. had no real ability to keep track of the frantic innovation occurring inside his firm. (“I didn’t understand all the product lines, and they don’t either,” he said.) We agreed, further, that the chief of the Wall Street investment bank had little control over his subordinates. (“They’re buttering you up and then doing whatever the fuck they want to do.”)

He thought the cause of the financial crisis was “simple. Greed on both sides—greed of investors and the greed of the bankers.” I thought it was more complicated. Greed on Wall Street was a given—almost an obligation. The problem was the system of incentives that channeled the greed.

But I didn’t argue with him. For just as you revert to being about nine years old when you visit your parents, you revert to total subordination when you are in the presence of your former C.E.O. John Gutfreund was still the King of Wall Street, and I was still a geek. He spoke in declarative statements; I spoke in questions.

But as he spoke, my eyes kept drifting to his hands. His alarmingly thick and meaty hands. They weren’t the hands of a soft Wall Street banker but of a boxer. I looked up. The boxer was smiling—though it was less a smile than a placeholder expression. And he was saying, very deliberately, “Your…fucking…book.”

I smiled back, though it wasn’t quite a smile.

“Your fucking book destroyed my career, and it made yours,” he said.

I didn’t think of it that way and said so, sort of.

“Why did you ask me to lunch?” he asked, though pleasantly. He was genuinely curious.

You can’t really tell someone that you asked him to lunch to let him know that you don’t think of him as evil. Nor can you tell him that you asked him to lunch because you thought that you could trace the biggest financial crisis in the history of the world back to a decision he had made. John Gutfreund did violence to the Wall Street social order—and got himself dubbed the King of Wall Street—when he turned Salomon Brothers from a private partnership into Wall Street’s first public corporation.

He ignored the outrage of Salomon’s retired partners. (“I was disgusted by his materialism,” William Salomon, the son of the firm’s founder, who had made Gutfreund C.E.O. only after he’d promised never to sell the firm, had told me.) He lifted a giant middle finger at the moral disapproval of his fellow Wall Street C.E.O.’s. And he seized the day. He and the other partners not only made a quick killing; they transferred the ultimate financial risk from themselves to their shareholders. It didn’t, in the end, make a great deal of sense for the shareholders. (A share of Salomon Brothers purchased when I arrived on the trading floor, in 1986, at a then market price of $42, would be worth 2.26 shares of Citigroup today—market value: $27.) But it made fantastic sense for the investment bankers.

From that moment, though, the Wall Street firm became a black box. The shareholders who financed the risks had no real understanding of what the risk takers were doing, and as the risk-taking grew ever more complex, their understanding diminished. The moment Salomon Brothers demonstrated the potential gains to be had by the investment bank as public corporation, the psychological foundations of Wall Street shifted from trust to blind faith.

No investment bank owned by its employees would have levered itself 35 to 1 or bought and held $50 billion in mezzanine C.D.O.’s. I doubt any partnership would have sought to game the rating agencies or leap into bed with loan sharks or even allow mezzanine C.D.O.’s to be sold to its customers. The hoped-for short-term gain would not have justified the long-term hit.

No partnership, for that matter, would have hired me or anyone remotely like me. Was there ever any correlation between the ability to get in and out of Princeton and a talent for taking financial risk?

Now I asked Gutfreund about his biggest decision. “Yes,” he said. “They—the heads of the other Wall Street firms—all said what an awful thing it was to go public and how could you do such a thing. But when the temptation arose, they all gave in to it.”

He agreed that the main effect of turning a partnership into a corporation was to transfer the financial risk to the shareholders. “When things go wrong, it’s their problem,” he said—and obviously not theirs alone. When a Wall Street investment bank screwed up badly enough, its risks became the problem of the U.S. government. “It’s laissez-faire until you get in deep shit,” he said, with a half chuckle. He was out of the game.

It was now all someone else’s fault.

He watched me curiously as I scribbled down his words. “What’s this for?” he asked.

I told him I thought it might be worth revisiting the world I’d described in Liar’s Poker, now that it was finally dying. Maybe bring out a 20th-anniversary edition.

“That’s nauseating,” he said.

Hard as it was for him to enjoy my company, it was harder for me not to enjoy his. He was still tough, as straight and blunt as a butcher. He’d helped create a monster, but he still had in him a lot of the old Wall Street, where people said things like “A man’s word is his bond.” On that Wall Street, people didn’t walk out of their firms and cause trouble for their former bosses by writing books about them. “No,” he said, “I think we can agree about this: Your fucking book destroyed my career, and it made yours.” With that, the former king of a former Wall Street lifted the plate that held his appetizer and asked sweetly, “Would you like a deviled egg?”

Until that moment, I hadn’t paid much attention to what he’d been eating. Now I saw he’d ordered the best thing in the house, this gorgeous frothy confection of an earlier age. Who ever dreamed up the deviled egg? Who knew that a simple egg could be made so complicated and yet so appealing? I reached over and took one. Something for nothing. It never loses its charm.
This brings me to my closing remarks. As I read about a public pension fund losing billions in Florida and how corporate pension deficits could double in the U.K. over the next few months, I think about the instrumental role that Wall Street played in screwing these pension funds by selling them all sorts of risky investments.

But what measures did these "prudent" pension fund managers take to limit the carnage? They "diversified" into "non-correlated" alternative assets that ended up fuelling this bubble even more. And now they are pointing fingers at greedy investment bankers who sold them all sorts of hyped up junk.

Interestingly, the pension crisis has spread as far as Nigeria, but at least their National Pension Commission had the foresight and wisdom to invest a good portion of their pension assets in good old government bonds:

But in terms of how this whole event is affecting the pension industry, we are lucky that when the National Pension Commission was putting together the investment guidelines for Pension Fund Administrators, the National Pension Commission was conservative in ensuring that most of the money did not go into equity investments that are more exposed to risk than other type of investments.

Rather investments mostly went into Federal Government bonds, treasury bills, and money market instruments. Even though equity market has gone down, the fact that the proportion of the portfolio is more in debt instruments which have not suffered this free fall similar to what happened in the equity market has actually mitigated the portfolio of pensioners from severe losses.

So to sum it all up, bankers are busy trying to shake down politicians to re-inflate the bubble, Wall Street's bust killed pension funds and is wreaking havoc on the real economy, and all the sophisticated risk management in the world couldn't beat the time tested wisdom that Nigeria's Pension Commission figured out using some common sense - that too much equity risk exposes pensioners to severe losses.

On my way home tonight, I was listening to Vermont Public Radio and they were talking about how Europeans want to introduce clawbacks for corporate executives who profited from phony profits.

I think it's time we introduce clawbacks for pension fund managers who profited from phony "alpha" based on bogus benchmarks in alternative investments and who still claim that more public and private equities and commercial real estate are needed to ensure the financial security of millions of retirees.

Enough of that bull already.

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