Did you ever have a friend who is in the know of what “everybody” or “they” say? You know the type. People who like to make broad arguments and assume it is universally supported by some mysteriously random authority.
I thought of this when reading a report in Crain’s this week of how, surprisingly, Citadel CEO Ken Griffin came out in support of Dodd-Frank. The problem is Griffin came out in support of Dodd-Frank months ago, a point we made at the time. And he is not the only one. Other managers and investment professionals have supported putting more restrictions on markets, particularly over-the-counter markets.
This illustrates a problem in modern reporting and perception. We can see a couple of industry leaders or lobbying groups speak out in support or against a new law or policy and jump to a conclusion that said law or policy is universally supported or opposed. We all are guilty of jumping to such conclusions, which are insipid because that is what certain groups want us to believe.
For example, keep on saying that a vast majority of Americans are against health care reform and soon people will believe you.
This really should have no place in reporting but too often it does. Whether it is about legislation, regulation or elections to often the “horse race” story prevails rather than analysis of the details of what is involved. We simply take a survey, and not a very scientific one at that.
I don’t mean to pick on Crain’s here, as their story acknowledges that the remarks were similar to those he made last September, but I think this is a good example of how those pushing an agenda can distort reality and create a false perception. The Chicago Fed event last September was a big deal. And a large and prominent hedge fund supporting a controversial regulatory overhaul was also a big deal. But despite this, it assumes universal opposition by large institutions and free market supporters.
Interactive Brokers boss Tom Peterffy spoket to this in our Top 50 Brokers feature when he stated that the large investment banks were trying to delay implementation of Dodd-Frank until they could gain political support and protect their profits. Peterffy stated in a speech to the World Federation of Exchanges: “The root of the problem, as always, is short-sighted greed on the part of the brokers. Transparent commissions are not enough for them. They want to take more from their customers but without the customers seeing exactly what it is that they are paying. This is done by what is called internalization, which is easiest to illustrate with OTC products. The banks simply take the opposite side of the customers' orders at prices that leave the banks with undisclosed but huge profits.”
He goes on to say that at times the banks convince counterparties it is in their best interest.
"How do they do this? What dark arts do they employ to maintain the status quo? I think their magic consists of such mundane things as million dollar paychecks to the salesmen, golf outings, tickets to games, dinners, Cuban cigars and probably some other blandishments that should not be discussed in polite company. And of course, the fact that most OTC derivatives "customers" are not playing with their own money. The customers are finance or investment staff that work for large corporations, state or municipal governments, pension funds and insurance companies. These end-user employees get to drink the fine wines, but it is the shareholders or taxpayers that pay for the overpriced derivatives.”
This is a vicious circle and the ones making the huge profits are able to convince the media that everyone involved supports the status quo.
Of course Citadel is on the other end of these OTC trades with investment banks, which is why Griffin would like to see a more level playing field. But there and parts of Dodd-Frank for most hedge funds to dislike, so it is easy to get the impression that the industry as a whole is against it in its entirety.
We all need to pay a little closer attention.