In a year that included a rancorous presidential election campaign as well as global bank scandals uncovered seemingly every month, squeezing the largest influencers down to 20 was difficult. Although some may seem an extension of last year’s most influential, a number of the same problems on a global scale are proving to be intractable. One thing this year laid bare was a much more ominous trend that showed money and power trumps all. While still recovering from too-big-to-fail, we are learning that — at least in the banking world — there are some that are too-big-to-prosecute. Here is Futures’ top 20 most influential list of 2012.
BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States. In 2008 Barack Obama was a great story, but he benefited from being in the party out of power during a generational economic meltdown. He didn’t have that advantage in 2012, but managed to win re-election despite a slowly recovering economy and intense Congressional opposition.
ANGELA MERKEL, Chancellor of Germany. The economic travails of Eurozone economies have been like a broken record, with the only change being more member states moving to the “at risk” column. The one economy that has remained solid is Germany’s, making Merkel the most important player on the continent.
HU JINTAO/XI JINPING, current and future chief executive of China. When it comes to influence, like it or not, we need to get used to the Chinese being major players. U.S. debt and the price of commodities are among many issues on which China has had and will continue to have an impact, and transitions of power always have been tricky in totalitarian states.
NATE SILVER, blogger/pollster. Silver, who gained fame for creating a better system to evaluate baseball talent, turned his quantitative talents to politics and came under criticism and even ridicule for his predictions that President Obama would not only win the 2012 election, but would win with a significant Electoral College majority. His analysis was spot on, accurately predicting every toss-up state along with the rest and consequently reducing the influence of many political pundits.
SHELDON ADELSON, casino executive/political donor. Adelson acted first as former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s sugar daddy and then Mitt Romney’s sponsor. While you could argue the estimated $100 million he spent on the campaign to displace President Obama did not buy him the influence he wanted, any time a single individual can keep one candidate in the race through multiple primaries, he is exhibiting influence.
MARIO DRAGHI, President of the European Central Bank. Draghi took over the ECB at the end of 2011 and immediately oversaw a €489 billion ($640 billion) loan program to European banks. He has administered the ECB’s own quantitative easing program and wrestled with a number of solvency-challenged Eurozone members.
CONGRESS. While Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has contributed to political dysfunction by use of the filibuster and is the poster boy for Republican opposition, he and Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid helped fashion the fiscal cliff compromise after House Speaker John Boehner struck out in the House.
SUPERSTORM SANDY. It is rare for a hurricane to reach as far north as Sandy did, and it was a big one, causing an estimated damage of $62 billion and destroying thousands of homes on the Eastern seaboard. Sadly, its destruction also highlighted that even after 9/11, many trading firms had poor back-up plans and systems.
2012 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. Four years ago we commented on just how endless the 2008 election seemed. This election began pretty much after that one ended as the opposition ditched the honeymoon phase and got downright nasty.
BANKING SCANDALS. That many of the largest banks in the world consistently had been manipulating Libor (London Interbank Offered Rate) — the interest rate that is the base for nearly all interest rates — to create trading profits makes other scandals pale by comparison. But just when we thought we could not be shocked by the corruption and above-the-law attitude of major banks, it was revealed that HSBC had been laundering money for Mexican drug cartels and dealing with Iran in violation of sanctions over many years.
2012 DROUGHT. Grain trading volume flourished this summer as a major drought hit the U.S. breadbasket region, causing grain prices to soar. The drought caused price spikes across the grain complex in 2012 and likely will continue to push ag and livestock prices up in 2013.
JEFF SPRECHER, Chairman and CEO of Intercontinental Exchange. Sprecher has grown ICE from a small over-the-counter trading platform to a global trading juggernaut, especially with the purchase of the granddaddy exchange of them all: The New York Stock Exchange.
RUSS WASENDORF, Chairman and CEO of PFGBest. Wasendorf spent all his time trying to get a seat at the adult table, but it took us 20 years to find out that it was his customers’ money he was throwing around on his varied flights of fancy. He may not have made it as the biggest fraud, but he could qualify for the longest lasting one.
JON CORZINE, former Chairman and CEO of MF Global. While MF Global failed in 2011, the damage it caused the futures industry carried over to 2012, where customers still await funds and Corzine still hasn’t been prosecuted.
BEN BERNANKE, Chairman of the Federal Reserve. The dysfunctional politics of recent years leveraged higher in this election year meant that any stimulus for the economy would have to come through the Fed. Bernanke came through with QE3, but the low interest rate environment has impacted bond markets and trading volumes.
GARY GENSLER, Chairman of the CFTC. The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act has been difficult to implement and many rules have been tardy, but they are beginning to take shape and most of them have fallen on the CFTC and Chairman Gensler to execute. The agency also appeared to be ramping up its regular enforcement activity with a record number of enforcement actions.
WARREN BUFFETT, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett continued to be an outspoken advocate for raising taxes on top earners and argued against the notion that the wealthy will hide their money under their mattresses if taxes are too high. It is hard to fight his credentials when in Time Magazine’s “World’s 100 Most Influential People” Buffett’s entry was written by President Obama. How’s that for influence?
JAMES KOUTOULAS/JOHN ROE, co-founders of the Commodity Customer Coalition. As the MF Global debacle passed its one-year anniversary, Koutoulas and Roe continued to advocate on behalf of former MF Global customers and industry reforms, appearing before Congress to promote their reforms, including an insurance plan modeled after the Canadian regulatory regime. The CCC also stepped up for PFGBest customers after the unthinkable happened again.
JAMIE DIMON, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan. Whether Jamie Dimon had any responsibility to come before Congress and explain JPMorgan’s large proprietary trading loss because of JP’s so-called London Whale is a fair question, but that is no excuse for the bootlicking deference our elected leaders showed to this master of the universe. It was a disgrace (especially from those who in the past claimed to want to get to the bottom of the MF Global losses) as well as an indication of Dimon’s massive influence in places of power.