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April 22, 2009

How some Wall Street banks are suddenly profitable

Andrew Ross Sorkin writes in his New York Times column how the US markets have seen through the attempts by Wall Street banks to "to pull a bunny out of the hat" in their latest earnings reports.
Bank of America sold its shares in China Construction Bank to book a big one-time profit, but Ken Lewis heralded the results as “a testament to the value and breadth of the franchise.” Sydney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth professor of management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, also pointed out that Bank of America booked a $2.2 billion gain by increasing the value of Merrill Lynch’s assets it acquired last quarter to prices that were higher than Merrill kept them.

...Why can’t anybody read the room here? After all the financial wizardry that got the country — actually, the world — into trouble, why don’t these bankers give their audience what it seems to crave? Perhaps a bit of simple math that could fit on the back of an envelope, with no asterisks and no fine print, might win cheers instead of jeers from the market.

What’s particularly puzzling is why the banks don’t just try to make some money the old-fashioned way. After all, earning it, if you could call it that, has never been easier with a business model sponsored by the federal government. That’s the one in which Uncle Sam and we taxpayers are offering the banks dirt-cheap money, which they can turn around and lend at much higher rates.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private equity, venture capital and M&A deals in India. View free samples of Venture Intelligence newsletters and reports. Email the author at arun@ventureintelligence.in