JIM CREES: Banking debacle comes as a surprise?

The recent J.P. Morgan trading debacle is just one more chapter in a continuing saga of banking and investment scandals that has been rocking this country for years.

What started off as a $2 billion trading glitch seems to have turned into a $4 billion burp, evolved into a $6 billion error, and now potentially has morphed into a $7 billion anomaly.

Now, J.P. Morgan Chase’s CEO Jamie Dimon is suggesting it’s no big thing. He says the spectacular multi-billion investment blunder will probably be be little more than a miniscule historical footnote by year’s end.

Nobody will care.

Dimon’s probably right.

Still, think back … just a few months.

Some of you may have read about the guy who bailed out of a great job at the investment firm Goldman Sachs, and did so rather dramatically.

Greg Smith, a vice president tucked away in the Goldman Sachs corporate structure, left the company after writing an opinion piece that was published prominently on the editorial page of the New York Times.

He exposed the rotten business culture that permeates the company, and basically said he left after being worn out by the greed and avarice so openly displayed in the corridors of corporate power.

Smith described Goldman as a corporation that made money not for its investment clients, but often at the expense of those same investors.

He discussed the disparaging language used by investment fund managers to describe those who trusted them with their money. Investors, according to Smith, were referred to as “muppets” — someone to be manipulated to the company’s greatest advantage.

The affect of Smith’s letter was tough on Goldman Sachs, but the response was swift.

“Who me????” asked upper management. “Not us!!”

“We are nothing if not concerned about our clients, and we are all about building up, not tearing down.”

And with that, after taking a pretty substantial hit in the profit category, the attack on all and anything even mildly anti-Goldman began — especially on Smith, the erstwhile employee who blew the whistle.

Forbes magazine went ballistic calling Smith’s letter “opportunistic” and suggesting that the Times printed his letter because they were “ … desperate to be relevant amid an evolution of media that makes its footprint smaller by the day.”

Within days, Goldman Sachs had been transformed by friends and supporters into a poor beleaguered American company just trying to do the right thing and under assault by some scruffy, angry anarchist.

What a spin.

Goldman is one of those companies that picked up tens of billions of dollars in the economic bailout, then turned around and paid hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonues to lower level employees, and millions to the guys at the top.

The Times describes “ … stacks of $100,000 checks ($100,000 being the biggest single-check amount the firm’s payroll system could process).”

It was also noted, “Last year, Goldman set aside $12.2 billion to pay compensation and benefits for its 33,300 employees. That total, which comes out to around $367,000 per person, may seem excessive.”

Indeed, but then back in 2006, before the economic poop really hit the fan, Lloyd C. Blankfein, the firm’s chief executive, took home a $68 million bonus. (Yes. $68,000,000!)

So what?

Well, let’s take a look at some other numbers.

In December 2008, just as the economic crisis was really hitting, Goldman Sachs announced it would be paying $14 million in taxes worldwide. That was after the company made $2.3 billion profit. Fourteen million in taxes may seem like a lot of money, but not when compared to the $6 billion it had paid out in 2007.

See … in 2007 Goldman’s effective tax rate was reduced to 1 percent. ONE PERCENT! (How much do you pay?)

It dropped to 1 percent from 34.1 percent the previous tax cycle, due to tax credits and, according to Goldman Sachs, “changes in geographic earnings mix” thus reducing the company’s tax obligation.

In other words, they shifted assets out of the country to avoid paying taxes. (Bloomberg News: “Goldman Sachs’s Tax Rate Drops to 1 percent, or $14 million,” Dec. 16, 2008.)

“Many critics argue that the reduction in Goldman Sach’s tax rate was achieved by shifting its earnings to subsidiaries in low- or no-tax nations. Goldman Sachs had 28 such subsidiaries at the time, including 15 in the Cayman Islands.” (The Nation: “8 Corporations That Owe You Money,” Feb. 3, 2011)

And they said Smith is toxic?

The New York Daily News says he’ll have a hard time finding a job after spilling the beans on Goldman Sachs.

He certainly will have a hard time getting a job in any company thriving in the rotten environment that is Wall Street — like Goldman Sachs or J.P. Morgan Chase.

He will have a tough time finding work with the people who are leaching money out of the American economy driven by nothing more than greed.

But there are a lot of jobs out there he could get — honest work, for honest pay.

Leave a Reply