Friday evening when no one was supposed to pay attention, Google announced that Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt would sell 3.2 million of his shares in 2013, after having already sold 1.8 million in 2012—suddenly dumping 53% of his Google shares, though he’d sold practically nothing from 2008 through 2011. And Google’s reasons don’t make sense.
By now we should have gotten used to the odor emanating from banks—bailouts, money laundering, Libor rate-rigging, the other misdeeds. But in Europe over the last few days, it was particularly dense. “In this uncertain world, I cannot exclude anything,” said Deutsche Bank co-CEO reassuringly.
On January 22, 2012, French presidential candidate François Hollande shook up the banks: “It has no name, no face, no party, it will never be candidate, it will never be elected, yet it governs: that enemy is the world of finance,” he said. Freed “from all rules,” it “took control of the economy, of society, and even our lives.” He’d fight it, and promised tough reforms. But these days, you’d think he is being tutored by JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon.
“Repression” is what Richard Fisher, President of the Dallas Fed, called “the injustice of being held hostage to large financial institutions considered ‘too big to fail.’” He sketched out the destructive impact of these TBTF banks that, as “everyone and their sister knows,” were “at the epicenter” of the financial crisis. And he offered a “simple” plan for coming to grips with them. But he did something else: he defined BIG.
The National Federation of Independent Business tried to shock the world with its report that small-business owner optimism had plunged below the level of apocalyptic post-Lehman November 2008. A huge setback; small businesses are job creating machines. “Something bad happened, and it wasn’t Sandy,” said NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg. “It was the election.”
Especially of CEOs who parachute into the executive office. Wall Street’s knee-jerk reaction can be phenomenal. Citigroup’s massacre of 11,000 souls caused its stock to jump. But the same day, we learn that wages adjusted for inflation dropped 1.4% in the third quarter—a continuation of 12 years of declines that has hollowed out the middle class, pushed people into the lower classes, and devastated the poor.
During the off-hours on Sunday, when few people were willing to ruin whatever remained of their weekend and when even astute observers weren’t supposed to pay attention, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners approved new rules that would allow life insurance companies to lower their reserves for future claims—at the worst possible time—having already forgotten all about the financial crisis.
A Lehman Brothers kerfuffle erupted, this time in Germany, in broad daylight. With a stunning amount: up to €800 million ($1.04 billion) in fees for the insolvency administrator. It blows away the German record of €70 million. Hedge funds are raising a ruckus, on the surface to shame the insolvency administrator into backing off. It worked. Almost. But suddenly, there are new allegations—against the hedge funds.
Career Education, when it reported its quarterly results, shed light on an industry that had ruthlessly taken advantage of the American way of funding higher education, and that had preyed on gullible prospective students who were trying to better their lives. Then it handed the tab to the taxpayer. A perfect scam. Now the industry is in a vise between government crack-downs and reluctant students.
Two thermometers into the brains of corporate America plunged to depth not seen since the trough of the Great Recession when the US was losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month. One was based on responses from CEOs of America’s largest corporations; the other was based on responses from analysts who’d listened to their industry contacts. Just before Lehman, these people had exactly zero predictive capabilities. So, could they now have ulterior motives?