Wednesday 1 October 2008

Suckers 0, Masters of the Universe 4

I worked in the City for more than 25 years but never received a mega-bonus, and could have been relied upon to invest it unwisely if I had.

The only major gain I ever made on the stock market was selling a load of Railtrack shares at their absolute peak. This was a pure fluke because no bank would lend me the money I needed to raise at the time. Otherwise I would have hung onto them all the way down. Just as I have this week written off my investment in Bradford & Bingley, which I could once have unloaded for over £1,300.

On the other hand, the shares were handed to me for nothing and I collected almost £300 in dividends along the way, so who am I to complain?

Such laid-back indolence is definitely not the hallmark of the successful investment banker, who is always hungrily on the lookout for ways to make himself unfeasibly rich. In the Tory years it was all about enticing thrusting entrepreneurs and sleepy mutuals into floating their businesses on the stock market, then enlarging them through costly takeover bids.

When that could go no further there were deals to be done creating focus through demergers, or taking public companies private.

There is no point even hoping that the current financial crisis will see the investment banking industry getting its richly deserved come-uppance. Yes, some may need to find new careers growing organic food on their hobby farms, and bonuses will not be what they were. But where does the Government need to turn for expensive advice on how to nationalise a former building society? You’ve got it in one.

The same organisations that so many business people will soon be asking for advice on how to downsize, restructure and buy their assets back cheaply from the receivers. And so the merry-go-round will continue until things pick up again and the bankers scent an opportunity to unload shares in these slimmed-down businesses onto the children of British Gas’s Sid.

Perhaps it will not always be true that there is no new thing under the sun, and that investment bankers have permanent rights to the mastery of the universe. But, as of today, it still looks the way to bet.

Keith Hann is a financial PR consultant who eschews (does he mean exudes? – Ed) bitterness.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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