Thursday, May 07, 2009

Who's after our banks? "Lowlife grave dancers."

It was one of those below-the-fold stories on the front page of the NY Times about some unfathomable business thing, but the time was late and I decided to read it anyway. Despite the headline: "As Investors Circle Ailing Banks, Fed Sets Limits." And despite the dateline: "Cainsville, Mo."

Good decision. There about in the middle of the story was a note that the same business vulture was circling Florida's own BankUnited, which is in deep trouble.

Even better was to plow to the end of the story and get the kicker (we old hacks know the last lines often are the second-best thing in a long story): It quoted J. Christopher Flowers, who's desperately rich and desperate to get much richer:

He has estimated his banking empire will one day earn at least a 35 percent return on banks it has bought in the United States. “I find it to be an extraordinary time to invest,” he said.

He was even more blunt when he spoke to an industry group in New York earlier this year. “Lowlife grave dancers like me will make a fortune,” he predicted.

Suddenly, I'm dubious that this is going to turn out well for the rest of us. A few of the super-rich of the world will do great for themselves, and we will think that we're doing better as the stock markets claw back a fair amount of what they've lost, and we'll lose resolve to make our economic system work better. And in a decade or so J. Christopher Flowers and his gang of hedgers will be too big to fail but failing anyway, and there we go again.

That story was on p. 1 of Wednesday's Times. On Thursday the Times had an editorial on the same topic, urging the Obama administration and the Fed not to relax rules about who can run banks. The editorial also said:

If you’ve had a nagging feeling that the banking mess is a colossal raw deal for taxpayers, consider the suspicion confirmed.

When they're bold enough to call themselves lowlife grave dancers, I'd say, Yes, raw deal for us.

Here are some more links on this topic, some rather technical.

Source: Two main bidding groups for BankUnited - South Florida Business Journal:

Confessing here that I hadn't paid much attention to BankUnited. I note now that its shares go for about a quarter these days. There's a commenter after the SoFla Business Journal article who says, "Folks in South Florida are so asleep there has not even been a run on the bank deposits."

Next is a newswire item from March 10 when BankUnited didn't file its reports to the SEC as required, and NASDAQ said it wasn't in compliance with rules to be listed.

Now excuse me please. The secretary of the treasury has an op-ed in the Times, and I'm going to read it to stave off the nightmares that otherwise would be disturbing my rest.

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