Today is full of bad news for Wall Street. The New York Timesreports that the street is moving mid-paying jobs to middle America, and S&P has a new report out saying that the i-banking business is moving to a “less profitable, but somewhat lower risk, business model.”
The S&P analysts expect a decline of up to 10 percent in revenues this year relative to last year. They say, too, that new regulations aren’t banking’s biggest problem. The industry’s biggest problem, rather, is that the economy is weak, and even if it recovers, it won’t need as much of what Wall Street is selling: debt.
The best recent indication of Wall Street’s listlessness, though, is not in the financial press but in the Times‘s metro section.
Sunday, the paper reported that Goldman, as it moved into its new downtown office tower, has carefully centrally planned its little economy down to the last detail.
The i-bank owns the hotel across the street, because “Goldman employees visiting from out of town must sleep.” It also owns a nearby parking garage, as some of its employees must park. And Goldman has carefully selected the commercial tenants in its building to fit its workers’ needs, from optometry to flowers to wine.
The first peculiarity about this tale is Goldman’s startling lack of faith in the free market.
Do not the Goldman honchos think that independent private-sector companies, in pursuit of profits, could shelter, flower, and intoxicate Goldman-ites without top-down interference from a HQ that should have better things to do?
An Adam Smith philosophy this is not.
The second peculiarity is what all of this master planning says about Goldman’s focus. Capital is (theoretically) scarce (yes, suspend disbelief for a moment).
Yet Goldman has chosen to tie up some of its supposedly valuable capital on a hotel. That decision indicates that Goldman couldn’t think of anything better to do with its money — hardly a comforting thought for shareholders.
Indeed, as the S&P folk say, “it is difficult to envisage the industry earning materially more than its cost of capital.”
Maybe it’s time to hike prices in the mini-bar. Oh, wait — that won’t work.
The i-banking industry can’t break out of the insular world it’s created for itself.