Week in review: Rogues, writedowns, and rot in London?

eFC logo

Spent all last week with your head in a spreadsheet? Here's what you missed.

Rogues, or more specifically rogue traders, were the talk of the town again, with the news that a rogue trader at MF Global had lost $141.5m in unauthorized trades. In a Schwarzenegger moment, the company said it had 'terminated' the employee, and promised to pay lower bonuses.

Not all traders are loss-making undesirables, however - the Wall Street Journal highlighted the example of Andrew J. Hall, an 'enigmatic' British oil trader at Phibro, a Citigroup trading unit, who's apparently been paid over $250m over the past five years.

Hector Sants would undoubtedly disapprove. The head of the FSA peeked over the parapet in the Guardian to claim big bonuses are bad and encourage risk taking.

Citigroup may, however, feel fortunate that Hall exists. While his unit made 10% of profits across the bank last year, the Wall Street Journal also reported that Citi's traders made daily losses of $100m on more than 15 occasions in 2007. Sensing something awry in the risk management system, Vikram Pandit, the bank's new chief exec, ousted incumbent chief risk officer Jorge Bermudez, and installed Brian Leach, a chum from Morgan Stanley.

Writedowns were also very present, even when roguish individuals were absent. AIG took the lead, with an $11bn sub-prime hit.

CIBC made what Bloomberg described as the second biggest loss in its 140 year history, following a C$2.3bn sub-prime-related writedown. Germany's

DZ bank made $2bn of writedowns and said there may be many more to come. RBS made a writedown of 1.6bn, not including ABN AMRO, but still managed to boost underlying profit by 9% on 2006.

The City of London showed signs of losing its lustre following the publication of a report suggesting its lead over New York was being eroded by Northern Rock and both high and erratic taxation. City AM ran various stories bemoaning the effects of the non-dom tax, including one claiming that 84% of wealthy hedge fund non-doms plan to leave the UK in two years, and another that 10,000 foreign investment bankers are planning to go somewhere cheaper soon.

Private equity demi-gods got together at their annual Munich conference to examine the problems that have befallen the industry since their last schmooze-fest. Jon Moulton started the event with the cheering thought that the leveraged buyout market will not exist, and Guy Hands declared sovereign wealth funds the new cash cows. Away from the doom and gloom, the Financial Times reported that leading private equity firms are raising tens of billions in new cash.

Hedge funds could be forgiven for hiding amongst the shrubbery. First it emerged that Hilary Clinton thinks hedge fund managers don't do real work. Then Bloomberg divulged that hedgies had their worst January for eight years. And on Thursday, it became apparent that one of London's most successful funds, Peloton Partners, had been thrust into a forced liquidation of its $1.8 billion ABS fund.

Russia and all things Russian proved a continuing hotbed of investment banking activity. Financial News reported that JPMorgan had appointed a new chief exec for Russia, reflecting its keenness on the country. Meanwhile, Russia-based Kit Bank is opening in London and plans to have 10 staff by the end of this year.

Daniel Bouton and Marcel Ospel, respectively the chief exec and chairman of SocGen and UBS, both managed to survive calls for their resignation. Ospel's head was called for at a rowdy emergency annual general meeting to approve UBS's decision to mainline cash from investors in Singapore and the Middle East. Ospel was heckled by angry shareholders, including several who, according to Bloomberg, demanded that UBS bonuses be repaid.

Bouton, meanwhile was targeted by no less than Nicholas Sarkozy, who pointed out that he was earning a lot of money and not taking responsibility for SocGen's woes. Bouton may be buying time: it emerged (via the Financial Times) that he'd sunk €1.5m of his own cash into the bank's emergency rights issue.

Goldman Sachs appointed Michael Sherwood, its most senior banker in London, as vice chairman of the entire bank. It also made its management committee nearly 60% bigger with the addition of four new members. As committee appointees, David Heller, Edward Eisler, Pablo Salame and Harvey Schwartz (who will also lead the all-important sales and trading division) should automatically get a 1% share of pre-tax earnings. It's a shame, therefore, that Bloomberg is also predicting a 23% fall in profits at the firm this year.

JPMorganCazenove suffered a knock when Robert Pickering, chief exec of the joint venture, resigned. The Wall Street Journal speculated that JPMorgan is about to get more assertive as Caz shows signs of enfeeblement.

Starbucks also struck a blow to any bankers hoping to make a new career out of frothy milk service. The Wall Street Journal reported that it had given 600 people the chop.