Rich Marin is big. For more than three decades, he dominated Wall Street, creating some of the industry’s most exotic investments, making billions for his clients, and millions for himself. One of his minions blew a hole in the side of Bankers Trust, a firm Mr. Marin helped transform into a derivatives powerhouse, and still he held on for the ride, becoming the youngest managing director ever at the bank. It all came crashing down five years ago, when the hedge funds he oversaw at Bear Stearns imploded. The rest of the world followed within the year. But there was Mr. Marin, standing amid the wreckage, helping rescue an overzealous Israeli diamond magnate who had plowed $3 billion into prime U.S. real estate just as the frothing market froze over. He rescued the firm, only to be unceremoniously fired two years to the day after he joined.
Now Rich Marin wants to build the world’s largest ferris wheel—in Staten Island, naturally—and the mayor just gave him his blessing.
Did we mention he is big? At the announcement of the project last Thursday, Mr. Marin absolutely dwarfed Mayor Bloomberg and Senator Chuck Schumer, along with the other dignitaries gathered at the ferry terminal. But despite his imposing size—he stands 6-foot-5 and is built like an offensive lineman—Mr. Marin is probably one of the gentlest people on the Street. Were he a real bear, rather than having worked for one, Mr. Marin would be not a grizzly but a teddy. This may help explain his turbulent career.
We learned a lot in the Businessweek profile on Alexander Rovt, the Ukrainian fertilizer billionaire who’s been making huge, all-cash investments into American real estate lately (he spent $303 million to acquire a majority stake in the Banker’s Trust building this April). Mr. Rovt should not be confused with Russian fertilizer billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who spent $88 million on a penthouse at 15 CPW.
Last week, Progressive Insurance had the biggest social media #FAIL of its history when it decided to engage Matt Fisher, a young Brooklyn comedian who wrote a Tumblr post accusing the auto insurance agency of refusing to pay out the premium on his sister’s policy after she was killed in a car accident. In fact, Progressive went so far as to list itself with the defendant of the case in a civil suit.
Now, insurance companies do shady shit all the time. That’s why they are insurance companies an are run by guys who look like Ted Bundy with capped teeth. But they usually aren’t stupid. Yet Progressive’s reaction to Mr. Fisher’s claim wasn’t just to send out a press release saying how sorry they were for the unfortunate turn of events, but actually take to Twitter, where they launched a robo-tweet campaign claiming their innocence at anyone who tried to say otherwise.
This, obviously, did not have great results.
Goldman Sachs has become, in certain circles, a punching bag for demagogues and panderers who would have you believe that the firm somehow symbolizes all that critics dislike about global capitalism in general and Wall Street in particular.
Goldman deserves better, but that’s another argument for another time. For now, it is important to note the firm now has a financial stake in reforming New York’s criminal justice system. It’s the sort of public-private policy initiative that ought to be encouraged at all levels of government, particularly as states and municipalities continue to struggle with budget deficits.
From outside the elite preserves of the financial industry, Britain’s LIBOR scandal follows a wearily familiar narrative arc: Yes, a leading investment bank has confessed to gaming a central borrowing index—the so-called London Interbank Offered Rate, which establishes how much banks charge each other to borrow money. And yes, that bank—Barclays of London—has coughed up 290 million pounds in fines to stave off the prospect of a criminal prosecution. But jaded consumers of financial news can be forgiven for thinking that this all amounts to the perennial status quo for the investment class, in the city and on Wall Street alike. Haven’t these characters always sought to live by their own self-seeking code—and haven’t fund managers long been little more than glorified corruptionists? If we systemically prosecute this sort of behavior, are we just futilely attempting to issue a restraining order against human nature?
In reality, the LIBOR dustup is a very big deal—and largely because of its very routine profile.
It’s the ages-old question: Do people who abuse protected speech—for really no good reason—really deserve it? And is anyone on fair ground to even ask that kind of thing?
WATCH THE THRONE
Goldman Sachs president and COO Gary Cohn—who many consider to be next in line for Lloyd Blankfein’s job, assuming he isn’t immortal—has a novel idea about Goldman Sach’s place in the press: To stay out of it. Which he said on television this morning.
PRINCES OF THE UNIVERSE
Much has been made of Lloyd Blankfein’s comments this morning during a speech in front of the Economic Club of Chicago, where the Goldman Sachs chief executive discussed matters like the Euro crisis, the future of the financial services industry, and why Goldman Sachs is (supposedly) bullish on China.
And then there was his aside about sticking around at Goldman.
In the days leading up to JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s bombshell announcement of $2.3 billion in trading losses, chairman and chief executive officer Jamie Dimon faced a delicate predicament. His executives had scheduled visits with banking analysts to discuss the state of affairs at JPMorgan—the company whose stock Mr. Dimon knew was sure to plummet when news of the trading losses were disclosed. These weren’t just any trading losses, of course; they were losses incurred on credit derivatives bets placed by a mysterious trader nicknamed the London Whale and Voldemort by the financial press. And it wasn’t just any bet—it was the same trading position that Mr. Dimon had described as “a complete tempest in a teapot” not one month previous.
“On the inside, Dimon must have been trying to figure out what was happening with the trade, and what to do about it,” said Frank Partnoy, a former Morgan Stanley investment banker, currently a law professor at the University of San Diego. “It’s like he has an inside personality, and an outside personality that he shows the world, and the two things must have been in conflict, like what politicians deal with when they’re handling a crisis.”
Occupy Wall Street
You can still see traces of the Occupy Wall Street encampment that once stood in Zuccotti Park—a contingent of police officers by the plaza’s entrance and an NYPD watchtower standing guard on Zuccotti’s
northern edge. However, the protesters who made this park their home before being evicted by the police last November are largely gone and the news trucks that formerly stationed themselves outside have departed in favor of a Chabad Mitzvah Tank.
On a recent afternoon at Zuccotti, The Observer encountered handful of tourists and businessmen on lunch breaks but there was nary a demonstrator in sight. At nearby Federal Hall, there were about 11 Occupiers holding signs and sitting on the steps. On the street below, workers were seemingly oblivious to the Occupiers in their midst.
“You’re a Republican?” a suited man asked his friend as they briskly passed by. “Good man!”
Seven months into the movement, the Wall Street that protesters are ostensibly trying to occupy has become inured to the spectacle of carnivalesque protests, demonstrators sleeping on sidewalks and mass arrests. And it seems the rest of the city has too. The protesters are in danger of becoming just another discordant note in the daily din that New Yorkers are so adept at tuning out, like panhandlers, street performers, sidewalk preachers and the other distractions of urban life.