Speaking of financial regulation, here's Steve Pearlstein on the rise of "short-termism":
The roots of this short-termism go back to the 1980s, with the advent of hostile takeovers mounted by activist investors. This newly competitive "market for corporate control" promised to reinvigorate corporate America by replacing entrenched, mediocre managers with those who could boost profits and share prices. In theory, the focus was on increasing shareholder value; in practice, it turned out to mean delivering quarterly results that predictably rose by double digits to satisfy increasingly demanding institutional investors. Executives who delivered on those expectations were rewarded with increasingly generous pay-for-performance schemes.
As fund managers grew more demanding of the short-term performance of corporate executives, investors became more demanding of the short-term performance of fund managers. To deliver better returns, managers responded by moving money from bonds and blue-chip stocks to alternative investments -- real estate, commodities, hedge funds and private equity funds -- where there was more risk, higher leverage and bigger fees. In time, the managers of these alternative investment vehicles began looking for new strategies to improve their results, and Wall Street was only too willing to accommodate with a dizzying new array of products.
At times, it seemed to work spectacularly. During the late '80s, the late '90s, and again during the recent boom, investors earned record returns and corporate executives and money managers earned record pay packages. But after the bubble burst in each cycle, the gains to investors turned out largely to have been a mirage, while the gains of the executives and the money managers remained largely intact.
But this isn't mere carping. The Aspen Institute has a new paper on rolling back short-termism across corporate America. And this isn't just any new paper. This one's cosigned by "billionaire investors Lester Crown and Warren Buffett; mutual fund pioneer John Bogle; Richard Trumka, the soon-to-be new president of the AFL-CIO; present and former corporate chief executives Jim Rogers of Duke Energy, Lou Gerstner of IBM and Henry Schacht of Cummins; retired Wall Street hands John Whitehead of Goldman Sachs, Pete Peterson of the Blackstone Group and Felix Rohatyn of Lazard Freres; Marty Lipton, Ira Millstein and John Olson, the deans of the corporate bar; and respected academics such as Bill George of Harvard and Lynn Stout of UCLA."
Worth a read, I'd say.
September 11, 2009; 4:23 PM ET
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