Thursday, April 29, 2010

"Nothing But Costs"

In a recent article, Jeremy Grantham calls raising fees in the investment industry actually is a "raid" of the balance sheet of investors.

"If we [the investment industry] raise our fees from 0.5 percent to 1 percent, we actually raid the balance sheet. We take 0.5 per cent from what would have been savings and investment and turn it into income and GDP. In other words, you're taking money that would have become capital and chewing it up as bankers' bonuses." - Jeremy Grantham

Good to hear someone from inside the industry be straightforward about this kind of stuff.

As recently as the 1960's financial services was ~2% of GDP while today it is above 6%. Late last year after pointing out this fact to some senior level bankers, Paul Volcker said:

"Is that a reflection of your financial innovation, or just a reflection of what you're paid?"

The individual money manager someone hires may or may not do a good job but collectively the industry is "nothing but costs". These frictional costs literally subtract capital from the system and convert it into income.

"What is Wall Street supposed to do? It's not a creator of wealth. It's a handmaiden to creators of wealth. It occupies an essentially parasitic, but usefully parasitic relationship with the rest of the society. It's totally out of control. It's not making America a great place; it's making America a worse place right now." - Michael Lewis in this Bloomberg article

Usefully parasitic but like Volcker says, all the so-called "financial innovation" has gotten a bit expensive relative to GDP. More importantly, it's expensive relative to the value it actually adds to society.

A hidden tax on capital development.


Related post:
Bogle: History and the Classics
When Genius Failed...Again

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