The Blame’s on ThainAfter a startling $9 billion dollar write-down, everyone is piling on Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain.
Citigroup Posts $2.5 Billion LossA lot of big news at the banks today — but there’s also crazy stuff going down with Jeff Zucker, Dan Rather, Brooke Astor (from beyond!), and Barack Obama, in our daily industry roundup.
Fifty Cent’s Baby Mama Will Get Rich or Die Tryin’The battle between 50 Cent and Shaniqua Tompkins rages on, Columbia bulldozes most of the Upper West Side, more big changes at the Murdoch-owned ‘Wall Street Journal,’ and other epic battles, in our daily roundup of news from the law, real-estate, media, and finance sectors.
John McCain Brings All the Billionaires to the YardJohn McCain is coming to New York next Tuesday for a giant fund-raiser to power his national campaign, reports Elizabeth Benjamin at the Daily News. It sounds like it’s going to be a doozy — the host committee includes Henry Kissinger, Alfonse D’Amato, Woody Johnson, Georgette Mosbacher, and Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain. Tickets are either $1,000 or $2,300 per person (get it? The most you can donate to one candidate?), and it will take place at the Plaza. So glamorous. But let’s get down to business (literally). How many billionaires will be in attendance? And how many billions do they represent? From Forbes.com’s most recent list, we count five: Henry Kravis (the world’s 178th-richest man, worth $5.5 billion), Ray Dalio (worth $4 billion), Louis Bacon (worth $1.7 billion), Marc Rowan (worth $1.5 billion), and Robert Fisher ($1.4 billion). That’s a total of over $14 billion in the room with the Republican presidential nominee. There are several dozen other multimillionaires on the list, plus Lord knows how many buying tickets — so we’ll conservatively push that number over the $15 billion barrier. At first, we wondered how on earth any of the Democrats could get that much money into one room. And then we remembered that all Hillary needs to do is have Warren Buffet hold another fund-raiser, and she’d be in the company of quadruple that amount. Nobody else would even need to show up.
CEO Astrology: Reading the Stars for Barry Diller, John Thain, Chuck Prince, and Steve SchwarzmanMany of you know celebrity astrologer Susan Miller as the uncannily accurate predictor of your fate. You’re in good company: She’s got A-listers like Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom paying her to do their charts and gets fifteen million page views a month on her Website, Astrologyzone. She’s asked to analyze the stars for actors, musicians, and starlets all the time — but when we got the chance to talk with her, we wanted to know what the future holds for a group of guys even nearer and dearer to our heart. Guys like embattled IACCEO Barry Diller, Blackstone CEO Steven Schwarzman, ousted Citigroup CEO Chuck Prince, and Merrill Lynch newbie John Thain. After all, these people have much more power to wreak havoc in our lives if the stars choose not to shine on them. After the jump, read Miller’s uncannily prescient analysis (it would be more precise if she knew the times of day they were born) and learn what warnings these four financial powerhouses need to heed if they want to come out of 2008 on top.
Thay It Ain’t So! Merrill Chief Loses Part of BonusFINANCE
• The falling market has shaved off a big chunk of Wall Street hottie John Thain’s compensation. Don’t worry, Thainie-boy, we still love you. [DealBook/NYT]
• Wondering what the hell’s happening in the markets? Watch one trader lose his life savings in a single day. (NSFW) [Crossing Wall Street]
• Ex–Goldman banker becomes underwater gravedigger. Say what? [NYT]
John Thain Keeps His Cool, Continues to Be Hot Our new boyfriend, Zeppelin-loving new Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain, seems to be keeping his cool remarkably well, despite his firm’s announcement yesterday that it was writing down $14.6 billion and lost nearly $10 billion, which caused its stock to drop 10 percent and fueled the growing perception that the economy is, or is about to be, in the shitter. But why shouldn’t he be calm? After all, “I didn’t cause this problem,” he told the Journal today. But he does plan to solve it: by expanding international operations, and adopting some of the hierarchical strategies of his former employer, Goldman Sachs. Thain’s hired Noel Donahue to run risk management and hopes to hire former Goldman co-head of sales and trading Tom Montag (no relation to Heidi). “The problem is not a zero, but it is for the most part behind us,” Thain told the Journal. Can Thain, with his Clark Kent good looks and cool-headed fixer attitude, transform into Superman, steer Merrill back on course, and save us all? We kind of think maybe. Oh, and there’s good news for media Chicken Littles, too: The Journal didn’t bring up the poop incident, which we take to mean that Rupert Murdoch hasn’t wrapped his soft hands around their editorial coverage just yet.
Merrill’s Risk Manager [WSJ]
Related: Setting The Story Straight On The Merrill Bonus Rage [Dealbreaker]
Related:Who Is NYSECEO John Thain? [NYM]
Can John Thain’s Hotness Save Merrill Lynch?Merrill Lynch lost $9.8 billion in the fourth quarter, the brokerage announced this morning. As with many of the other lenders reeling from mortgage mess, this is the firm’s biggest quarterly loss since it was founded, which, in Merrill’s case, was 94 years ago. In a scary bit of synchronicity, new Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain used the exact same words Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit used the other day when his firm lost nearly $10 billion. The results are “clearly unacceptable,” they said. Yeah. Remember in It’s a Wonderful Life when Uncle Billy lost $8,000 and the Bailey Brothers Savings and Loan nearly went under? That was unacceptable. This is way worse. But on the bright side, Thain, who replaced recently deposed Stan O’Neal, has lately brought in some liquidity by selling a commercial-finance unit and almost $13 billion worth of capital investments overseas. “We’re very confident that we have the capital base now that we need to go forward in 2008,” he said in the conference call this morning. Well, he should be confident. After all, he is hotter than his predecessor, which, according to a recent study, bodes well for his success.
Live-Blogging The Merrill Earnings Conference Call [WSJ]
Merrill Posts Steep 4Q Loss [AP]
Ellen Dethrones Oprah, Finally Has a Real Reason to DanceMEDIA
• Ellen beat Oprah as the nation’s favorite TV personality, dethroning the Queen of Talk who held the top spot for five years. [HR]
• Will Schwalbe quit Hyperion after seven years as editor-in-chief. His decision seems to have come as something of a shock, and the publisher has no immediate successor planned. Schwalbe, co-author of Send, the recent guide to e-mail etiquette, won’t divulge his own plans. [NYO]
• Christopher Hitchens quits smoking! Really, we’re excited and interested! [Radar]
Merrill Lynch CEO Asks Jeff Kronthal to Bring It Oh no he didn’t! In what looks like a fuck-you to his predecessor, new Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain has announced he is hiring back Jeff Kronthal, one of six top trading executives former CEO Stan O’Neal fired back in the summer of 2006, reportedly after they resisted his directive to increase risk-taking by underwriting mortgage-backed securities. O’Neal, of course, was fired himself this past November for precisely that — his enthusiasm for the subprime poison apple left Merrill with record losses. Awesomely, Kronthal’s new role at Merrill will be fixing the mess his old boss made; he’s been hired, according to Merrill co-pres Gregory Fleming, to “advise on the firm’s fixed-income business and risk management.” The job is temporary — Kronthal has his own hedge fund launching in mid-2008 — but the gesture is still meaningful, as many have said that had Kronthal and the other sacked fixed-income veterans not left, the bank might not be in the shape it is today. According to the Journal, Kronthal received a standing ovation when he appeared on a Merrill trading floor yesterday. Basically, it’s kind of like the second half of that seminal film Bring It On, after high-school cheerleading squad the Rancho Carne Toros are embarrassed by their spirit-fingers performance, and Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst) takes control back from Courtney and Whitney and leads the squad to victory with an original routine. Go Merrill!
Kronthal to Return As Merrill Advisor [WSJ]
Cravath’s Good Ol’ Boys Miss the Good Ol’ DaysLAW
• One old lawyer reminisces about his time at Cravath in the fifties and speculates on why big law used to be — used to be? — such a man’s world: “Obviously, male bigotry played a major role. But I think something else was involved — an attempt to protect certain values that mattered greatly to the practitioners of that time. They wanted a workplace free of the messiness of male-female relations. They liked to say, ‘Yes, sir,’ and ‘No, sir,’ and be done with it. Women might bring distractions: flirtations, gossip, dating. No more male bonding.” Aw ! [American Lawyer]
• Everyone’s talking about Robert Morgenthau stepping down after 33 years as Manhattan D.A.— except Robert Morgenthau. [NYT]
• NYU Law School listserv smackdown! First e-mail: “I decided to compile a list of the easiest professors at NYU Law for those of us who: 1. Want an easy A, and 2. Don’t care about the grade and just want a B without doing a thing.” Second e-mail: “Does your mom still teach here? Because I heard that she’s REALLY easy.” Third e-mail: “If you came to NYU Law school thinking to take shortcuts to get easy As as opposed to taking classes that you would find challenging and helpful to your understanding of law practices, here’s my nugget of advice: save the money and go to a state law school.” Fourth e-mail: “We come to NYU to take made-up classes like ‘Jesus & the Constitution,’ ‘Inter-Animal Contracts,’ and ‘International Law.’ Coming to NYU for anything other than intellectual masturbation or an easy job is a waste of money.” [Above the Law]