Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Why I long Citigroup

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(just in case, you never know these days...)

1. Citigroup is a bank deemed too large to fail. Heck, it has assets larger than the GDP of most countries, with 2 trillion worth of assets (unfortunately I must add, with 2 trillion worth of liability too). With 350,000 employees scattered all over the world from Bugis to as far away as Boon Lay, I'm sure they can clobber up a decent swim team to compete in the Olympics. A disappearance of Citigroup under our radar might spell the end of the modern world as we know it.

2. Oh...and 52,000 employees have been asked, politely I'm sure, to leave. Some may say this smacks of desperation, but I prefer to see it as aggressive cost-cutting.

3. Sorry people from the manufacturing industry, the financial industry, save for porn, is more important than any other in the world. GM can go on their knees and plead for all they want, and the US government just won't budge, but the same government did not hesitate to write a blank cheque to Citigroup in the blink of an eye. Some are just more equal than others.

4. How ironic that capitalism has created a peculiar state of affairs: profits are privatised, but losses are socialised. But that's the way it is these days. I am not here to moralise on the issue, but if you can't beat them, join them.

5. Citi is not AIG. The US Govt sacked the entire AIG board of directors (BOD), but gave a vote of confidence to Citi BOD. Robert Rubin and co have some serious connections.

6. It has a mega-business model that has proven to be hugely profitable in good times. Citibank is a brand which comes with certain prestige. To borrow a cliche from sports, form is temporary, but class is permanent.

7. Mark-to Market (MTM) accounting (fair value) might be scrapped when the ruling is up for review next year. In the event of that happening, the liquidity crisis might just vanish overnight.

8. When a $5 bill can buy you a stake in one of the largest corporations in the world, and have some change left over for a $2 chicken rice, this is an early Christmas gift presented to us by the bungling duo of Irrationality and Fear.

9. Vikram Pandit and various other directors have bought massively (US$8 million of personal wealth is quite a lot, to me anyway) into Citi shares. This apparent show of confidence is reassuring.

10. History never looks like history when you are living through it. It always
looks confusing and messy, and it always feels uncomfortable. It may look shitty now, but humankind from the beginning of time has seen off so many disasters, imagined or otherwise, that I'm sure this too will pass.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My old friend

I don't know exactly when, but I have almost completely lost focus in whatever I am supposed to do. I don't really know what hit me, but it must have been the day i inadventently let my old friend back into my life. I thought it was just a harmless chill-out, to catch up for old times' sake. After all, one needs a breather from time to time. But when the time came to bid goodbye, he feigned ignorance. I shouted at him in desperation. He just smiled.

I should have known better. Procrastination has found me out, and is now clinging onto me with a newfound fervour, as if to make up for lost time. Where once I could spend days poring through stochastic calculus, subscript by painful subscript, and actually admiring the level of mathematical abstraction that is being communicated in written text, I can only now stare blankly back at them. Where once I could eagerly devour technical articles on the complex subjects of financial derivatives, I can only wonder on the meaninglessness of it all. Where once I could wake up afresh in the morning and plan my day in exactitude, now the hours just melt into days, and days into weeks. I grieve at my lack of determination, and he sings softly into the air, "If the days they seem to fall through you, well just, let them go."

It does not help that no less an intellectual authority as Bertrand Russel once said, "The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time." In more enlightened days, to idle away was a sure sign of nobility, for only the aristocrats could afford to indulge in their whims and fancies. Lord Byron wrote Hours of Idleness in celebration of slouth. Hemingway and Fitzgerald spent a good portion of their lives frolicking in the French Riveira. But somewhere along the way, idleness fell out of favour--big time. With papers to chase and rat races to run in a never-ending cycle, it's as if all the world's a large treadmill, and we are just going through the motion, pounding away till the day our heart stop. How delightful.

In the midst of it all, it is difficult to say no to this charming blob of consciousness, this Procrastination, whoever he is (perhaps a subconscious rebellion of our modern times). He is an interesting companion, even in the worst of times. He has even equipped himself with a new technological tool, Youtube, which streams whatever video your consciousness demands at any moment. And from there, I was introduced to the comedic duo of David Mitchell and Robert Webb, whose Peep Show provided me with endless hours of laughter and pleasure.

He is an artful one. Music is the headiest of drugs, and he feeds me incessantly with a potent brew of Federic Chopin, Joy Division, and Magnetic Fields. And soon I am possessed with an otherworldly fervour to master the hauntingly relentless Scherzo No 1. And movies! Out of nowhere, I was brutally thrown a copy of Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep. I don't know, but the spectre of Charlotte Gainsbourg's Stephanie has been lingering in my mind since. Delicately devoid of makeup, she has an indescribable elegance, that certain "je ne sais quoi" that the French would say. Sometimes she looked so fragile and goofy that I wish I could just wrap her around my arms and tell her that everything's all right. But she's an independent spirit--she doesn't need that--and that's what so alluring about her. And she doesn't believe in marriages. There is just this vague familiarity about her where reel and real starts to blur. And that is the beauty of life, no?

Ok, another day gone to dust. Tomorrow will be a brand new day. I will get back my focus. I will rediscover the joys of mathematics. I will immerse myself in my studies. In the background, a familiar voice, ever so languorously, sings, "Yeah, yeah, yeah...tomorrow comes today."