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As Europe Watches Wall Street Fall, Schadenfreude Gives Way to Worry

most of all, the events of the weekend and Monday capped months of growing doubt about the so-called American model of investment banking.

"In Europe, there's a prevailing sense that the business model of the free-standing, highly leveraged investment bank that funds itself in the wholesale financial markets is virtually kaput," said Willem H. Buiter, a professor at the London School of Economics.

"The pure investment bank was an American specialty," he added. "But we've now seen three major American investment banks go down, so this model looks like a weakness, not a strength in a down market." [...]

"The average European has a view that Wall Street is an extremely powerful center, and thinks finance is a pejorative word," said Charles Wyplosz, director of the International Center for Monetary and Banking Studies in Geneva. "A number of people will use it to say the U.S. model of capitalism isn't working."

Within the world of banking itself, there have been longstanding differences between the European and American approaches.

While traditional "universal" banks like Deutsche Bank and UBS have long dominated the Continent, brash independent Wall Street investment banks like Lehman, Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch muscled in on more profitable sectors like trading and underwriting in recent years, both in the United States and around the globe.

Over the last two decades, the European banks have made costly attempts to emulate the investment banking model. UBS bought Dillon Read and Paine Webber and Deutsche Bank acquired Bankers Trust.

With the disappearance of Bear and Lehman, and the absorption of Merrill into Bank of America, it appears that the European model has triumphed for the time being.

In the wake of the events this weekend, "I've heard people saying, `I told you so,' arguing the European universal model is better," Mr. Wyplosz said.

A Sense That Wall St.'s Boom Times Are Over

Borrowed money kept the lights on at investment banks like Lehman, because such pure investment banks do not have the consumer deposit base. [...]

Already, Wall Street firms are reducing their debt levels, and regulators are expected to create new rules about leverage, liquidity and capital levels. The rules, if strict, could force Goldman and Morgan Stanley [the two remaining major American investment banks] to merge with a bank that has customer deposits, a steady source of capital, and thus is buffered from collapse.



A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns
by Alexander on Tue Sep 16th, 2008 at 11:11:10 AM EST
Thanks, Alexander. The NYT article seems to me to show several kinds of spin, the main point of which is to affirm as conventional wisdom that all or "average" Europeans (one supposes the UK is not included?) distrust and oppose the United States (in the economic field in this case).

Yet (one of the kinds of spin) it seems from the article that the American financial system boils down to the local speciality of the stand-alone investment bank. This is damage limitation: keep the discussion limited to the one specific sector you can't deny is screwed, and don't wander off it (if another sector goes bust tomorrow, do the same). Anyway, the difference between Europe and America in the matter of finance is the stand-alone investment bank.

The main thrust of the comments from Europeans comes from raging neo-liberal* Charles Wyplosz:

Despite the possibility of more pain to come, the news from New York also confirmed some of the darker suspicions many ordinary Europeans have long held about Wall Street and its outsize influence.

"The average European has a view that Wall Street is an extremely powerful center, and thinks finance is a pejorative word," said Charles Wyplosz, director of the International Center for Monetary and Banking Studies in Geneva. "A number of people will use it to say the U.S. model of capitalism isn't working."

We have it on Wyplosz' word that there is such a thing as an average European, and that s/he considers Wall St a powerful centre, well whaddayou know. Ah, but darkly hates and mistrusts "finance". Next, an apparent non-sequitur: "will use it", what does "it" mean? Use the crisis of US capitalism to say it isn't working?

With the disappearance of Bear and Lehman, and the absorption of Merrill into Bank of America, it appears that the European model has triumphed for the time being.

In the wake of the events this weekend, "I've heard people saying, `I told you so,' arguing the European universal model is better," Mr. Wyplosz said. "I'm not sure I buy that."

Here, Wyplosz serves to qualify, throw doubt on, the possibility that the European model (of investment banking, let's not get carried away) might appear to be "triumphing". Wyplosz doesn't buy it of course. Because, once again, this article is about pretending there's a pissing-match going on, while limiting the damage due to the fact that one of the adversaries has suffered an amputation.

* And Charles Wyplosz, if you want to get an idea, was an advisor to the French Prime Minister when he wrote this hit-piece about Europe in 2005.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Sep 16th, 2008 at 12:28:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for putting that into context, afew: I wasn't familiar with Wyplosz, but suspected he is a neoliberal, given his "I'm not sure I buy that."

As you show, the article aims to minimize damage done to perceptions of the Anglo-Saxon model. Still, I find it interesting that it does mention that an alternative (European) model exists, even if it gives the impression that that only applies to banking. As far as I know, the British business press has for some time not considered the Continental model as even worth mentioning, except to berate the few hold-outs for not getting with the program. For example, the FT article you quote from observes:

one thing is now quite clear: the banking system as we know it has failed.

The banking system as the Anglophone business press knows it has failed. The still-extant "traditional" European banking system has not. But unlike the NY Times, the FT doesn't bother to note that.

If anyone has run across articles in the British press noting that the disappearance of three out of five independent American investment banks might mean that the European (banking) model is superior, I'd be interested to see that.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Tue Sep 16th, 2008 at 01:07:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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