Thursday, July 16, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

toxic – adjective

1. Undervalued; worthy of investment.

USAGE: Taxpayers might enjoy a substantial return from their purchase of toxic assets.

2. Donable; charitable.

USAGE: The toxic chemicals were deposited in poverty-stricken areas.

COMMENT: Over at WhoWhatWhy, I explain why the terms "troubled assets" and "toxic assets" deceive.

Friday, March 13, 2009

goal-driven – adjective

Propelled by, but not necessarily directed towards achieving, a goal.

[See also "purpose-driven."]

USAGE: The President articulated a goal-driven plan for peace in the Middle East.

COMMENT: Activities require goals in the way that cars require fuel. When something is described as "goal-driven," it's analogous to describing a car as "ethanol-driven"—i.e. it's powered by ethanol, not directed towards or productive of, ethanol.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

bonus – noun

A retainer paid to an employee to avoid having to replace him with someone even more incompetent.

I would not be doing my job if I did not directly advise you of my grave concern about the long-term consequences of the actions we are taking today. On the one hand, all of us at AIG recognize the environment in which we operate and the remonstrations of our President for a more restrained system of compensation for executives. On the other hand, we cannot attract and retain the best and brightest talent to lead and staff the AIG businesses—which are now being operated principally on behalf of the American taxpayers—if employees believe that their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury.

—From a letter by AIG CEO Edward Liddy to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

salary – noun

A form of monetary compensation that supplements an employee's bonus.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

performance-based – adjective

Grounded in diverting an audience through dramatic or artistic action; for show.

USAGE: In Washington and around the country, a second round of “reinventing government” initiatives should be launched to transform public agencies into performance-based organizations. -- Rahm Emanuel

Monday, March 9, 2009

road map – noun

A diagram of roadways used by travelers to find circuitous routes to their destinations—including scenic detours, rest stops, eateries, and tourist attractions—or to change their itineraries mid-trip.

USAGE: President Bush unfolded a road map for peace in the Middle East.
The idea of a "road map" for Israeli-Palestinian peace was not entirely an invention of President George W. Bush, but was in fact his response to a request by Jordan's King Abdullah in a White House conversation. After their official talk, according to another person in the room, King Abdullah said, "What we need is a road map." Bush then turned to Assistant Secretary of State for the Near Bast William Burns and said, "He wants a road map. Can we give him a road map?"

COMMENT: If peace were the chief goal of peace negotiations, then a treasure map would be a more apt metaphor: a set of directions toward a singular destination, promising a lost, difficult to acquire, and immensely valuable reward. Or, to bring the proper terminology up to date, "GPS directions for peace" might suffice.

Road maps are not only designed for countless users with myriad possible destinations (read: agendas) in mind, but they're also notoriously difficult to interpret once you decide where you want to go. In addition, they're impossible to use as you're driving, and they stubbornly resist folding for storage and repeated use.

On the whole, then, kudos to Bush for another brilliant coinage.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

neutralize – verb

To make incapable of action . . . or of eating, drinking, breathing, or anything else, for that matter.

[Thanks, P.E.]

Friday, March 6, 2009

credit-default swap

A classic children's game in which participants pass around an undesirable object and seek to avoid being the last person to hold it.

COMMENT: The child possessing the object at the end of the game, the loser, is called the "ayigee" (pronounced ey-AY-gee).

Monday, March 2, 2009

covert – adjective

Published only in foreign newspapers.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

political capital – noun (reprise)

A surplus of goodwill from voters that may serve as collateral for high-risk leveraging of their futures.

I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style. — George W. Bush

Friday, February 27, 2009

stress test – noun

An examination of an insolvent bank to determine whether, under worst-case financial conditions, it would turn solvent.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

crisis – noun

[Origin: from Greek krisis "decision."]

A set of conditions under which Congress is willing to pass legislation.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

fraud – noun

A financial scheme that is understood by regulators.

taxpayer – noun

The investor of last resort.

Legacy loans?

Commentators puzzled over Tim Geithner's choice of language in unveiling TARP 4.0:
Second, alongside this new Financial Stability Trust, together with the Fed, the FDIC, and the private sector, we will establish a Public-Private Investment Fund. This program will provide government capital and government financing to help leverage private capital to help get private markets working again. This fund will be targeted to the legacy loans and assets that are now burdening many financial institutions.

Why the shift from "troubled assets" to "legacy loans"? And what does the phrase mean?

Atrios offered a definition: "Chunks of big shitpile." See also No fish, no nuts.

But in all seriousness, the Wall Street Journal helpfully tracked the origin of the phrase last July:
There are signs J.P. Morgan is trying to compartmentalize the past, if not forget it altogether. Chief Financial Officer Mike Cavanagh introduced the idea of calling the suffering loans from the credit crunch “legacy” loans. Of the $22.5 billion of total lending commitments J.P. Morgan had at the end of March, J.P. Morgan distanced itself from those of a hoary vintage that might give investors the shudders. . . .

The modifier "legacy" serves to distance the current owners of the assets from responsibility for ownership, much in the way that "troubled" serves to distance them from responsibility for their current value. We can't blame people for things they inherited, can we?

If we agree to this terminology, perhaps we can apply "legacy" to other things: legacy mortgages, legacy debts, legacy credit lines, legacy cars. After all, everything we own is a legacy from a past self. Why should we be held responsible for anything our past selves purchased or borrowed? All our problems are inherited.

At any rate, it's worth noting the origins of the phrase: from the mouth of J.P. Morgan's CFO to Tim Geithner's ear. Now we see why Geithner was such a popular choice for Treasury Secretary in the business world: If one of your own is picked, you save money on lobbying.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

shovel-ready – adjective

Prepared for massive excavation and burial of tax-payer dollars.

If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coalmines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of the repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth also, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is. It would, indeed, be more sensible to build houses and the like; but if there are political and practical difficulties in the way of this, the above would be better than nothing. -- John Maynard Keynes

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

moral hazard – noun

The risk that an insured party will subsequently, and without due warning, act as if he were insured.

The world has at least as much to fear from a moral hazard fundamentalism that precludes actions that would enhance confidence and stability as it does from moral hazard itself.-- Larry Summers

Monday, February 9, 2009

plan – noun

A public announcement that some course of action or other will be taken, the details of which to be determined as it's taken.

Details of the new plan, which were still being worked out during the weekend, are sketchy. And they are likely to remain so even after Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner announces the plan on Tuesday. -- NYT 2/9/09

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

inauguration – noun

[Origin: Latin inaugurare "to consecrate by augury."]

A formal ceremony in which an official is installed into his post after the careful observation of the flight and caws of pundits.

Monday, January 26, 2009

bad bank – noun

1. A bank that accurately accounts for the worth of its assets.

2. A warehouse for toxic sludge and other noxious products of value creators.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

downsizing – noun

A growth industry with exceedingly low labor costs, thanks to its unique ability to create and educate its own pool of experienced, desperate job applicants, through the very service it provides.

From Valleywag.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

feeder fund – noun

A private investment fund that, for a 1.5% fee, exercises the due diligence of passing its money pool to other funds whose managers seem to know something about finance.

finance – noun

Alchemy; hermetics. A magical power, practice, or process whereby mundane things are transformed into objects of great value.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

globalization – noun (reprise)

The interconnectedness of the world's economies and their susceptibility to American-style financial fraud.

When America sneezes, the world catches a cold.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

market – noun

A place where marks and their money are soon parted.

The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to acquire. — Milton Friedman, slightly modified.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

quant – noun

(Abbr. "quantitative analyst")

A mathematical expert who formulates complex models for the securities trade that predict gains with near certainty, assuming the soundness of the variables inputted by Ivy League arts-and-sciences majors.

COMMENT: "Quant" also means "a punting pole with a broad flange near the end to prevent it from sinking into the mud." In the financial industry, the rise of quants similarly prevented investor speculation from sinking into the mathematical sludge generated by risk aversion and due diligence. Thus, the origin of the term.

Investment banking isn’t this advanced math, these advanced quantitative techniques. There’s Excel for that. Investment banking is really just critical thinking. They way I put it, if you’re good at Sudoku, you’ll be a good investment banker.

Monday, January 12, 2009

risk management – noun

The art or practice of formulating complex exculpatory explanations for enormous losses incurred from daft speculation.

(See also: "crisis management.")

asset – noun

A valuable possession or trait that thereby marks its owner as worthy of other-regarding concern.