Bruce Wasserstein may be basking in the glory of taking Lazard public in May – and producing strong earnings in the months after the investment bank’s initial public offering.
But not everyone on Wall Street is impressed by Lazard’s latest mandate: advising Carl Icahn, the activist investor, in battle against the board and management of Time Warner.
At a conference yesterday, Robert Kindler, head of mergers and acquisitions at JPMorgan, took issue with Wasserstein’s boldness. By advising Icahn, Lazard might be forgoing the chance to do other deals for Time Warner, one of the largest fee-payers to investment banks.
“I have no idea what Bruce Wasserstein was thinking when he took this assignment on,” said Kindler, the respected former lawyer at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. He added that Lazard “wants to build relationships with chief executives”, and it would be “very difficult” to get CEO meetings if companies thought that, “two weeks later”, Wasserstein would turn against them by working with an activist.
Kindler’s criticism came on Wasserstein’s home turf. The conference, at the New York Athletic Club, was sponsored by “The Deal” – a publication chaired by none other than one Bruce Wasserstein.
No love lost
Christopher Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, has yet another senior vacancy to fill at the regulator after Giovanni Prezioso, general counsel, announced plans to return to the private sector. Cox paid a fulsome tribute to the “stalwart service” of Prezioso.
Prezioso, however, may not miss Paul Atkins, one of the SEC chairman’s fellow Republican commissioners. Atkins used a recent speech to launch a stinging attack on Prezioso’s efforts to defend an SEC mutual fund governance rule that has been challenged by the US Chamber of Commerce.
William Donaldson, Cox’s predecessor, drew up the rule in response to the mutual fund industry scandal, and it was approved despite objections from Atkins.
In June, a court told the SEC to reconsider the rule after finding it had failed to consider alternative measures, which prompted Donaldson, just nine days later, at his last public meeting as SEC chairman, to re-endorse the rule.
Atkins accused Prezioso of failing to consult the commissioners about the SEC legal brief that was submitted to an appeals court last month after the chamber sued the regulator for a second time.
“The process by which the rule was adopted and then re-adopted and is now being defended by our legal counsel is perhaps even more objectionable than the substance of the rule,” said Atkins. Oh dear.
Try, try again
Observer has nothing but admiration for people who are willing to stick out their necks. John R Talbott, a former Goldman Sachs banker who is a visiting professor at UCLA, certainly qualifies as someone willing to make a bold call.
His upcoming book is called Sell Now! The End of the Housing Bubble. This wouldn’t seem to be such a bold call, as people have been warning about the housing bubble for a few years now.
But the fun thing about Sell Now! is that Talbott published another urgently titled book about the housing market not even three years ago, called The Coming Crash in the Housing Market.
Getting the timing of these things right is always difficult, of course. Homeowners who read Talbott and sold in 2003 may have missed out on double-digit gains since then.
No matter; Talbott is a man on a crusade. He explains that he is writing the new book because “I don’t think the message of the first book was completely absorbed”.
To better drive home the point, he made a decision to be a bit more strident in tone with the new book. In his introduction, Talbott says: “At times, I allowed my anger and bitterness to enter my writing
“The reader would be suspicious if I told such a tale of deceit, greed, self-indulgence, government neglect and corruption, and industry-wide collusion and ineptitude without expressing any emotions,” he says in an author’s note.