Goodbye Good Times


Greeks Take to the Streets and Clive Palmer wants to Bring on Wayne’s Swan Song

Rarely does a day pass without another gloomy economic forecast warning of a Global Financial Crisis- GFC Mark 2. Those Greeks threaten to bring down a wobbly deck of Euro Cards while Republican Mormons in the US threaten wrath of God Armageddon like strikes upon states that sanction Gay Marriages. And Gerard Harvey wouldn’t mind the wrath of God falling on the Un Australian behaviour of Not Shopping, moreover in his stores.We live in precarious financial times, albeit colourful ones ! Well at least Clive Palmer and his mining magnate mates continue to prop up The Lucky Country’s Coffers as the Non Mining economy battens down the hatches for oncoming turbulence. A quirky piece of history is that up until the 1950s this country lived with the ‘threat’ of the Yellow Peril while Reds under beds spooked a populace.Today, that former foe, ie China underpins our prosperity to a large degree.It’s voracious appetite for our resources goes a long way to balancing the books and keeping the Palmer-Swan shuffle alive and kicking.

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What’s a poor investor to do during these shaky times ?

The stock market isn’t for the faint hearted, fixed interest rate deposits returns continue their southward march, and anyone still clinging to ‘You can’t loose on property’ believed the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq was an altruistic act of righteous God Fearing benevolence undertaken to rid the free world of a despot’s menace !

To say I’m a passive investor isn’t painting too light a picture of me. Actually I’m bordering on comatose status these days. However there was a time when I took an active hands on approach to sniffing out investment opportunities.But I’ve reached a stage in life where I’d rather read a Penguin classic than a Product Disclosure Statement. Actually there are some days when I feel as if I’d rather scan through a telephone directory than read the plethora of ‘Money’ magazines or any of the volumes produced by the financial services sector. But like a reformed drinker, I’m still prone to sneak in the odd article in The Economist, but only when no one’s looking !
So in view of me not having the desire or patience to read the investment oriented literature that overwhelms potential investors I have to put faith-trust in those whom I intend to invest my money with. As unanalytical as this may come across I tend to be guided by my intuition.So, if it tells me that the person sitting in front of me trying to sell their services and commission earning products is a wanker I’ll trust my gut feel and generally decline the opportunity of being on the receiving end of a sales spiel, no matter how polished a performance it may be. So how does one sort the wheat from the chaff in the esoteric and dynamic world of financial services ?

Well I’ve been dealing with one firm of Money Managers for a number of years who don’t go in for any of that grand standing self promotion which is ubiquitous in the heady world of finance.In a field positively littered with gratuitous displays of self aggrandisement and chest thumping I’m attracted by their low profile. In fact their demure- low key business model inspires confidence.They display a sobriety more akin to what one would expect to find on local Presbyterian- Methodist Church board committees.This firm positively oozes solidity and soberness.

They operate out of an old bank building in Middle Park and I always derived a sense of reassurance by the fact that they had restrained themselves from renovating their offices. Moreover they didn’t find it necessary to modernise their work environment in that ubiquitous marble and glass look which is de rigueur in the financial services sectors. But what impressed me most was the fact that they saw no need to renovate the toilets.

Their toilets are lined with a kitschy decorative tile work which was popular during the 1930s- 40s, it has that classic British municipal lavatory look about it. I was reminded of Vic Rail public convenience tiling, the best example was at Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station. As simplistic as this analogy may come across, I reckon that if they’re not pissing away money on superfluous toilet renovations, well there’s a pretty good chance that they won’t be siphoning-directing my money into the murky waters of questionable fiscal fads.

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At the other end of the sobriety scale was the Royal Bank of Scotland pre GFC. One of several banks bailed out by the British Government post GFC and an institution which managed to post an unfathomable $61 Billion loss in 2008.In the early 1990s while working in London I visited an RBS branch with a view of opening up a savings account.I was led into an old world mahogany lined sombre chamber where an equally austere representative asked me to provide written references, as he informed me that it was the bank’s policy to ask new clients to furnish letters of introduction prior to the bank taking on their business. At the time I was somewhat taken aback and thought it appropriate to clear up an obvious ‘misunderstanding’. “ I think we’ve got our wires crossed, I’m actually wanting to deposit, that is hand over my money, I’m not asking for a loan.” His dead pan response was,
“ Yes I’m well aware of that sir, but the bank still likes to know who it is, that we are dealing with.”
I suspect they’ve long since discarded those quaint old world standards since my last visit, alongside having called in the renovators to modernize their offices, retrenched- downsized the dowdy bloke who asked me for a reference and replaced his sort with legions of young Turks enamoured with an intimate comprehension of those indecipherable products which continue to bamboozle the hot shots at investment banks like JP Morgan who recently chalked up losses of 2 Billion Dollars on a few bad trades.

I suspect the RBS could have been better served by a few more parsimonious Presbyterian Scots who adhere to ‘Look after your pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.’

The moral to the storey is that inflated egos eventually deflate and most importantly,don’t piss away good money on unnecessary toilet renovations to impress other people !

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Fabrizio Marsani

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