SILLY GAMES PLAYED BY WALL STREET CEOS

Wall Street honchos seem to be born with an extra gene called, "the finagler." Whenever they see profit figures, for example, they impulsively begin manipulating numbers to make their bank's performance look better than it is.

Wall Street honchos seem to be born with an extra gene called, “the finagler.” Whenever they see profit figures, for example, they impulsively begin manipulating numbers to make their bank’s performance look better than it is.

Take the CEO of Citigroup. Despite watching his bank go insolvent last year, requiring three massive bailouts from us, he recently put on a happy face and proclaimed that the bank had just made a $1.6 billion profit. Only – it hadn’t. He used all sorts of fuzzy math, whitewash, and hat tricks to make more than a billion-dollar loss look like a profit.

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What a hoot, then, to see this same CEO at Citigroup’s annual meeting only four days later looking like a sad sack hobo and moaning the tough-luck blues Confronted by 1,500 angry shareholders who’ve seen their investments in Citigroup turn into muck, the bank chief put on a show of extreme corporate penury.

Instead of the usual flashy annual report, this year’s document was in plain black and white. Gone was the usual serving of red-frosted cookies in the shape of the corporate logo. They even skimped on coffee and doughnuts, demonstrating that executives were all about frugality.

Of course, shareholders were neither fooled nor amused. For six hours, they barraged the CEO with questions about such excess as his $400-million payout to sponsor the New York Mets’ new baseball field. They also jumped all over Citigroup’s board of directors for their lackadaisical oversight. When it was announced that five directors were departing from the board, one mad-as-heller shouted out, “Thank God you’re gone!”

While the bank honchos cut back on cookies, they did spend generously for one thing that has not been necessary at previous board meetings; 50 security guards to protect them from their corporate owners.

“Sharp Pencil Lets Citigroup Declare Profit,” The New York Times, April, 18, 2009.

“Citi Directors Face Angry, Coffee-less Sharholders,” www.nytimes.com, April 22, 2009.

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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