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CEOs try to push Congress to end shutdown and debt limit insanity

dollar bills spelling USA

Wall Street and the business community have supported Republicans for years, but now many of them are stunned to see the utter contempt that many Tea Party Republicans have for the financial system. While some understand the point of using leverage in negotiations, the willingness to tempt fate with a potential default on the national debt is making many CEOs nervous. GOP representatives are now hearing an earful from those business interests that helped raise a ton of money for them, and now CEOs are getting involved. Their ideal solution is to get a big budget defiicit deal, but they have had to impress on many members the potential for economic catastrophe if we get to the brink of defaulting on the national debt.

There are very strong opinions on all side of the government shutdown and the debt debate, but the plain fact is that the GOP is engaging in political extortion, and the President is not willing to let them get away with it.

Many Republicans from the beginning saw this as a failed strategy, and now even more are becoming frustrated as John Boehner again doesn’t seem to have an out. It’s a mess, and hopefully at some point this will be resolved without a full-blown crisis.

  

TARP was a huge success

Robert Samuelson is a grouch. Nobody would ever accuse him of looking at the sunny side of things, particularly when it comes to budgetary matters.

With that in mind, here’s his sober assessment of TARP.

It isn’t often that the government launches a major program that achieves its main goals at a tiny fraction of its estimated costs. That’s the story of TARP — the Troubled Assets Relief Program. Created in October 2008 at the height of the financial crisis, it helped stabilize the economy, used only $410 billion of its authorized $700 billion and will be repaid most of that. The Congressional Budget Office, which once projected TARP’s ultimate cost at $356 billion, now says $19 billion. This could go lower.

Almost everyone loves to hate TARP. It’s a favorite political sport of liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats — and the public. A Bloomberg poll last October asked how TARP had affected the economy. The results: 43 percent said it weakened the economy; 21 percent said it made no difference; only 24 percent said it helped, with 12 percent unsure one way or another. Commentators in newspapers from The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times disparage TARP.

Wrong.

One lesson of the financial crisis is this: When the entire financial system succumbs to panic, only the government is powerful enough to prevent a complete collapse. Panics signify the triumph of fear. TARP was part of the process by which fear was overcome. It wasn’t the only part, but it was an essential part. Without TARP, we’d be worse off today. No one can say whether unemployment would be 11 percent or 14 percent; it certainly wouldn’t be 8.9 percent.

That benefited all Americans. TARP, says Douglas Elliott of the Brookings Institution, “is the best large federal program to be despised by the public.”

This demonstrates just how out of touch many Americans are these days. Sure, there’s plenty of justifiable anger. But this program served its purpose.

  

Boutique investment banking firms are back

WASHINGTON - APRIL 20: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) is introduced by investment banker Roger Altman before speaking at the Mayflower Hotel April 20, 2010 in Washington, DC. Biden delivered remarks to the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project forum on 'From Recession to Recovery to Renewal.' (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Wall Street went crazy over the past 15 years, and we had mega-banks gobbling up prominent investment houses, and then making risky trades on their own account with the stockholders, and then the U.S. taxpayers footing the bill.

Now things are changing, hopefully in a good way.

It’s been a miserable few years for investment banks. Between epochal meltdowns, shotgun marriages, a federal pay czar, congressional investigations, reform legislation, and SEC lawsuits, even the proudest firms have been flayed (often for good reason). One of the less publicized results of that tumult has been an exodus of talent. But many bankers aren’t fleeing Wall Street — they’re fleeing to the other side of the Street: small boutique firms that eschew the proprietary trading and lending to their clients that the giant banks emphasize. These younger firms hark back to a venerable model of financial firms, selling only advice.

The biggest and fastest-rising of these outfits is Evercore Partners (EVR), headed by Roger Altman, the ultraconnected former U.S. Treasury official, and Ralph Schlosstein, a superstar who joined the firm last year from BlackRock (BLK, Fortune 500). Evercore shuns risk — no trading for its own account, no lending — and prides itself on avoiding everything that brought the Citigroups (C, Fortune 500) and Goldman Sachses (GS, Fortune 500) to grief. Instead, Evercore’s main service is providing advice to CEOs on mergers and restructurings.

This is the way it should be.

  

The pro-business recovery

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to a worker as he tours Gelberg Signs during a visit to highlight the administrations initiatives to create jobs in Washington on August 6, 2010. UPI/Kristoffer Tripplaar/Pool Photo via Newscom

Ezra Klein takes on the ridiculous notion that the Obama administration.

This White House has “vilified industries,” complains the Chamber of Commerce. America is burdened with “an anti-business president,” moans The Weekly Standard.

Would that all presidents were this anti-business: according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, corporate profits hit $1.37 trillion in the first quarter—an all-time high. Businesses are sitting on about $2 trillion in cash reserves. Business spending jumped 20 percent last quarter, and is up by 13 percent against 2009. The Obama administration has dropped taxes for small businesses and big ones alike. Maybe the president could be anti-me for a while. I could use the money.

The reality is that America’s supposedly anti-business president has led an extremely pro-business recovery. The corporate community has recovered first, and best.

He goes on to explain how deep recessions take time to recover. Read it for a dose of reality.

We shouldn’t be surprised, but less than a year after the largest bailout of Wall Street in history, somehow the government is anti-business. What a joke.

  

In stunning move, HP dumps CEO Hurd

Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Officer Mark Hurd smiles at a news conference announcing his appointment at HP headquarters in Palo Alto, California in this March 30, 2005 file photo. Hewlett-Packard Co Chief Executive Hurd resigned on August 6, 2010 following an investigation of sexual harassment, the world's top computer maker said. REUTERS/Lou Dematteis/Files  (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS HEADSHOT)

This was a real shocker. Mark Hurd is known for the operational discipline he brought to HP, but now he’s been ousted for fudging his expense reports to cover up a personal relationship.

Mark V. Hurd, who turned Hewlett-Packard into the world’s largest technology company on the back of fierce fiscal discipline, has been ousted from his post for the lowliest of corporate offenses — fudging his expenses.

H.P.’s board stunned Silicon Valley and Wall Street late Friday by announcing Mr. Hurd’s resignation as chairman and chief executive of the computing and printing giant, involving what it said was a “close personal relationship” with a contractor who helped with the company’s marketing.

The woman’s lawyer contacted the company in late June, charging sexual harassment. While the directors were investigating that charge, they found inaccurate expense reports that covered payments made to the woman. The directors said, however, that the sexual harassment charge was unsubstantiated.

The board charged that Mr. Hurd, 53, failed to disclose his use of company funds. It urged Mr. Hurd to resign, but he balked and offered to compensate the company for the disputed funds, said to range from $1,000 to $20,000, according to a person close to Mr. Hurd who was briefed on the situation but was not authorized to speak publicly.

The board, however, insisted. “This was a necessary decision,” said Marc L. Andreessen, a venture capitalist and a director.

This seems like an extreme reaction, to say the least. It’s interesting that Hurd fought to keep his job – at least the story makes more sense now. It’s hard to imagine someone like him voluntarily quitting his CEO post over such an offense.

That said, the guy was pretty stupid.

Hurd helped to save HP after the mess left by Carly Fiorina, so it has to hurt letting such an operational genius go. But, it may have come at a good time for HP, as the company has squeezed out quite a bit of efficiency, and in the long run innovation and strategy matter as well.

  

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