The holding period [for equity-based compensation] should be the longer of age 65 or two years after retirement. That will ensure that key executives make decisions that truly are in the long-term best interests of the company (as opposed to decisions aimed at a shorter period — after which an executive could depart, taking all his marbles with him). Note that holding-through-retirement also addresses the major concern about top executives’ unnecessary risk-taking.
Holding equity compensation through retirement is perhaps the single most important — and fundamental — fix to getting executive compensation back on track because it also addresses all the past outstanding excessive option and restricted stock grants. And, by requiring chief executives to keep their skin in the game for the long term, it will go a long way to restoring public trust in our companies and our market, which is so important to restoring stability to the markets.
Perhaps we’re on the verge at getting much better at making useful things, spreading ideas that matter and helping people, and not quite so good at leveraging capital for financial institutions. Imagine what would happen if 5,000 investment bankers or 500 M & A lawyers put their talents to work doing something else…
As I look through all the notes and applications I received for the program I’m running next year, I’m not just optimistic. I’m thrilled. There must be hundreds of thousands of movers and shakers out there, people of all ages who are smart and get things done. And more and more, they’re being motivated by the quest, or the outcome, or the people they work with, not just the cash payout. It’s exciting beyond words. The ten people I’ve chosen are just astonishing, each and every one of them.
If you can’t find people like these, you’re not looking in the right places. And if you can’t figure out how to work with them, you’re missing out.
Finance | Too bad nobody in the West thought of it: Islamic banking is better weathering the meltdown because sharia law curbs excessive risk-taking, with bans on interest and trading in debt. The strictures on usury mean investments only in “productive enterprises.” [Washington Post]
Economists do not understand what drives productivity growth very well. However, we know these facts: productivity grew rapidly after the second world war and then sometime between the late 1960s and mid-1970s it slowed dramatically only to re-accelerate to record levels in the mid-1990s. Unfortunately, even before the downturn, underlying productivity growth appeared to be slowing.
The most plausible explanation is that an array of transforming investments and technologies – the interstate highway system, widespread air travel and the expansion of electronics – were spurs to growth during the postwar period. Eventually their impact dissipated and, as energy costs rose, growth slowed until the information technology revolution kicked in during the 1990s. Unfortunately, the IT supply shock that powered the economy in the 1990s and early part of this decade appears to be diminishing.
So there is a need to ensure that the pressure to increase spending is directed at areas where it will have the most transformational impact. We need to identify those investments that stimulate demand in the short run and have a positive impact on productivity. These include renewable energy technologies and the infrastructure to support them, the broader application of biotechnologies and expanding broadband connectivity, an area where the US has fallen behind.
The crisis has also reminded us of the lessons of the technology bubble, Japan’s experience in the 1990s and of the US Great Depression – that finance-led growth is problematic. The wealth and income gains from the easy availability of credit were highly concentrated in the hands of a fortunate few. The benefits also proved temporary. In retrospect, the fact that 40 per cent of American corporate profits in 2006 went to the financial sector, and the closely related outcome – a doubling of the share of income going to the top 1 per cent of the population – should have been signs something was amiss.
Generations of Americans have been trained to follow the Dow Jones Industrial Average for a quick snapshot of how the economy is performing or is expected to perform. There’s a lot that’s ill-advised about that habit, but, most importantly, attending to the ups and downs in the Dow won’t tell you much about the current financial crisis. Ours is a crisis of credit: Financial firms are unwilling to lend to each other (at all-but-exorbitant rates) for fear that borrowing firms may fail or that they themselves may need the cash to fend off their own crisis.
Whereas the hourly fortunes of the Dow or any stock index are, at best, indirect reflections of this reluctance to lend, the TED Spread measures credit conditions directly. Bloomberg tracks the TED Spread here. What sounds like second-rate Nutella is actually the difference between the interest rate banks charge each other on three-month loans and the interest rate on three-month U.S. Treasury bills.
Kevin Kelly says:
Warren Buffett recently bet an ambitious hedge fund operator $1 million that they won’t beat the returns of S&P 500 after their extremely hefty fees are accounted for. Buffett claims investors will do as well with a no-load index fund over the ten years of the bet. He has long been critical of the performance claims of hedge funds, and his bet is intended to put his money where his mouth is.
Buffett’s million dollar bet was made on Long Bets, the accountability mechanism founded in 2002 by Stewart Brand and myself, and operated by Long Now Foundation. The intention of Long Bets is to encourage responsibility in prediction-making (by keeping a public roster of predictions), to encourage long-term thinking (by offering a opportunity to shape a long-term bet), and to sharpen the logic of forecasting (by recording the logic of predictions and bets.)
In order to make a Long Bet, bettors need to lay out their reasoning. It’s worth reading the two sides’ very short arguments about investing because the two extremes of investment advice are contrasted in them. Buffett, as usual, is stunningly clear in his argument, which ends:
A number of smart people are involved in running hedge funds. But to a great extent their efforts are self-neutralizing, and their IQ will not overcome the costs they impose on investors. Investors, on average and over time, will do better with a low-cost index fund than with a group of funds of funds.