Bernie Sanders isn’t the only one who hates Wall Street. So does Hollywood. I don’t recall ever seeing a movie extolling the economic benefits of Wall Street. It happens to be the financial capital of the world in the world’s greatest economy. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
An outstanding defense of the Street against Bernie’s frequent tirades was provided by Joe Rosenberg, the chief investment strategist at Lowe’s Corp., in a 4/14 WSJ op-ed titled “The Wall Street I Have Known.” Joe wrote: “Sen. Sanders ought to ask some of the immigrants who work on Wall Street what they think about the opportunities that this country affords, rather than going to college campuses and attacking the financial industry to further his own political ends.”
Ironically, Hollywood has profited handsomely from movies that attack Wall Street’s profit motive, which always seems to be driven by greed and nefarious intentions. Some of the classics include “Wall Street,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and “The Big Short.” There are lots of made-for-TV examples--most recently the series Billions, about a corrupt hedge fund.
On Friday, my wife and I saw “Money Monster,” directed by Jodie Foster and starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts. The evil-doer is the CEO of IBIS, a high-frequency trading (HFT) firm that is publicly traded. Clooney plays Lee Gates, a Wall Street guru who picks hot stocks as host of the television show Money Monster on the Financial News Network, obviously modeled after Jim Cramer’s Mad Money on CNBC. During a live broadcast, a disgruntled investor storms onto the set and takes Gates hostage because he lost everything on one of his tips to buy IBIS. The stock cratered when the firm lost $800 million, blaming the staggering loss on a glitch in the firm’s trading algorithm. The armed-and-deranged investor is convinced that the stock market is rigged, and he wants the CEO of IBIS to admit it.
The movie is entertaining, though very much a part of the greed-is-good/Wall-Street-is-evil genre. On the other hand, and just by coincidence, Steve Wynn, the chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts, went on a tirade against the rigging of the stock market by high-frequency traders at the end of his 5/6 earnings conference call:
“As long as the short players fool around for a buck or two that is fine. But when shorts--the exchanges really don’t enforce the rules of naked shorts. So it is an unconscionable manipulation of the stock that occurs. They open up every morning and the high-frequency traders and the shorts have a ball selling shares and then value buyers step in in the afternoon and they cover the shorts.
“It is regular casino activity. The activity on the stock markets is in my view poorly regulated and irresponsibly policed, especially with regard to short sales. … And although I can’t do nothing about it myself I take advantage of it when it gets out of line and buy shares. I mean it is fine when they drive the stock down for reasons that are irrelevant and completely disconnected from anything to do with our business operations.
“So the stock market has got more volatile, more stupid as a gambling game than ever before. And I look at it that way to be honest with you. I have very little respect for the integrity of the trading on the exchange in most stocks. And I have particular disdain for the fact that the SEC has failed to deal with high-frequency traders who are doing nothing more than taking advantage of inside information, a buy or a sell order, because of technology advantages. …
“The other day I was watching the stock open up and it went up on share volumes of a few thousand shares. I mean every trade was a tick up. That is not the way it should operate in an honestly or intelligently run exchange, but that is the thing.
“All those guys sold their dark pools and their order flow and the positioning on the floors of the servers to the HFTs. And it has made a couple guys that I am friendly with very rich because they are high-frequency traders. But I don’t respect the activity. And I am severely critical of it and don’t mind saying so either.”
Wall Street II: Wynn and Trump. If Donald Trump occupies the White House in January, Steve Wynn might bring the HFT problem to his attention. Earlier this year, Wynn declared his support for Trump. He has said, in the parlance of Vegas odds makers, the nomination is “Trump’s to lose.”
In the past, Trump and Wynn have had an antagonistic relationship. This is from a New York Magazine article from the late 1990s: “Steve Wynn, 56, and Donald Trump, 52, have been slugging it out for more than a decade. Theirs is an especially colorful, spleenful contempt, all too rare in modern-day big business. ‘You know, I think Steve’s got a lot of psychological problems,’ Trump said. ‘I think he’s quite disturbed.’”
The article also quoted Wynn dissing Trump: “‘No sane or rational guy would respond to Trump … His statements to people like you, whether they concern us and our projects or our motivations or his own reality or his own future or his own present, you have seen over the years have no relation to truth or fact. And if you need me to remind you of that, then we’re both in trouble. He’s a fool.’”
But the two more recently have patched up their relationship. Trump attended Wynn’s wedding, and according to people who know both men, the relationship has flourished to the point that Trump is now in nearly constant contact with Wynn about his presidential campaign.
By the way, Wynn clashed in 2014 with George Clooney in the Encore Hotel. The spat was over a dinner conversation gone awry, when Wynn called Clooney’s friend President Barack Obama an a**hole.
Dr. Ed Yardeni
is the President of Yardeni Research, Inc., a provider of independent global investment strategy research. To read more of his blogs, CLICK HERE NOW.
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