Thursday 9 September 2010

Barclays and a Loud Echo of Enron

The elevation of Bob Diamond to CEO at Barclays is strongly reminiscent of my old mucker Jeff Skilling's rise to the top at Enron.

Skilling had been brought on board to develop his revolutionary concept of building what became known as an 'energy merchant' trading-and-origination function atop the pedestrian gas pipeline business that was Enron's original and core activity. (This was at a time when there were financial text-books stating that natural gas was a paradigm-case of a commodity that couldn't be traded.)

as Enron Gas Marketing in the late '80s with the introduction of clever new financial products and derivatives in US gas, he moved on to electricity, the UK and Europe as Enron Capital & Trade Resources in the mid '90s. Despite every vested interest and incumbent utility's hand being turned against him, ECTR rapidly became the engine of growth for Enron, (not to mention the pioneer for worldwide gas and electricity liberalisation) leaving the staid gas pipelines trailing in its wake - truly, a capitalist @ work.
The parallels with retail and investment banking are clear enough: massive and innovative proprietary trading underpinned by a balance-sheet rich in dull, under-performing, but very real assets. Let's hope it doesn't all end the same way ...


1 comment:

Richard Elliot said...

Interesting thoughts, and never say never.

However, my experience of working at BarCap is that they don't have a big prop desk to get them into trouble. Just after Lehmans went under there was, of course, a lot of stress and strain, however, their risk systems did remarkably well.

I'm probably wearing rose tinted spectacles..