Bearish banking analyst blasts Wall Street

Mike Mayo says compensation practices at Citi, SunTrust and KeyCorp are still out of line.

By MSN Money Partner Nov 2, 2011 1:01PM

By Pallavi Gogoi, The Associated Press

 

Mike Mayo is at it again.

 

Mayo is the Wall Street analyst who has been a thorn in the side of banks for years. Outspoken, blunt, volatile and prickly, the 48-year-old has been ridiculed by his peers, shut out of industry conferences and slighted by CEOs. In 2000 Mayo was fired from Credit Suisse (CS) months after he wrote a negative report that exhorted investors to sell all bank stocks.

 

Today, Mayo is a bank analyst at Credit Agricole Securities who sympathizes with the Occupy Wall Street movement. He says he's as outraged as the protesters over the excessive pay Wall Street banks lavish on executives, even when they perform poorly. "That's not capitalism. That's entitlement," Mayo says.

 

He's poured his outrage into a book that chronicles his two decades in the financial industry: "Exile on Wall Street: One Analyst's Fight to Save the Big Banks From Themselves," published by John Wiley & Sons, which was released Tuesday.

 

It would be easy to dismiss Mayo as a disgruntled outcast if not for the fact that he is one of Wall Street's most respected bank analysts. He still carries around the two dozen rejection letters he received over 25 years ago from elite Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs (GS). He believes his lack of an Ivy League pedigree may have held him back from entering the inner echelons of Wall Street.


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Investors who have taken Mayo's advice have fared well over the years. He wrote a 1,000-page report in May 1999 in which he told investors to sell the stocks of 47 banks, even though most of his peers were urging investors to buy. One rival analyst mocked the report as "Mayonnaise."

 

Though he was right many times, Mayo was criticized for missing one big call. He told investors to buy Lehman Bros. in 2007 and didn't change his recommendation until the stock lost 70% of its value. Soon thereafter Lehman filed for bankruptcy.

 

Mayo visited with The Associated Press in New York recently to talk about his book. In the conversation he lashed out at Citigroup (C), SunTrust Banks (STI) and KeyCorp (KEY) for their compensation practices. Below are edited excerpts.

 

Q: Why did you write the book?

 

A: I've worked at 6 Wall Street firms. I analyzed Wall Street. I was fired from one and muzzled by another. I've written about the problems at banks. I've testified in Congress about the problems and conflicts on Wall Street, twice. My perspective is unique. At a time when there's so much anger about the problems on Wall Street, this book is very relevant.

 

Q: So does that put you on the side of the Occupy Wall Street protesters?

 

A: I'm as outraged as them. I've been on the inside protesting for 20 years.

 

When I started out on Wall Street I did exactly the way I was taught in business school and my analyst accreditation. But when my analysis was negative, like when I said KeyCorp was not a good investment, the firm cut back on business with my bank. I was penalized. Simply put, the rules of the game as I learnt in school are not the rules that are played on Wall Street. I made a controversial call to sell bank stocks in 1999 and even though I was proven correct, I got fired.

 

In 2002, I testified to Congressional committees about the conflicts of interest on Wall Street, I took the message to the media and nothing changed. The key difference between me and the protesters is that I believe in capitalism — a capitalism that works.

 

Q: What's your view of compensation on Wall Street, which is at the core of the anger on Main Street today?

 

A: Citi is a prime example. Just look at the last decade. The bank has paid out one of the highest CEO compensation of any bank and had the worst stock price performance. And here they go again with what we view as another rigged compensation scheme. The current CEO Vikram Pandit has made a big deal about taking a token $1 as salary after the financial crisis. But that's disingenuous. Before that, Citi had already awarded him about $38 million in 2008, along with another $165 million from the sale of his hedge fund in 2007. Citi stock is down 90 percent during his tenure.

 

The CEOs of two other banks, SunTrust and KeyCorp, each made more than $20 million after the financial crisis in 2008 through 2010 even while their companies lost hundreds of millions of dollars. That's not capitalism, that's entitlement.

 

Q: What's your view of capitalism?

 

A: Capitalism works when rules are put in place and strictly enforced. Not when government looks the other way when rules are broken and then steps in to protect banks that cannot deal with the consequences of their bad decisions.

 

Capitalism works when executives are rewarded for performance, not when the rules are written so that they walk away with fat paychecks even when things go wrong. The bad actors on Wall Street have done a lot of damage to capitalism. Those who speak up are sometimes exiled. The watch guards need to be allowed to see and act. They are the checks and balances that make capitalism work.

 

Q: Your employers wanted you to write positive reports about banks that your investment banker colleagues were courting for business. So they enticed you with lavish experiences. You write about having lunch in Credit Suisse's private dining room with delicacies prepared by celebrated chef David Bouley.

 

A: Yes. Here is the menu I saved from that day. (Mayo takes out a laminated copy of the gold vellum paper menu of the meal 12 years ago. It lists Chatham lobster, foie gras in poppy seed Armagnac sauce, and a dessert called tophenstreusel cloud with wild berries. In the book, Mayo says: "As I wiped the tophenstreusel crumbs from my mouth after events like this, I was increasingly conflicted, because I knew the source of these perks.")

 

That was the best meal of my life.

 

Q: You say in the book that the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker is your hero. Why?

 

A: Paul Volcker was a harsh disciplinarian of the U.S. government when he made the incredibly difficult move of raising rates to kill inflation in the early 1980s. He didn't back down to political pressure at that time because he wanted to defend his ultimate goal. It was pain in the short term for a better end. Today, no one has that kind of guts.

 

We need a Tiger Mom in charge of our economy. Paul Volcker was a Tiger Mom.

 

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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