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See yesterdays post: General Motors ON

UPDATE 11/17/2010 @ 1pm: VOILA! – GM Confirms Expanding IPO by 31 percent

I’ll just keep it coming.

Peace be to my Brothers and sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork

https://briancork.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/general-motors-on/

It’s no secret that General Motors (“GM”) has it’s Initial Public Offering (“IPO”) this week.

What might be a secret to the masses, however, is it’s truest underlying purpose.

The government lent money to GM. There is some thinking that the government could own as much as sixty-one percent (61%) of GM. And, the big auto-maker, as leading and cutting-edge as it’s vehicles have become, will struggle for decades to pay our thinly stretched United States Treasury back – and, it does not have a prayer of meeting it’s pension obligations.

So, they, that insidious “they” (no doubt led by the pipe-smoking-black-dog), mind you, are going to foist the problem on the American Citizens the very best of the good old fashioned way, certainly time-honored… By manipulating the stock market.

Seriously.

Here is how this particular effort will play-out. You simply need to make the decision if you are going to benefit, or keep getting your collective asses kicked.

The IPO will likely open up around $28.00 a share. Insiders (by many a definition) will pay less. For example, the United States Treasury is going to own shares as will friends of the big brokerage houses. JP Morgan is the syndicate lead and they are making all manner of new friends on Capital Hill with this play. This is not widely publicized for obvious reasons.  In any event, based on the aforementioned loan details, the Treasury will break even when the stock hits approximately $44.00.

So, it’s a good bet the stock will do just that, and then some.

I’m guessing there will likely be close to a $6m billion over subscription of the stock leading up to the IPO. My experience tells me we’ll see about $1 billion in roiling. Then that “over-hang” of back-orders will kick the stock up. After that, it’s all about “management”.

This is not evil. This is simply the way things work. You, why not you, can argue it’s part of the American dream.

I have to say something. It’s one of the many reasons you read this Blog. And, it’s something a Prudent and Optimistic Gentleman finds, required.

Good luck. But, there is little of that actually involved. Fortuna, perhaps, eh Dr. Pappas?

UPDATE 11/17/2010 @ 1pm: VOILA! – GM Confirms Expanding IPO by 31 percent

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters

Brian Patrick Cork

Nicholas Johnson is often found in-and-amongst the companies I’m working with to change the world. I’m not clear what it is he is doing most days. But, some times he’ll haull-off and come up with a pearl worth sharing. For example, in a recent meeting with an uncertain conclusion, he announced the existence of an on-line service called www. billfloat.com. Apparently if you need to pay a utility bill, for example (and entrepreneurs, just like most people, do that) you can convince this shadowy organization to pay your bill up to thirty days in advance for a transaction fee of a mere five dollars. All you need is a viable bank account and the best hopes of the funds being in it by a later, albeit pre-determined, date.

This is different.

Voila!

I feel billfloat is an example of: “being part of the solution, and not the problem”. Five dollars is a reasonable fee for a greater peace of mind. Obviously living paycheck-to-paycheck is living on the veritable edge. But, that is the reality for a growing segment of our national population. Here, someone clearly came up with a solution that is not, in my hardly humble opinion, userous like many of those strip-mall situated paycheck loan (shark) services.

Or, the current banking system, for that matter.

I’m often asked something along the lines of, “If you weren’t running your current business (this is assuming they understand what it is I do), what would you work on, or be doing?”

There’s not a single answer to this question; it can change day-to-day. As I’ve stated on this blog, and through a great deal of public speaking, I could never have planned or anticipated my own career-path. But, in light of our global economic situation, and Johnson’s research, I think if you asked me today, I’d say I would like to start a bank.

There are very few people who really love their bank. I use a private bank and this means I don’t have to suffer the same inconveniences realized by most folk. For example, many are dealing with overage fees that stack up, misleading fine print, and a general malaise born of an apathetic sense of fatalism. However, there’s a unique opportunity in that mainstream contempt for financial institutions. And, concurrent with this is an incredible amount of government backing that essentially makes it a no-risk environment. People are simply hungry for anything different, something contrarian.

A David to the Goliath banking industry. If you will, something heterodoxal. This is where I often realize my best potential and opportunity.

The name of my bank would be something supremely boring, like SmartBank or bank on brian (In my businesses, I typically use small caps for my name because it’s not about me, it’s about what I do). The idea behind it is that bad behaviour in the banking – which is in truth, aligned with Wall Street – world has been largely inevitable because their compensation structures incented people to do overly risky things. the Bank of brian would maintain a reserve level 2-3x higher than Federal requirements, and any other bank. I’ll aspire to World Bank status as well and align myself with European protocols (have you bothered to wonder why the US doesn’t have any World Banks?). Bank of brian would have no bonuses unless goals such as preserving mortgages were met or exceeded and loans made to emerging culture companies based on best practices, carefully monitored milestones and accountability proliferated. I suspect critics would say this would make it impossible to attract top-shelf talent. But, every time the bank gets attacked we’d turn it into an advertising opportunity to emphasize why we’re different.

To wit:

“We can’t attract top-shelf talent? Go on…We take your money and put it in a vault. We don’t need the million-dollar bonus geniuses on Wall Street to do that. SmartBank. Bank, smart.”, would say I.

Bank on brian.

In fact, the first few years of SmartBank would be largely focused on acquisition through every trick in the book. At the very beginning pull a Gmail/WordPress.com strategy ,and make it invitation-only. I’m confident this will create a buzz and also allow you to give amazing white-glove service to the initial customers that want to catch that glassy-fronted wave, who will in turn tell their friends and create a tsunami. That’s called “viral” marketing and that always works when people like what they see and experience. Ironically that would represent a novel experience with banking today where the objective appears to be lining the pockets of bankers while stripping down customers. You can also target certain profitable segments and ultra-safe depositors at first, like Gmail users in San Francisco (using Firefox with an ad-blocker) who make six figures a year. There would be only one style of checks and debit cards and they’d have a distinctive design so if you saw one you’d say, “What’s that?” a-la the American Express Black or Plum card (I have both and everyone’s follow them through every transaction) products which would then start the whole conversation again about how SmartBank is different.

For the first two years you could also do things like not allow accounts larger than the FDIC-insured limit. No one has ever heard of a bank turning away money (unless you, ironically, have poor credit). But, you’d say that although everything SmartBank does is risk-free, it’s still a startup, and if people have more than the insured limit (today it’s 250k for single and 500k for couples) in an account, they should put the extra somewhere else. Again, statistically (and, those types of numbers in the right hands [like my own] never lie) this will impact a very low percentage of customers… And, everyone; everyone, I say, will think it’s naught less than remarkable. This tactical growth can be phased out after a few years; in fact, it would be yet another PR opportunity:

“We’ve been in business now long enough that we feel comfortable with larger accounts.” Boom, free coverage.

I’m not defined as a “tech guy”, but I am more often identified with successful technology, and the associated leadership. So, of course a lot of focus would be on the Bank of brian website. Imagine, if you will, something along the lines of an old-time vintage design aesthetic combined with a Google-like (web 2.0?) simplicity and attention to speed. All logins would be two-factor, with the default being SMS’d  to you with a one-time code to log in when you gave your email address (Just so we’re clear, I’ve given this a lot of thought, for good reason, done my home work, and already using consultants). A significant part of the website would be the blog. It would have a strong Ben Franklin-like common sense voice, with a Thomas Jefferson oriented pragmatic tone with a few cool savings or home management tips each week. And, in-line with my own cultural architectural views, it would cover at least one financial industry story a day that was relevant to historical examples alined with current events for perspective.

For example:

“Bank of America spent forty million dollars on airplanes last year. We spent forty thousand to develop an iPhone application so you can check your balance from anywhere.”  (the average useful iPhone app costs $2.99.). NOTE: Not Android, at first. I say this because quality control is crucial here – and Apple defines that, while Android is working on it.

“Here’s how to block advertising when you browse the web with Firefox; it makes the web faster and less annoying.”

“So-and-so Bank’s website requires you to use Internet Explorer. We insist that you don’t because there are way cooler and faster browsers like Firefox, Opera and Safari. Here are links to those open source browsers you can switch to today.”

“Goldman Sachs just paid out sixteen billion dollars in bonuses to their employees. If we had an extra sixteen billion dollars lying around, we’d put it in the bank for a rainy day. By the way… If Goldman Sachs had never paid out bonuses they never would have needed government intervention.”

Sixty eight Million Reasons Your Bank Sucks. That’s the amount Bank of America collected last quarter in needless ATM fees.” …well, needless to customers, any way.

That’s all made up, for now. The headlines would almost write themselves, and every time a financial institution is in the news it’d be an opportunity to contrast why SmartBank is different, and what the underlying philosophy is behind why it’s different.

I’m a Social Historian. I study and consider why things happen. And, then I do something about it.

As trumpeted above, all of the marketing would be on the web and viral the verbal, or word-of-mouth part would follow (like eBay and Amazon) – because it’d be an online-only bank like ING Direct. No storefronts (brick-and-mortar) where people have to wait in line, or risk a bad interaction with a disinterested teller, or get robbed and need insurance.

To be clear…Basically, a lot of the historical risk of running a bank could be eliminated. When you sign up it would have a: “tell your friends about SmartBank” address book (like LinkedIN) feature that would connect you to them if they signed up for an account, give you both money (I should make the point that Bank of America actually does have something like this, so I have to keep thinking about it because of the karma thing), and also make it easy to send them money, PayPal-style, if they have an account.

I’ll pause here and offer that you might see a trend in my thinking… I’m picking, showcasing and reflecting products and services that appear to be working, and adopting them as my own for your benefit. This can be referred to as “best practices”. And, we need o be all-in on that.

I suspect SmartBank would make money and reward shareholders and customers alike, which just might separate it from the likes of Bank of America, for example. So… How would the Bank of brian make money and also provide terrific customer service, you ask?

I think it wouldn’t touch anything risky on the financial side. However, it would be a data company. As it turns out, data is a hot industry as evidenced by hiring and investment trends (and, I’m a subject matter expert in both areas). The first three years the focus would be entirely on customer acquisition, marketing, PR, and establishing a world-class tech team building a rock-solid infrastructure. SmartBank would likely make less money than non-customer-centric banks currently do, but it would be more than enough to build an amazing product in a sustainable way, like Craigslist did with newspaper classifieds. After a certain milestone, say one-hundred billion in deposits, I would buy or clone Mint. SmartBank would have more (and accurate) data about its customers than almost any other company in the world other than credit card companies, so the online interface would have Mint-like lead generation offers that are based on accurate information. For example, if you spend one hundred and forty dollars a month on electricity, but if you switch to this new solar provider you’d save two hundred dollars a year. Think of it like Gmail (By the way… I’ll admit to referencing Gmail, consistently in this post, to honor Nicholas Johnson and his possibly being a catalyst for much of this) contextual advertising but based on where you spend your money rather than the words in an email. There also might be aggregate data opportunities for economic research or targeting, but I’m not sure if I like, or have a firm understanding of, the privacy implications there.

SmartBank probably couldn’t, and I wouldn’t want to raise Venture Capital, or anything like it, because having any sort of exit expectations, and the predatory influence that would reflect Wall Street, would completely kill the “safety story”. Like most of my businesses today, I would want to bootstrap, and after a few years would be hugely profitable. I understand the irony in this vision coming from a felon. But, there is yet another example of my being Jeffersonian, a heterodox, and the contrarian, eh.

By the way… The existence of bank of brian would also put significant pressure on existing, more traditional, banks and the Federal Reserve,  because depositors would be leaving in droves, putting pressure on their reserve requirements. Existing banks couldn’t compete in a traditional way because they have such a sordid history of customer apathy and bad PR. SmartBank wouldn’t be trying to capture their profits, so-to-speak. However, we would reflexively be unhinging them while driving much more revenue, but in smaller amounts, but a larger end-result.I think this would end up looking something like a credit union, but for the masses.

Thanks Nicholas. And, the rest you readers can thank us both, at some point.

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork

Last week we started a fire storm discussing Barack Obama and his unfortunate involvement tanglements with “fringe groups”.

How are those defined, exactly?

Possibly modern-day Populists?

But certainly self-focused insiders at the treasury, and on Wall Street. Arguably, the leadership at the heart of the banking community itself.

Let’s use, as a worthy example (just to haul-off in search of some credibility) Obama’s forlorn and degenerating feint efforts around health care reform, and how that’s faring in Congress (there’s a Moose in the House).

I’m not convinced the Republicans are the problem. They are a problem. It’s the House, as a body, that is the problem because their own desires are not aligned with constituents.

Ironically, this makes the House a fringe-group.

I’m ready to take a LOT of heat for making that statement.

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork

This depends on how we might define work.

There’s a perspective, to be sure.

It can be argued that the Fed is intentionally holding rates at zero in the hopes of forcing investors, concerned about long-term challenges that include retirement, to invest in longer-term riskier assets instead of collecting “little or nothing (Bernarke)” on money market or CD’s.

Worse now for the Fed is the impression that monetary authorities work first and foremost for Wall Street.

Of course, Fed officials see this a bit differently… They see supporting Wall Street as their mechanism for supporting Main Street.

Ultimately, without the former, the latter is locked out of capital markets, and economic chaos could follow.

The purpose of Wall Street is supposed to be, or was designed to be (when it was founded in 1913) channeling investment funds into Main Street.

But most Americans no longer view Wall Street as ultimately working in their best interests – and, I believe they are mostly correct. This is the same Wall Street that aggressively pushed garbage loans onto the American people as policymakers praised the wonders of financial innovation. When did the purpose of finance evolve into simply a mechanism to enrich the relative few at the expense of many? And when did policymakers embrace this view? As Paul Krugman has noted, the Fed cannot envision a world not dominated by the magic of structured finance. Yet this is a world that failed us completely.

Look for my forthcoming post outlining the federally funded Goldman Scam that almost took AIG to it’s knees.

But, here’s the pattern outline, because I know you can’t wait:

1. Goldman creates or sells $23 billion (or more) of CDOs and stuffs them into AIG.

2. Goldman proclaims to the world they have no exposure to CDOs and warns that banks and insurers with CDO exposure will get downgraded.

3. Goldman initiates the mark downs of CDOs with AIG and others, acelerating the market’s downward spiral.

4. Huge mark to market losses lead insurer and bank credit to freeze, short term markets to lock up, ABCP to collapse.

5. AIG posts as much collateral as it has to Goldman, who has more aggressively marked down the exposure.

6. Bond insurers are downgraded, banks begin commutations with them.

7. AIG fails, Fed steps in, Goldman gets bailed out at par.

Come on! This is no accident. And no one in authority wants to find out where the truth lies.

Meanwhile…

The House has passed a bill to audit the Federal Reserve. However, we find ourselves hands-on-knees with a fast-action response from the the Fed claiming that an audit would interfere with its “independence”.

Sing me the song of irony.

Even though the Bill was buried, word got out, and  79% of the American people support at least the notion of a full audit.

NOTE: The Constitution does not empower what is becoming a central bank. And Congress, which created the Federal Reserve in 1913 (and, it coincided, oddly, somehow with the creation of Wall Street) which has the power to create credit and money (rather like Wall Street), and, certainly has the power to audit, dissolve, or do whatever it likes with the central bank (including stripping it of the power to create credit).

Point of reference: Can we agree that the Fed has bungled efforts to manage the economy, keeping unemployment low, and regulating banks?

Just in cases that white van finds me soon, the the independence argument is a red herring./1

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork

______________________

1/ Something that draws attention away from the central issue.

Apple continues to surge and delight while recently announcing its quarterly financial results after the close of the stock market Tuesday, reporting revenue of $8.34 billion and a net quarterly profit of $1.23 billion, or $1.35 per diluted share. (Analysts had estimated AAPL quarterly earnings at $1.17/share on estimated revenue of $8.2 billion.)

Sorting through the data we can see that Apple sold 2.6 million Macintosh computers (desktops and Macbooks) during the quarter, representing a four percent unit increase over the year-ago quarter. The Company sold 10.2 million iPods during the quarter, representing a seven percent unit decline from the year-ago quarter. Quarterly iPhones sold were 5.2 million, representing 626 percent unit growth over the year-ago quarter.

A local PC geek that actually thinks he is, some how, engaged around an on-going technology “smack down” with me, sent me an email crowing:

“Hah! Weakness is apparent. The iPod is finally showing its wear as numbers begin to trail-off. The Microsoft Zune and other products are not far behind!”

Silly little man. I laugh heartily, and with gusto, in your general direction.

The iPhone continues to gouge market share (never mind my prior and epic post: blackberry is all Business). And, perhaps very relevant to this point is the simple fact that the iPhone is, of course, an upgraded form of the iPod. This means the net growth of the iPod-oriented product line is actually up 619 percent – and why Apple continues to beat analysts expectations.

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork

If you ask most people how, why or when they think the practice of “tipping” (not relevant to cows unless you are eating them) originated, you may get a lot of different answers (assuming the responder cares).

Generally speaking, this article on Yahoo! covers the majority of theories.

But, it’s wrong (the article – not tipping).

David Sugarman (my Jewish business mentor from Los Angeles who once told me: “Brian, you could sell used cars to Ford”) once filled me in on the historical facts around tipping. Interestingly, that collaborated what my Grandad had told me. Then later, Aubrey Nelson, that biographer and skalawag, came up with a similar theory.

So, it’s true.

David Sugarman was always right (remind me to tell you the story about David, his sail boat, me, and the art of selling – and, listening).

To wit…

Tipping, as we know it, originated in New York around the turn of the century when leading Wall-Street Barons would reward good service with a tip – a few dollars and advice on a specific stock to buy.

The lucky waiter would then rush down to Wall Street, hand a trader his money, and “bet” on the stock. The best results were realized when the waiter also let the trader know whom had given them the tip.

This was also a foundation for insider information and trading.

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork

what’s all this about?

I can’t explain what that damn tree means - or, if it might stand for something.

However, here I do discuss events, people and things in our world - and, my (hardly simplistic, albeit inarticulate) views around them.

So, while I harangue the public in my not so gentle way, you will discover that I am fascinated by all things arcane, curious about those whom appear religious, love music, dabble in politics, loathe the media, value education, still think I am an athlete, and might offer a recipe.

All the while, striving mightily, and daily, to remain a prudent and optimistic gentleman.

brian cork by John Campbell

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about this particular Theme:

I'll warn you now that Tarski is theme of this blog created by Benedict Eastaugh and Chris Sternal-Johnson. It is named for the logician Alfred Tarski. I'll recommend his papers ‘The Concept of Truth in Formalized Languages’ and ‘On the Concept of Logical Consequence’, both of which can be found in the collection Logic, Semantics, Metamathematics.