Wall Street bankers as upset as protesters

Max Abelson / Bloomberg News /


Published Oct 13, 2011 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

NEW YORK — Wall Street executives, facing demonstrators camped for a fourth week in New York’s financial district, say they’re anxious and angry for other reasons.

An era of decline and disappointment for bankers may not end for years, according to interviews with more than two dozen executives and investors. Blaming government interference and persecution, they say there isn’t enough global stability, leverage or risk appetite to triumph in the current slump.

“I don’t think it’s a time to make money — this is a time to rig for survival,” said Charles Stevenson, 64, president of hedge fund Navigator Group and head of the co-op board at 740 Park Ave.

The building, home to Blackstone Group Chairman Stephen Schwarzman and CIT Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer John Thain, was among those picketed by protesters Tuesday. “The future is not going to be like a past we knew,” he said. “There’s no exit from this morass.”

“They’re not going to make the kind of money they wanted,” said William Hambrecht, chairman of San Francisco- based WR Hambrecht&Co., who designed the Dutch auction of Google’s 2004 initial public offering. “I’m not sure people really have come to terms with the fact that what we had was a financial bubble.”

New rules from the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision will more than double capital requirements for banks. Fixed- income revenue could fall 25 percent under a draft of the Volcker rule, which may outlaw so-called flow trading, according to a note Monday from Brad Hintz, a Sanford C. Bernstein&Co. analyst. Leverage has been cut by more than half at banks including Goldman Sachs and UBS, and an Oliver Wyman and Morgan Stanley report estimates that regulation may reduce returns by 4 to 6 percentage points.

The new rules are the result of “societal objectives of a populist administration in Washington,” private-equity investor Wilbur Ross said in an email. John Phelan, co-founder of MSD Capital, a New York-based fund that manages assets for billionaire Michael Dell, said “the whole capitalist system is being called into question.”

Not everyone is worried about the banks.

“I wouldn’t shed too many tears for Wall Street,” Neil Barofsky, 41, the former special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program who is now teaching a class on the financial crisis at New York University School of Law, wrote in an email. “The systemic advantage that the too-big-to-fail banks enjoyed in the lead-up to the financial crisis may be diminished in the near term, but the structure is still essentially the same and will almost certainly help catapult them to record profits and bonuses once the good times return.”

Ross, 73, the billionaire chairman of New York-based WL Ross&Co., said Wall Street’s “inherent ingenuity” shouldn’t be discounted and that “the history of the investment community shows that it will find ways to profiteer.”

While there had been “an understandable path” out of the turmoil of 2008, there’s a more encompassing uncertainty now, said Frederick Lane, vice chairman of investment banking at St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Raymond James Financial Inc.

“There’s going to be some disillusionment, similar to physicians,” said Lane, 62. “The notion that somehow going to medical school would deliver you substantial wealth and prestige is no longer true.”

Phelan said he’s worried about “social unrest.”

“My taxes are going up,” he said. “Everybody hates me. I have two friends who bought land in New Zealand. They’re trying to convince me to go.”

He isn’t planning to visit.

“I’m not one of those extreme people,” he said.

Michael Karp, 42, CEO of New York-based recruitment firm Options Group Inc., said he met last month over tea at the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York with a trader who made $500,000 last year at one of the six largest U.S. banks.

The trader, a 27-year-old Ivy League graduate, complained that he has worked harder this year and will be paid less. The headhunter told him to stay put and collect his bonus.

“This is very demoralizing to people,” he said. “Especially young guys who have gone to college and wanted to come onto the Street, having dreams of becoming millionaires.”