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If Banks Were Musicians

May 12 (Bloomberg) -- Investment banks have personalities that are reflected in how they go about their business and how their peers view them. Bands express their character traits through the music they make and the company they keep. What happens when you match banks with musicians? 1) Goldman Sachs = The Rolling Stones Goldman Sachs Group Inc. occupies an odd position in the investment-banking pantheon. The world's No. 1 securities firm by market value is unloved by its peers and universally regarded as arrogant. Its prodigious appetite for hard work and its unrivaled profit-generating abilities arouse jealousy and admiration in equal measure. Goldman could almost be U2. While its followers are devoted, it's still not quite cool to admit to loving the Irish band. The rock 'n' roll establishment struggles to cherish a band whose lead singer, Bono, rubs shoulders with presidents and popes as he campaigns against global poverty. U2, though, would never embrace Goldman's aim of being ``long-term greedy.'' So, step forward the Rolling Stones; no one ever accused Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of paying anything less than full attention to the bottom line. 2) Citigroup = Ozzy Osbourne In ``Liar's Poker,'' Michael Lewis wrote that the key to being a successful trader at Salomon Brothers in the 1980s was a willingness to bite the ass off a bear every morning. Ozzy Osbourne would have fitted right in; around the same time he is reputed to have bitten the head off a dead bat thrown on stage after assuming it was a rubber toy. Salomon is now part of Citigroup Inc.'s empire. Ozzy is now more famous for parading his family on a reality television show broadcast by MTV. Both Citigroup and Ozzy are growing old disgracefully; Citigroup's many and varied brushes with the authorities around the world make the bank worthy of an alliance with the former Black Sabbath singer. 3) Deutsche Bank = Fleetwood Mac A lazy comparison would equate Deutsche Bank AG, Germany's only global bank, with Kraftwerk, Germany's only global band. Reliant on technology for success, secretive, Teutonic and somewhat emotionless, they have a lot in common. A different list of attributes, though, suggests an alternative. Immensely profitable? Check. Years of infighting and not communicating with one another? Check. Badly in need of a style makeover? Check. It's Fleetwood Mac. 4) JPMorgan = Radiohead JPMorgan Chase & Co. executives used to boast about the bank's roomful of 250 Ph.D.s, designing exotic derivatives strategies and proprietary mathematical models to tickle the wackier wedges of the world's financial markets for profit. Too clever by half, and needing another big hit to remain relevant? It could almost be REM. Radiohead edges it. 5) Barclays Capital = Oasis The capital-markets division of Barclays Plc could be the Red Hot Chili Peppers; chaotic in the 1990s, gained some focus in the early years of this decade, now looking a bit bloated and self-indulgent. Or Barclays Capital could be Keane, since both rose without a trace and are seemingly missing a key component, with Barclays surviving without an equity business and Keane bashing out pop music without the aid of guitars. Oasis is a better fit. Snarling insolence failed to break the U.S. market and, while past its peak, the band is still capable of flashes of brilliance. Moreover, it probably has twice as many employees as needed. I just can't work out which Gallagher brother, Noel or Liam, is Barclays Plc President Bob Diamond. 6) Morgan Stanley = Coldplay Deadly earnest. Blue-blooded. Well-heeled. Regularly at the top of the charts, though even fans have the nagging sense they might just be going through the motions. Morgan Stanley and Coldplay are made for each other. 7) Merrill Lynch = Madonna Both Merrill Lynch & Co. and Madonna peaked in the 1980s and have been irrelevant since the 1990s, notwithstanding umpteen attempts at reinvention. A willingness to jump on any passing bandwagon keeps David Bowie fresh; it leaves both Merrill and Madonna looking a bit like Whitney (Houston) dressed as Britney (Spears). 8) HSBC = any boyband Guns N' Roses has been poised to release ``Chinese Democracy'' for a decade. While some tracks have been performed live or been leaked in rough form, the album itself still isn't available. HSBC Holdings Plc has been poised to use its platform in Asian investment banking as the springboard to become a fully fledged global investment bank for at least as long. HSBC, though, could be any manufactured boyband. The true performers earn peanuts, while the management reaps the financial rewards. And, if there is a genius Robbie Williams lurking in the line-up, there's too much dead wood for the talent to shine through. 9) UBS = Phil Collins The bank and the former Genesis drummer/singer are both rich, both based in Switzerland, and no one with any sense gives a hoot about either. Medallion men with year-round tans and chunky gold watches bank with UBS AG, and rate ``In the Air Tonight'' as their favorite track of all time. 10) Commerzbank = David Hasselhoff Both Commerzbank AG and David Hasselhoff, the singing star of Knight Rider and Baywatch, are huge in Germany. Scientists have failed to explain why. To contact the writer of this column: Mark Gilbert in London at magilbert@....
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