From Enron to Sino Forest – Same Old Song

Posted by on Mar 31, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments

Enron –> Worldcom –> Adelphia –> Lehman –> MF Global –> Greece –> Sino Forest –> ????

I would rank these as some of the more notorious bankruptcies. These weren’t normal course of business bankruptcies. These were dark and deviant. They have many similarities.

Opaque and convoluted accounting and finances are common to them all.  Whether it was Jedi for Enron, repo 105 for Lehman, or off-market swaps with Goldman for Greece, they all used every trick in the book to keep debt off balance sheet and to obfuscate the risk.

In many cases, one individual pointed out the problem. They were often ignored by their peers and ridiculed or even threatened by management. Every single one of these companies attacked the individuals who were pointing out their problems, or just broadly lambasted the “evil speculators”. Yet in the end, their complex chain of interconnected and dubious transactions collapsed on them – the end often bein swift and brutal.

I didn’t include LTCM, or Healthsouth, Bear Stearns, Nortel, or Madoff, or AIG, or Fannie & Freddie or some others could have fit here as well.

Companies go bust all the time, but in most cases it was too much debt in a business that changed. These are different. They were full of deceit and denial, and never really had a chance of recovering once the web of lies, hidden debt, and accounting tricks came to light.

I can’t think of many companies tainted with that brush that ever survived? Tyco? Maybe there are more, but as financial complexity increase, efforts to hide debt grow, and the easy route is avoided, it is a clear warning side.

It is hard to watch what is going on in Europe and not believe that Greece is just the first of many. Countries and their banks. Countries and their regions. Countries and EU programs. Banks and their national central banks. Banks and the ECB. It is hard to pin down the fatal flaw, but for me it is harder to believe that there is nothing to see there and we should happily move along. Especially since Greece did happen in spite of all the denials.

Yes, the money printing of central banks is powerful, and maybe make it different this time, but just think about some countries and banks that could easily replace ????