Monday, March 19, 2012

On Honeybees and Goldman Sachs

  I met a bee keeper who told me that honeybees are misunderstood. "They only sting you when they are attacked - or sat on," he said. They don't like to attack because once they sting an attacker they die, disemboweling being a fatal side effect. When this happens, the bee sends out a chemical 'smell' which warns the other bees, and they then attack the killer (if they weren't already).
  While I was listening to these fun facts I couldn't help but mentally compare bees' behavior to that of human beings in financial markets. Financial markets players are part of a large hive - the markets, and smaller hives - their own companies. In terms of the 'market hive' if someone on the outside attacks, say a regulator trying to lay down new rules, the entire market hive tries to fight off the attacker. In terms of a 'company hive' if someone from outside the company hive attacks the employees (worker bees) gather to defend the hive.
  But what happens when someone from inside a hive attacks, as did the infamous (for now) Greg Smith did with Goldman Sachs? The company's queen (Lloyd Blankfein) and a higher-up worker bee (Gary Cohn) gathered the other worker bees and rallied to the cause that is Goldman Sachs. But the market hive seized on that moment of perceived weakness, in what is arguably one of the strongest hives, and savaged its share price. GS shares fell by over $4.00, instantly wiping over $2bn off of its market cap. All because a worker bee revolted.
  What does this tell us about human behavior? That company hives host honeybees which are protective of their own, and that market hives consist of giant hornets that savage a company hive at the first sign of trouble.
  In order for a company hive, that is as strong and secretive as a Goldman Sachs, to survive within the greater market hive it probably needs to be a private company. As a public company Goldman's creates envy and jealousy in the market hive. As my gym pal told me, a stinging bee will spend its dying moments distracting its victim by flying around its head as if it were going to sting again. Greg Smith's stinger is gone, along with (probably) his career. But the buzz continues. Goldman's needs to keep its revolting worker bees under control.

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