US Corporate Media Ownership & Agenda
Transcript of Broadcast: February 1, 2013
The facts I cite in this report are not loosely researched opinions, they are double and triple referenced induspitable facts. The comments section of this video provide links to credible peer reviewed sources.
First there is the joint struggle of libertarian right and the progressive left against the theft from the people to the powerful. In this struggle the libertarian right was greatly strengthened through the thrilling and inspiring oratory of Ron Paul, and unlike Obama, under it was an absolute conviction this man would do what he said. All the evidence was there to support it through his 30 years in the political wilderness. People on the progressive left like Glenn Greenwald and many others saw this man was the only one willing to question the unbridaled expansion of a military correctional state that fed massive corporate profits and not only profits but expansion of these organizations, to become major employers. Never mind that if we want to employ people it could be in science, or engineering or the arts, or manufacturing. No the great expansion in employment would be in surveillance, militarism and police departments that become more and more like paramilitaries.
The wedding of large corporate structures with an ever expanding state – the worst aspects of big government and big business.
Last week, you lost the right to own a computer or a cell phone. It is now a service not a possession. If you misuse the product you can be jailed. It is incredible. When I was in telecommunications research we abstractly debated whether people wanted a ‘refrigerator’ or ‘refrigeration’. Never did it occur to me that you could be jailed if you modified a refrigerator you bought. The copyright and patent laws now no longer reward innovation and invention they suppress it. This is the tip of the iceberg. IBM, Google, Oracle and Apple have ammased millions of patents. Your only recourse in many cases as a small company is to hope to sell out to a well connected large enterprise who can license these many vague patents. Patents on your bodies tissues and cells, patents such as 1-click shopping.
And in each industry consolidation occurs. As consolidation occurs, profits rise, competition and choice dies out, barriers to entry rise, and government grants, contracts and licenses are given increasingly to those consolidated companies and their satellite sub contractors.
In the business of money itself, at the very top lie BlackRock, State Street, Fidelity, T.Rowe Price, Vanguard and …..
5 or 6 large private equity firms that control the worlds money. Their funds invest in companies, and comprise 60% or 70% of the equity in nearly every firm in the world.
5 large media companies have gathered almost all power to themselves.
CNN, ComCast now owns NBC, Disney’s ABC, Sumner Rothstein’s CBS ViaCom, and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News.
ComCast bought NBC, and have you noticed most people still thinks its owned by GE?
GE if you search their financial statements you would be hard pressed to find their military industries. It is all classified under innocuous titles. Maybe GE to avoid public scrutiny as the maker of the drones and bombs Rachel Maddow covered in her story on Pakistans sold the enterprise.
The joining of the powerful broadcast network with the primary cable company, means that 2 competing lobbies in Washington become 1.
The rule seems to be 5-5-5 or 6-6-6
Six Massive Private Equity Firms controlling the investments of the unsuspecting labor unions, the retirement funds, the average persons and the billionaires stock portfolio. All invested in each other as well.
Five massive networks controlling the vast majority of television, news and entertainment.
Internet Access is controlled by a very small group of players, the old regional bell companies renamed, Verizon and ATT the two key players and ComCast. ATT and Verizon have not yet bought CBS, the smallest of the entertainment and news giants. They could not likely buy Fox or Disney unless they stumble, though AOL Time Warner CNN is a possible target.
So now we see some threats to the Internet.
It suits companies like Showtime and ESPN to not allow access to their product via the Internet. A great deal of content is locked up with the Cable Companies. If you don’t have their Cable TV product, you cant get their content online. If you do have their cable, you don’t even need to ever plug it in, it can all be accessed online. This is called the walled garden.
Five or 6 major contractors for the massive security state.
1 in 10 dollars of our economy goes to the military industrial complex, 1 in 12 to the prison industrial complex and police, 1 in 5 to medical insurance cartel.
Clearly real productive work is no longer needed. Now we simply need to drag blocks into the ocean, as Keynes described. Jobs are disconnected from real productivity, and the news speak of the right now uses the euphemism job creators instead of the ultra wealthy.
The military is used to safeguard corporate manipulation of economies around the world, “commerce follows the flag”, the military works for the big corporations, and gives the big corporations trillions in pork larded no bid contracts.
The economy is becoming neatly divided into kiretsu’s, the Japanese word, or Chaebol the Korean word.
And yet there is hope that their might be cause for quiet optimism. But it will be a few moments before I can cheer you.
John Kerry when questioned by Rand Paul, made it clear he was a totalitarian when he said the President should be able to use military force in an emergency. He claimed our acting in Benghazi saved 10,000 lies. Incredibly and dissapointingly Rand Paul did not pursue this line of questioning. In fact at most a few hundred would have died in putting down Benghazi and the people at the CIA who inform him knew that. The Gadaffi Government had it been treated with respect rather than like dirt would likely have accelerated the pace of reforms, as Libya had been ‘liberalizing’ that is doing more and more as the West dictated, for a decade.
Kerry used the same lie to justify using Libya for NATO target practice, as we had used in Iraq and in the decision to nuke Japan. A hypothetical massacre. In Vietnam we attacked our own ships in the Gulf Of Tonkin. The propagandist lie that accompanies every war of choice should be attacked frontally, never submitted to, and exposed. We could go through the wars of the last 200 years, and each one was proceeded with a propagandist reason, a distortion, and most of them went unchallenged.
not ready to admit that no consideration was given at all for Libyans by killing instead of thinking. Thoughtful solutions are complicated, do not play well on TV, and involve potentially embarrassment from setbacks, and can take time. Now 10,000 SAMs and 100s of thousands of small arms have spread like a plague out of Libya, into Syria trans shipped to Turkey.
The two greatest treasures in Africa are now destroyed. In Libya
In the NY Times the Obama administration apologetically and brazenly described their criminal conspiracy to David Kirpatrick and nearly a dozen other journalists, that the US gave the green light to Qatar. The reactionary religious fundamentalists that rule Saudia Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain hated Gadaffi, because he publicly exposed them for what they were. He may or may not have been a very nice man, in fact his portrait is complex, a Bedouin who created a bloodless coup that deposed a monarchy installed by the British after WWII and who did nothing for Libyans, A Nasserite, an idealist, and perhaps a bit mad, as many brilliant people seem and perhaps are.
Our journalists were briefed by the White House on how the US gave the green light to Qatar to ship weapons to Libya to the only group who knew how to use them, a conservative religious extremist organization that had staged a bloody insurgency in Libya at the same time the Algerians were battling the same thing in the 80s and 90s. People who were quite at home with the Salafist Wahabi philosophy of Usama Bin Laden, and House Of Saud, and the Emir of Qatar. Our best friends when they control oil and do our bidding, our worst enemies when they don’t. This group was the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. One of its leaders became the Military Commander of Libya’s capital Tripoli after the Qatari and other nations special forces stormed the Gadaffi compound.
The Obama administration told the Qataris to ship weapons to Libya, as long as they couldn’t be traced back to the U.S. This is certainly a felony criminal conspiracy to commit mass murder, yet it is calmly laid out in the NY Times, as an ‘explanation’ of how Jihaadists took over the Libyan uprising. It was the families of the Jihaadists who started the uprising! How could this surprise anyone!
Yet the Obama administration did not enter this into their calculus apparently.
When people allow bombing to start, when people liquidate the armed forces of a nation, plunging the northern half of a continent into instability and chaos, evil and incompetence can be hard to distinguish. Harry Truman and George W. Bush both exhibit these problems, were they evil unleashing atomic weapons on Japan, with the entire war concluded and Japan isolated? Or was it a fundamental incapacity to think properly. And this is what Nelson Mandela said Of George Bush, who unleashed the b bankrupting of the healthy part of the US Economy and the enriching of the parasitic crony capitalist part with his “War Of Terror” – as Borat said.
So does that mean that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are also intellectual mediocrities?
So in addition to the fact that 4 cities were wholly or partially razed to the ground in Libya due to our so called “Humanitarian Intervention”, and that rape on a wide scale has been conducted not by Gadaffi forces, but against women suspected of having been arrogant under the socialist equal suffrage police state of Gadaffi, which did at least attempt to provide equal rights to religious and racial minorities and women. All these minorities are under attack now. The government is virtually devoid of Women.
Libyans who are unhappy with what has taken place are threatened, tortured and killed, on scales hundreds of times larger than under Gadaffi. Blacks are lynched, Sufi shrines are torched, rare manuscripts burned, and the emir of Qatar and the house of Saud press for even harsher treatment of their vassals in Libya today. For it is the Qataris who largely call the shots.
And now the greatest most priceless treasure in Africa has been destroyed in Mali. Thousands of manuscripts and books written over a period of 800 years torched by the Islamic extremists we armed and trained in Libya. France sends its forces into Mali to contain the fallout of its bombardment of Libya and reassert their military might and imperialist dreams, and to do some good as well, as things are not black and white on either side of the equation. But it was too late for the intellectual heritage of Africa.
Previously a vast room filled to the ceiling with Gold and Silver coins from the time of Alexander the Great, 300 b.c. were looted from the museum in Libya at Benghazi. Each coin was worth over 100,000 dollars, the value of the treasure would exceed 1 billion dollars. History is under attack in Africa. And I place the blame on Obama, Samantha Powers, Hillary Clinton, the CIA, the Pentagon, Sarkozy, Cameron and of all of them the one who should be put through the nurenberg trial treatment from start to finish is Anders Fogh Rasmussen. There is no fate horrible enough to pay for his remarks. “We shall continue or operation in Libya until no civilian can be harmed”. This legalese statement could be used to justify the murder of the entire human race.
So Libya, once one of the most peaceful and educated countries in the world of its class and size, is now an anarchic place run by local warlords who jockey for spoils and power. Some their may think the price is worth it to rid themselves of Gadaffi. But it all could have been avoided by some intelligence in our state department to reign in the shoot first ask questions later, and media propaganda spin doctors feeding a massive pack of lies for her and Obama and Rice to regurgitate constantly. I have dissected all of this previously. America did not intervene in Egypt or Tunisia, 1 or 2000 protestors and police have died in the chaos perhaps. In Libya with a very small population 100s of thousands have become homeless, tens of thousands raped beaten, tortured or gunned down in reprisal killings,and 10s of thousands have lost their lives. The same is the recipe for Syria, where the US gave the same logistical aid leading from behind, militarizing a political problem, leading to immeasurable suffering. if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail – this is the lesson of the US NATO military juggernaut eager to test its systems and power every time a crisis erupts.
Countries with peaceful revolutions usually do well, countries with violent revolutions usually do not.
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So Kerry is a disgusting sell out, who has voted for all kinds of legislation attacking our civil liberties and supporting neo con neo lib agendas.
Chuck Hegel on the other hand telegraphs something different from Obama. I thought Hegel could not possibly succeed and let me tell you why.
When I was working on Libya, gradually realizing from my initial view that it was great news that Gadaffi was to be overthrown, and then finding out about Libya’s positive achievements and the propagandist nature of press coverage – that perhaps it was not the White House dictating the war agenda, but the media itself! Perhaps the real power in this country is the media. I still haven’t sorted it all out but I have found out a lot of pieces of the puzzle.
The stock in the 5 big TV Networks, which own many many other forms of media such as Hollywood studios, radio stations etc – are all invested via the big private equity players if I can call them that Black Rock, State Street and Fidelity. That is one part of the puzzle, the ultra wealthy give their money to these giant investment managers. These investment managers are ultra publicity shy.
But the money and management of these companies is 75%
WASPS, jewish people, neo conservatives and the religious right.
So what they all have in common is a “defend Israel or die trying”. Israel refuses to give the Palestinians citizenship, in Israel and refuses to give them a viable country in the lands they stole in the 1967 war. I say stole, because it is morally justifiable perhaps to hold this land as a security buffer. But they must allow the Palestinians to vote in an election in a sovereign state, just like every other human being in the world.
Now up until the murder of the 2 participants in the Oslo Peace accords, Yitzhak Rabin, a war hero, and Yasser Arafat, whose character can best be described in reading the writings of Israeli peace activist Uri Avneri, not as bad a fellow as many might think, who was probably assassinated by Ariel Sharon, we shall likely know soon. It looked like peace in the middle east might happen.
But since Netanyahu was elected it has been a bad situation. With the wall erected, the Israelis win, as long as the US gives them unquestioned backing. Now the policy is incredibly short sighted, because a fury is building in the hearts of many people, particularly arabs and muslims but many many people in the dehumanization of Palestinians by Israel.
And to me the fundamental issue is that they should have the right to vote. They have less rights than blacks in the north before the civil war. And in the mean time what has happened to the progressive s in Israel willing to give the Palestinians pieces of Jordan and Egypt that Israel occupies, the future Palestinian State? One factor is that Israel has absorbed some less educated and more racist citizens from the former Soviet Union, people who my Israeli friends tell me think of Arabs as animals. And 1 million of them emigrated to Israel. That is 1/6th of the population.
So to my Jewish brothers and sisters in the US and around the world I say, let us in America stop having to write a blank check for this insanity. Join J Street the progressive jewish organization seeking a 2 state solution, and pressure the companies with prominent Jewish management to adopt a pro 2 state solution.
Dump the racism of Netanyahu and all who stand with him. Now we in the US have been turned into Isreal with our airport security and war of and on terror. Our drone attacks breeding hatred by arabs muslems, intellectuals and citizens of smaller countries generally.
Another important issue lately is the call for banning the use of military style weapons by American Citizens. On the one hand, no other country has gun death levels like the US, nor gun ownership levels. There is 1 gun for every man woman and child in this country in private hands.
On the other hand the traditional argument has been a police state cannot take over completely if the population is armed. Our right to bear arms is to resist the possible rise of a military style police state imposed on us, well little frogies the pots been warming, and we now have most of corporate fascism, except with a big consumerist happy face on it. It will turn to a snarl soon though – if you try to put the people in power who benefit on the streets. Just witness the brutality against protests of many kinds, from occupy movement to the protests against the IMF and the world bank. Now a law has been passed making certain forms of protest illegal in Congress, btw.
So I take the concern that disarming the population is not all upside seriously.
Our Nation since its dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima has become an ultra violent nation. We have been the primary aggressor and intervener around the world. We have interfered in the affairs of dozens of developing countries, fueling insurgencies, deposing left wing elected presidents and installing right wing military rules (Libya the latest until fate dictates otherwise).
So I say we have an ultra violent government, our military our prisons our unnecessary infliction of poverty on our population are forms of state violence.
The celebration of this fascism by Hollywood, which is exacerbated by the WASP-NeoCon-ProIsrael even when Israel is doing things that damage US interests –such as screwing over the Palestinians massively – making arabs hate us even more than when we are drone attacking and funding their despots and invading their countries axis.
Hollywood this year produced two movies, Zero Dark Thirty and Argo. Both of thems are advertisements for the CIA. The CIA is not a good force in America. Two make two major movies advertising for it in 1 year is disturbing. Also disturbing is that Z.D.T implies torture is effective, when it probably isn’t . This bring s me to a funny story. God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World.
The Spanish inquisition only allowed one torture session and used 3 techniques, the Rack, pulling someone up by a rope tied to their hands behind their back, and the 3rd technique was waterboarding. The Spanish Inquisition knew Waterboarding was torture but apparently not the Bush administration. So ZDT while perhaps a well crafted propaganda film, is nonetheless a fatally flawed vision in failing to address any of the moral dimensions of these programs, which could have been done without breaking the quality of the films stark depiction, and even worse distorts what happened to make it appear torture obtained actionable intelligence – when in fact that intelligence was not even obtained through torture.
In the case of Argo, the story of the century, “October Surprise” a book by Iran White House NSC member Gary Sick, which provides compelling evidence Reagan forced americans to remain hostages in Iran until after the election and even his inauguration is entirely ignored. Another distorted propagandist film.
The point is that Hollywood is part of the military industrial media complex now, and is part of the axis of American violence.
So I would say to Obama and the Govt. It is great you are concerned about violence and aggression. There are 3 facets. 1 is state violence, 1 is media sensationalization of violence, and the 3rd are the murders commited in this country using guns.
Can you lead by example? Can the government set a good example, and cut military spending, reduce the number of people incarcerated for non violent crimes, and for
Things to do:
Boycott Companies who are bad actors
Cancel your service with ComCast and ATT and Verizon. Use Skype over Wifi for mobile devices whenever possible.
Don’t buy from companies affiliated with the military industrial complex. Don’t vote for the democratic or republican parties. Unless your vote can affect the outcome in a swing state. Vote against incumbents. Vote for middle class people, not rich people, whenever possible.
Buy food from farmers, install solar and wind and grow food in your own garden. Sabotage the Large Corporate Economy by boycotting it.
Of course buy the things that you need. But think about it. Don’t pay taxes to Governments that spend them on incarceration spying and warfare instead donate your money to good causes to reduce your taxes, work less to reduce your taxes. Let the ultra wealthy pay for their own wars and propaganda at the least, and not force you to pay for them.
I also have a web page of all the greatest thinkers I have been able to find on these problems. Go to it and listen to these people. This week I recommend in particular “Orwell rolls over in his grave” and Oliver Stone’s a peoples history of the United States.
and its national theater chain, owned by AOL Time Warner. An early crazy play to consolidate the communication network and the content provider. Traditionally their has been some friction between the television
Whether through arrogance, error or malevolence. North Africa has had great misery inflicted upon it, millions of deaths are possible due to the creation of a refugee crisis in the Sahel
(Fortune Magazine) -- On Oct. 1, 2008, BlackRock's CEO, Larry Fink, was sitting in his glass-framed Manhattan office when CNBC reported that Warren Buffett was buying a big stake in General Electric. BlackRock's nearby trading floor erupted with excitement. The experts and the pundits on the tube viewed the Buffett news as a sign that the markets were stabilizing. Fink didn't see it this way and shared his gut reaction with an associate.
"This isn't about a sweet, clever grandfather from Omaha making a nice deal! It means GE can't roll over its commercial paper, and corporate America can't fund itself!" As the TV buzzed with happy talk, Fink predicted a new round of fear, panic, and collapsing asset prices, loudly concluding, "This is a disaster!"
It is precisely this type of contrarian, worst-case-scenario thinking that has propelled BlackRock (BLK, Fortune 500) over the past 21 years from an eight-partner bond shop to the best-performing financial services company of its generation. Since BlackRock made its debut on the NYSE in late 1999, its shares have jumped 14-fold, from $14 to $198, creating more than $25 billion in market value. By contrast, Goldman Sachs's just about tripled during the same period.
BlackRock is now by far the biggest, fastest-growing asset manager in the world. When BlackRock completes its $13.5 billion acquisition of Barclays Global Investors (known on the Street as BGI) later this year, it will more than double its assets under management, to $3.1 trillion -- yup, trillion. That's twice as big as its nearest rivals, State Street (STT,Fortune 500) and Fidelity.
BlackRock is also a totally new creation in the world of asset management, a one-stop shop offering a smorgasbord of products to both institutional and retail investors. Unlike banks or brokerages, it does nothing but manage money, and it is the largest provider of fixed-income funds. No wonder Cisco (CSCO, Fortune 500), FedEx (FDX, Fortune 500), and the public school teachers of California trust the firm to help invest their retirement savings.
But as the Book of Luke says, "To whom men commit much, of him they will demand the more." And therein lie the challenges for BlackRock: Can a former bond boutique manage trillions of dollars? What are the thought processes that drive its investment decisions? Can BlackRock deliver consistent returns in an industry where turnover is frequent and talented money managers don't always play nicely with one another?
Left to right: BlackRock COO Sue Wagner, CEO Larry Fink, and President Rob Kapito
BlackRock's daily 8 a.m. staff meeting, which includes execs from around the globe via video
Answers to these and other mysteries are just some of the secrets that Fortune sought to unlock by spending a month talking with BlackRock executives about how it has flourished during some of the most nightmarish moments in high finance, including 1998's Long-Term Capital Management debacle, 2000's tech crash, and 2008's credit crisis. What follows are four strategies for managing a company and gauging the markets that have driven BlackRock to No. 50 on the Fastest-Growing Companies list.
LESSON 1: Make a big business feel like a small company
To understand BlackRock's corporate culture, you need to understand the interplay of Fink and the firm's president, Rob Kapito, who have worked as a team for more than 20 years, and have two very different styles of leadership.
The son of a shoe store owner, Fink is a workaholic who arrives at the office at 5:45 a.m. He spends most of his time on the big picture, talking to important clients, plotting acquisitions, and counseling the Washington regulators who have become a crucial source of business. In his spare time he likes to live well. His brother Steve, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, describes Larry's property in rustic North Salem north of Manhattan as "Disneyland on a farm." It boasts an indoor riding ring and an 18th-century manor house containing one of the greatest collections of American folk art.
Kapito, 52, is as quiet and precise as Fink, 56, is gregarious and opinionated. Kapito runs the day-to-day operations -- everything from personnel to accounting. He is also the guardian of BlackRock's corporate culture, doing a lot of little things to keep BlackRock feeling familial. One manager found Kapito sitting in her hospital room when she awakened after cancer surgery. In July 2008, Kapito wanted to do something special for the London gold and natural-resources team when their funds reached a milestone of $50 billion. So he flew to London, rented a house, and personally cooked a lamb-chop-and-salmon dinner for the troops, whom he enlisted as sous-chefs with toques inscribed with their names.
Another hallmark of the BlackRock ethos is the daily morning meeting, held at 8 a.m. around a gigantic oval table in a fourth-floor Manhattan conference room. "It's mandatory, like church when you're a kid," says co-chief operating officer Charlie Hallac, who each morning takes the 6:03 a.m. train from his home in Scarsdale, N.Y., with a bunch of BlackRock managers.
More than a dozen offices from around the world -- London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, to name a few -- attend via audio- or videoconferencing. Some satellite offices appear in boxes on a giant screen. It's sort of Hollywood Squares meets high finance. Around the table, managers with nameplates reading "U.S. rates" or "Securitized assets" give pointed, usually one-minute presentations ending with "That's it!"
One morning in July the round of presentations jumped from a description of potash pricing in Britain, to the chances of the government's nationalizing Fannie Mae, to an update on CIT's efforts to raise capital. When participants talk too long, Kapito chides them to keep their presentations brief and pithy.
Aside from Kapito and Hallac, key leaders include COO Sue Wagner and Ben Golub, a Ph.D. from MIT, who is the overlord of BlackRock's risk-management system. These managers devote a lot of attention to employees, who are encouraged to spend their entire careers at the firm -- in fact, the turnover rate is a mere 11%, a figure unheard-of on Wall Street.
Fink prizes loyalty in his people and his partners. He steams when he doesn't get it. A case in point would be his reaction in the summer of 2008 when he learned that Merrill Lynch, which then owned a 49% stake in BlackRock and needed to raise capital, was considering selling that stake. According to close friends of Fink, he called Merrill CEO John Thain and exploded: "Why the [expletive] did I read about this in the paper? Why didn't you tell me to my face?"
LESSON 2: When investments get complex, do your homework
The simplest explanation of how BlackRock's strategy differs from that of other bond experts like Pimco: BlackRock does not invest by forecasting which way interest rates are headed. Instead BlackRock wonkishly focuses on the other factors that drive bond values: prepayments and default risk. As a result, BlackRock was better equipped to analyze the complex mortgage securities that came to dominate the fixed-income markets and that caused so much havoc last year.
BlackRock's approach works like this: Say mortgage bonds are selling at a big discount because rates recently rose. BlackRock's models are expert at judging if those bonds are "rich" or "cheap" based on its technology for predicting prepayment trends and defaults. If the model predicts, for example, that prepayments will be higher than most investors expect, BlackRock can garner extra returns because homeowners will pay off their loans at full value, and the fund can reinvest the proceeds at higher rates.
The firm's analytical modeling gets so granular that BlackRock found that people living near IBM offices prepay frequently because IBM executives are often dispatched to new cities. "The BlackRock team is one of the few that can break down those products and assess their true risks," says Michael Rosen of Angeles Investment Advisors, a firm that counsels pension funds and other institutions on choosing money managers.
BlackRock executives are constantly refining their models to stay one step ahead of the latest funky financial product from Wall Street's wizards. "The firms that design securitized products are always conspiring against us with new, increasingly complex instruments," says Rob Goldstein, who oversees BlackRock Solutions, which leases an ultrasophisticated technology platform to clients and has a team that helps companies analyze and run their portfolios. "It's our mission to make sure they don't win." On behalf of the Federal Reserve, BlackRock Solutions is managing troubled assets from AIG (AIG, Fortune 500) and Bear Stearns.
Even with all this quantitative firepower, the company does not always get it right: BlackRock spotted the bubble in subprime, but it misjudged the commercial mortgage-backed securities market.
In late 2006 the company developed a model that put a lower, more realistic number on the incomes subprime borrowers were claiming on their "no doc" loans. The projections were shocking: BlackRock figured that when the loans reset to their new, higher rates in a couple of years, most borrowers would be spending more than half their real incomes on mortgage payments. Foreseeing an avalanche of defaults, BlackRock dumped subprime bonds in early 2007 when the prices were still lofty.
Nevertheless, even the best models can fail when markets go haywire, and that explains how BlackRock simply misread the commercial real estate market. As subprime bond prices plunged in late 2007 and early 2008, the value of real estate securities that BlackRock deemed far more solid dropped as well. By the spring of last year, the interest-rate spreads between Treasuries and commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) -- loans secured by office buildings and shopping centers -- ballooned from 2.5 to 10 percentage points.
BlackRock thought the bonds were a great buy, since the buildings were often fully leased, their AAA tranches had first claim on payments, and the mortgages frequently dated from 2004 or 2005, before lending got wildly excessive. BlackRock placed the bonds in dozens of its funds, often substituting them for Treasuries or corporates, reckoning that they were safe and would produce superior returns.
But by late 2008 the prices of CMBS cratered again, this time sending spreads to an incredible 16 points. It wasn't that the bonds were unsound, at least over the long term. The problem was that highly leveraged hedge funds, REITs, investment banks, and other investors that depended on short-term financing couldn't roll over their commercial paper and other loans, so they were dumping whatever they could sell, including CMBS.
Because of the drag from CMBS, BlackRock's returns were so weak that two-thirds of its bond funds languished in the bottom half of their categories for 2008. The apocalypse Fink predicted as he watched the Buffett announcement on CNBC had trampled even BlackRock's vaunted risk models. "It was a year where the unpredictable turned into the unimaginable," says Fink.
This year the bonds have rebounded strongly, providing a major boost to the company's performance in fixed income. For 2009, BlackRock's 124 bond funds have delivered average returns of almost 20%. Nearly two-thirds rate in the top half of their categories. BlackRock still hasn't caught the benchmarks for the past 18 months, but the gap is narrowing dramatically.
For BlackRock the lesson of 2008 is that "market risk can hurt you, but liquidity risk can kill you," says Goldstein. In other words, BlackRock was prepared to cope with the normal ebb and flow of the market, but not a panic where no one wants to own anything but Treasuries. As a result, BlackRock has now recalibrated its models to predict scenarios where buyers disappear.
To do so, it's tracking the leverage of financial players as never before -- the more leveraged the system, the bigger the chance for another chaotic selloff. It's also advising college endowments and other clients to reduce their exposure to illiquid private-equity investments and hold far more in easy-to-sell bonds or even hedge fund stakes.
LESSON 3: Acquire to grow, not to cut
BlackRock does not make acquisitions where the main goal is to pare costs by eliminating people and combining similar products. "We've seen in many mergers, both in asset management and banking, that bloodletting doesn't work," says Fink. Instead, Fink prefers to go after firms that add to BlackRock's roster of products and extend its footprint into new international markets.
Nor does Fink want to sell BlackRock to a major bank, in part because he believes that if he did so, other banks would be reluctant to sell BlackRock's products. An illustration of Fink's credo in action was BlackRock's 2006 acquisition of Merrill's asset-management arm, known back then as Merrill Lynch Investment Managers.
Accounting for only 7% of Merrill's profits, MLIM was something of an orphan. The group had built an excellent family of mutual funds, but they were shunned by other brokerages and banks precisely because they bore the Merrill moniker. "Even the Merrill financial advisers were reluctant to sell our funds, because clients would think they favored the hometown product," says Frank Porcelli, who joined BlackRock from Merrill and now heads the U.S. retail business. MLIM executives became so frustrated that they planned on dumping the name and rebranding as Princeton Portfolio Research.
In the Merrill deal, BlackRock followed its classic template: It acquired a business with complementary financial products, stamped its brand on them, and then inducted the conquered people into its culture. One way that Fink does this is by avoiding the toxic power-sharing arrangements that are common in Wall Street mergers, where the head of the division from the acquired company is given a seat alongside the person who runs the same division at the acquiring company. No co-heads, no infighting.
Fink wanted to keep MLIM's talented money managers, so he elevated Bob Doll, a Merrill veteran, to head equities over the BlackRock candidate. All told, BlackRock kept around 2,400 of MLIM's 2,500 employees (BlackRock will have 9,000 employees after the BGI merger), and the deal is a proven winner: Under the BlackRock banner, the former MLIM funds now sell briskly at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, UBS, Wachovia, and of course Merrill.
BlackRock's independence and lack of its own brokerage business helped it beat out Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500) and Vanguard for the soon-to-close BGI deal. iShares, which is the world's largest family of ETFs, are sold through brokers, and Barclays president Bob Diamond feared that as the bank grew bigger in the securities business, rivals would shun his trophy product. The opportunity to own a 19.9% stake in BlackRock also proved extremely alluring.
The deal's announcement this summer had its comic side. Diamond flew in from London for an interview on Bloomberg TV. When he was dropped off at Bloomberg headquarters in the pouring rain, he discovered that the interview was to be held at the BlackRock building, and that with nothing but British pounds in his pocket, he couldn't pay for a taxi. So Diamond grabbed a young Bloomberg reporter, dragged him into a cab, and got the young man to pay for his ride to BlackRock, where he bummed the bucks to pay him back. "I practically scared the journalist to death," jokes Diamond.
LESSON 4: Know where your business is heading
With his trader's gut, Fink is betting that last year marked a paradigm shift in the ways institutions invest their money. He calls it the "new conservatism."
In recent years, pension funds and endowments rushed to diversify into alternative assets like private equity and timberland, which turned out to be highly illiquid when the credit crunch hit. To meet their obligations, those investors were forced to sell their best, most liquid assets at distressed prices.
Now, he predicts they will move to a "barbell" strategy: They will place the bulk of their portfolios in plain-vanilla bonds and indexed equity funds. That tranche will form the low-risk, conservatively-managed end of the barbell. To boost returns, they will stick the rest with a select group of equity managers with sharply-focused strategies and a history of high returns, as well as hedge funds with easy-to-trade financial assets. Private equity investments with their long lockups and illiquid holdings will fall out of favor. "We're in a period where liquidity will be far more important," says Fink.
So the next time disaster strikes and Buffett is snatching bargains from the flames, Fink -- and investors with trillions looking to BlackRock to model the unimaginable -- will be prepared.
Reporter associate: Sarah Kabourek