Thursday, June 2, 2011

"Play Ball or Live With The Consequences"

It's a popular line among people such as myself that no one on Wall Street has faced any consequences for fraud/speculation/greed/destroying the economy that they committed.

This is not true. The whistleblowers get punished:
Whistle-blowers, truth-tellers and fraud-spotters pay a miserable price on Wall Street. They are vilified. They are fired. Sometimes they are even sued. Instead of being sought after, they become persona non grata.

In this column, co-published with New York Times' DealBook, I monitor the financial markets to hold companies, executives and government officials accountable for their actions. Tips? Praise? Contact me at

Recently, I caught up with David Maris, a one-time star pharmaceutical analyst for Bank of America who became embroiled in one of the most notorious bull/bear battles of the last decade. His story encapsulates just how broken Wall Street culture is.

In 2003, Mr. Maris put out a sell report on Biovail, a Canadian drug company. He fixed on the company's bizarre explanation of why it had missed its earnings estimates: a truck carrying a supposedly huge amount of medicine crashed at the very end of the quarter. Mr. Maris detailed why this was wildly implausible.

Desperate to deflect the attention, Biovail took the offensive. It sued Mr. Maris and Bank of America in early 2006. It also sued SAC Capital Advisors, the hedge fund, and Gradient Analytics, an independent research firm, claiming a giant conspiracy to drive down its stock price with false reports.

For a time, Bank of America stood by Mr. Maris. But it eventually caved and fired him — two weeks before the end of 2006, enabling it to not pay his bonus. Mr. Maris is now in arbitration, seeking $21 million in back pay.

"For the first few days, there were high-fives and a lot of media attention," Mr. Maris said. "People said this is what research should be. But then reality strikes the bank." Lawsuits and media coverage are unpleasant and unwanted.
I don't want to create the impression that Mr. Maris is suffering. He isn't. He works at CLSA, a relatively unknown but important research shop, owned by a French bank that encourages its analysts to pursue independent lines of inquiry. Another analyst who has long been a truth-teller on banks, Mike Mayo, has also landed there.

But because Mr. Maris is willing to be publicly negative on stocks, he continues to face obstacles. He is prevented from asking questions on conference calls. Companies don't allow him to bring clients on visits. Some clients seem concerned about the lawsuits in his past.

"If you asked me what's my advice for a young analyst who wants to be in business for a long time, I wouldn't tell them to follow the path I went," he says. On Wall Street, "everyone knows you play ball or live with the consequences."

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