The first really amusing piece to come out of WallStreetCrash 2.0 — an elegant essay by Tom Wolfe, who coined the phrase in Bonfire of the Vanities.
The Masters of the Universe is a phrase from that book referring to ambitious young men (there were no women) who, starting with the 1980s, began racking up millions every year — millions! — in performance bonuses at investment banks like Salomon Brothers, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. The first three no longer exist. The fourth is about to be absorbed by Bank of America. The last two are being converted into plain-vanilla Our Town banks with A.T.M.’s in the lobby and, instead of Masters of the Universe, marginally adult female cashiers with wages in the mid-three figures per week, stocked with bags of exploding dye to hand the robbers along with the cash. American investment banking, the entire industry, sank without a trace in the last few days.
So where have they gone? To Greenwich, Connecticut, apparently, where is where the hedge funds hang out. And they left some time ago, it seems.
The hottest, brightest, most ambitious young men began abandoning investment banking in favor of hedge funds six years ago. Your correspondent can describe scenes of raging carotid-aneurytic anger as the young hotshots resigned. Security goons seized them by the elbow and marched them off the floor at six miles an hour. They couldn’t touch anything in or on their desks — not even the framed picture of Mom and Buddy and Sis, propped upright from behind by little cardboard wings covered in synthetic velvet — so furious were their superiors. Their biggest producers and future leaders were walking out on them.
An interesting snippet from the piece: hedge funds allow their investors to withdraw their money on only four days in the year (i.e. once a quarter). The next one is September 30 — next Tuesday. It’ll be interesting to see what happens: will some funds be hollowed out and become mere shells? And if so, where will their investors put their money next?