Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Matter of the Markets

The New York Stock Exchange from the heels of George Washington at Federal Hall. 2:30 PM. Photo: JH.
9/30. Tuesday. Yesterday was a beautiful day in New York. Mild, sunny with occasional heavy clouds considering rain. By early evening the air was cooler and near the park still redolent of the newly fallen leaves slapped on the still damp macadam.

Down in Washington, as the world knows, the Congress voted down the "Bailout" that Secretary Paulson was proposing. Down on Wall Street, the stock ticker was registering a big decline in the markets. The New York Stock Exchange closed down 777 and some change. That was a lot but not quite the number, percentage-wise of 1987 when the market lost ten percent in a day.

The matter of the markets is beginning to have an impact on the man and woman on the street, as well as the financial media which has generally reported on these matters poorly for a long long time. We have been living in a time when mere mention of anything not going favorably (or up) has been considered "gloom and doom" and "negative" and "pessimistic," implying that to take a contrary opinion is all that is needed to keep things zooming.

The past year and a half, however, for anyone who cared to notice, has been threatening, indeed promising a dark and chaotic ending to the last two and a half decades of financial "prosperity." The problem in the markets is the portfolio of alphabetized investments called CDS's, CDO's, Alt-A's, Subprime Mortgages, MBS's, and the umbrella investment, derivatives.
A section of the frieze atop the New York Stock Exchange.
What was once the object of awe and wonder has become something akin to the Brooklyn Bridge, sold and re-sold thousands, maybe millions of times over, and all outside the comprehension of almost everyone including the bankers who sold them and the billionaires who bought them (often in the name of us poor chumps with our pension plans, etc.).

From the outside it looks like an impenetrable conundrum zooming through Outer Space, a million miles off course and heading for eternity. From the inside, it looks like a Bad Day at Black Rock.

One of many blogs I read is an astrologer named Steve Judd who writes from England. I like to read him because he often has commentary about the state of things politically and economically. For the record, I do not "believe" in astrology but nevertheless appreciate the different viewpoints it takes on the state of our being. Media predicts all the time; why not an astrologer, no?

Mr. Judd has been commenting on our financial situation for more than a year now. He has been admonishing his readers that it is not so much a matter of hard times coming but more a matter of a sea change occurring in what is called community. The other day he stated that according to his calculations and interpretation, we have come to the end of what he called "excess profit." I'm not quite sure what he means by excess profit although CEOs on Wall Street pulling down tens of millions a year on a business that the following year can go belly up seems like excess profit to me.

Yesterday's Diary was partly about the passing of the great Paul Newman. On finishing, in talking about Newman's creation of a food business and turning its profits over to the foundation that provides assistance and recreation for children with major illnesses, I realized that Mr. Newman was creating a new (I'm sure not the first) business model and solving the matter of "excess profit." He created a win-win situation.

My concern about the financials are for our community and its durability. Resilience and fortitude are human characteristics; they are not extinct. Hard times are relative but are hardest for those of us who have the least, be it food, money or power. These days that takes in a large amount of the population who are stuck in debt cycles. Financial stress in a community, if widespread enough, can be like spilled gasoline and easily ignite.

However, I am an optimist. I vote for the Paul Newmans of the world who have the vision to take an idea and turn it into a boom for part of the community as well as create employment for many others. For many of us, these stresses can be a motivating force. The creativity of Paul Newman is everywhere among us, Wall Street excepted these days.

Somers Farkas and Jesse Araskog
Meanwhile back at the ranch. While Washington was caving to its constituents and brokers were calling and markets were falling, over at Le Cirque around noonday, 110 women were attending the 5th annual Retourner a l'Automne that is given by Somers Farkas and Jessie Araskog.

It's become a local ritual among those active members of the New York/Hamptons/Palm Beach social axis at the beginning of the new social season in New York.

I took my digital and attempted to get a shot of every woman in the room. I missed a couple or possibly more. It was a good crowd. It was also Jessie Araskog's birthday so there was a cake and a singing of "Happy Birthday."

The menu was Le Cirques Panache Salad followed by Chocolate Milk-Feuille served with white chocolate. I sat down to partake. The Panache Salad happens to be one of my favorites. So I was surprised by how small the portion was and said so to my luncheon partner, Sharon Sondes. "That's because it's a ladies lunch darling," Sharon explained. "If you want, there's more — there are a lot of girls who haven't touched theirs."
Mariana Kaufman and Darcy Gould model their matching Oscar de la Renta suits with matching shoes.
I was tempted but then I figured it wouldn't hurt for me to eat a little less. Then came the Chocolate Milk-Feuille. Forget it: I had mine and then two others from girls who hadn't "touched theirs."

There was a lot of talking going on — a lot of these women were seeing each other maybe for the first time since the end (or even beginning) of summer. I don't what they were saying being busy taking pictures.
Lady de Rothschild, Francine LefFrak, and Margo Catsimatidis Daphna Keitel and Cynthia Lufkin
Ellen Graham and Thorunn Wathne Susan Burke and Audrey Gruss
June Schorr, Daisy Soros, Sava Thomas, and Sharon Handler Somers Farkas and Mai Hallingby
Jackie Weld Drake, Anne Sitrick, Pam Pantzer, and Toni Goodale Freyda Lindemann and Karen LeFrak
Muffy Miller, Grace Meigher, and Jamee Gregory Mary Davidson and Josie Robertson
Darcy Ward and Maggie Norris Leila Heller and Francie Whittenburg
Mary Libby and Victoria Wyman Marcia Levine and Saundra Whitney
Peggy Mejia and Jill Gilmour Cornelia Bregman and Charlene Nederlander
Margo Langenberg and Marlyne Sexton Paola Rosenshein and Cece Cord
Hope Kessler, Nancy O’Sullivan, and Nicole Sexton Clelia Zacharias and Mai Harrison
Lisa Silverman and Jill Brooke Gayle Atkins and Amy Fine Collins
Carole Holmes McCarthy, Lauren Watkins, and Sharon Sondes Ghislaine Maxwell and Muffie Potter Aston
Adrienne Vittadini and Beth DeWoody with friends Ann Rapp
Dana Hammond Stubgen and Rachel Roy Marie David Douglas and Nathalie Gerschel
  Lisa McCarthy and Alexia Hamm
Marina Purcell and Heather Mnuchin Kathy Thomas and Katerina Brooker
Christina Addison, Claudia Overstrom, Alexandra Lind Rose, and Burwell
Somers Farkas and Francine LeFrak
Debbie Bancroft, Margo McNabb, and Bettina Zilkha Marcia Mishaan and Alexandra Lebenthal
Lisa Jackson and Tracey Snyder Andrea Stark, Patty Raynes, and Vanessa von Bismarck
In Memoriam. Sunday saw the passing of one of the great citizens of New York in the last half century — Osborn Elliott. Mr. Elliott who was known as "Oz" all his life, was born and brought up in Manhattan, died of cancer at age 83. I knew him and about him because of the Citizens Committee of New York of which he was a founder back in the mid-70s when the City was suffering from a terrible financial recession. Over a period of seven years, the city lost close to 650,000 jobs. That's when the local leaders pleaded for help from Washington — then the President Ford Administration. They were turned down.

Osborn Elliott, 1924-2008.
In 1975, with the encouragement of Senator Jacob Javits, Oz Elliot formed and ran the Citizens Committee — a private group founded to organize volunteers for projects outside the city's budget. NYSD readers have read about the Citizens Committee for sometime now. It has been enormously successful in supporting and rejuvenating community leadership and improving neighborhoods and quality of life for our citizens.

The following year, in 1976, after a long tenure as the editor and leading force of Newsweek, Oz left his job to become a Deputy Mayor "in charge of development" under Mayor Abe Beame. From there he went on the following year to become dean of Columbia University School of Journalism.

I met Oz at the Citizen Committee Galas. He was a dapper man in bearing with the countenance of a bon vivant — a sparkle to the eye and quick to greet with a smile. He was a boy from the privileged classes, brought up in a liberal household — his mother was an active supporter of women's suffrage and a real estate broker, and his father was a stockbroker. He went to private schools and Harvard.

The play "Six Degrees of Separation" was inspired by an experience where Oz met a young man who was a friend of his daughter. The young man represented himself as the son of Sidney Poitier and claimed that he had just been mugged. Oz took him in, gave him clothes and money and later learned the boy was an imposter who had pulled the same trick on others.
Inger and Osborn Elliott Osborn Elliott with Bill Cunningham
What struck me on hearing of this situation was how it was characteristic of Oz Elliott — help, assist your brother, your neighbor. I never asked Oz how he felt about the situation in retrospect but if I had to guess what his response to the question would be, I'd guess he'd probably have a bit of a laugh over it, and no regret, although possibly sympathy (not empathy) somewhere in there for the young man.

Like another one of our heroes who departed the day before Oz Elliott, the aforementioned Mr. Newman, Oz was a man of purpose and activity when it came to his fellow man. I don't doubt that he'd be looking at our present predicament in terms of what can be done to help the community, the citizens, in order for them to help themselves, ourselves. I also have no doubt that his natural beneficence touched others who will follow in his footsteps, and in his honor.

Photographs by DPC/NYSD.com
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