Paging common sense, integrity, and accountability?

Accountability and Integrity Needed

Does the name Abby Cohen ring a bell? It does for me, and it broils my blood. Chances are, if you were at all invested during the tech bubble in the early 2000s, you would recognize the name too. Dubbed “perpetual bull“, she championed the rise of tech and telecom stocks all the way to the stratosphere.

At that time, she was the star analyst at Goldman Sachs. The companies she covered loved her (which should’ve been a warning sigh all by itself), the market loved her, as wave after wave of heart-stopping rises made her outrageous bullish calls nothing but prophetic. In fact, in the midst of the March 2000 sell-off, she was still lauding for another bullish run.

So it bugs me to no end that a few weeks ago, the name Abby Cohen popped up on my screen again. It seems like over the last few years, Ms Cohen was back to her old tricks, spreading her never-ending cheery outlook throughout 2007 and 2008 on any media outlet that would have her. Her standing at Goldman was seemingly undiminished till mid-2008 when she was finally replaced (or self-demoted) in her role as the chief strategist. Yet her name still pops up, ready to hypnotize another generation of ill-informed investors, eager for a quick buck in the casino of stock trading.

My question now is this. How could this happen? How can individuals like Abby Cohen not only survive, but thrive as an analyst, with consistently bad calls on the market? If a supermarket stocker routinely make mistakes while stocking, fail to input the right information into the computer and create nothing but inconvenience for the customers, he would be fired, right? So why can’t the same accountability be applied to a stock market analyst when it is her job to be, at least, be more right than wrong?

It might be negligence, ignorance, or outright incompetence. But the media, so keen on scrutinizing every piece of breaking news on its 24-hour network, seems to lack both the will and the ability to call out the inconsistencies.

And I can hardly imagine the conversations that would go on behind closed doors at Goldman (and undoubtedly many others) when it comes to dealing with puppet analysts such as Cohen. The thing is, the stock market can only go two ways, up, or down. So whichever way you call it, you are going to be 50% correct. I wonder if these advisory outfits divide their analysts into two groups, the uppers and the downers, each inextricably bound to their roles as surely as they are to their bonuses. And just like a traveling puppeteer workshop, they would whip one or the other out when the occasion calls.

Perhaps with the impending restructuring of the entire investment/banking industry, some level of scrutiny, accountability and integrity will be injected into the system. These basic human decencies should be demanded of our bankers as much as any service providers we pay for.

After all, these are values we demand from each other in almost every other aspect of our lives. We ask for it from our educators, our politicians. We don’t always get it, but we ask for it, don’t we? Then why don’t we place the same standard of consistency and integrity to these so-called experts that roam between their computer monitors and the TV screen?

Granted, the skewed relationship between the media and the investment industry doesn’t help, so interest does not often favour the everyday investors. Changes should, and must happen. In the meantime, any serious investor who still wants to venture into the market needs to take some serious steps in self-education.

picture source: *deaddays

Comments on this entry are closed.