Limit Company Size and Encourage Short Selling

Dylan RatiganDylan Ratigan has established himself as a top financial anchor and reporter through his work on CNBC shows such as “On the Money” and “Closing Bell” as well as during his tenure at Bloomberg News, where he served as a Global Managing Editor and host of its “Morning Call” program.

By Dylan Ratigan

Warren Buffett recently urged us all to follow his lead in buying American stocks during this fear-driven down market, invoking his common sense wisdom of being greedy when others are fearful and being fearful when others are greedy.

While I appreciate and agree with Buffett that it may be a good time to invest in this great country’s long-term future, I also think there is a lot the Warren Buffetts of the world can do right now to help ensure a prosperous future.

First, we need to take a realistic view of how we got into the current financial calamity.

Instead of creating a society that harnesses the powerful force of capitalism to benefit us all, which resulted in the development of light bulbs, automobiles and computers, we have created a system in which the spirit of innovation has been hijacked to find better ways to cheat society for personal gain.

We have to face the reality that regulators alone can never keep ahead of the cheaters. An unfortunate aspect of human nature is that some people will always try (and succeed) at “gaming” the system, no matter how prescient and attentive our regulators.

I believe the solution to the current and historical problems with capitalism is to enact two pieces of regulation.

First, we must never again allow any company to become “too big to fail.” Companies, by their very nature, take risk. Because of the competitive nature of capitalism, there is no amount of regulation, transparency or prudence that can successfully prevent companies from occasionally failing. This is especially true of banks, which will always be tempted to increase profits by pushing the risk envelope and will always find ways to do so.

Just as traditional commercial bank regulators have the authority to curb an excessively risky bank, we need to enforce a limit on the size of non-bank financial entities. This measure could help stop the inevitable failures that cause the systemic failures for which we are all now paying.

Second, and the most pertinent to Mr. Buffett, is that we need to promote, not stamp out, short-selling. It is only through the use of the skeptical force of short selling that those who would seek to inflate their company’s value by hiding or manipulating information will be forced to provide transparency that regulations could never mandate.

The wonderful thing about a stronger system of upward and downward pressure is that it forces companies to be more accountable. And if there is anything lacking these days, it is accountability among managements.

So instead of an activist like Carl Icahn trying to take over the board of a company, he could simply raise a “short” fund to target companies that have loaded their boards with cronies and yes-men.

Or the next time Warren Buffett labels something like derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction,” he could instead tell us which companies to bet against. This will force these companies to change their behavior more than any government regulation ever can.

There is a reason why CEOs who helped get us into this mess regularly blame short sellers for their failures.

It is because short selling forces CEOs to either disclose what they are doing or suffer consequences for their secrecy. But rather than admit to 40-1 leverage, they loudly stigmatize those who would dare to bet against their companies.

Unfortunately, merely choosing “not to buy a stock” is not enough to force this kind of necessary transparency, for there is always a “greater fool” down the road to buy it. We need to actively punish these companies and managers in our role as profit-minded investors.

In simplest terms, choosing not to buy a stock because you don’t like the company is like refusing to be friends with a drunk. But shorting a stock is like sending a drunk into rehab. Many of these companies, drunk with money and neglectful of risk, should have been sent to rehab a long time ago.

Obviously, we can never again allow the system to become so vulnerable to inevitable future corporate failures. But just as obviously, we can also no longer trust government alone to catch the cheaters and liars that have bastardized American capitalism.

Let’s apply the human nature that creates these problems to expose and punish them financially. We must no longer pay heed to disgraced CEOs who falsely claim that their downfall was caused by “those evil short sellers.”

Let’s face it – sober people do not mistakenly end up in rehab because it is so easy to prove that they are sober. But when we discover they are regularly drunk at lunch, that’s where we can send them.

I can think of no one better than Warren Buffett to be that kind of friend to both our country’s companies and its citizens.

About Carl Icahn 29 Articles

Carl Icahn is an American billionaire financier, corporate raider, and private equity investor.

Mr. Icahn is the Chairman of Icahn Enterprises, a diversified holding company engaged in a variety of businesses, including investment management, metals, real estate, and consumer goods. He has been the Chairman of American Railcar Industries since 1994 and a Director of Blockbuster since May 2005. He became Chairman of ImClone Systems in 2006. In January 2008, he became the Chairman of Federal-Mogul.

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