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Financial Times, February 7, 2009 article


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Vilified for enjoying lavish lifestyles while their companies are kept afloat by billions of taxpayers’ dollars, the men formerly known as Masters of the Universe have opted to get a first-hand look at the US’s crumbling transport infrastructure.

All of the big-name financiers set to appear before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday will go to the capital by train or commercial aircraft, the Financial Times has learnt.

Weary travellers trying to negotiate New York’s La Guardia airport on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning should not be surprised to bump into Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein or Morgan Stanley’s John Mack.

Vikram Pandit, Citigroup’s chief executive will also be on one of the NYC-DC air shuttles. After being castigated by the US Treasury for wanting to take delivery of a $50m jet – a decision subsequently reversed – Citi is in no mood to antagonise its government benefactors.

As for Jamie Dimon, people close to the JPMorgan Chase chief did not disclose his means of transport other than to say it will be public.

The banks’ spin doctors argue that commercial travel is often the preferred choice for New York-based executives because of the frequency of flights between the Big Apple and the nation’s capital.

But even John Stumpf, who runs San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, is going to have to stand in line at security before he embarks on his coast-to-coast jaunt.

Ken Lewis, the Bank of America chief who is trying to sell three corporate jets and an helicopter acquired with the takeover of Merrill Lynch, will cover the 400 miles between Charlotte, North Carolina, and Washington by train.

The “bulge bracket” brigade’s decision to tighten their belts, or at least fasten their seat belts, comes after President Barack Obama called the banks’ decision to pay $18bn in bonuses in the middle of the most virulent financial crisis in generations “shameful”.

With shareholders, employees and consumers hurting – and politicians still fuming at the US automotive executives who used their jets to come to DC begging for money – Wall Street had the sense to realise that, for now, cheap is indeed cheerful.




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