Is anyone really independent?

I wish had the time to write about all that’s on my mind about the SEC charges vs. Goldman. The crux of my most recent post was that institutional investors – not individual investors – have few excuses for making unsuccessful investment decisions except their own lack of due diligence or the fact that what they thought was a good decision … wasn’t.

I’m happy to see that Warren Buffett agrees as he told his rapt audience in his comments at Berkshire Hathaway’s recent annual shareholder’s meeting. Of one firm, ABN Amro, Mr. Buffett said: “It’s hard for me to get terribly sympathetic when a bank makes a dumb credit bet.”

A New York Times editorial also excoriates the organizations that bear a lot of the blame for the financial mess – and have escaped any consequential investigation so far – which are the ratings agencies. In the US, neither plaintiffs nor defendants pay the judge and jury for their “independence”. Likewise, I have expressed for years that we must bear the same skepticism when companies pay the rating agencies for their so-called “independent imprimatur” for the very securities that the company is issuing. While the public accounting industry has tried hard to maintain its independent stance, but it’s equally susceptible to conflict charges since the companies hire the auditors that provide the independent opinions.

Independence is a relative term. Don’t forget that when you’re ready to accept that opinion to form your own.

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