Monday, September 27, 2010

Sam Pizzagatti: "Too Much Weekly On-line, Sept. 27, 2010"


Danger, these days, lurks everywhere, and that suits William Maizlin just fine. Maizlin's company, Conquest Vehicles Inc., specializes in luxury armored cars for "high-net-worth individuals." The Conquest Knight XV model - big enough, Maizlin gushed in Canada's Financial Post last week, to make a Hummer "look like a Tonka car" - can run up to $800,000 with options that include exotic leather interiors and a dashboard embedded with precious stones. Maizlin has been marketing the Knight XV since 2008, and he's currently ramping up in a new factory that will let him up production to 60 cars a year. The recession, notes Maizlin, "doesn't affect our particular layer of clients."

Lloyd BlankfeinOver recent years, Wall Street's most lavishly rewarded executives - power suits like Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein - have defended their windfalls as well-deserved rewards for the value they create for their shareholders. Last week, Bloomberg reporter Christine Harper went searching for that "value" - and didn't find much. In the decade between September 2000 and September 2010, Harper discovered, Goldman Sachs shares sported a 2.78 percent annual return. Goldman shareholders could have realized more value by investing in one-year certificates of deposit. Those CDs, over the same decade, averaged a 3.17 percent annual return. The return for Goldman CEO Blankfein? He took home, for the decade, $125 million in cash bonuses. He currently holds another $300 million worth of Goldman shares . . .

Wall Street's bankrupt Lehman Brothers has announced plans to auction off the firm's 450-piece collection of fine art. The pieces cost Lehman just $2 million. They figure to sell for $10 million, a figure that shows, says auction expert Gabriela Palmieri of Sotheby's, that fine art remains "a very good investment." An exceedingly high-maintenance investment, too. The Financial News last week detailed how annual maintenance for a serious art collection can easily cost up to 5 percent of the collection's resale value. Among the top maintenance concerns: humidity and temperature fluctuations. An environmental monitoring equipment installation, in a single modest-sized room, can set collectors back over $1,500 a month. And if your cat should run a paw across a canvas? Figure to spend close to $50,000 for a "museum quality micro-weave."

Future historians looking for symbols of wealth excess - and idiocy - in the 21st century's first decade may well find themselves contemplating the "WHY," a gigayacht project that luxury retailer Hermès and a Monaco-based ship design company unveiled almost exactly a year ago. The 190-feet-long and 125-feet wide WHY - the "ultimate fantasy yacht" - struck one reviewer as a cross between "a floating island and movable mansion on the sea." The developers priced their new WHY at between $80 and $135 million, "depending on the fittings," and then sat back and waited for orders. They didn't come, and Hermès exited the venture this past March. The original WHY design plan, in the months since, has now been downsized - to just 124 feet long . . .

In India - a nation where over a third of the population subsists on less than $1 a day - the rich have gone to great lengths to keep the poor and their diseases at arm's length. India's wealthy, as Business Week noted last week, live behind "high-walled security gates" in posh neighborhoods "where three-bedroom apartments sell for $1 million." Many of these neighborhoods also feature lush landscaping "punctuated" with plentiful pools and fountains of fresh, clean water. Unfortunately, all that clean water makes India's upscale neighborhoods the perfect breeding ground for the mosquitoes that transmit dengue, the "most widespread tropical disease after malaria." Laments New Delhi doctor Sandeep Budhiraja: "I've treated at least five CEOs this week alone."

[End of Excerpt] Read the complete weekly newsletter (and free subscription) at Too Much Weekly On-line.

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