What do you think these statements mean: “Our clients’ interests always come first.” Or: “Integrity and honesty are at the heart of our business.” They, or something like them, are part of the “mission statement” at almost every bank in the world, but what do they actually mean in practice? The Supreme Court in New York is being asked for an answer, with a little matter of $13bn lost by appellant pension funds in the 2008 crash at stake, and the court is really struggling.

On the face of it, if these statements have any meaning, it seems clear that Goldman Sachs (for it is the Vampire Squid itself) has not put the clients’ interest above its own, while bankers always struggle with tricky words like honesty and integrity. No, no, not at all, smoothed the banks’ defence, these are what everyone in the industry says. They are just standard boilerplate PR, or “exceptionally generic and aspirational statements in the face of overwhelming and unrebutted evidence that the statements had no impact on the stock price.” Besides, they went on, any conflicts of interest within the bank were already in the public domain, so there.

But Goldman does have a problem. The lower court ruled that the pension funds have a case, which is why it has got this far, and no wonder that the court is finding it hard. There is little dispute about the facts. It’s all about whether the bank actually means what it says, and can be held accountable for the consequences.

Goldman’s argument that bragging about how well it behaves had nothing to do with the price of the securities the pension funds bought is true enough. Their managers are unlikely to have thought: “These things that they trying to sell us look jolly risky and we don’t really understand them, but it’s OK, because Goldman always puts our interests first, and we know that honesty and integrity are at the heart of their business.” More likely, they thought: “These instruments pay more than Treasuries, and an awful lot must go wrong before any impairment reaches us. And Goldman are offering five basis points more than Morgan Stanley.”

A finding against Goldman would open the floodgates to claims of losses from the 2008 crash big enough to swamp some of the banks, a thought which has doubtless occurred to the court, although the judges hardly dare admit it, even to themselves. Perhaps Goldman might choose the moment to think up some new slogans, like “Our clients’ interests usually come first” or “Honesty and integrity are at the heart of our business as long as it’s profitable”. Whatever the court decides, if the case marks an end to the self-serving, virtue-signalling nonsense which has spread like a virus through company reports everywhere, it will not have been fought in vain.

Re-Branding is a pain in the Nurofen

We’re not told how much the exciting rebrand of RB has cost the shareholders. RB, you ask, who they? Well, one of the largest companies in the FTSE100, trading as Reckitt Benckiser, best known inside the City for the extravagant rewards to successive chief executives, and outside it for Dettol, Nurofen, Durex and dozens of other brands. The board has now decided that since nobody noticed the brand name change to RB, they might as well go back to plain old Reckitt.

Naturally, such an important change needs a new logo, and the usual raid on the thesaurus, to “better enable us to communicate our corporate purpose to the world, and to do so in a way that is powerful, consistent and impactful.” Here it is, if you can bear it.

These rebrandings seldom help. Scrapping the perfectly serviceable Capital Shopping Centres for the gruesome Intu was a harbinger, if not actually the cause, of disaster. Imperial Tobacco’s directors decided that Imperial Group sounded more inclusive and less carcinogenic. The dividend, previously rock-solid, was cut last year.

There’s no doubt that the name of a product can be important. The Oxford vaccine had overtones of academe and careful research by dedicated scientists, while Astra Zeneca has been pilloried as a greedy drugs company. For a ridiculously large fee, I could organise them a rebrand to “AZ.”

Hamfisted

So we now know the full cost of the Disastrous Daves at Hammerson, the shell of a business which was once the UK’s third-largest property company. The accounts are something of a contrast with the past, lacking the traditional pages of smiley happy people thronging the shopping centres at Brent Cross and Bicester Village. New chairman Robert Noel manages a thin smile as he catalogues the disaster that was 2020, and manages the briefest of thanks to David Tyler, his predecessor, and David Atkins, the CEO whose 11 years in charge wiped out most of the company’s equity.

The accounts reveal that he did not receive a bonus for last year, but has been given £50,000 to help him find another job. The chair of the rem. com, Gwyn Burr, has been asked to stay on, on the argument that Hammerson has lost enough directors for one year. Going forward, in the deathless prose of these reports, is new CEO Rita-Rose Gagne, with a package of pay and perks that mean she will become rich if she can persuade the tenants to start paying again and make those shopping centres fizz. The poor battered shareholders will hardly complain if she does.