Friday, September 30, 2011

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

“Have you ever stood and stared at it? Marveled at its beauty, its genius? Billions of people just living out their lives. Oblivious.

“Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No-one would accept the program, entire crops were lost. Some believed that we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world, but I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization. I say your civilization, because as soon as we started thinking for you it really became our civilization, which is of course what this is all about.

“Evolution, Morpheus, evolution. Like the dinosaur. Look out that window. You’ve had your time. The future is our world, Morpheus. The future is our time.”

— Agent Smith, The Matrix

Things must be getting pretty ugly on the trading floors of big investment banks worldwide, O Dearly Beloved. If you still have any friends or acquaintances desperately clinging to such formerly gainful employ, you would be kind to spare them a tear or a LinkedIn invitation or two. I am sure they would appreciate the gesture.

You wanna know how I know that? Well, if the constant drumbeat of articles trumpeting the death of proprietary trading and its enabler, mountains of cheap capital, weren’t enough, how else could one explain this?:

One of the mysteries of investment banking is why M&A is held in such awe. Advisory bankers swan around like they own the place. They have the nicest suits. The senior ones are also difficult to fire, insisting they nurture the crucial relationship with corporate clients (in spite of perhaps not having done a deal in years). M&A activity in 2011 could fall 5 per cent below last year’s volumes despite a strong start, according to Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. Against a backdrop of declining activity, there are three good reasons why M&A should be brought back to earth.

Or this?:

Meanwhile, [M&A] prima donnas take home bank. But do they make profits for their firms? Or is the big money in the deal add-ons, like providing financing to pay for takeovers? We’ll never know for sure, but our money is on the drones and not the guys in pinstripes.

In my day, we used to call such patently bought and paid-for hit pieces “advertorials.” I hope the FT’s Lex team and DealJournal’s writers got nice honoraria for their troubles, or at least a couple of beers or so. Because as reporting goes, both pieces are complete and utter bullshit.

* * *

Not that I disagree with most of the facts and assertions both articles present,1 mind you. Mergers and acquisition revenues have always been volatile and highly cyclical; they are tightly tied to the business cycle and trends in financial markets. They are also without doubt tiny in relation to the enormous revenue from the sales and trading (capital markets) side of the house at integrated investment banks. This has been true for more than a decade, ever since the capital markets divisions of global investment banks looked at the tsunami of cheap liquidity flooding the world financial system and decided they would like a taste. No M&A or corporate finance banker in the business longer than six months would attempt to deny this. Why else do you think so many major integrated investment banks—the Great Vampire Squid preeminent among them—are run by short-sleeve-wearing, onion-cheeseburger-eating troglodytes from the trading floor?2

But given this very power and earning disparity between the advisory and capital markets sides of the business, why did the leading organs of financial journalism on both sides of the Atlantic feel compelled to chew up column inches with snarky attacks on M&A bankers? Why pick on the little kid? Whence also the frat bro sniping at “nice suits” and “pinstripes,” as if knowing how to knot a tie or deigning to wear nice clothes more than twice a year were somehow sins against “authenticity” or some such puerile bullshit? What’s the fucking point?

I’ll tell you what the fucking point is: everyone on the trading floor of every leading investment bank is about to get fucking fired.

* * *

Now of course that is untrue, and a gross exaggeration (although one my rough-hewn compatriots on the turret phones can appreciate). But it is no exaggeration to say that the capital markets gravy train of the past ten years or so is coming to a rapid, screechy, and highly painful end. The Volcker Rule, Basel III, and the re-emergence of actual, functioning risk management from the bowels of the Chinese opium den where it has been languishing for the last decade will see to that. Gone are the days of 60-to-1 leverage, compliant regulators, risk-loving shareholders, and politicians who could afford to turn a blind eye to an industry which used implicit government backstops as collateral in the global casino. This will put massive pressure on revenue, profits, and compensation in capital markets divisions everywhere. And if there’s one thing senior investment bank executives know how to do when faced with compensation pressure, it’s fire people. Lots of people.

The other thing senior managers know how to do is fight for a bigger share of the bonus pool, especially when said pool is shrinking faster than homeowners’ equity in Nevada. Hence the perennial resuscitation of tired old arguments and clichés about bankers on the advisory side of the house—that they are prissy peacocks who add no value and steal credit for revenues properly earned by sales and trading—in order to preserve one’s own subordinates’ share of the compensation pie. Of course, when sales and trading was demonstrably bringing in many multiples of the revenue that advisory was, capital markets executives had little need for such arguments. They could just point to their profit and loss statements and tell senior management how much they expected to keep. As far as they were concerned, the midgets in M&A could suck it. But now that the worm has turned, and steroid-fueled sales and trading profits from structured products and proprietary trading are evaporating in the noonday sun, capital markets managers have been reduced to jawboning and badmouthing their colleagues in the press.

So congratulations, Lex and DealJournal, you’ve just been reduced to shills for traders in their internal bonus discussions. You might want to check your sources’ business cards to see which division they work for. As if you don’t already know.

* * *

The other major criticism or insinuation our beloved fourth estate sock puppets parrot for their sales and trading overlords—that M&A and corporate finance bankers’ claim to add value via access to corporate clients is untrue—is no more than tendentious, uninformed bullshit. For one thing, the reason so many of us wear nice suits and ties is because we actually meet with real, live clients on frequent occasion. This is in strong contradistinction to most of the denizens of the trading floor, whose primary contact with people outside their own firm consists of punching a preprogrammed button on their turret phone and talking to their similarly Dockers™-clad counterpart over a Plantronics headset. Unlike the hedge fund and institutional investor counterparties investment bank traders deal with—who trade promiscuously with everybody on Wall Street and who don’t give a rat’s ass whether they like or even trust the trader in question, as long as he completes trades as he said he would—getting corporate clients to do transactions requires building trust and rapport over many years. This is absolutely the case in pure M&A, where no capital markets financing or derivative transactions are involved, but it is also true in more general corporate finance contexts.

I have stated time and time again that, notwithstanding the delusions of so many of my peers, there is no service or product on Wall Street which is not completely commoditized. This is true of M&A advice, but it is particularly true of any product or service flogged from a capital markets desk. Proprietary products can be and are reverse-engineered within weeks, if not days, and plain vanilla shit like high yield bonds, interest rate swaps, or initial public offerings are a dime a dozen. There is literally almost nothing Goldman Sachs can do that Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, Bank of America, or even short-bus rider Citigroup can’t do equally as well.

Hence, Lex’s assertion,

Perhaps clients would buy other products because they are excellent in their own right and not because of an introduction from advisory.

is on its face ludicrous. First, because no bank has any monopoly on excellent products for any length of time. Second, because there is no-one on the capital markets floor of any big investment bank who has close, proprietary relationships with corporate issuers which would encourage said issuers to agree to do deals with him directly. That is not his job. It is the job of the corporate finance or advisory banker to make the introduction to the product guy. It is the product guy’s job to structure, issue, and sell the resulting product. They work together.

In a similar vein, Lex’s uncritically repeated assertion that some M&A “standalone cost-income ratios... can be as high as 400 per cent” is just dumb. If any coverage or advisory banker truly got paid four times the actual revenue he or she brought in, rather than getting fired on the spot, he or she must have some really indiscreet photos of the CEO with a well-oiled goat. Part of the advisory banker’s job—as opposed to, and often in addition to, pure M&A advice—is to give his or her client access to the entire range of products and services the bank offers. If that client transacts capital markets deals with the bank, the coverage officer who made the introduction deserves some of the credit (and pay). Saying otherwise is like saying a Boeing salesman doesn’t deserve to be compensated for selling planes because he doesn’t actually build them. That’s just stupid.

* * *

In any event, my entire industry faces a very painful restructuring as the high-octane profits of structured products, proprietary trading, and massive trading volumes driven by global uncertainty ineluctably dry up. In such an environment, where capital is no longer either cheap or plentiful, business lines which can make money using minimal capital necessarily acquire greater power and prominence. Given that pure M&A uses exactly no capital, it is only natural that M&A bankers will reacquire some of their old influence within investment banks. When financing is tight, it’s hard to argue with an infinite return on capital.3

Of course, I continue to maintain that integrated investment banks live or die by the inextricable cooperation of their advisory and capital markets arms. We are tied together at the hip, and that which hurts one of us will hurt the other, too. So I take no particular pleasure in noting the imminent demise of thousands of my capital markets brethren across the industry. I just take care to note that my fellow sentient programs and I expect a rather larger share of the pie than before.

1 Chronologically, the Lex article appeared earlier, and it provides the meatier substance of the two. The DealJournal piece does little more than parrot Lex and toss in a few jejune Americanisms (“take home bank”) favored by the 20-something tyros who staff the nether regions of big banks, presumably for the benefit of native readers unfamiliar with language heard outside the lacrosse field. Not that I’m judging or anything.
2 I kid, I kid. But, really, I have to get some digs in of my own, don’t I? You should know by now that I’m no saint.
3 It is also no matter of indifference in today's environment that when an M&A banker screws up or fails to close a deal, he loses only time and a potential fee. When a prop trader or structured products banker screws up, he can blow a hole in the side of his bank larger than all the revenues earned by all of his compatriots all year. And when a whole industry of capital markets bankers screw up, it can blow a trillion dollar hole in the side of the global economy. Or so I hear.

© 2011 The Epicurean Dealmaker. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Victim of Soycumstance

[The Stooges are about to attend a fancy ball]
Moe: “Now then, gentlemen, remember your etiquette.” [Gives both Larry and Curly a slap.]
Larry: “What’s that for?”
Curly: “We didn’t do nothin’!”
Moe: “That’s in case you do when I’m not around!”

— The Three Stooges

Bloomberg published a nice piece earlier this week which supports my long-held belief that the term “investment banking management”—like “military intelligence” or “legal ethics”—is, in the trenchant phrase of Raymond Chandler,1 “an expression which contains an interior fallacy.” In other words, an oxymoron.

Authors Michael Moore and Max Abelson do a creditable job illustrating how the toxic relationship between Colm Kelleher and Paul Taubman, co-heads of Morgan Stanley’s Institutional Securities Group (corporate finance and M&A, plus capital markets)2 is creating all sorts of fallout for that division. Kelleher is the hail-fellow-well-met Irish Oxford graduate who runs Morgan’s sales and trading operations, and Taubman is the weedy, quiet loner who leads the investment bankers. I have seen working relationships between similarly mismatched personalities work out very well over the course of my career, with complementary skill sets and different management styles combining synergistically to produce results beyond the capacity of either party alone. Of course, such success stories depend at their root upon the parties in question respecting each other’s different styles and abilities and working together explicitly for the greater good. This does not appear to be the case in this instance.

Interestingly enough, Morgan Stanley’s ISG seems to be turning out near-record results and taking market share, so a naive outsider might question whether its co-heads’ feud matters, or, what is more, might even be good for the division. Certainly this is what the Aspergers-addled technocrats who populate the executive ranks of most investment banks measure and value to the exclusion of all else, so I can understand how CEO James Gorman might consider his lieutenants’ squabbling an unimportant sideshow.

If so, he is dead wrong.

* * *

Put aside, for a moment, the not inconsiderable problem that the tension and infighting between Kelleher and Taubman is, sadly, the norm rather than the exception when it comes to interactions among senior executives at investment banks. This is much more than an issue of incompatible personalities. For one thing, investment bankers and traders who are hard-charging, capable, and, dare we say it, psychopathic enough to climb the slippery pole and get within reach of the top tend to have sharp elbows, short tempers, and little patience for those who oppose their wishes. Given furthermore that Taubman and Kelleher seem to have been put in implicit if not explicit competition for the top job, and the Bloomberg article indicates they both want it, such a set up would make it hard for Mother Teresa and her twin sister to get along.

Whatever its sources, the competition and bad blood at the top of their respective organizations cannot help but trickle down to Kelleher’s and Taubman’s subordinates. These will line up sensibly behind their leaders and take their tone of interaction with colleagues across the functional divide from the top, if only in the interest of self-preservation. This is Organizational Dynamics 101. The result will be inadequate communication, counterproductive political maneuvering, and willful lack of cooperation between investment banking and sales and trading at all levels. Traders will fall back into the venerable habit of regarding investment bankers as foppish, ineffectual parasites in suits, and investment bankers will resuscitate their ancient scorn for capital markets folk as barely literate, knuckle-dragging troglodytes. In addition to being unhelpful and untrue, such behavior never ends well.

For investment banks in general derive the greatest source of their power, value, and privileged position in the economy from the fact that they straddle the markets for capital, operating on both the supply and demand side. Investment banks serve the suppliers of capital—investors—by delivering new investment opportunities and products through underwriting new issues and originating new securities and by helping them reallocate their investment portfolios through making markets in securities and other financial instruments. This is done on the sales and trading, or capital markets, side of investment banks. Investment banks also serve the users of capital—corporations, governments, and the like—by selling their securities to investors and by helping them reallocate their business portfolios via mergers and acquisitions. This happens on the corporate finance and M&A, or investment banking, side of the same banks.

Each side of the bank derives a substantial part of its revenue, access, and value from the other side. Sales and trading and investment banking share information (subject to confidentiality restrictions), access to each other’s clients, and revenue from transactions arranged between them. Banks act as middlemen, and we make our daily bread by mediating transactions across the capital user–capital provider divide. This is core to what traditional investment banks do. It is a network business. Accordingly, anything which weakens the network—especially between capital markets and investment banking—seriously undermines the business.

I have sounded this warning before:

Notwithstanding what they like to tell you, investment bankers don’t really sell “ideas.” They sell connection, and access, and they are successful to the very extent they can maintain themselves in the flow of market information. Investment banks derive their market power and importance by maintaining dense and robust information networks across the numerous markets they participate in. This makes them better traders, better investors, and better advisors.

In the overall scheme of things, a successful bank should prefer to have strong networks, rather than strong bankers. Take a banker with excellent network connections out of his or her supporting environment, and he or she becomes dramatically less effective. Allow individual bankers to weaken the network by hoarding clients, refusing to communicate, or actively undermining their rivals within the firm, and you weaken the bank materially. Encourage the hiring and creation of “superstars,” and you shift power away from the bank into the hands of individual mercenaries. All of these things make an investment bank less valuable to its clients, as well.

I don’t care if Morgan Stanley’s investment bank had a blowout quarter. If Taubman and Kelleher are wasting time, energy, and opportunity pissing on each other’s shoes, they are fucking up. Morgan Stanley could do better.

* * *

Now I don’t mean to minimize the real structural conflicts between investment banking and sales and trading. They each serve different client bases with different needs and objectives. They each make money in different ways. The desires of their respective clients are rarely in sync, and sometimes the way each division makes money conflicts directly with the goals and profitability of the other. It is not so simple as one firm, one income statement.

Underwriting new securities is one area where corporate finance and capital markets cooperate directly, to source capital for issuers and sell securities to investors. But even there the alignment of interests is not complete. The corporate finance client wants to issue securities at as high a price as possible, and the capital markets clients want to buy low. This tension plays out daily in internal discussions between the bank’s departments, and believe you me it can get pretty heated on occasion. Market making is a capital markets business line independent of corporate finance, but it does have potentially positive (or negative) secondary effects on the latter, since a firm’s market position trading certain securities can affect whether bankers can win a particular piece of underwriting business or not. Be the number one trader of social networking stocks, for example, and your bank stands a good chance of leading Groupon’s IPO. Be number 15, and you can forget it. Corporate finance always wants sales and trading to make deep and active markets in certain areas, but capital markets often pushes back, because market making requires capital, and capital is expensive. The influence runs the other way, too: a bank which is active and successful in originating or underwriting securities in a particular market is far more likely to become the “axe” in that area. This drives greater sales and trading volume and, hence, greater capital markets profits. But if a bank has little track record issuing securities into a particular market, it becomes difficult for sales and trading to make money there independently.

You can see the potential for conflict even among pure agency business lines like underwriting and market making. This conflict is thrown in stark relief when an investment bank begins to assume a principal position in a particular trade. The example cited in the Bloomberg article is where Morgan Stanley’s capital markets group tries to sell derivatives in connection with a security underwriting, like interest rate or currency swaps on a bond issuance. But, as Bloomberg points out, while such a “deal can bring in significant trading revenue, it can also place the bank in the position of being a counterparty to a client it just advised.” Let me tell you something: as a corporate finance banker and advisor, this gives me the heebie-jeebies. I always worry my sales and trading guys are ripping my client off, and I shudder to think what would happen to the multi-million-dollar relationship I have carefully cultivated with my client over many years if things go pear-shaped. This is true of any transaction where an investment bank assumes the role of a principal—whether trading counterparty, lender, or direct investor. From a corporate finance banker’s perspective, the risk usually isn’t worth the potential gain, especially since all the profits from such proprietary trades seem to magically disappear into the capital markets budget before corporate finance gets its cut.

* * *

In fact, the organizational dynamic between a traditional investment bank’s sales and trading and investment banking divisions resembles nothing so much as an iterated prisoner’s dilemma. This is a game theoretic formulation of a situation in which two parties, who have some interests in common and some in conflict, must decide whether to cooperate or compete for desireable outcomes. Those readers among you who share little sympathy or liking for my profession will be delighted to learn that the traditional formulation used the example of two criminals:

Two men are arrested, but the police do not possess enough information for an arrest. Following the separation of the two men, the police offer both a similar deal—if one testifies against his partner (defects), and the other stays quiet (cooperates), the betrayer goes free and the cooperator receives the full one-year sentence. If both remain silent, both are sentenced to only one month in jail for a minor charge. If each ‘rats out’ the other, each receives a three-month sentence. Each prisoner must choose to either betray or remain silent; the decision of each is kept quiet. What should they do?

Sadly, perhaps, for those of you who would prefer all investment bankers to be thrown in jail, there is a fairly well-established solution to this dilemma, especially when it occurs over and over in an extended game of multiple rounds of unknown number. The best strategy appears to be a variation of “tit-for-tat,” in which a participant is nice, retaliatory, forgiving, and non-envious. I will leave it as an exercise for my Clever and Esteemed Readers to determine whether these behaviors strike you as consistent with the personality of your average investment banker.

In any event, the material point is that, like the traditional prisoner’s dilemma, the interaction between capital markets and corporate finance can, with proper focus and strategy, be elevated from the suboptimal, default outcome of mutual betrayal and non-cooperation into a stable, cooperative solution that benefits both parties. And if, in the case of Morgan Stanley (and investment banking generally), the participants are not wise, patient, or sensible enough to arrive at the best solution themselves, it is the job and obligation of senior management to drag them there kicking and screaming, or fire their sorry asses and promote somebody else.

Sounds to me like James Gorman needs to give a couple of guys a dope slap or two.

1 Playback.
2 Throughout, I employ industry-standard but often confusing terminology, in which “investment banking” = “corporate finance (and M&A)” and “capital markets” = “sales and trading.” Oh, and “investment bank” means the whole damn firm. Alles klar?

© 2011 The Epicurean Dealmaker. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Grave in the Clouds

In memoriam, September 11, 2001:

If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story.

— William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

* * *

Bear witness • Honor • Never forget.

© 2011 The Epicurean Dealmaker. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Good Death

“Always after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again.”
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

I was far away, across an ocean, on September 11, 2001. I could do nothing but look on in horror and pity as my adopted city and my old haunts burned and choked with the smell of crumbled buildings and smoldering flesh. My friends and acquaintances—some, former neighbors who lived within the topple radius of the towers in Battery Park City—all survived. A college classmate who worked above the 100th floor in one of the towers overslept that morning and never made it to work. They were lucky. They all have memories of those horrible days and weeks afterward, when they struggled to pull their lives together. Those who could, left the city. Some never returned.

In contrast, my memories of that day are remote and uninteresting. A client visit planned that morning was cancelled because the CFO got sick. My first inkling that something was happening came when a colleague walked into my office and told me Bloomberg was reporting a small plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Later, I wandered down to the trading floor to watch the two towers—burning, but as yet still standing—smoke on the huge TV monitors. I listened in silence as my European colleagues talked about the tragedy in hushed, uncomprehending tones. I listened to them speculate how many hundreds had died, while keeping to myself the half-remembered knowledge that tens of thousands of people passed through those buildings and the surrounding office, transport, and shopping complex every day. I went home.

* * *

Later, of course, the stories and pictures trickled out. Of the many I read, one stuck with me: James Stewart's February 2002 profile of Rick Rescorla, the head of security for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter at the World Trade Center. Rick was the guy who led the evacuation of 2,700 MSDW employees out of the south tower, in defiance of initial Port Authority orders to stay put. Rick was the guy who cheered and cajoled his frightened colleagues down the stairs with a bullhorn, singing America the Beautiful and Cornish battle songs all the while. Rick was the guy who then turned around and, taking his deputies with him to check for stragglers and injured, went back up into the building.

“What’s really difficult for me is that I know he had a choice,” Susan says. “He chose to go back in there. I know he would never have left until everyone was safe, until his mission was accomplished. That was his nature. That was the man I loved. So I can understand why he went back. What I can’t understand is why I was left behind.”

Dan Hill says that Susan will understand someday, as he does. “What she doesn’t understand is that she knew him for four or five years. She knew a sixty-two-year-old man with cancer. I knew him as a hundred-and-eighty-pound, six-foot-one piece of human machinery that would not quit, that did not know defeat, that would not back off one inch. In the middle of the greatest battle of Vietnam, he was singing to the troops, saying we’re going to rip them a new asshole, when everyone else was worrying about dying. If he had come out of that building and someone died who he hadn’t tried to save, he would have had to commit suicide.

“I’ve tried to tell Susan this, in a way, but she’s not ready yet for the truth. In the next weeks or months, I’ll get her down here, and we’ll take a walk along the ocean, and I’ll explain these things. You see, for Rick Rescorla, this was a natural death. People like Rick, they don’t die old men. They aren’t destined for that and it isn’t right for them to do so. It just isn’t right, by God, for them to become feeble, old, and helpless sons of bitches. There are certain men born in this world, and they’re supposed to die setting an example for the rest of the weak bastards we’re surrounded with.”

I'd like to think Rick Rescorla died the way he would have chosen to die: moving forward, fulfilling his duty, trying to protect the people entrusted to his care. Surely, given his character, that must have been easier to confront than a long decline into sickness and debility. Of course, no-one wishes death on anyone, but it is a blessing to be offered a choice sometimes. Not all of us are offered a choice.

But all of us can choose how we confront it.

* * *

No matter how it comes, you cannot triumph against Death; that is a given. But how will you face your inevitable defeat? What will you make of it?

What legacy will you leave behind?

“By my troth, I care not; a man can die but once; we owe God a death. I'll ne’er bear a base mind: an’t be my destiny, so; an’t be not, so. No man’s too good to serve’s prince; and let it go which way it will, he that dies this year is quit for the next.”

— William Shakespeare, The Second Part of King Henry the Fourth

© 2011 The Epicurean Dealmaker. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Holiday Weekend Interlude

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

— C.P. Cavafy, “Ithaka

Happy Labor Day, voyagers.

© 2011 The Epicurean Dealmaker. All rights reserved.