Four top-level financial analysts and managers apparently committed suicide last week. The dead include an investment economist in Washington State, a former Deutsche Bank executive in London, a Tata Motors executive in Bangkok and a J.P. Morgan employee in London. These events have not yet been conclusively connected. However, like the elevated suicide rates among farmers in India and US military veterans, these folks might be canaries, and their deaths might signify far more than individual misfortunes.
The death toll so far:
Mike Dueker, 50, chief economist for Russell Investment, former research economist with the Federal Reserve, fell to his death from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington state on January 30.
William Broeksmit, 58, former senior executive with Deutsche Bank and a n expert in risk management, dead by hanging in his London home, apparently by his own hand, January 26.
Karl Slym, 51, managing director of Tata Motors (owner of Jaguar and Land Rover), dead after falling from his room in the Shangri-La Hotel January 27. Police say he “could” have committed suicide.
Gabriel Magee, 39, a vice president at J.P. Morgan, dead of a fall from the roof of the company’s London headquarters.
Deutsche Bank and J.P. Morgan are under investigation for allegedly rigging foreign exchange rates. In addition, the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations is looking at J.P. Morgan for alleged misconduct in physical commodities markets — think oil — in the U.S. and London. More fuel for the conspiracy fire: a prominent Wall Street Journal reporter, David Bird, who is an expert on that very investigation, disappeared without a trace on January 11.
Tata Motors’s core product, the Nano [see Nano, Nano: World-Beater Car Turns into a Dust-Eater], was supposed to be the Peoples Car for the masses of India and China. Instead, its sales have been falling — nearly 40 per cent in the past nine months — and its investors have been fleeing. Managing director Slym went out the Bangkok hotel window after a row with his wife, leaving unresolved the question of which weighed more heavily on him, business affairs or personal affairs.
No clear common denominator for all these unhappy events has emerged. Yet. But oil is a contender.
The distant rumble that some are hearing could be be the beginning of the collapse of the Oil Bubble. Virtually all the major oil companies, including Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and BP, reported sharply lower profits for the fourth quarter of last year, all complaining about the cost of investment required to bring oil to market today. They expressed envy for the “small, nimble risk tolerant US independents engaging in fracking.” Yet investors in fracking operations are apparently running for the exits as it becomes more obvious that the so-called renaissance of the oil bidness is actually a mirage.
Yes, all this is speculative. No unambiguous connection exists among the death of these four men. It’s like the coal miners say when they see four canaries dead in their respective, widely separated cages. It’s probably nothing.
[UPDATE 2/12/14 — Make it Five. Richard Talley, 57, CEO of American Title (Insurance Company) was found this week at his Denver home dead of what authorities said were “seven or eight self inflicted wounds from a nail gun.” (!)]