The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Some final advice: Beware of cryptocurrencies and ratty CEOs like Musk

There’s little to like about two personalities dominating business headlines these days

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried on Dec. 21 in Nassau, Bahamas. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

This is the time of year that you see lots of long, ambitious articles in newspapers, magazines and websites. That’s because editors and writers are eager to get their projects published by year-end so that they can submit them for this year’s journalism prizes.

It’s also the time of year that you see lots of journalists leaving their jobs and moving on to something new. This year, that includes me. This is my final regular Washington Post column. The Post has run my more-or-less weekly columns for about 30 years, the last seven of which — since I retired from Fortune — I’ve been a Post contractor. My current contract expires at year-end.

So before I go, I’d like to offer you some final words of advice and possibly give you a smile or two in the process.

Let’s start with Sam Bankman-Fried and cryptocurrency, which I called craptocurrency in a recent column.

Musk, FTX founder Bankman-Fried lead 2022 flock of business turkeys

I use that term because cryptocurrency is a bunch of crap. And it’s not a currency, which by definition is something that you can use to buy goods or services, and something that you get when you sell goods and services.

Retail investors who didn’t understand what they bought through Bankman-Fried’s FTX have learned the hard way that you can lose your shirt overnight with crypto, which is a speculative bet rather than a regulated currency like the U.S. dollar, the euro, the Japanese yen or the Chinese renminbi.

Sure, central banks like the Federal Reserve haven’t exactly done a bang-up job the past couple of years, letting inflation and speculation get out of hand before tightening things this year, possibly excessively. But I’d rather rely on Fed Chair Jay Powell to serve my interests than to depend on the likes of Bankman-Fried — I can’t help but smile at the “bank” part of his name — to treat people honestly.

I’m a recovering English major who’s learned about business on the job and never studied finance. (I was a straight-A student in economics — but I took only one course.) Possibly because I lack academic training, I try to see — and explain to you — how the financial world actually works, as opposed to the way financial theory says the financial world should work. That’s why it took me about 12 seconds to see that cryptocurrency is a crapshoot, not a currency.

I wish that I’d paid attention to Bankman-Fried and his fellow travelers before FTX failed and cost retail investors who’d fallen for his nonsense a lot of money.

I don’t know how many of you would have taken my advice if I’d warned you before the FTX flopperoo. But just as I like to think that I may have encouraged some people to get lifesaving cardiac surgery by writing earlier this year about my new aortic valve, I might have helped some of you avoid being snookered by the crypto crowd.

I was home a day after a heart procedure. Less-invasive TAVR made it possible.

Speaking of advice, I’d sure stay away from anything run by Elon Musk or associated with him. Yes, early Tesla investors who bought Tesla when its stock was in double digits before its big run-up two years ago are way ahead and Musk deserves credit for building Tesla into a credible company. But that was then, and this is now. When last I looked, Tesla had tanked by more than two-thirds from its Jan. 3 high of $399.93 a share. One reason, of course, is that Musk has sold tons of Tesla shares to raise money to deal with his personal financial situation.

It's clear from watching Musk’s antics at Twitter that he seems to have an endless need for self-promotion and publicity. There may be a method to Musk’s seeming madness. But I don’t have the patience — or a strong enough stomach — to wait Musk out.

I get a kick out of imagining that one of these days, Musk will buy the company that owns the Truth Social network used by Donald Trump. That way, Musk can shovel some money to Trump and perhaps lure Trump and his followers back into Twitter, either directly or indirectly. Maybe that would help shore up Twitter’s finances, such as they are.

Now, I’ll do what I should do, and stop while I’m ahead. Or maybe only a little behind.

I’d like to thank The Post for buying my column when I self-syndicated it — revenue from The Post and various other outlets is how my wife and I paid for our kids’ college educations without them or us having to take on debt. And I’m glad to have kept up my relationship with The Post for so long.

I’d like to thank those of you who’ve read my Post columns over the years. I’d especially like to thank those of you who’ve told me that my columns helped you understand the financial world. That’s what I try to do — and it’s why I’m pleased and flattered when people tell me that I’ve been successful.

Meanwhile, if you’ve got an hour or so, you can look at this video of my recent conversation with my friend Andy Serwer when I was named a Business News Legend last month by SABEW, the nation’s biggest trade association of business journalists.

Thanks to Andy’s skillful questioning, that video shows how I think about things and what I’ve done over my 50-plus-year business-writing career. You may find it helpful. Or even interesting.

I wish you well. I also wish The Washington Post well as it navigates a tough climate. And who knows? One of these days, when I’ve finished sorting through the options for the next stage of my career, you may occasionally see my byline in The Post business or opinion section.

Be well, stay safe. And thanks for reading me.

Loading...