A Movable Financial Feast

LONDON – There was a time when league tables were to be found only on the sports pages of newspapers. Now they are a global obsession.

There are school and university league tables, rankings of companies on profitability or corporate social responsibility, tables of happiness indicators by country, and tables that attempt to rank consumer brands by value. There is even a league table of the world’s funniest jokes (I did not laugh much).

The financial world is also full of such rankings. Investment bankers wait with bated breath for the merger and acquisition league tables, even though the link between a high ranking and profitability is somewhere between loose and non-existent. Bank league tables have been with us for a while, and now tend to be based on capital strength, rather than asset volume, which is an improvement of sorts, but still not very meaningful.

There are also now several different league tables – which are generating considerable angst – that rank financial centers based largely on surveys of firms. How badly the financial crisis damaged the reputation and performance of the major Western centers is a question increasingly asked in London, and to a lesser extent in New York. (Some Americans tend to think that the world will beat a path to their door, no matter how badly they are received when they arrive!)