Fair notice: this essay has a trick title.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s Co-Founder, Chairman, and CEO, recently spent up to $19 billion to buy WhatsApp. You might have heard.

Whether Mr. Zuckerberg overpaid is a subject of frenzied speculation for those who must have an opinion. We do know that no one else thought it was worth more; rather, that no one else with a spare $19 billion thought it was worth more. We know that because Mr. Zuckerberg was 1) willing to pay 2) more than anyone else. Otherwise the media would be all aflutter about what someone else was uniquely willing to pay.

Of course no one knows what WhatsApp is worth. To know what it’s worth implies full know­ledge of the future, including a host of related matters such as the skill Mr. Zuckerberg and his team will bring to bear, how much it’s worth to Facebook to prevent someone else from ac­quiring WhatsApp, what Mr. Zuckerberg could have hit had he aimed his $19 billion else­where, and much more. (In other words, otherwise.) Google, another potential acquirer, had its own calculus.

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A 2013 survey conducted by the law firm Labaton Suchrow made a discovery that will surely astonish you: Wall Street ethics is in decline.

Of 250 financial professionals surveyed:

  • 52% felt their competitors (not them, of course) had engaged in unethical or illegal activity.
  • Nearly a quarter said they know firsthand of unethical behavior in their workplace.
  • A similar percentage reported they would likely engage in illegal activity (insider trading) for a $10 million profit if they could get away with it.
  • 28% felt Wall Street does not put clients’ interest first.
  • 29% felt unethical or illegal activity might be necessary for them to be successful.
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Do you know Pictet? No, you don’t. And they don’t care. You are not their client. That makes them strategy geniuses since 1805. Then again, the standard against which one would measure them – their peers in the banking community – is very low.

Pictet & Cie, in its full name, is a Swiss bank. It is the third largest Swiss bank that you never heard about. It manages more than 300 billion dollars in assets. You have heard a lot about the other, larger Swiss banks, UBS and Credit Suisse. UBS got close to collapse in the 2008 financial crisis and had to be bailed out by the Swiss government. Credit Suisse was not hurt as badly. In 2008 it merely lost 8.1 billion Swiss francs (about $8.5 billion).

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