Monday, February 18, 2008

Switzerland:: Moody's Was Here!!

Refreshed by sun, mountain air, despite avaricious Swiss irreversibly far-along their Faustian road predating others' tax-regimes, and overzealous Brits trying to make Rupert Jr. or little Gemma a ski champion by age-five, I will pose the quuestion: What do Swiss Hotels, The Rating Agencies, and the wonderful parody Spinal Tap have in common? (Hint: pictured above)

The guitarists' amplifier is iconic of unsubstantiated wishful ambitions whether laughably ignorant (as in Spinal Tap) or cynically self-interested as in the case of The Rating Agencies, or Swiss Hoteliers. The Rating Agencies are slightly less nefarious perhaps falling in the middle of the continuum, for while their conflicted interests are/were obvious, their talent pool and experience was - to be entirely fair - both thin and perpetually depleted by design since pay and ultimate rewards were laughably low in comparison to both sell-side and buy-side peers. The rating agencies are the equivalent of FI-boot camp, practically speaking, certainly not the home of analytical SAS or Green Berets, for those with such aspirations and talents were long since poached leaving...well...we can all see the sorry result.

But how can Swiss Hotels be more ignorantly wishful than Spinal Taps iconic volume-control that goes beyond "10" to "11", or more conflicted that the rating agencies? The answer is they either undertake compromised self-rating of hotels, or or have so corrupted anything resembling accurate independant "star-based" ratings as to be entirely useless, for there is almost no correlation between the star-rating and the quality and facilities of the establishment except to say that they are (like CDO's) universally over-rated whether by hook, or by crook. Our first establishment, a purportedly neat and clean 3-star in a convenient location, bore almost no resemblance to either the promotionary words and pictures nor the compromised rating. I will not spoil your lunch with photos, lest you soil your desk. High-tailing it out of there after a quick kip, we secured adjoining rooms in the "***** Superior" (better than five star, yes the #11 on the Amp). Now, Cassandra and Family have had the good fortune to stay at many unrated luxurious and "five-star" establishments all over the world but especially the mountain, and this was certainly NOT five-star, let alone five-star-superior (reminiscent of Bear Stearns "Enhanced Leverage High-Yield Fund"), with rock-hard beds, non-existent feather duvets, dilapadated and antiquated hardware, a ski-room that resembled a root-cellar, and stingy fare for the half-board. Oh the Russians were there, as were the smarmy waiters in starched polyester white jackets, along with the high-end British fully-orchestrated ski-holiday complete with little Ivan or Nigel being whisked-off with private instructor in the stretch Mercedes.

Now before you put this off to bad luck or limited sample-size, I have stayed at worthy places in Switzerland, but there appears to be something more systematic at work here. For what is fascinating in comparison to say Austria, is that despite CHF hyper-bas rates of interest, there has been little investment in hotels here. Russkie contrapreneurs, domicile-arbs, and hedgies have fueled private chalet and beaucoup new-apartment construction, but the tired hotels suffer from lack of investment whether due to wage bills that cannot compete with Austrian generous use of eastern european labour, or a more cost-concious consumer. And Switzerland is not without its charms, so these competitive disadvantages in themselves would be tolerable if ONLY they were honest. But they are not, and the entire system appears corrupted and disingenuous. This is NOT snobbishness, for I've happily camped, hosteled, and dormitoried without pretension or complaint, knowing what to expect. But dishonesty and inflated self-opinions well-departed from reality, is short-termism as its worst.

So "au revoir, Valais". Next year, it will be a return to the familiar and entirely more sober and honest "Austrian Gemutlichkeit".

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thinking back to a niece's wedding at a golf kind of place near Jerez last year, what you describe would be opposite to that of the liquidity-fueled five-stars abounding in these parts. She ain't good looking, she just looks that way.

Welcome back. It's just not been the same...

CB

"Cassandra" said...

Thanks Charles, though not to contradict you, things seem remarkably similar to when I left.

I think the Swiss are just cheap bastards, and are - like a slum-lord - sucking dry the assets that give and keep giving, though the resemblence with peak oil should not be overlooked. In any event, everyone knows there are no five-star hotels outside Asia in any event...

"Cassandra" said...

Oh one more thing...ahev you ever noticed how appropriate Santander's NYSE moniker-Ticker is: "STD". I suppose that counterparties should beware and take precautionary measures ...

Anonymous said...

Mr. Botín wears a hat. Why shouldn't you?

http://firgoa.usc.es/drupal/files/images/botin_0_0.jpg

CB

"Cassandra" said...

priceless, Charles!

BTW...I am enthralled by a book at the moment by one of yours...a "Carlos Ruiz Zafon" which has me wanting to stay at home and read rather than brave the market louts....

Anonymous said...

I guess you mean 'Shadow of the Wind'. Zafón really sets the more strident nationalist sectors (sometimes referred to as 'Cataloonies') of his home town off big time by, first, refusing to write in his 'native' tongue, and then boycotting the Catalán year at the Frankfurt Book Fair because the local organizers, the Institut Ramon Llull, had defined Catalán literature as being written in that language. A later change of heart, and invitation, did not convince Mr. Zafón.

The translator, if that's what you're reading, is Robert Graves' daughter.

Any other parochial stuff you might want to know, just say the word.

CB

behemoth said...

We're all so disappointed that you failed to experience the orange, so perfectly peeled in a helical spiral by the waiter at table in my great favorite, "Bread and Choclate". Oh, and "N'oubliez
pas que la service n'est pas compris". Nous vous souhaite le bienvenue!