Two of America’s most powerful banking bosses, David Solomon and Jamie Dimon, were among those spotted at Jeff Bezos’s Washington DC mansion a year ago when the Amazon founder hosted a lavish after-party following an annual dinner for America’s most influential politicians and business executives. Spirits among the rival bankers would have been high.
“There’s no question that things feel relatively good,” said Goldman Sachs’ chief Solomon just days earlier from the World Economic Forum in Davos. “I think we saw at the end of the year, a little bit of an acceleration. And so, we head into this year with some optimism.”
Solomon had reason to be cheerful. Although the bank’s profits had fallen in 2019 due to legal costs related to a Malaysian corruption scandal, bond trading revenues in the fourth quarter surged 63pc compared to a year earlier.
Solomon, who was paid $27.5m (£20m) that year, wrapped up 2019 by ordering the bank two of its own private jets.
Meanwhile Dimon, his counterpart at arch-rival JP Morgan, had even more reason to celebrate. JP Morgan had just posted the biggest profit of any bank in history and Dimon got a $31.5m (£23m) payday, making him Wall Street’s best paid chief executive. Shortly before Bezos’s exclusive party, US shares hit a record. The mysterious new coronavirus outbreak would have seemed a distant threat to most of the Amazon founder’s guests that night.
Fast-forward to today and the US economy has suffered its worst year since the Second World War. The world’s largest economy contracted 3.5pc last year, with some 847,000 Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits in the week to Jan 24. CDC forecasts predict 479,000 to 514,000 total Covid-19 deaths in the US by Feb 20. Most businesses have been decimated by the crisis.