Protesting Parisians Raid BlackRock Office

Photo credit: Jim Trodel/Flickr

Sign up for smart news, insights, and analysis on the biggest financial stories of the day.

Let them eat… fixed-income investment portfolios?

For 11 straight days, the French have been fiercely protesting the prospect of a slightly longer working life, and pissed-off Parisians continue to turn their ire toward anyone and anything even tangentially connected with Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform. The latest target? BlackRock’s Paris office.

The Crepes of Wrath

Never come between a Frenchman (or woman) and their right to a leisurely lifestyle. And certainly don’t do so via ostentatiously undemocratic means, as President Macron did last month when he triggered special constitutional powers to circumvent a parliamentary vote en route to raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.

BlackRock, the largest asset manager in the world, has zero to do with pension reform. But it is a massive player in the private pension game — providing reason enough for over 100 protesters to storm its third-floor office suite as if it were the Bastille:

  • Unlike most European countries, France’s pension system remains entirely publicly funded on a pay-as-you-go basis. But Macron argues that demographic shifts will spur dangerous deficits in the decades to come, as the ratio of workers-to-retirees shifts from about 1.7:1 in 2020 to 1.2:1 by 2070.
  • However, the nation’s own Pension Advisory Council said in a report last September that deficits are unlikely in the long term under the current system. And protesters see the reforms as emblematic of Macron’s unwillingness to raise taxes on the wealthy and fear he is laying the groundwork for creating a mixed public-private pension system — hence the BlackRock attack.

“The government wants to throw away pensions,” one protester, 51-year-old school teacher Françoise Onic, told Reuters. “It wants to force people to fund their own retirement with private pension funds, but what we know is that only the rich will be able to benefit from such a setup.” C’est la vie, says this American.

Across the Pond: Speaking of BlackRock and the messy entanglements of public entities and private finance giants, this week the FDIC asked the asset manager to help find new homes for $87 billion and $27 billion orphaned securities portfolios of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank. And the portfolios primarily consist of an asset Larry Fink knows all too well: mortgage-backed securities. Maybe there’s something to be said about the average Frenchman’s penchant for righteous anger that occasionally turns riotous.