NAPLES, Fla. (TheStreet) -- Coming out of the Great Recession, a financial heavyweight like Goldman Sachs (GS) might think twice about hosting a lavish event for fat cats and clients. But the folks from Chicago's CME Group (CME) -- the world's largest derivatives exchange -- seemed eager to spend millions on partying.
CME sponsored a three-day event here recently with the likes of Ben Bernanke, Colin Powell, Jay Leno and Michael Milken. Here's what it was like to mingle with the thousand or so participants amid non-stop conferences and cocktails.
Sparing No Expense
Jay Leno and Colin Powell don't come cheap. They hosted the gala dinner on the event's second night and sat chatting amicably for over an hour, telling stories about their lives. Leno also showed a movie that appeared to have been made especially for the event that showed him speeding past the cops. Powell did a spot-on impression of Ronald Reagan, who was the president Powell liked best of the four he served directly.
Other speakers, including Ben Bernanke, Ehud Barak and Nicolas Sarkozy, must have cost a pretty penny as well. CME wouldn't disclose the appearance fees all these celebrities got, but according to various reports, Sarkozy has gotten €250,000, Bernanke $250,000 and Powell is in the $200,000 range.
Then there was the British Invasion-themed after party, with new exterior walls brought in for decoration, an era-appropriate car parked in the patio, fish & chips, and Beatles and Rolling Stones cover bands preceding what turned out to be the REAL Herman's Hermits, led by a 67-year-old Peter Noone, who is in great shape.
How much did this event cost CME? A spokesman for the exchange declined to comment, though he noted guests had to pay to attend, offsetting some of the expense. Banks also chipped in, with UBS (UBS) hosting dinner on the beach and Bank of America (BAC) hosting the night cap on night one.
Swag included a carry-on suitcase that probably retails for $100, filled with more swag, plus iPad minis lent to each attendee for the duration of the event.
Drop in the Bucket
Here's why CME can afford all this swag. The exchange is basically a monopoly and has a 60% profit margin, roughly double that of Apple (AAPL) . When TheStreet asked CME President and Chairman Terry Duffy if he has any competition, his response was less than convincing. Click here to see for yourself.
Still, Paul Gulberg, an analyst who covers CME for Portales Partners, says parties like this barely make a dent in the exchange's overall costs.
"You're looking at an exchange with an expense base of about $1.3 billion a year. If we're talking about a party of -- I don't know -- a million? Two? Three? It's not really going to move the needle" on expenses, Gulberg said.
The Lonely Regulator
Despite all the hoopla, one person seemed to be ignored at the three-day gala. That was Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Tim Massad, who supposedly regulates the CME.
"Are people interested in talking to you? Getting to know you?" TheStreet asked him. The questions appeared to make him uncomfortable. Click here to see his response.
Another Lonely Guy
Despite the considerable cost to bring Noone to the event, guests appeared too busy partying to pay much attention. Check out the video below.
Substance Amid the Swag
There were actually some interesting panel discussions at the event, in part because so many big names were there. We were shut out of the first day's events, featuring Nicolas Sarkozy, Ben Bernanke and Mervyn King, but attendees told us what was discussed and we filed this report.
We also spoke to King on camera after his talk with Bernanke, and he told us about a key difference he sees between U.S. and European banking rules (click here to watch).
Another interview we got was with the trader who hired Lloyd Blankfein after Goldman Sachs turned him down. Dennis Suskind, who did not go to college and told the young Blankfein this fact, recalls that he tried to get the Harvard-educated Blankfein off balance by repeatedly calling him "college boy." (click here to watch)
Here are more interviews from the event:
**Ehud Barak Sees Zero Chance of Iran Deal Before Deadline
**Breaking Up Big Banks 'May Get Some Legs' in 2016: Bill Daley
**Mohamed El-Erian Sees Disruption Threat, Shrinkage, for Big Banks
**American Middle Class is 'Under Siege' Says Steve Forbes
**Internet of Things Worries Former NSA Chief Keith Alexander
**Are Google, Facebook and Alibaba More Dangerous Than the NSA?
**Dodd-Frank is a Piling On of Financial Rules, Not an Update, Says MIT Professor Lo
**Warren Buffett Likes the S&P 500 Just Fine, But Should You?
**Why ex-Obama Chief of Staff Daley Joined JPM Trading Star Gulati
**Retail Investors are Getting Smarter: TD Ameritrade Strategist