Those affected should take heart knowing it’ll all be worth it in the end.
Today we introduce you to the all-stars of my MBA program and yours. We seek only the top tier of characters that can singularly steal the show (and maybe $1.2 billion dollars in segregated customer funds on the side).
The Questions Guy – The guy that everyone loves to hate. In any setting — be it the classroom, company-sponsored information session, or networking circle — The Questions Guy always has something to say. And while it technically always ends with a question mark, we understand the sentence to have the primary purpose of demonstrating some deeper knowledge of the material at hand. Sometimes these “questions” are insightful; however most times, we blame him for wasting classroom time, stealing our thunder, or dumbing everyone down with his trifling. We envy the fact that he’s clearly getting his money’s worth of his tuition … and ours.
The Open Mouth Learner – Formerly some kind of nonprofit hero, the Open Mouth Learner’s jaw dropped with his first exposure to supply/demand curves, and he has remained captivated ever since. He brings up his non-traditional background at every opportunity, even if totally irrelevant to the conversation at hand. Professionally, he drops the phrase “non-traditional background” assertively in introductions, in order to ask questions in finance networking circles. At school, he drops the phrase defensively, in order to shirk the number-crunching parts of group assignments. The Open Mouth Learner is quietly both ashamed and proud of the fact that he has gotten through life this far without ever learning fractions.
If you’re into Greece you’ve probably already read all about it and if you’re not I can’t make you. But in brief: Greece is fixed and we will NEVER HEAR ABOUT ANY PROBLEMS EVER AGAIN. In less brief:
(1) Some folks stayed up all night and produced a statement.
(2) Greece’s private creditors will be offered the long-anticipated opportunity to voluntarily exchange their old bonds for new bonds, which will for the most part be the same as the old bonds except for minor differences including but not limited to a greatly extended maturity (to 2042), a 53.5% reduced face amount, and a 3.6% blended interest rate.
(3) If they don’t voluntarily exchange, which they will because – hilariously – they’ve already taken accounting writedowns (and also because I guess it’s better than a disorderly default), private holders will get CAC’ed, which may or may not be as bad as it sounds, but in any case at least CDS will pay out, unless it doesn’t.
(4) Also the public sector will do various helpful, confusing things.
(5) In exchange for this, Greece will enact horrible austerity, and because no one believes that Greece will actually do that, there will be escrow accounts and what Reuters ominously calls “permanent surveillance by an increased European presence on the ground.”
(6) Everyone is pretty sure we’ll be doing this again in six months and, look, just fair warning, I will not be writing about it then, because feh.
We haven’t had a serious international bankruptcy, which this pretty much is, since I started paying attention to the financial markets, two months ago, so I mostly think about insolvency from a US bankruptcy law perspective. One thing that happens in bankruptcy is that, like, really really roughly speaking, the creditors stop being creditors and become the owners. This isn’t always the case but the basic playbook of US bankruptcy law is:
Remember the Paulson & Co Sino-Forest investment? Turned out to be one of the fund’s […]
Ken Livingstone has provoked fresh controversy, after telling an audience: “Hang a banker a week […]
One thing that I may have mentioned here is that, before I was lured to the blogging industry by the outrageous lucre on offer, I worked at this little establishment called Goldman Sachs. One thing that I probably haven’t told you, but that I’ve mentioned to a few friends and co-workers, is that due to some frankly inexplicable confusion, the time between my telling people “I am leaving to go work for Dealbreaker” and my being escorted out of the building by active-duty Navy SEALS was somewhat longer than you might expect (viz. several nanoseconds). One thing that I’ve never told anybody, so let’s keep it between us, is that I made good use of the delay to download certain files to a flash drive. I won’t discuss all the details, since I’m using some of those files to set up my own high-frequency insider trading fund, but I will mention that with the right codes the voice recorders in the GS elevators can be accessed remotely.*
One reason I never told anyone about this before is that Goldman takes it badly when people take stuff with them on the way out, and has a tendency to react by having them imprisoned for the better part of a decade. After today, though, it looks like I’m good to go:
Lloyd Blankfein may step down as chief executive of Goldman Sachs as early as this summer; and president and chief operating officer Gary Cohn is the lead candidate to replace him, according to a Goldman executive and a source close to the firm. A Goldman spokesman declined to comment. To be sure, anything can happen over the course of the next few months and the departure of Blankfein, 57, is not certain. It is still up in the air whether Blankfein wants to step down. It would also not be unheard of for Blankfein to share the role of CEO, as so many others at Goldman have in the past. Former co-heads include John Weinberg and John Whitehead; Robert Rubin and Stephen Friedman; and Jon Corzine and Henry Paulson. … It seems increasingly certain that Gary Cohn would replace Blankfein. [Fortune, earlier, earlier]
“The International Monetary Fund is expected to contribute just €13 billion ($17.07 billion) to a […]
One kind of obvious thing about financial markets is that you can’t just call everyone into a room and tell them, “look, guys, just be honest about the price that you would pay / receive for Thing X.” This is because financial industry traders are degenerate lying scumbags. No, wait, that’s not right. This is because if everyone just told each other their reserve prices then it would be really hard for them to make any money trading and so we, like, wouldn’t have a financial system. So you have things like anonymous execution on stock exchanges and dark pools and, um, lying scumbag traders. And that allows you to have profitable trading.
Of course you have to put some limits on the lying scumbaggery: you can’t tell people you’re investing their money while really blowing it on hookers, and I guess now you can’t sell someone synthetic CDOs without telling them who was on the other side. But a little fudging around the edges about the price you’re willing to pay or receive – or the price you could pay or receive elsewhere – is kind of at the heart of what trading is.
So in a sense the amazing thing about the Libor scandal is that people are amazed by it. A quick recap:
Spend any amount of time working on Wall Street and you will soon learn that opportunities for stress abound, whether you’re a first -year analyst getting reamed out for an extra space in a pitchbook or a hedge fund manager who just lost $1.2 billion in a matter of minutes. Those who are unable to manage the stress either 1) flame out or 2) become fat, irritable pricks whose change of having a heart attack on the job are high. Presumably, neither of those options sound appealing. But since the terms of the gig aren’t changing, what’s a ball of nerves like you to do? You might consider risking having the skin burned off your feet, or other such activities.
According to Cornell professor Tony Simons, things like a 10,000 point drop in the Dow or seeing a headline flash across Bloomberg that your firm is being indicted– things that you have no control over- become a lot less scary and cause for flipping out when you’ve been through worse. For instance, at the workshops and corporate training classes he teaches, Simons will have people do exercises like”firewalks” or have them “snap an arrow that sticks out of a wall with the point in the direction of their neck, by stepping forward and pushing into it.” After that, dealing with stuff you previously thought was tough is pretty easy (sayeth one participant: “facing a loved one’s anger and negativity with calm, loving courage and not ducking away from it feels easier after breaking an arrow with the soft part of my throat”). One woman is reportedly planning to “get a firewalk tattoo to remind her of what she’s accomplished.”
For any employers out there thinking putting on their own Simons-esque workshop but desiring even better results, consider gathering up your employees and having them:
* Commit to rollerblading down the Westside Highway to work for a year
* Catch a bullet in their teeth
* Go through the browser history of everyone at the SEC (no averting of eyes)
* Play Spin the Bottle with Rick Santelli’s favorite floor traders
* Scale the Empire State Building without safety gear
* Defend their position why HIG shouldn’t spin off its property business to John Paulson on your company’s internal sqawk box
“You can smile and laugh about it all you want,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) bristled at Mr. Geithner during a House Budget Committee hearing. Mr. Chaffetz then intoned he was getting sick of the Treasury secretary’s “silly little smirk.” To be sure, Mr. Geithner did have a smile on his face during parts of the hearing, particularly when he was interrupted by Republicans on the panel when they didn’t like his answers on deficit reduction. He even spent part of the hearing answering questions with his arms crossed. At one point, he suggested that Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R., Kan.) had an “adolescent perspective” on how the economy worked.
$$$ Athens faces tough bail-out terms [FT]
$$$ ECB to Exchange Greek Bonds [WSJ]
$$$ I give up, what would you do about Greece? [Crooked Timber]
$$$ Australia’s richest person wrote the universe’s worst poem (“Develop North Australia, embrace multiculturalism and welcome short term foreign workers to our shores / To benefit from the export of our minerals and ores” etc.) [Telegraph via The Jane Dough]
$$$ You could be a Credit Risk Senior Analyst at Genworth in Stamford [eFinancialCareers]
$$$ Icahn Offers to Buy CVR Energy in at Least $2.6 Billion Deal [Bloomberg]
$$$ The SEC raised the qualifications for being charged 2 and 20 [SEC]
$$$ Merrill brokers are fine selling bad advice but draw the line at selling BofA banking services [Reuters / Felix Salmon]
$$$ Welcome to six months ago Art Cashin. Some tips: buy NFLX; don’t take any Tuscan cruises. [MarketBeat]
$$$ Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore wants to end the default practice of quarterly earnings guidance and explore issuing loyalty-driven securities as part of an overhaul of capitalism which he says has turned many of the world’s largest economies into hotbeds of irresponsible short-term investment. [Reuters]
$$$ Toddler Rescued From Inside Claw Game [ABC]
Here’s a sort of touching monologue from David Einhorn’s call with Punch:
If you’ve done the analysis, and come to the conclusion that on it’s own, the company is not going to make it, it makes all of the sense in the world to raise equity at whatever the price is, so that you can know that the company, you know, is – is going to make it. Now, what that brings to my mind though is, you know, obviously we haven’t done your analysis, we haven’t done — signed an NDA; I don’t know that we’re going to sign an NDA, because we prefer to just remain investors, but from my perspective, and I’ll be just straight up with you, is that gives a lot of signalling value. And the signalling value that comes from figuring out the company has figured out that it’s not going to make it on it’s own is that we’ve just grossly misassessed the — you know what’s going on here. And — and that, that will cause us to have to just reconsider what we’re doing, which is not the end of the world to you. You will continue on even if we don’t continue on with you.
You could sort of see why the FSA read that to mean that he was insider trading. Like …
(1) You have told me something with signalling value. Sorry – “a lot of signalling value.”
(2) I will now act on that signal.
(3) Don’t be mad.
“Signalling value” sure sounds like it means “material nonpublic information,” doesn’t it?
Now as we’ve discussed before, trading on that information would not be enough to make Einhorn guilty of insider trading in the US, though maybe it wouldn’t be exactly a great idea here either. Why? Because in our weird but sort of sensible insider trading laws, it’s just not illegal to trade on material nonpublic information. It’s only illegal to trade based on material nonpublic information that was obtained in violation of some sort of duty of confidence. Since Einhorn didn’t sign an NDA, he had no duty of confidence. And since the Punch CEO and bankers weren’t tipping him for nefarious purposes, but were instead sounding him out on the company’s behalf as a shareholder and potential investor in a new capital raise, they weren’t breaching their duty of confidence. You could quibble with the details of that but it’s basically the law here. In England not so much.
That also seems to be the law for our friends in Congress, who recently passed a law making it illegal for them to insider trade, which is worrying some people who make their living from trading on Congressional inside information:
We thought it was a little strange when Whitney Tilson and Glenn Tongue’s hedge fund T2 Partners’ latest 13F came out earlier this week and Netflix wasn’t included.
We sent the hedge fund manager an email to find out why and there’s now a corrected version of the fund’s regulatory filing out.
It turned out, it was just an error.
As of December 31, 2011, T2 Partners had combination of 89,771 shares and 81,000 call options in Netflix, according to the updated 13F.
I was scoring up the Super Bowl (small loss) when Ocean called. Ocean is a good customer. He had a couple questions, and I told him fire away.
First he wanted to know if we were doing the Oscars again this year. Of course we are. I’m not thrilled about it –I’m half paranoid about inside information bubbling on the Internet, but I’m learning to embrace the inside mis-information. Most importantly, we do it as a service, so the customers won’t start betting online with bookies in Costa Rica.
Ocean was pleased. For what it’s worth, he likes The Artist at very short odds. He watches rom-coms. With his wife, he says. His favourite movie though is Love Story, and he cries shamelessly every time he watches it: he truly believes that love means never having to say you’re sorry. I’ve never figured that out. I’m forever apologizing to my wife for doing boneheaded things and saying stupid shit. And apologizing is a necessity But whatever. A happy customer is a beautiful thing. And I thought the phone call was over. And then Ocean said it.
“What do you have on the VIX for this summer?”
I asked him what the hell he was talking about because I didn’t compute what I was hearing. He then said how he had been watching CNBC. He went to his mutual fund guy determined to buy the VIX, and the salesman blew him off with “Oh, that’s just gambling”. So, hey, I must surely book the VIX, right, because I take bets from gamblers?
Well I totally had my pants down and started mumbling about monthly contracts and the need to be a sophisticated investor and how there were a few products out there and…he cut me off. He understood how “the 1% were trying to make this complicated” and he just wanted a near-even-money type bet that the VIX would be over 30 at the end of June, as per the top of the screen on CNBC.
I gave him the bet. 30’s a pretty big number, and I figure this’ll make me learn about trading the VIX instruments so I can lay it off if I want to. (I’ve never done anything more sophisticated than buy a put spread when I was afraid of a downturn. Go ahead, laugh.) 30’s a lot. So I let him have it at 6-to-5. He was only expecting even money or slightly worse, so he was pleased.
Ten minutes later I was using this episode as an object lesson for my Faithful Assistant, a guy who is muddling through an MBA while living in his parents’ basement. Garage loft, I stand corrected. Anyway, good customers need to be kept happy, good customers lose, and happy customers pay. The Hollywood-movie days of kneecapping customers who stiff you were over before I was born, if they ever even existed, and—and the phone rang again.
Ocean again, wanting an over/under number on where Apple would be in a couple months’ time. Oh, and Facebook. I told him I would have to call him back. I started throwing coffee cups and in between my screams my Faithful Assistant told me he’d just pretend I have Tourette’s. He’s cold. Then he asked me what was going on. And after I told him, he smiled, and tried to give his boss an object lesson of his own:
“This is great. You trade the odd option. All my electives are Finance. We just set the over-under price, I mean you KNOW he’s going ‘over’, high enough that we can buy calls a couple strikes below that number. We use his bet to buy the calls, if he wins we clean up, and we’re covered.”
And when I asked what would happen to Ocean’s bankroll over time, the answer came back that we would sodomize it.
I just shook my head. My young friend may well end up in a business career where the necessary m.o. is to grab-it-all and grab-it-now, but that’s not how my business works.
I actually want my customers to win 45-50% of their bets, lose fairly small amounts over time, and never lose so much in one fell swoop that they can’t pay or that they decide to stop playing. There’s a purpose behind all that languid ritual at the Baccarat table in the high-limit room at the casino: try to keep the House’s earn slow-and-steady. It makes the news when a whale beats Vegas for $10 million, or drops $10 million, but the casinos tolerate those lumpy earnings—aside from a little ink, they don’t really want them. The casinos want everybody playing dollar-slots, losing three cents a spin.
His eyes kind of glazed over, so I thought, what would Suze Orman do to get her point across? I figured Suze, to make the young’uns understand, would probably Go Gangsta. So I said “Look, we make money by drawing blood from our customers.” His eyes lit up as I continued: “We’re blood collectors. We need a nice orderly blood bank. What you’re proposing, is a drive-by.”
(Well, I actually said “drive-thru”, but we sorted it out after a little confusion.)
So we’ve told Ocean that these bets are going to be for peanuts and we’re going to have fun with them. He’s on board, and he’s all excited. Faithful Assistant is going to make the numbers and I told Ocean to give us some requests for stocks he thought would go lower. “Oh you mean I could bet ‘under’ too? Not just ‘over’?” Yep, ‘under’ too.
February’s a shit month in the bookie biz—the regulars are there, but football’s over and it’s a ways before March Madness. Ocean’s stockpicking is going to keep me interested.
Something you may have picked up on when watching CNBC interviews is that if an anchor or a reporter has fond feelings for their interviewee, they often find it difficult to suppress. Joe Kernen, for example, more or less fellated David Tepper when the hedge fund manager appeared on Squawk Box a while back, telling Tepper his “entire body had chills” at the thought of having him on set (Bill Murray received the same treatment last Friday). To that end, perhaps you saw Darren Rovell’s interview with Kate Upton?
Remember how David Einhorn got in trouble in England for insider trading on Punch Taverns stock and he was all “what?” and we were all “what?“? Well, you can judge it for yourself because now the entire disputed call with Punch is available online (at the back of this). So go read it, or read the highlights here. The FSA still thinks it’s insider trading, but the count of people confused by the whole thing is rising, and now includes the Merrill banker on the call. There’s lots of insider traderiness on this side of the pond today too so we should talk about that in a bit.
For now, though, two other things. One is quick – no one can resist one part of the call and I can’t either so here it is:
DAVID EINHORN: Hi, I’m sorry I didn’t get to see you when you were in New York.
PUNCH CEO: No, no, we — well, we’ve — we’ve only had the chance to speak once, although we have seen [reference to Greenlight Analyst] a few times since then.
DAVID EINHORN: Oh, you’re — you’re — you’re getting more than — than I could help with anyway. So, this is good.
PUNCH CEO: Okay. That’s fair enough. Well, one day we’ll get you around on a pub crawl around some English pubs.
DAVID EINHORN: Oh, that sounds fun.
PUNCH CEO: It is. You’re right.
English readers: Is it? I just assumed that Punch Taverns are rather grim places, like TGI Friday’s but with more … punching? … but maybe I’m totally off base here. Also, here is a hypothesis: vice investments do well because, for the same level of profitability, they get more analyst/investor coverage and enthusiasm. Wouldn’t you rather go on a pub crawl instead of like a tour of an auto parts factory in Queens? Would that influence your stock recommendations / money allocations? Someone should do a study.
A group of protesters plans to infiltrate the Calvin Klein show at 2 p.m. today […]
Hedge fund manager Philip Falcone is ruling out a bankruptcy filing for his telecom startup […]