Gillian Tett has a book called “Fool’s Gold: The Inside Story of J.P. Morgan and How Wall St. Greed Corrupted Its Bold Dream and Created a Financial Catastrophe.” It’s a pretty good book about the creation and rise to prominence of synthetic CDOs, and I’m sure the subtitle isn’t her fault, but it’s always bothered me, because how exactly was the “bold dream” of creating synthetic CDOs “corrupted” into … like … selling more synthetic CDOs? If you think synthetic CDOs are a Bad Thing, they were a Bad Thing at their creation. This is not an orphanage that was taken over by bandits and turned into a source of black-market organs. It was a financial derivative that was sold to people looking to buy financial derivatives.
Similarly, Greg Smith spent twelve years flogging equity derivatives to “two of the largest hedge funds on the planet, five of the largest asset managers in the United States, and three of the most prominent sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East and Asia” and is just now discovering that they’re designed to make money for his employer? I imagine his contacts at these hedge funds reading his op-ed today and being like “holy shit, Goldman was trying to make money off of us?” Wait no I don’t. I’m pretty sure they wanted to make money too.*
Greg Smith is a Goldman Sachs “executive director” and “head of equity derivatives” in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. And, as you may have heard, today is his last day at the firm. Greg had a speech prepared for the big announcement, which he stayed up all night writing and planned to deliver on […]
Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs (NYT)
It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail. Even after the S.E.C., Fabulous Fab, Abacus, God’s work, Carl Levin, Vampire Squids? No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated products to clients even if they are not the simplest investments or the ones most directly aligned with the client’s goals? Absolutely. Every day, in fact.
Stress Tests Buoy US Banks (WSJ)
Stock prices reacted positively amid a spate of other upbeat economic news, including a robust retail-sales report and optimistic comments by Fed officials on the overall state of the U.S. economy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day up 1.7%, its highest close since December 2007. Asian markets opened trading on Wednesday higher, with Tokyo up 1.9%. The Fed’s stress tests were designed to see whether banks would have enough capital on hand to keep lending even if another deep economic slump or financial crisis were to strike. It’s the third round of stress tests: The first took place in 2009, in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis. At that time, banks fared much more poorly.
JPMorgan Dividend Surprises Investors, Irks Fed (Bloomberg)
The bank’s disclosure prompted other lenders, including Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), U.S. Bancorp and PNC Financial Services Group Inc. (PNC), to accelerate the disclosure of their dividend plans. It also irritated some staff at the Fed, which had planned to release the test results ahead of the industry, said one person familiar with the central bank’s operations who declined to be identified because the discussions were private.
Pandit Repeats Moynihan’s Misstep as Citigroup Request Backfires (Bloomberg)
Citigroup was the biggest U.S. lender yesterday to fail the regulator’s exam of capital levels in a hypothetical economic downturn because of the New York-based firm’s plan to boost dividends or stock repurchases. Bank of America, which had its payout request rejected last year, passed the 2012 test after Moynihan decided to keep his company’s dividend at 1 cent. “Pandit misread the situation badly, you just don’t ask for something if you don’t know you can get it,” said Greg Donaldson, chairman of Evansville, Indiana-based Donaldson Capital Management LLC, which oversees $540 million including Bank of America shares. “Moynihan was chastened by what happened last year, he absolutely wasn’t going to take any chances of getting rebuffed again.”
Stress Tests Results Can’t Be Trusted, Says Strategist (CNBC)
“I think a lot of banks are still overstating assets and they haven’t recognized problem loans, to the extent that they should have done and it’s very difficult to trust numbers,” Peter Elston, Asia Strategist at Aberdeen Asset Management told CNBC on Wednesday.
Merkel Says Europe Is ‘Good Way’ Up Mountain, Not Over Yet (Bloomberg)
“We’ve come a good way along the mountain path, but we’re not completely over the mountain,” Merkel told reporters in Rome late yesterday after talks with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. “I suspect that in the next few years there will continue to be new mountains — there won’t be a celebratory event in which we say we’re over the mountain and now we can sit among the trees and say that we’ve done it.”
Eurogroup Approves Second Greek Bailout (WSJ)
The euro-zone countries Wednesday finally signed off on Greece’s second bailout program, ending a protracted and dramatic negotiating process that started last July. The hope is that the €130 billion ($170.1 billion) package—funded mostly by euro-zone countries and the International Monetary Fund—will be enough to keep Greece funded until 2014-2015. But talk of a third Greek bailout has already started with the ink still wet on the second one, especially following a report by European Union experts highlighting the risks to structural-reform implementation and predicting “at best stagnation” for 2013. Greece has been in a recession for five consecutive years.
Ex-Lehman Executive Jack’s $35 Million Estate Faces Tax Auction (BW)
The $35 million estate of Bradley H. Jack, the former Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (LEHMQ) managing director who was arrested twice for allegedly forging drug prescriptions, may be sold at a municipal auction after he failed to pay property taxes since July. Jack owes $271,923 on his 20-acre (8-hectare), waterfront compound in Fairfield, Connecticut, according to town tax collector Stanley Gorzelany. It’s the town’s biggest overdue tax bill on a residence.
A Public Exit From Goldman Sachs Hits at a Wounded Wall Street (NYT)
To be sure, longtime bankers say it is not like short-term greed was absent in the past. It has been around since traders gathered under a buttonwood tree and founded the New York Stock Exchange in 1792. But the astounding size of Wall Street’s biggest firms — and the fortunes to be made — have altered the calculus. “I think there was plenty of skullduggery going on,” said Jerome Kohlberg Jr., who worked at Bear Stearns for 21 years before leaving to found Kohlberg Kravis Roberts in 1976 with Henry R. Kravis and George R. Roberts. Still, the trend has accelerated in recent years, according to Mr. Kohlberg. “When I first started on Wall Street, it was a small group and everyone knew everyone else,” he said. “If you stepped out of line, people would not do business with you.”
$$$ Broker departures accelerate at Merrill Lynch [Reuters]
$$$ The head of credit trading at Credit Suisse has been fined £210,000 for disclosing confidential information about a forthcoming €2.5bn bond issue after inviting a UK fund manager to “play charades” and guess the identity of the issuer. Nicholas Kyprios encouraged a fund manager who had been invited by Credit Suisse to a roadshow in November 2009 for an unnamed company to guess the issuer, using phrases like “you’re getting warmer”, the Financial Services Authority said. [FT]
$$$ Euro Zone Split over Financial Transaction Tax [Der Spiegel]
$$$ Fred Wilpon’s lawyers have planned a whole range of distractions for their Madoff trial [WSJ, related]
$$$ Robert Lacoursiere, the Paulson & Co. partner who oversaw the $23 billion hedge fund’s team of banking analysts, quit last week after four years to start his own fund, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. [Bloomberg]
More stress tests, bleargh. I guess the news is that Citi “failed”, though I can’t get all that excited by that because it didn’t exactly “fail” in the sense of now it’s being forced to raise capital / broken up / burned to the ground. Instead it failed assuming it follows the capital plan it submitted to the Fed, which is clearly a capital-lowering rather than capital-raising plan. I ballpark it at $10bn of share repurchases and dividends,* which is … well, it’s pretty big for Citi. So they can just not do that then. Or not do quite as much of that, which seems to be their plan:
In light of the Federal Reserve’s actions, Citi will submit a revised Capital Plan to the Federal Reserve later this year, as required by the applicable regulations. The Federal Reserve advised Citi that it has no objection to our continuing the existing dividend levels on our preferred stock and our common stock, and we plan to do so, subject to approval by the Board of Directors each quarter. The Federal Reserve also advised that it has no objection to Citi redeeming certain series of outstanding trust preferred securities, as Citi proposed in its Capital Plan.
We plan to engage further with the Federal Reserve to understand their new stress loss models. We strongly encourage the public release of these models and the associated benchmarks and assumptions. We believe greater transparency in this process will best serve all banking institutions and their shareholders as well as the international regulatory community and market participants, and will encourage a level playing field globally.
There are at least two ha! moments in that snotty last paragraph. First there’s the fact that the Fed had planned to release the stress test results on Thursday and got gun-jumped by Jamie Dimon. So much for Fed transparency. But also, specifically, as people are all running around suing each other about the Fed maybe kind of encouraging bank CEOs to hide material information from investors, it is odd that the Fed would have the stress test results and sit on them for two days. Imagine the scenario where Jamie Dimon, Vikram Pandit, and the Fed all know that JPM passed and was going to do a largeish buyback, while Citi failed and was going to do a … I guess somewhat smaller buyback – and they didn’t tell anyone from today until Thursday. If you sold JPM to buy C today, wouldn’t you be kind of annoyed?**
First prize is dinner with a few colleagues/friends at Peter Luger, your choice of post-dinner activity, an I Heart Dealbreaker button, a Greenlight Capital messenger bag, a Pershing Square golf umbrella, a pair of Third Point-branded running sneakers, and a Blackstone gym bag (if you are a hedge fund, private equity firm, or bank who would like to be represented via swag, do get in touch. As you can see we’re building something of an ensemble here so socks, hoodies, hats, undergarments, etc would be optimal but we’ll work with what you’ve got). Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired. Sign up now. [DBNCAATC]
Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax may testify for the owners of New York Mets at a civil trial accusing them of turning a blind eye to Bernard Madoff’s epic fraud. … According to the Mets owners, Koufax opened a Madoff account at Wilpon’s suggestion, and has been a lifelong friend of Wilpon, with […]
I’m back! What’d I miss? Well, that one thing. Also yesterday the BIS put out its quarterly review, which ponders the state of the world financial system, complete with ugly charts* and a cheering story of European bank deleveraging that goes something like this:
As deleveraging pressures grew towards the end of 2011, European banks offered for sale a significant volume of assets, notably those with high risk weights or market prices close to holding values. Offerings with high risk weights included low-rated securitised assets, distressed bonds and commercial property and other risky loans. Although some such transactions were completed, others did not go through because the offered prices were below banks’ holding values. Selling at these prices would have generated losses, thus reducing capital and preventing the banks from achieving the intended deleveraging.
Thoughts could be thought about that collection of words!
It was a particularly windy day in Westport, CT and I delicately placed the mounted bird in my passenger seat, gingerly wrapping the seat-belt around its midsection without mussing the feathers. Carrying the bird in and out of the post office and several shipping stores became more hilarious each time. People stared. I smiled back. Finally though, when I’d reached the last place in the area that I could try before getting back to the office on time, I wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer. The clerk gave me a look of disbelief when I placed the bird on the counter and I said, “I need to ship this to Japan.” He just laughed at me. I then looked at him sternly and said, “This is no laughing matter. This bird needs to make it to Japan in flawless condition or I will lose my job.” The guy looked back at the bird and then back at me. By then I had used my acting skills and summoned some tears. Finally he agreed to try and crate the bird for shipment. I still don’t know to this day if it made it past customs, but I was satisfied that I had not given up on my task. [Dealbook, related]
Pop quiz: you’re an insider trader looking to score some fresh intel. You’ve exhausted all of your sources and what’s more, you’re sick of just hitting them up for tips– you want to make obtaining material non-public information fun again. You figure the best way to go about that is to identify a target with obvious vulnerabilities that can be exploited for profit (always a good time). Do you a) go with the Danielle Chiesi move (i.e. requesting info post or, better yet, mid-coitus) b) get ordained as a Catholic priest and press penitents for potential market moving news during confession or c) go for broke: start attending AA meetings, become someone’s sponsor and then, when he/she’s confiding in you that the stress of his/her job at a certain company has been driving him/her to down a bottle of vodka every night, move in for the kill? If you’re Timothy J. McGee, the answer is simple.
The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged two financial advisors and three others in their circle of family and friends with insider trading for more than $1.8 million in illicit profits based on confidential information about a Philadelphia-based insurance holding company’s merger negotiations with a Japanese firm. The SEC alleges that Timothy J. McGee and Michael W. Zirinsky, who are registered representatives at Ameriprise Financial Services, illegally traded in the stock of Philadelphia Consolidated Holding Corp. (PHLY) based on nonpublic information about the company’s impending merger with Tokio Marine Holdings. McGee obtained the inside information from a PHLY senior executive who was confiding in him through their relationship at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) about pressures he was confronting at work. McGee then purchased PHLY stock in advance of the merger announcement on July 23, 2008, and made a $292,128 profit when the stock price jumped 64 percent that day.
“McGee stole information shared with him in the utmost confidence, and as securities industry professionals he and Zirinsky clearly knew better,” said Elaine C. Greenberg, Associate Director of the SEC’s Philadelphia Regional Office. “As this case demonstrates, we will follow each link in a tipping chain all the way to Hong Kong if necessary.”
From the complaint:
In early July 2008, immediately after an AA meeting, the Insider confined to McGee that he had been drinking as a result of the mounting pressure, and revealed to McGee that the source of the pressure was ongoing confidential negotiations to sell PHLY. The Insider told McGee that the stress generated from his participation in the negotiations was having a negative impact on his personal life. In response, McGee expressed interest in the details of the PHLY sale and questioned the Insider about the details fo the impending deal.
US News has regaled us with its annual ranking of the top business schools. I know you need a safe space to get huffy about perceived slights (be it your MBA program being lower than you believe is accurate or by having to suffer the indignity of an inferior institution being too close on the […]
Reaz Islam, who ran Citigroup hedge funds that lost most of their value in 2008, has “no regrets” about his performance and said “ambulance-chasing” lawyers are behind claims that he and the bank misled clients…The funds, now defunct, placed Citigroup at the center of a regulatory probe and a wave of litigation when they crashed […]
Bond Trading Revives Banks (WSJ)
Gains in the financial firms’ fixed-income businesses, which can account for as much as half of revenue, are putting companies including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley and the J.P. Morgan unit of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. on track to report their strongest numbers since the first quarter of 2011, said bankers and analysts.
Trade Fight Flares on China Minerals (WSJ)
The Obama administration Tuesday intends to escalate its trade offensive against China, a move heavy with political overtones, by pressing the World Trade Organization to force the export giant to ease its stranglehold on rare-earth minerals critical to high-tech manufacturing. The announcement, which will be made by President Barack Obama, marks a new front in the administration’s election-year effort to turn up the heat on China, amid competition from the president’s potential Republican rivals on the matter. It could also pressure China to respond to the WTO on an issue that is of high importance to a range of manufacturers. The U.S., joined by the European Union and Japan, plans to ask the WTO, the international arbiter of trade practices, to open talks with China over its restrictions on exporting the rare-earth minerals, administration officials said.
New York City Tops Global Competitiveness, Economist Report Says (Bloomberg)
New York City ranks first among 120 cities across the globe in attracting capital, businesses and tourists, according to an Economist Intelligence Unit report commissioned by Citigroup. London was the second most-competitive city, followed by Singapore, with Paris and Hong Kong tied for fourth place, according to the report, which was released today. Among U.S. cities, Washington, Chicago and Boston made the top 10. The report cited New York’s diverse economy, driven by media, arts, fashion, technology and finance. In 2010, New York was second only to California’s Silicon Valley as a source of venture capital in the U.S., according to the report.
Ex-Lehman exec arrested again (Stamford Advocate)
Bradley H. Jack, a former investment banking chief at Lehman Brothers and an owner of the most expensive residential property in Fairfield, has been charged for the second time in less than a year with forging a prescription for a controlled substance. Jack, 53, of North Avenue, was charged Friday by Westport police with second-degree forgery in connection with an incident last November when he is said to have forged the date of a prescription for a controlled substance at a CVS pharmacy that was made out to him by a Fairfield doctor.
Euro-Zone Ministers Press Spain for a Deal on Deficits (WSJ)
Euro-zone finance ministers on Monday pressed a budget plan on Spain—regarded as a key test of ambitious new rules for the currency bloc—that would allow the government some leeway on its budget deficit for this year but would keep a tough deficit target for 2013. The plan would mean Spain would still have to embark on a bruising austerity program over the next two years that would cut nearly 6% of gross domestic product off its deficit. The program would be particularly challenging given Spain’s contracting economy and 23% unemployment rate, Europe’s highest. Ministers said after the meeting that Spain had agreed to consider the proposal.
Greek Students Fight Stray Dogs and Despair Amid College Cuts (Bloomberg)
Higher education in Greece, as in much of Europe, has been battered by the recession and austerity measures. Budget cuts of 23 percent since 2009 mean buildings aren’t heated in the winter, schools have slashed faculty salaries and newly hired professors can wait more than a year to be appointed. Students say it’s hard to be hopeful with youth unemployment surpassing 50 percent and protesters seizing university buildings. “People are pessimistic and sad,” said Konstantinos Markou, a 19-year-old law student, speaking in a lobby at the University of Athens, where dogs fought nearby and students say drug dealers and users congregate. “The sadness is all around the air.”
Entire Arena Football team cut during pregame meal at Olive Garden (YS)
The owner of the Pittsburgh Power fired all 24 members of his team during a pregame meal at an Orlando-area Olive Garden. With AFL players set to strike before the 2012 season opener, owner Matt Shaner reacted first, cutting his entire team hours before kickoff of a game against the Orlando Predators. “Mid-statement, all the players got up and left,” former Power center Beau Elliott told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Every player got up and left while he was still talking. There were 15 to 20 angry, large individuals.”
Tainted Libor Guessing Games Face Replacement by Verified Trades (Bloomberg)
The London interbank offered rate, the benchmark for $360 trillion of securities, may not survive allegations of being corrupted unless it’s based on transactions among banks rather than guesswork about the cost of money. “The methodology used to formulate Libor is totally unsuitable for the modern world,” said Daniel Sheard, chief investment officer of asset manager GAM U.K. Ltd., which manages about $60 billion. “The British Bankers’ Association needs to come out on the front foot and say ‘this is a system that was appropriate 20 years ago but is no longer appropriate and we are going to change it.’”
SEC set to file charges over private trading (FT)
The Securities and Exchange Commission is close to filing civil charges tied to the trading of private stocks against at least three executives, making it the first case since regulators began reviewing secondary markets more than a year ago.
The fresh scrutiny comes as Congress weighs laws to loosen restrictions on private trading, allowing private groups to have more shareholders and market their stock to a wider range of investors, to make it easier for start-up companies to raise capital and create jobs. It also comes just months ahead of an expected initial public offering for Facebook, which has been the most heavily traded private stock.
Ruth Madoff Moves To Greenwich (Greenwich Time)
While some Old Greenwich residents said they did not like the idea of Madoff taking up residence in the neighborhood, others shrugged off the news that Madoff was living in town. Neil Lucey, a semi-retired investment banker who has lived in Old Greenwich for 15 years, said he had “no adverse reaction” to hearing Madoff had moved in.
Researchers say long-lost Leonardo may have been found (Reuters)
Art researchers and scientists said on Monday that a high-tech project using tiny video probes has uncovered evidence that a fresco by Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci lost for five centuries may still exist behind a wall of Florence’s city hall…Researchers used tiny, medical-style endoscopic probes and other high-tech tools inserted through existing cracks in the outer wall holding the Vasari fresco and took samples of substances. “We found traces of pigments that appear to be those known to have been used exclusively by Leonardo,” said Maurizio Seracini, an engineer and expert in art diagnostics who has been on the trail of the “Lost Leonardo” for three decades. “These data are very encouraging,” he said, adding that one black pigment found was believed to be of the same type used by Leonardo on the Mona Lisa.
$$$ Citigroup could be surprise winner in stress tests [Reuters]
$$$ Goldman Buoyed by Credit Rally Seen Leading Bank Trading Gains [Bloomberg]
$$$ Will Portugal Follow Greece Into Debt Relief? [NetNet]
$$$ Highland Capital is looking for a distressed investments senior analyst– you? [DBCC]
$$$ Bradley H. Jack a former investment banking chief at Lehman and an owner the most expensive residential property in Fairfield, has been charged for the second time in less than a year with forging a prescription for a controlled substance. [CTP]
$$$ Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit Says Anger With Wall Street Is ‘Understandable’ [NYO]
$$$ Peter Thiel, university-hater, heads to campus [Reuters]
$$$ Groupon of a lifetime: “$12,500 for a signed Titanic DVD and 13-day ocean voyage with tour of the Titanic (a $59,680 value); departs from St. John’s, Newfoundland, on July 26 and returns August 8″ [G]
As Dealbreaker historians will recall, last March marked our first Dealbreaker NCAA Tournament Challenge. It was inspired by a financial services hack who made the public announcement that he planned to (anonymously) report any colleagues he caught filling out brackets and keeping tabs on their picks during business hours. At the time, we encouraged you all to enter as many pools as were available, making it impossible for him to keep up with the amount of people and their offenses he needed to rat out, and created one to do our part. Is this guy still on the loose? He very well might be but regardless: never forget. To that end, sign up for the Second Annual Dealbreaker NCAA Tournament Challenge today. If you need reason beyond being able to say you won the DBNCAATC, first place will receive dinner for him/herself plus some colleagues and/friends at Peter Luger’s, an outing funded by us,* a Greenlight Capital messenger bag, a Pershing Square golf umbrella, a pair of Third Point-branded running sneakers, and an I Heart Dealbreaker button.**
The pool will once again be managed by Dealbreaker Commenter and Friend NakedShort, who, along with myself, will answer any questions you might have, provide color if warranted (rip everyone’s brackets to shreds, call out the bottom 5 performers), etc. Sign up here now.***
So it is abundantly clear, if you do not want participants to know your real name, MAKE SURE TO FILL OUT SOMETHING ELSE IN THE NAME FIELDS. For example, if your ID is Godswork, rather than writing Lloyd B, enter first name: Gods, last name: work. To that end, if you don’t want people to see your email address, from the bracket page, click ‘options’ and then ‘hide email.’ If you feel it necessary, create an entirely new email account specifically for this challenge. Finally, don’t use HisHoliness as your ID because Alan Greenspan’s already called dibs.
The pool password is: animalliar
Dealbreaker NCAA Tournament Challenge [CBS Sports]
*Last year we offered Wall Street North favorite Beamers Cafe, but the winner had “already seen all Beamers had to offer,” and choose an alternative venue. This year, feel free to think outside the box.
**If any other hedge funds, private equity firms, or banks would like to be represented via swag, feel free to get in touch!
***NakedShort says you have until Thursday morning to fill out a bracket but you should just get on this ASAP.
“I spend way too much of my time thinking about politics these days because government is way too involved in financial markets these days,” he said in a rare interview. He later added. “Part of my sensitivity to these issues is that I now live in the middle of a hyper-regulated industry, where not only is government affecting how capital markets work, or how banks work, but (the government) is punishing savers.” The 43-year-old hedge fund manager said he has invested more time than ever before on politics since the financial crisis of 2008 nearly crippled Citadel. The firm’s two flagship funds have since recovered, surpassing their so-called highwater marks this year…”I think (the ultra-wealthy) actually have an insufficient influence,” Griffin said in an interview at Citadel’s downtown office. “Those who have enjoyed the benefits of our system more than ever now owe a duty to protect the system that has created the greatest nation on this planet.” [Chicago Tribune, related]