Matt Levine

Posts by Matt Levine

  • 24 Jul 2013 at 10:53 AM

Fab Tourre’s CDO Deal Wasn’t Complicated Enough

If you wanted to short the housing market in 2007 you could just buy protection on mortgage-backed securities via a synthetic CDO, and that’s what John Paulson did in the Abacus deal, for which Goldman Sachs and Fab Tourre got in trouble. But the problem with that is that buying protection costs money; just for instance the super-senior protection in Abacus would run you about 50bps, or around $4.5 million a year on the $909mm notional that ACA Capital wrapped.1 And who wants to throw away millions of dollars a year waiting for the housing market to crash?

So another way to short the market is to buy a lot of protection on senior tranches of CDOs (cheap because: what are the odds that the housing market will crash?) while also selling a little protection on junior tranches (expensive because the odds that there’ll be some defaults are higher). If you do this, you can have a positive carry (you get paid as more each year on the protection you sold than you pay on the protection you bought), but you can make just about as much money if the housing market craters and there are massive defaults. (The tradeoff is that if performance is mediocre, with some defaults, then you lose money on the junior protection you sold and don’t make it back on the senior protection you bought.)

This second trade is a very stylized description of what Magnetar did,2 in another CDO deal for which JPMorgan got in a bit of trouble. Less than Goldman, though! Read more »

It would take a stronger man than me to resist making fun of the SAC Capital white paper responding to the charges against Steve Cohen, as you can tell from the post I wrote before I read it. But now that that’s out of our system I suppose we ought to actually talk about it? Having read it now, I find it creepily compelling.

The first trick in reading it is to understand that neither the SEC’s complaint nor the white paper is really about what they say they’re about, which is “failure to supervise.” The SEC throws in a few “failed to reasonably supervise”‘s for show, but never talks one way or the other about SAC’s procedures and systems to stop insider trading – it’s all “Steve Cohen saw red flags and ignored them and then traded on that red-flag-draped inside information.” And the white paper has a rousing defense of SAC’s compliance procedures,1 but spends the bulk of its energy on second-by-second timelines to refute those supposed red flags. Nobody’s really that into the supervising or lack thereof. This is an insider-trading-lite case: the SEC is charging Cohen with insider-trading-but-we-can’t-prove-it, and SAC’s response is “you can’t prove it because it wasn’t insider trading.” Read more »

I haven’t been following Fabrice Tourre’s trial all that closely but I gather that the main evidence against him is that a Goldman saleswoman, Gail Kreitman, told her client ACA Capital Management that Paulson & Co. was going to be a long investor in a CDO called Abacus. That turned out to be false, and arguably in a material and fraudy way. So: why isn’t the SEC suing Gail Kreitman? Well, because someone told her that that it was true, and there’s at least, like, a 60/40 chance that that someone was Fab. Because he was pretty competent: Read more »

Surely the most hilarious possible defense to charges that Steve Cohen “failed to supervise” his traders is that he couldn’t have failed to supervise his traders because he was too busy ignoring everything they said and did. So what a delight to learn that SAC has chosen exactly that defense: Read more »

I suppose a way to think about Yahoo! is that its stock has a sum-of-the-parts value equal to:

Both of those sources of value are kinda nebulous? I mean, the first one, God knows, but the second is weird too; it’s some combination of “Dan Loeb is smart and I am not so I should pay a bit more for things he likes” and “Dan Loeb is smart and Yahoo is not so he’s adding value by keeping an eye on them,” I dunno. Anyway not any more: Read more »

An important element of any Wall Street education is figuring out what shady practices will win you a reputation as a genius, what shady practices will win you a reputation as a scumbag, and what shady practices will win you a prison sentence. There is substantial overlap!1 That education is extremely contextual, and your intuitions about what shadiness flies in one business won’t necessarily help you in another, or in court for that matter. For instance I grew up in a corporate equity business, so I’d be happy to tell you why Yahoo!’s share repurchase from Dan Loeb wasn’t insider trading but you can probably figure that out on your own. Meanwhile I have no idea what to make of spoofing, but it seems like Panther Energy Trading did some of it, and now they are in trouble: Read more »

The thing is that when you run a hedge fund and “At least nine current or former … employees have been linked to insider trading while working at the firm, including four who have pleaded guilty to crimes,” the SEC really ought to charge you with “fail[ing] reasonably to supervise” your employees, no? At least? Whether or not you were insider trading yourself, you weren’t exactly “continuing to maintain a first-rate compliance effort woven into the fabric of the firm.”

So my first reaction to the SEC’s case against Steve Cohen was “what took so long” but then I read the complaint and it is worth the wait, full of information that we haven’t seen before and that is … awkward. Here is the best of it, emphasis added for Steve’s own words: Read more »

Poor guy:

The Securities and Exchange Commission overruled its own enforcement division’s decision to settle a civil case with the high-flying money manager Philip A. Falcone and his flagship hedge fund, a rare reversal that signals a broader crackdown by the agency. … While the deal also included at least a two-year ban from raising new capital, a potential death knell to a hedge fund manager, that punishment came with a number of caveats. And in a a moral victory for Mr. Falcone, the deal also omitted a common provision that prohibits defendants from committing future violations with fraudulent intent.

Apparently SEC Chairman Mary Jo White killed the deal:

White, a former Wall Street defense lawyer, and Democrats Luis A. Aguilar and Elisse B. Walter, in a 3-to-1 vote, were concerned that Falcone wasn’t barred from serving as officer or director of a public company, said the people, asking not to be named because the deliberations aren’t public. The SEC informed Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners LLC of the decision yesterday, according to a filing from Harbinger Group Inc.1

Man it’s hard to be the SEC. Presumably they employ a lot of people who do, like, actual work. Read more »