Business Hacks

Washington DC Goes Gaga For ABC’s Money Honey

Bianca.jpgBianna Golodryga is apparently Washington DC’s favorite “money honey.” The former CNBC reporter moved over to ABC last year. But her appearance at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner is garnering her a lot of attention. “She’s smoking,” a Bush administration official tells Paul Bedard, who writes the Washington Whispers gossip column for US News & World Report.
“I was walking around with her, and all the big shots were coming up and introducing themselves. They were gaga over her,” a “financial industry source” tells Bedard.
The New TV Money Honey [US News]

  • 03 Dec 2007 at 3:06 PM
  • Banks

Where Economists Rule The World: Only In Ben Stein’s Mind

While we’re on the topic, we might as well mention that Ben Stein also seems to have an inflated view of the role of economists at investment banks, and perhaps in the world. Most traders and brokers we know tend to regard their economists as irrelevant at best and hazardous at worst. They are used to economists taking positions that are unhelpful to their book or to their sales efforts. But they don’t mind that much because they don’t think many people listen to—much less follow the advice of—their economists.
“These guys are talking heads for us. Part of brand promotion on a grand scale. They might as well work for the PR department. They get the firm’s name out there but, internally, no one really trades on what they say,” one equity trader with over twelve years experience tell us.

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There are very few rewards for being a financial journalist. You don’t get rich, unless you are a pretty girl and use your access to wisely marry well (or, at least, wealthy). It doesn’t impress girls much. And your relatives quickly lose their enthusiasm about your job when they realize you can’t pick stocks for them. Even worse, you might get invited to the Financial Follies.
Just as the city hall press crew gets to have it’s Inner Circle follies and the Washington press corps throws the famous Gridiron dinner, New York’s financial media has an annual rubber chicken dinner of its own. Each year, on the Friday before Thanksgiving, the Financial Writer’s Association throws something called “the Follies.”
[More on this after the jump]

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Ron Insana Is Legen…wait for it…dary.

Ron Insana Hedge Fund.jpgIf you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich? It’s a perennial challenge that the people who write about finance for a living get from those who are actually doing finance. Another version of it is a twist on an old saw: those who can do finance do, those who can’t, report on it.
Both challenges are more or less fair. Journalists reporting on Wall Street rarely have the skill set and mentality that leads to grand success at trading or investment banking. Many are talented writers and insightful critics. But often great journalism is built upon an attitude of skepticism that can be out of place in the world of dealmakers and traders who prize “conviction.”
But many journalists have at least felt the temptation to step over the line from Wall Street watcher to Wall Street warrior. And on occasion someone does. The latest victim to this perennial temptation is Ron Insana, the sixteen-year veteran of CNBC who is starting Insana Capital Partners Legends Fund.
This morning on Deal Journal Dennis Berman reveals that Insana’s Legends Fund will be structured as a fund-of-funds, and will access the management talents of at least 13 top money managers. SAC Capital Advisors, Renaissance Technologies Corp., Perry Corp. Third Point, Omega Advisors and Icahn Management are among the funds that Legends plans to invest in.
Although it applies to all fund-of-funds, it seems fair enough to ask what added value Insana is bringing to investors if his “strategy” is going to be investing in some of the most well-known hedge funds in the world. The Legends Fund plans to collect a 1.5% annual fee plus another 2.5% placement fee for the initial investment, and will require 24 month lockup. So what do investors get for those fees and the risk and opportunity cost of the lock-up?
Well, according to fund documents Berman looked at, investors will be able to take advantage of a “macroeconomic outlook as guided by Ron Insana.” Without disparaging the acuity of Insan’s outlook, that’s probably not worth the price admission. It seems what’s really being marketed to investors is the opportunity to get in on the returns of some of the biggest names in the hedge fund world with a relatively small investment. Many of the most prominent funds are closed to new investments or require enormous initial investments. You can buy into Insana’s fund for as little as $500,000, and have access to a diversified group of hedge fund returns. You probably couldn’t get Stevie Cohen, the founder of SAC Capital, to even answer your calls with a $500,000 check.
“As any good reporter knows, access can be money in the bank. And here the document is up front about what Insana is offering, saying it capitalizes, in addition to financial analysis, ‘on the long-standing relationships of the Firm’s founder Ron Insana,’ Berman writes.
Berman points out that not everybody is as confident as, well, Insana is about the fund’s prospects. “The 16-year CNBC veteran raised some media eyebrows when it was revealed last fall that he was launching the fund. One Dow Jones columnist said the move signaled that “it’s probably time for everyone else to get out” of the hedge-fund business,” Berman writes.
That columnist was MarketWatch’s David Weidner, who said that Insana’s entry into the fund management business was a sign that “the glory days of hedge funds are over.”
Insana apparently isn’t replying to requests for comments on the Legends Fund. But somewhere we suspect he’s reading these journalists carping about his new venture and thinking, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”
Access Wall Street: Starring Ron Insana’s Hedge Fund [Deal Journal]

The Krugman Economy?

krugmanthecontraryindicator.jpgShould the New York Stock Exchange put Paul Krugman on retainer? That’s the conclusion of Paul Greenberg writing in today’s Washington Times.

Surely another dip in the market is bound to come — so long as there’s a business cycle — but Paul Krugman’s magic touch keeps delaying it, turning every down into still another unstoppable up. It’s positively unnatural. The man is a kind of walking, talking, and, best of all, writing version of Al Capp’s poor little jinx of a character, Joe Btfsplk — only in reverse, leaving not disaster but good fortune wherever he goes. The New York Stock Exchange ought to put him on retainer. If only Paul Krugman would just keep writing about the coming End of It All, prosperity might be assured.

But it isn’t just Krugman as a contrary indicator of the direction of the financial markets that has caught Greenberg’s attention.

Then there’s the language in which Mr. Krugman sends out his jeremiads. It is, in a word, hilarious — if unintentionally so. He has to be the country’s leading practitioner of purple-as-a-bad-bruise prose. Mrs. Malaprop might have spoken like that if only she’d had a Ph.D. in the dismal science.
I’ve saved my favorite Krugmanism of all time for those occasions when I may need a bit of cheering up: “And when the chickens that didn’t hatch come home to roost, we will rue the days when, misled by sloppy accounting and rosy scenarios, we gave away the national nest egg.”
As prose, that’s a lot of poultry. Try to visualize those chickens that didn’t hatch coming home to roost, if you can stop laughing. Why, that’s almost Zen, like the sound of one hand clapping. His reference to the national nest egg is just lagniappe.

One note to Greenberg: if you are going to criticize the writings of others, avoid the word “lagniappe.” We have no idea what that word means and no intention of looking it up. In fact, we couldn’t read any further after we saw that word because it made us feel nauseated. It sounds like something we drank at Mardi Gras once and we’re afraid to find out what they put in it.
Sound of one man weeping [Washington Times]

  • 26 Apr 2007 at 10:36 AM
  • Apollo

Does DealBook Owe CNBC An Apology?

At the beginning of the month a dispute broke out between CNBC’s Charlie Gasparino and DealBook’s Andrew Ross Sorkin. Gasparino had reported that Apollo was considering going public, following the footsteps of the Blackstone Group and the map laid out by Fortress Investment Group into the public markets. Sorkin declared that CNBC had simply got the story wrong. “It’s not true. Apollo is not going public next month, nor the month after that — and probably not the month after that either,” Sorkin wrote.
As the story progressed it seemed that Sorkin was at least half-right. Reports were published indicating that Apollo was not yet getting ready for a public offering of shares. It was said to be considering a private offering of equity instead. Since these privately sold shares would probably come complete with registration rights that would allow them to be sold on the public markets eventually, the CNBC story didn’t look quite as far off as Sorkin’s item made it seem.
But the reports coming out from the Milken Institute’s annual Global Conference indicate that Sorkin may have overshot in his takedown of Gasparino’s report. Apollo founder Leon Black stopped short of commenting on his firm’s plans for an equity offering, but it seems clear they are at least considering a public offering.
Here’s how Business Week describes Black’s remarks at the conference:

But Black did build his case for public ownership of the businesses. He said publicly traded shares would allow him to retain top managers and recruit new ones by offering them stock in the firm. He also said such an offering would give him currency to acquire other, smaller firms. One of the ways Black said he’s been able to achieve superior returns was by hiring investment managers with experience in specific industries. He said he’d like to expand that expertise, noting that health care and energy were two areas in which his firm was weak.

Does that sound like someone who isn’t considering a public offering?

The Predator’s New Ball
[Business Week]

A Pulitzer For the Perfect Executive Pay Story

As a way of saying thank you for the Pulitzer, the Journal has opened up its backdating archives. You can read all about the scandal, starting from the very first story published thirteen months ago. (Has it only been 13-months? It seems like we’ve been writing about backdating forever. Oh, right. That’s because DealBreaker started just eleven days later.)
This video–which we found thanks to Barry Ritholtz–is actually a good introduction to backdating, and good background on how the Journal discovered the story and pursued it. In many ways, it is superb journalism, and congratulations are due to the reporters who performed it. Rather than purely old-school investigative journalism—the kind that relies on leaks, anonymous sources and (possibly) manipulation by government agents—the Journal’s backdating coverage was a new style of investigative journalism. They took the work of academics and applied it to the real world of business and individual corporations and corporate leaders. As academics increasingly note the costs of Sarbanes-Oxley and the dangers of criminalizing agency-costs, there might be hope that this kind of investigating the arguments of academic reporting may help enlighten the public rather than add more confusion and ignorance.
And there is little doubt that a lot of the reporting on backdating was poorly reasoned and misleading. The worst of it came not from the Journal but from reporters and editorialists who tried to make up for what they lacked in original findings by adding more outrage and inferring even more criminality. There still are many out there who believe that backdating somehow proves that corporate is under-criminalized.
“Much reporting has made it sound like backdating was the equivalent of executives taking erasers and white-out to their paychecks to add a couple of zeroes — and public understanding still suffers from this bum steer. But all that backdating comes down to is a nonmaterial accounting irregularity (yes, readers, accounting rules should be obeyed!) involving a defective judgment about whether ‘in the money’ options needed to undergo expensing,” Holman Jenkins wrote in an article that all but indicted his own paper’s coverage.
Why did the backdating story get reported like this? The outcome was probably over-determined. Scandal sells papers whereas reports about nonmaterial accounting defects do not. It also wins prizes. But something more than that was in play, as well. And that something is a political agenda. It is clear from the video is that the Journal reporters see the backdating story as just a smaller part of the struggle for truth, justice and reducing executive compensation.
But don’t take our word for it. Listen to leading Wall Street Journal backdating reporter Charles Forelle.
“Besides the individual who may face jail sentences or SEC sanctions, there’s the broader issue of executive compensation being thrown into the limelight again,” Forelle says around the five minute mark in the video. “Companies are starting to show at least a glimmer of thinking more carefully and more intelligently about how they give options to CEOs since options are by far the instrument that’s caused the majority of the rise in CEO pay over the last couple decades.”
A Pulitzer for A Perfect Payday [Wall Street Journal]

Reading Portfolio: A Round-Up of First Reactors

portfoliomaycover.jpgThe earliest reviews of Conde-Nast’s Portfolio are coming in. We probably should be doing things like reading the actual magazine. And we’re planning on getting to that as soon as we get up the courage to lift its 300-plus pages from the place where we dropped it. (Bess Levin’s desk, with a note: “Summarize all relevant data—Thks-JC.”)
But fortunately lots of other people are reading Portfolio so we don’t have to. Here’s a quick round-up of the early reactions.
Portfolio arrives to a somewhat testy Going Private, who thinks the magazine gets it wrong even before the first page. Even the cover is wrong, the acid penned mistress of the private equity world says. What’s wrong with the cover? According to Going Private it depicts “a bunch of hideous downtown rooftops bathed in the caustic acid of sodium lights on a business magazine cover that doesn’t even have a feature article on the financial performance of local roofing contractors or sodium light distributors.”
DealBook comes in with two items today on Portfolio. The first notes that the magazine wants to bring some glamour to world of business magazines.” And by glamour you get feeling that what they really mean is “women.” Indeed, as we noted a long, long time ago, Portfolio is aiming at being something of a business magazine for women. Most business magazines have readerships heavily tilted toward the male. Portfolio predicts that it will have a much more balanced readership. And apparently it hopes to achieve this by re-imagining corporate board rooms as a sort of red carpet or awards show where “business executives treated like celebrities,” according to DealBook.
After the jump we give Portfolio‘s readers the full treatment.

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