conspiracy theories

We’ve talked before about the theory that paying investment bankers in stock gives them an incentive to maximize the volatility of their businesses, which is a thing that some people don’t want so much. This starts from the notion that in a 10 or 20 or 30:1 levered bank or broker-dealer or futures merchant, the bulk of the money at risk belongs to the creditors, whether unsecured or depositors or repo or ex-wives or whatever. So it’s plausible to think of the equity as an at-the-money option to buy the assets from the creditors. And as any Level I CFA test completer could tell you with approximately 70% probability, the value of an option increases with volatility. If you own the equity in a bank with $29 billion in debt and $1 billion in equity market value, then you’ll prefer equally likely payoffs of [$25, $35 billion] to payoffs of [$29.99, $30.01 billion], because the higher volatility payoff increases the expected value of the equity (which, after all, can’t go below zero). If, however, you are a creditor of that firm, your preferences are the opposite.

This is all pretty straightforward and orthodox, and it probably ought to inform how you think about the incentives to bankers from owning their bank’s equity, and if you think that way then maybe you come up with ideas like “pay them in CDS” or whatever. On the other hand this theory shouldn’t be taken too seriously. When your entire net worth is in Jefferies stock, “the equity can’t go below zero” isn’t all that comforting.

But it’s worth remembering that incentives from owning equity are not exactly the same as incentives from being paid in equity: people who have a lot of stock feel different from people who stand to one day get a lot of stock. That’s the interesting takeaway from this weekend’s DealBook piece about the fact that bank stocks sometimes go up. (And sometimes they don’t.) For example:
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  • 29 Nov 2011 at 12:30 PM

Connecticut Powerball “Winners” Go The Extra Mile

Yesterday afternoon, three Greenwich men came forward with a winning Powerball ticket worth $254 million. Lottery officials had been searching for nearly a month to find them, posting billboards all over Connecticut “urging” the ticket holder to reveal him or herself and claim the prize. But when Gregg Skidmore, Tim Davidson, and Brandon Lacoff finally did, it was not how people pictured it. Frank Farricker, for one, was very disappointed. He’d expected the men to be more excited, more celebratory, more over the top pumped about their windfall. Frank didn’t get that, though. Instead he got three guys who seemed at best embarrassed and at worst pained to be collecting, after taxes, a lump sum of $103.5 million. At the time, some speculated that the reason the trio, Skidmore in particular, looked like they were about to have a group colonoscopy rather than take home a bag of cash, was that they were worried how it would appear, given that they are not just Gold Coast residents but money managers in Belpoint Capital, and you know how the general public feels about those types. Today, however, another theory has emerged. Read more »

If you love a good conspiracy theory but find Ron Paul’s and Rick Perry’s calls to kill Ben Bernanke for counterfeiting a little played out, do we have some good news for you. The Carlyle Group, a mild mannered private equity firm by day that at night transforms into an evil conspiracy among George Bush, Skull & Bones, the Saudi royal family annd the Illuminati, is about to get a lot more public attention.

Bloomberg reports that Carlyle is shopping an IPO. While we do worry that IPOs by smart private equity managers have a pretty solid tradition of top-ticking (Blackstone IPOed in June 2007 and the market has never been the same since), we like David Rubenstein’s efforts to get valued for making good investments instead of just for having a ton of money:
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Got that?

1. Brian Moynihan told Bruce Berkowitz this afternoon, “I’m comfortable we can get to 1% return on assets based on a 1.25%-1.5% Fed funds rate and a normal business cycle.” Moving to 1.5%-area short term rates would apparently add about $3 billion to BofA’s net revenue.

2. Jamie Dimon chatted with Melissa Francis this morning and told her:
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Early last week, Glenn Beck devoted an episode of his show to revealing some “scary” “secrets” about George Soros that included revelations such as, the name Soros? Not the one Jorge was born with, which was “George Schwartz.” And the bombs didn’t stop there. Beck also informed his audience that Soros started the Quantum fund “to attack currencies across the world,” that “he’s waged a war against capitalism,” and that his next target? “Is us. America.” Points were made and dots were connected. Last night Jon Stewart soaked it all in and you know what? He thinks Beck might be right. Read more »