My favorite financial news story of 2013 so far might be the Reuters story last Friday about how NYSE and Nasdaq each listed more IPOs than the other during the first quarter. A normal human might find that odd: listing an IPO is the sort of thing that you tend to notice and keep a record of, so you could pretty easily just add up the IPOs you listed and compare. But to a banker, it’s obvious that everyone would claim, with some sort of semi-plausible justification, to be first in every league table. In fact the explanation is perfectly, almost paradigmatically natural: Nasdaq excludes REITs, spin-offs, and best efforts deals.1 I remember when I used to exclude REITs! Excluding REITs is, like, 20% of what a capital markets banker does.
A deep tension at the heart of the financial industry is that it attracts a lot of quantitative logical evidence-oriented people and then puts them to work in essentially sales roles, and a lot of what it sells is unsubstantiated mumbo-jumbo. You wrote your senior thesis on geometric Brownian motion in the prices of inflation-linked Peruvian bonds from 1954 to 1976? Great, go make a page telling clients why Bank X is so much better at underwriting commoditized debt deals than Bank Y. Or: your thesis took for granted the truth of the efficient markets hypothesis? Great, go market a hedge fund that charges 2 and 20 to beat the market. You have to be quantitative enough to manipulate the data to get it to say what you want (“This fee run is 0.2% higher if we exclude REITs” “Well, do that then”), but not so quantitative that you find the whole process revolting. It’s a hard line to walk, and it’s not surprising that Eric Ben-Artzi or Ajit Jain or the quant truthers at S&P end up disgruntled and either blowing whistles or writing regrettable emails.2
Does that explain Lisa Marie Vioni? I dunno, her economics degree came with a side of French, she became a hedge fund marketer, and she’s done it for over 20 years, so I’d have pegged her as pretty comfortable in the gray areas. But in January 2012 she went to work for Cerberus as an MD selling its RMBS Opportunities Fund, and in February 2013 they fired her, and now she’s suing them. She’s suing in part for gender discrimination, which is hard to evaluate from her complaint but sure, maybe.3
But she’s also suing as a Dodd-Frank whistleblower, because she complained about what she thought were misleading marketing materials and was more or less told to go pound sand. And those accusations go like this: Read more »
“I couldn’t even read the whole application,” he said to guffaws from several hundred young Jewish professionals gathered sipping on spirits and kosher wine at event space Chelsea Pearl to hear his advice on how to make it in finance. “I did review part of the application, about 40 pages [out of 500], and the information we provided doesn’t make any sesne to me. How could it possibly make sense to the SEC? It’s a complete waste of time,” he added. “They don’t know what they’re looking for, the just asked for everything in every possible way…I don’t believe the Dodd-Frank law is a positive piece of legislation,” he said dryly, understating his distaste. “I ordered the bill; there are 2,000 pages. I couldn’t read the table of contents. I don’t know anyone who has read it. I think it has retarded the recovery…it’s complete gobbledygook.” [AR]
Sure it might make sense to have a rule, set to be finalized this week, requiring banks to have resolution plans for quick liquidation in the event of a liquidity crisis. But why does it have to be all about failure?
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The Financial Stability Oversight Council, the Treasury-Fed-SEC-FDIC-etc.-etc. joint venture designated by Dodd-Frank to prevent another financial crisis, released its first annual report last night and can we just say that we love it?
The purpose of the report is to convery recommendations about where the regulators see systemic risk. Some are expected (bank capital and liquidity issues, derivatives clearing, high frequency trading, housing market stabilization), but there are also some things that have fallen out of headlines, like: Read more »
A year after the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act, graphic designers continue to find new ways to explain how confusing it is and how little progress there’s been on some of the rulemaking to implement it. According to Barney Frank, that notion could not be further from the truth. Speaking with Dealbook about the legislation, the Congressman cleared up a few other misconceptions, like the idea that Congress “punted” the most important regulatory decisions to the SEC and CFTC.
Frank: We didn’t punt anything. You can’t do these things without setting general rules. I mean, if the question is, should we have said specifically – first of all, there are two problems if you did things specifically. On the one hand, you get people to get around it. If you are very specific about what you have banned, I guarantee you these people will find other ways. You have to have more general such rules.
Or that the agencies are at all to blame for delays in rulemaking: Read more »
SEC Chairman Mary Shapiro appeared on Squawk Box today for an early celebration of tomorrow’s one-year birthday of Dodd-Frank Act. And a happy birthday it will be, at least in the Shapiro household: Read more »