Here’s a fun Libor lawsuit: the ghost of problematic former hedge fund FrontPoint is suing the Libor banks for (1) selling FrontPoint some interest-rate swaps and (2) manipulating Libor in a way that hosed FrontPoint on those swaps. Here is the complaint and here is Alison Frankel on the legal issues, which are interesting and which we can talk about a little below.1
Up here let’s talk about the trades that FrontPoint (and Salix Capital, which now owns these claims) is suing over. They’re interest rate swaps, of course, where FrontPoint received Libor, and where Libor was systematically manipulated lower by banks looking to enhance confidence in themselves by showing lower funding costs. But those swaps were part of a larger negative-basis package trade where (1) FrontPoint bought bonds (funded at a spread to Fed Funds), (2) FrontPoint bought CDS from a bank to hedge credit, and (3) FrontPoint entered into a swap with the bank to hedge interest rates. Schematically, when everything cancels, it looks like this:
If you asked FrontPoint what the trade was they might say “we are betting that the negative basis in these bonds will converge, making the bonds worth more relative to the CDS,” or alternately, that they would just ride the trade to maturity, getting paid that negative basis, and “earn a risk-free return by buying and selling the same credit exposure via alternative instruments in different markets.” That’s what the trade is primarily about: that orange thing in the lower-right-hand corner labeled “(Basis).” Read more »
Lodestone Natural Resources is packing it in. Read more »
A thing that happens from time to time, and also yesterday, is that people in or around the financial services industry say furious things about Ben Bernanke:
“Ben Bernanke is running the most inappropriate monetary policy in the history” of the developed world, said Stanley Druckenmiller, the retired head of Duquesne Capital Management.
A thing that happened a lot today and yesterday is that people asked, well, why do they say such horrible things? “Because they’re true” is a possible answer and if it’s yours you might want to stop here, not much good is going to happen from here on out.
If you don’t believe that Bernanke is a war criminal or whatever, you can read some other proposed answers – by Joe Weisenthal, Neil Irwin, and Matt O’Brien – but be warned, they’re tough going if you like 2-and-20 fees and/or gold. Here, though, is a take from Matt Yglesias that I’m particularly fond of: Read more »
If anyone was considering redeeming from the fund, just slow down and think things through; you don’t want to wake up in the morning and realize you’ve made the biggest mistake of your life, walking away from all this [gestures to warehouse full of fleece apparel]. Read more »
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 »
Will stocks go down? Sure, maybe, whatever. I mean, they have so far today, I don’t know. It’s a thing that might happen and you might want to bet on it, one way or another. If you want to bet against it – if you think stocks won’t go down, or won’t go down by that much – then broadly speaking you can do one of two things, which are:
- Buy stocks, and get paid for taking the risk of stocks going down by getting the chance that they’ll go up, or
- Sell puts, and get paid for taking the risk of stocks going down by getting money.
That’s basically the world: you take a risk, and you get paid for taking that risk either with a fixed payment or an uncertain upside.1 You could imagine some sort of long-run expectation in which those strategies would be equivalent and I guess you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Here is a graph:
That’s from a Goldman Sachs Options Research note out yesterday, and compares (1) buying and holding the S&P 500 (light blue line) with (2) selling one-month at-the-money puts on the S&P 500 stocks every month (black line), as well as the somewhat less relevant (3) just buying bonds. GS is recommending that you sell puts so the rest of the report is full of ideas to make that black line go higher but I hope you’re not here for investing advice so I’ll leave that to them. Read more »
They’re also pretty sure a fair amount of their colleagues have an elastic view of securities laws. Read more »
Once upon a time there was a settlement between the SEC and Citigroup over some bad stuff that Citi did, or maybe did, since the settlement did not require Citi to admit any guilt. But then the judge overseeing the case, Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York, bravely stood up and said: No, this settlement is Not Right, in small part because of that not-admitting-guilt thing.1 And lo he was a hero throughout the land, except in the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which will likely reverse him.
I’m sure Judge Rakoff’s colleague Victor Marrero didn’t hold up SAC Capital’s proposed settlement with the SEC last week with the express goal of getting financial bloggers to say on Twitter that “Victor Marrero is the new Jed Rakoff,” but … kind of, right?
Here you can read the New Yorker‘s John Cassidy getting all exercised about the settlement, saying that “To his credit, Judge Marrero has, at least for now, refused to go along with this travesty.” I guess a lot of people don’t like this not admitting or denying thing that’s all the rage in SEC settlements these days (and, to be fair, always). But there’s an important difference between the two cases; Judge Rakoff had a reason for rejecting the Citi settlement, and Judge Marrero doesn’t particularly seem to have a reason for rejecting the SAC one.2 Read more »
If you’re an activist investor your job is to (1) think of an idea for how to make a company’s stock go up, (2) buy stock in the company, (3) convince them to do your idea, and (4) sell high. Step 3 tends to involve lots of attention-seeking – it’s easier to wear a company down into doing your idea if they’re constantly hearing about it from other shareholders and reporters and stuff – but steps 1 and 2, importantly, don’t.1 If you tell everyone about your great idea for Apple to issue GO-UPS,2 then they’ll all realize that Apple will certainly do it and unlock tens of billions of dollars of value, so they’ll bid up the stock before you can buy it and you’ll lose the opportunity to benefit from all those gains. That may be a bad example but just work with me here.
There’s another way of putting that, which is: if you secretly conceive of an idea to make Apple a better company, and then secretly buy up a bunch of Apple stock, and then announce to the world “surprise! I have 12% of Apple’s stock, and a brilliant idea that starts with a thematically appropriate lowercase i!,” and the stock goes up, and you make a lot of money – isn’t that unfair? You got to buy stock at the low, pre-publication-of-your-idea price; the people who sold to you were bamboozled into selling out too low because they didn’t know about your great idea. It almost “smacks of insider trading.”
Or something. I may not be doing this theory justice because I think it’s silly: that great idea is your idea; why shouldn’t you be able to make money off of it? (And why should anyone else?) The money is your incentive to come up with the idea in the first place, and do the hard ego-stroking work of pitching it to CNBC and the target company; if you had to share it with free-riders why would you take on the responsibility? We talked about this a little last year when there were vague rumors that the SEC was buying into it, and that they might require investors to disclose 5% stakes within 1 day of acquiring them (instead of the current 10 days), and include synthetic share ownership in computing the 5%, in order to make it harder for activists to secretly accumulate shares. I have not heard much about that proposal since, though I hesitate to assign any causality.
But last week in another, colder part of town, someone proposed the same thing. Canada, I mean. Canadian securities regulators proposed: Read more »
Well, the numbers are finally in for 2012 and it was, relatively speaking, a bloodbath for hedge funds, with more going to their grave or down the drain than in 2010 or 2011. But there were still 235 more hedge funds at the end of the year than at its beginning, because those who have previously shuttered a hedge fund due to their failure to raise/make enough money gave it another go last year. Look for more of the same this year, as fresh-faced and not-so-fresh-faced hedge fund managers hang out a new shingle for a few months, only to find out that investors are only interested in having Ray Dalio manage their money. Read more »