Lawsuits

A probably important and genuinely difficult question is: all that Libor stuff, did it affect your mortgage? Probably important in that in expectation (1) you have a mortgage and (2) honestly you don’t really care about what banks do otherwise1 so you need to know how mad to get at them. Genuinely difficult at least because it is hard to measure how much banks manipulated Libor, or even in which direction, though overall it seems to have been mostly down, implying that floating-rate mortgage borrowers paid lower rates in the aggregate than they would have in an unmanipulated world.2

But lawyers abhor a vacuum so now there is this lawsuit, in which the homeowners are suing banks for manipulating Libor up, costing them (the homeowners) money by making their adjustable-rate mortgage payments higher. Now you might think that this sits uneasily with the widespread assumption that the banks mostly manipulated Libor down, at least during the crisis, to make themselves look better, but in fact the complaint has a super-simple way of measuring homeowner screwedness that sort of refutes your objection: Read more »

In 2008, Fursa Strategic Alternatives, an asset management firm run by Massapequa resident William F. Harley III, informed investors that it would be closing its doors and returning everyone’s money. As some money managers can likely attest though, making the decision to close up shop (and writing people to say as much), doesn’t mean you’re emotionally ready to do so. Harley, for example, couldn’t shake the feeling that he was put on this earth to be an investor and, god damn it, he was going to invest until the day he died. So he did what any rational human being in his position would, and decided to just, you know, hang on to his clients’ money for a while. Of course, the pesky little varmints kept calling, so he had to disconnect the phones and to avoid an awkward confrontation wherein they appeared at the firm’s building demanding their cash in person, he moved HQ into the basement of one of his other businesses, a Hooters restaurant. That got people off his tail for a while but, unfortunately, they popped up again and this time are taking legal action. Read more »

One thing that most people probably agree on is that having their instant messages, e-mails, and phone call transcripts end up court would be cause for at least a little embarrassment. Everyone’s thrown in an emoticon they aren’t proud of, some of us have used company time to chat with significant others about undergarments, and the vast majority of workers have spent a not insignificant amount of the workday talking shit about their superiors. Of course, the humiliation gets ratcheted up a notch in the case of people who ‘haha’ (and in extreme circumstances ‘hahahah’) their own jokes* which, just for example, involve habitual Libor manipulation. Tan Chi Min knows what we’re talking about:

“Nice Libor,” Tan said in an April 2, 2008, instant message with traders including Neil Danziger, who also was fired by RBS, and David Pieri. “Our six-month fixing moved the entire fixing, hahahah.”

And while having such an exchange become public would be tremendously awkward for most, you know what’s really ‘hahaha’ about this whole thing? That 1) Tan was the one who wanted people to read the above, which was submitted as part of a 231-page affidavit earlier this month and 2) He’s trying to use it as evidence that he didn’t deserve to be fired. Read more »

Citi settled a CDO case for $590 million today, and if you are following along at home you’ll note that that is more than 2x as much as it settled its last CDO case for. There are a number of reasons for that but a big one is: in this case, Citi is in trouble for buying the CDOs, whereas in the last one it was in trouble for selling them. You can’t win, of course, but you can minimize your losses, and the method is clear: next time you find yourself with billions of dollars of assets that you’ve got marked at par but that you’re pretty sure will quickly decay into a pool of oozing crap, you should sell them quickly and deceptively. You’ll get sued less.

Also you won’t lose billions of dollars on the actual CDOs, which is arguably better.

I kid I kid this is different and Citi will probably be whacked repeatedly and in creative ways by shareholders over the fraudulent selling of the CDOs – that $285mm it’s paying to the SEC is really just a down payment – so there really is no way to win (except to accurately mark your assets and disclose your exposure clearly and accurately but who would do that?). Like: CDO investors will sue over the fact that Citi sold them crappy CDOs. Citi shareholders will sue over the fact that Citi was going around selling crappy CDOs without disclosing in its 10Q “we are in the business of selling crappy CDOs.” The advanced move will be when people sue because Citi didn’t tell them that other people were going to sue it, which sounds very silly until you remember that that exact thing is happening to BofA right now. Read more »

  • 27 Aug 2012 at 2:02 PM

Not Everything Is Libor

It’s been a while since we checked in with the infinity thrillion dollars of Libor lawsuits, but the Journal has a good roundup today and, yeah, eep, this is sort of interesting:

Firms facing the biggest potential payouts, according to Morgan Stanley, based on the financial business they do rather than their assumed culpability, include Deutsche Bank AG, Royal Bank of Scotland PLC, Barclays, Bank of America and J.P. Morgan.

It seems almost unfair: you can very easily put a whole lot of leverage on your employees’ lame criminality; if you’re really really good at selling rate product even a tiny wee bit of criminality can be a disaster.* Shades of this chart – shouldn’t you get more points for being more criminal, not just for being bigger?

But this was the most jarring part:

Fund manager Charles Schwab has alleged it deserves damages related to billions of dollars in fixed-rate investments held by its funds, as well as investments with returns pegged directly to Libor. Schwab alleges in lawsuits it filed last year that the fixed rates were set in relation to Libor.

This is actually true; here is the Schwab complaint, which I’ve seen before but somehow didn’t register this: Read more »

If someone builds structured credit securities out of some dodgy stuff, and someone else rates those securities AAA for no particularly good reason, and someone else sells those securities to you without reading the offering memo, and you buy those securities without any due diligence since you figure that the structurer and rater and broker wouldn’t all be messing with you, and it turns out they were, and the stuff blows up, and you end up losing a lot of money on the AAA rated securities, the natural question for you to ask, this being America, is: whose fault was that?

That question is being asked in all the best circles these days, and the answer is probably “everybody’s,” as it usually is. One place it’s being asked and slooooowly answered is in a New York federal court considering the case of the Cheyne Finance SIV, which is special for at least two reasons. First: there is a widespread belief that credit ratings are opinions, and opinions are protected by the First Amendment, and so you can’t restrict the creativity and expression of those free spirits and S&P by suing them when their opinions turn out to be, well, wrong. But for (weird!) reasons we’ve discussed, the judge in this case, Shira Scheindlin, is unimpressed by those arguments, so this is a rare lawsuit against ratings agencies that may actually go to trial.

Second: this SIV may – may – have been the origin of “structured by cows.”* Read more »

Don’t do this:

One particular municipal entity had been a customer of Wells Fargo, or a predecessor, since at least 1988. This customer’s investment objectives were safety of principal and income. … Wells Fargo’s internal records for the customer’s account specifically stated that the account should not invest in MBS. In addition, applicable state law prohibited municipal entities such as this customer from investing in certain “high-risk mortgage-backed securities.”

Respondent McMurtry nevertheless selected and purchased for this municipal customer a SIV-issued asset-backed commercial paper program which was backed by MBS and related high-risk mortgage-backed derivatives. … On April 30, 2007, McMurtry selected and purchased Golden Key on behalf of the customer. McMurtry did not know what a SIV was at that time he selected Golden Key for his customer. Further, he did not read the PPM for Golden Key, nor did he inform the customer of the risks related to the SIV structure or the underlying high-risk mortgage-backed assets held by Golden Key.

Well, I mean, in his defense it seems that McMurtry had a very good excuse for not informing the customer of the risks of Golden Key, specifically that that he didn’t know what those risks were, or what Golden Key was, or presumably where he was or how he got there or how many fingers the customer was holding up.

The world is safe from Shawn McMurtry for the next six months, since he and his employer entered into a settlement with the SEC today suspending him and fining Wells $6.5 million for its unconcern with the fact that its salesmen were not particularly interested in doing their jobs and/or illiterate: Read more »