Lawsuits

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 »

Back in June, hedge fund manager Daniel Shak sued his ex-wife, Beth, over assets he claimed she’d hid during the couple’s divorce. Said assets were Beth’s shoes, which Daniel alleged were kept in a “secret room” and were worth approximately $1 million, 35 percent of which he wanted. It was a bit unclear as to why he was going after the footwear collection three years after the two split (though using the proceeds to relaunch his fund was a possibility) but the heart wants what the heart wants. Anyway, today brings just a couple follow-ups on the Shaks, both of which are slightly more exciting for Beth than Dan. Read more »

It’s no surprise that more Liborneriness is coming to a bank near you; with Barclays and UBS already pretty much having admitted wide-ranging Libor manipulation and Deutsche Bank seeming to be next up for a roasting. Maybe some people will go to jail, and certainly some more banks will pay fines, but also certainly those fines will be very very very small compared to the potential lawsuits. Because there are eight hundred quazillion dollars of Libor-referencing contracts, and if you screwed them up then in some loose theoretical way you owe money to everyone who got screwed without having any offsetting claims against anyone who benefited.

Now the US legal system being what it is the lawsuits long preceded the evidence of manipulation and there’s a big mishegas of a Libor lawsuit that’s been going on for years in New York. This suit looks a little quaint now, being based on the theory that all the banks got together in a room, smoked cigars, rubbed their hands together, and agreed to lower Libor for some unspecified nefarious purpose. Now we know that they all worked against each other to lower and/or raise Libor for a variety of clearly specified nefarious purposes,* until the crisis hit and they all started working independently to lower Libor for clearly specified and maybe public-spirited purposes. And the banks will tell you that themselves, in their motion in the case filed last week:

Plaintiffs themselves cite as the primary motive for the alleged false reports a desire by Defendants to hide their supposed financial weakness from each other and the public, which would naturally call for circumspection by such banks, not discussion and agreement among them.

See? We would never work together to manipulate Libor – we’re too sneaky for that. We’d prefer to lie to each other, too. Read more »

If you knew nothing about Phil Falcone but what you read in the SEC’s assortment of complaints against him today, you would probably conclude that he’s kind of a dick. The loan thing, of course – Falcone borrowed $113mm from Harbinger at the same time he was preventing investors from withdrawing their money – but also a whole range of new and exciting charges announced today. Like that time he got mad at his prime broker and so bought 113% of the issue of a bond that the prime broker was short, and then called in the prime broker’s borrow to screw them (and gloated to them about it). Or the time – sorry, three times – that he shorted stock of companies that were doing equity offerings and then illegally covered his short with his allocation in those offerings.

Robert Khuzami is right about the marvelous variety and inventiveness of Harbinger’s scammy ways, but lots of people do lots of bad things on Wall Street. It’s just that usually their victims are either diffuse markets (insider trading) or widows and orphans (Ponzi schemes etc.) – it’s rare to spend so much time screwing so many big institutions. And it’s maybe even rarer for the SEC to stick up for those institutions.

Start with the thing that’s gotten the most attention so far: the loan that allowed Falcone to take $113mm out of his fund when investors were not allowed to redeem. How did no one tell him that that was a bad idea? Well: Read more »

And as promised, Falcone will be fighting the charges. He wants to “borrow” $113 million from his clients that’s his business and nobody else’s. The defense rests! [Earlier]

And so he’s not paying them on principle, the principle being I suppose “don’t fuck with Carl Icahn”:

Carl Icahn says he isn’t paying a bill from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., on principle. … “These guys were hired to keep me from buying the company at $30 and they failed,” Mr. Icahn said in an interview. “But they are now demanding $18 million for having done nothing.”

Goldman’s suit says the bank “fully performed all of its obligations.”

This is about Goldman’s lawsuit against Icahn-controlled CVR Energy, which has refused to pay Goldman’s bill, and both of these statements are obviously true! CVR and Goldman signed an engagement letter to the effect of (1) Goldman will hold CVR’s collective hand because it is scared of Carl Icahn and in exchange (2) CVR will pay Goldman 0.525% of the purchase price if someone buys it (and also some money if no one does*). Hands were held, so Goldman fulfilled its end of the bargain. Icahn does not think that that was worth eighteen million dollars but it wasn’t him trembling in the night as corporate raiders circled outside his door, so he wouldn’t would he? Read more »