Lawsuits

Time was, Warren Lichtenstein and Annabelle Bond, pictured at left, were the best of buds. Now? Warren might not even take a gander at the photos Annabelle has spent a lot of time and effort posing for. Read more »

Standard & Poor’s asked a federal judge on Monday to dismiss a U.S. Justice Department civil suit against the rating agency, arguing the government’s case is based on vague statements that cannot be used to prove fraud. In a $5 billion suit, the U.S. government accused the rating agency of issuing inflated ratings on faulty products to drum up business before the financial crisis, despite company statements that its ratings were objective. S&P has vociferously defended itself in public since the case was filed in February in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, denouncing the lawsuit as meritless and accusing the government of cherry-picking emails to misconstrue what its analysts did…While the government says those messages, which include one analyst performing a pop song parody about the housing market burning down, paint a picture of a company knowingly slapping inflated ratings on structured finance products, the company’s filing says otherwise. Those messages, instead, the company said, show internal squabbling or even “robust internal debate.” [Reuters]

I confess that I have not followed the swap-futurization thing closely but my assumption was that the politico-regulatory view was:

  • Swaps are evil instruments of financial instability and fraud and should be discouraged, and
  • Listed futures are mostly harmless.

I mean, look around. Swaps blew up AIG, Oakland, Monte dei Paschi, the U.S. housing market, whatever. Futures just blew up those old guys in Trading Places.

You can have various objections to this preference for futures,1 but surely the most compelling is that swaps and futures are to some reasonable approximation the same thing. They’re just delta-one exposures to some underlying quantity; calling them a “swap” or “future” doesn’t matter economically.

That, anyway, is Bloomberg’s line of argument: 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 »

John Paulson Does Not Have To Defend Himself To You, Hugh

Remember Paulson & Co’s investment in Sino-Forest? One of the less than stellar trades that helped contribute to 2011 being an annus fucking horribilis for the hedge fund? Got a former investor named Hugh F. Culverhouse all riled up, shouting about “gross negligence” and “failure to properly monitor” the situation and making claims that it was clear no one at P&C bothered to perform any due diligence on the company, because if they did, “the Paulson companies could…have foreseen Sino-Forest’s problems?” Things actually worked out for JP&Co on this one. Read more »

I’ve occasionally pointed out that one problem with the antitrust Libor lawsuits is that the allegations are mostly “the banks lied about Libor in order to trick each other about their creditworthiness and/or screw each other on some swaps trade,” so it’s hard to claim that they were all working together in a big antitrust conspiracy. But Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, who mostly dismissed a batch of Libor lawsuits on Friday, has an even better objection, which is that even if it was a conspiracy, it was supposed to be a conspiracy:

[T]he process of setting LIBOR was never intended to be competitive. Rather, it was a cooperative endeavor wherein otherwise-competing banks agreed to submit estimates of their borrowing costs to the BBA each day to facilitate the BBA’s calculation of an interest rate index. Thus, even if we were to credit plaintiffs’ allegations that defendants subverted this cooperative process by conspiring to submit artificial estimates instead of estimates made in good faith, it would not follow that plaintiffs have suffered antitrust injury. Plaintiffs’ injury would have resulted from defendants’ misrepresentation, not from harm to competition.

As Judge Buchwald points out, in a delightfully sensible 161-page opinion, antitrust violations require a competitive market that can be subverted by a conspiracy. Here, there was no competitive market to subvert, and the injury that the plaintiffs suffered – manipulated Libors – could have come as easily from individual bank manipulation as from a grand conspiracy. Normal markets don’t work that way: if I just decide to charge you twice the going rate for my product, and no one else does, that tends not to work. If I submit twice the real rate for my Libor, and no one else does, that kind of still works, though I guess it works better if everyone joins in.

So, so much for antitrust. Read more »

George Soros will be the first to be quizzed by lawyers in his battle with former mistress Adriana Ferreyr, a judge ruled yesterday. The billionaire will be deposed by the end of July. Also to be quizzed is Soros’ new fiancée, Tamiko Bolton, on Sept. 27 — which could interfere with their planned fall wedding. While Soros didn’t attend the Manhattan hearing, Ferreyr sat with her attorney William Beslow and stared down Soros’ counsel Gary Stein. Ferreyr is suing Soros for $50 million, claiming he promised her a $1.9 million apartment but gave it to Bolton. [NYP, earlier]