Morgan Stanley

Financial innovation gets kind of a bad rap, and one of my favorite parts of this job is when I get to celebrate it just for being itself. Sometimes this means breathtaking magic like the derivative on its derivatives that Credit Suisse sold to itself, or elegant executions of classic ideas like the Coke shares that SunTrust sold for regulatory purposes but not for tax purposes. Other times it’s a more prosaic combination of already-existing building blocks to allow people who were comfortably doing something to keep comfortably doing it in the face of regulations designed to make it more uncomfortable.

Yesterday a reader pointed me to a Bond Buyer article that, while perhaps neither all that scandalous nor all that beautiful, is sort of cozy. It’s about a new issue of callable commercial paper issued by a Florida municipal financing commission, and here’s the joke:

JPMorgan came up with the new product as a solution for variable-rate municipal issuers facing impending Basel III regulatory problems. The proposed regulations would require banks to have a certain higher value of highly liquid assets to be available to turn into cash to meet liquidity commitments that could be drawn within 30 days. Maintaining higher liquidity would be expensive for banks, which may try to pass on costs to its issuers, according to an analyst at Moody’s Investors Service. “What we did, starting over a year ago, is ask what we can do to change the product that will still work for all the players, including issuers, investors, and the rating agencies,” Lansing said. “And the ultimate result was this product.” The new product allows banks to continue to support variable-rate products after the regulations are implemented. The paper has a variable length of maturity, but always at least 30 days. Several days before the paper would have 30 days left to its maturity, the issuer calls the paper.

The joke isn’t that funny, though I giggled at the phrase “a solution for variable-rate municipal issuers facing impending Basel III regulatory problems.” Municipal issuers face no Basel III problems: municipalities are not subject to Basel III. Read more »

  • 24 Jan 2013 at 6:38 PM

Bonus Watch ’13: Morgan Stanley CEOs

The bad news: James Gorman’s pay fell 30 percent this year. The good news: he’s now in a position to show employees how to take these setbacks like a man, rather than grumbling like someone who puts their compensation in a one-year context to define their overall level of happiness. Read more »

One thing that would probably be fun would be reading the internal emails sent around at the places that bought terrible RMBS CDOs in the end times of 2006-2007. What did they say? Was it “these mortgages are worth twice what Morgan Stanley is selling them for! We are ripping their faces off”?1 Was it “I looked through a representative sample of the mortgages underlying the collateral in this deal and I think the yield more than justifies the risks”? Was it “my asset-level diligence was light because my macro view is that house prices will go up a lot in the next 18-24 months”? Was it “we have to invest $100mm somewhere and this gets 2bps more yield than other AAA-rated options”? Was it “I don’t know that much about mortgages but I sure am glad we can trust our friends at Morgan Stanley to put us in such a high quality product as this here CDO”? The possibilities are endless and, I think, fascinating: each trade has two sides, and each side has a view, even if that view is sometimes more of a vacant stare.

But the arrow of lawsuits runs only one way so instead we get this:

On March 16, 2007, Morgan Stanley employees working on one of the toxic assets that helped blow up the world economy discussed what to name it. Among the team members’ suggestions: “Subprime Meltdown,” “Hitman,” “Nuclear Holocaust,” “Mike Tyson’s Punchout,” and the simple-yet-direct: “Shitbag.”

The shitbag email chain is part of a collection of internal documents produced in China Development Industrial Bank’s lawsuit against Morgan Stanley over this “Stack 2006-1″ CDO deal that Jesse Eisinger describes today in DealBook and ProPublica. Morgan Stanley has issued the standard “these emails were just a joke and have nothing to do with anything” statement,2 and while normally that is just a meaningless lie that you say after your employees are caught sending around emails saying “this deal is shit, no, I mean it, this deal is composed of actual feces, I am not kidding, come look” – the emails here aren’t that bad. Basically they were like “ugh we gotta name this deal before we print it” and everyone was all “what about Macalester Albermarle Roundtree Paddington Pemberley Structured Finance Limited” and one dope replied with some gallows-humor names. In March 2007. When it was A SUPER DUPER SECRET that subprime mortgages were in trouble:3 Read more »

Since taking the reins at Morgan Stanley in 2010, CEO James Gorman has guided the firm with a managerial style that boils down to telling people, more or less: You’ll get it when you’ve earned it, “it” being anything from personal space to money to his respect. On the point of compensation, last year he told employees complaining about what they were paid to either open a newspaper and get over themselves or do everyone a favor and quit. Today brings news that this year, he’s doubling down on that mandate and daring anyone to make something of it. Read more »

Sort of a trick question since, as you all know, banks haven’t held firm-wide holiday parties in quite some time but if they did, is that what we could expect? Based on recent reports about a new approach James Gorman is taking with his staff, yes. Read more »

Point: “Our enthusiasm about MS’s turnaround benefits from our generally macro views. We expect CEO confidence to rise and global corporate activity levels to increase markedly in 2013. Morgan Stanley, with its sterling reputation, talent pool, and record in execution in investment banking advisory and capital markets, is uniquely positions to benefit from this improvement.” Counterpoint: “Even in early 2010, however, it was clear to many inside the firm that [James Gorman] would have his work cut out for him. Every Wednesday, executives from various corners of the bank who belonged to what was known as the asset liability committee would meet at noon to examine the cost to the firm of everything from looming credit-rating downgrades to regulatory changes. ‘It was the most depressing meeting ever,’ said one attendee who spoke on the condition of anonymity. ‘It was very clear the Morgan Stanley we knew was never coming back.’”

  • 09 Jan 2013 at 9:34 AM

Layoffs Watch ’13: Morgan Stanley (Update)

Cuts are expected to go down in Asia. (Update: and elsewhere!) Read more »