These lawsuits against Bank of America are pretty lame, aren’t they? The SEC and Department of Justice each sued BofA yesterday for fraud in a 2008 prime jumbo mortgage securitization but it doesn’t really feel like fraud. The guns are smoke-free. The DoJ gets itself all excited because someone proposed including some bad mortgages in the deal, and a Bank of America trader said of those mortgages that, “like a fat kid in dodgeball, these need to stay on the sidelines,” but they did! The trader thought some of the mortgages were crap, and they were crap, and so they weren’t included in the deal. The system worked! It’s like if Fabulous Fab emailed his girlfriend saying “I am creating monstruosities,” and she told him to stop, and he did.
The complaints put their fraudy eggs in two main baskets. The first is that Bank of America omitted to tell investors some material facts, of which the most important is that 70% of the loans in this securitization were wholesale loans (originated through brokers), and that wholesale loans were worse – for both credit and prepayment risk – than loans originated by BofA directly. Read more »
The SEC settled a little crisis-era CDO fraud case with UBS today and the fraud is pretty entertainingly shitty. Basically UBS provided the warehouse for a synthetic CDO where the notorious ACA was the collateral manager, and the disclosed deal was that, when the CDO closed, it would enter into (as protection seller) any CDS contracts that UBS had entered as part of the warehouse at (1) the market price of those CDS or (2) the price UBS had received for them as initial counterparty, whichever was more favorable to UBS.1 Now right there you’ve got some optionality and room for fuzziness, and you could imagine various unpleasant schemes where, for instance, UBS cherry-picks some contracts to transfer at market and some at historic price, or where UBS mis-marks some contracts to get a better deal when it transfers them.
But the actual scheme was simpler and dumber: Read more »
For example, on or about July 29, 2009, a recently hired SAC PM (the “New PM”) sent an instant message to [Steve Cohen] and relayed that, due to some “recent research,” the New PM planned to short Nokia when he started work 10 days later. The New PM apologized for being “cryptic” but noted that the head of SAC compliance “was giving me Rules 101 yesterday – so I won’t be saying much[.] [T]oo scary.”
Possibly the weirdest part here is that new hires got compliance lectures two weeks before they showed up at the firm? But maybe not; the DOJ takes a pretty dim view of SAC’s hiring process generally, and if you believe the DOJ that SAC’s main hiring criterion was “is good at insider trading” then you could imagine the need for a little pre-start-date warning about email etiquette: Read more »
If you wanted to short the housing market in 2007 you could just buy protection on mortgage-backed securities via a synthetic CDO, and that’s what John Paulson did in the Abacus deal, for which Goldman Sachs and Fab Tourre got in trouble. But the problem with that is that buying protection costs money; just for instance the super-senior protection in Abacus would run you about 50bps, or around $4.5 million a year on the $909mm notional that ACA Capital wrapped.1 And who wants to throw away millions of dollars a year waiting for the housing market to crash?
So another way to short the market is to buy a lot of protection on senior tranches of CDOs (cheap because: what are the odds that the housing market will crash?) while also selling a little protection on junior tranches (expensive because the odds that there’ll be some defaults are higher). If you do this, you can have a positive carry (you get paid as more each year on the protection you sold than you pay on the protection you bought), but you can make just about as much money if the housing market craters and there are massive defaults. (The tradeoff is that if performance is mediocre, with some defaults, then you lose money on the junior protection you sold and don’t make it back on the senior protection you bought.)
It would take a stronger man than me to resist making fun of the SAC Capital white paper responding to the charges against Steve Cohen, as you can tell from the post I wrote before I read it. But now that that’s out of our system I suppose we ought to actually talk about it? Having read it now, I find it creepily compelling.
The first trick in reading it is to understand that neither the SEC’s complaint nor the white paper is really about what they say they’re about, which is “failure to supervise.” The SEC throws in a few “failed to reasonably supervise”‘s for show, but never talks one way or the other about SAC’s procedures and systems to stop insider trading – it’s all “Steve Cohen saw red flags and ignored them and then traded on that red-flag-draped inside information.” And the white paper has a rousing defense of SAC’s compliance procedures,1 but spends the bulk of its energy on second-by-second timelines to refute those supposed red flags. Nobody’s really that into the supervising or lack thereof. This is an insider-trading-lite case: the SEC is charging Cohen with insider-trading-but-we-can’t-prove-it, and SAC’s response is “you can’t prove it because it wasn’t insider trading.” Read more »
I haven’t been following Fabrice Tourre’s trial all that closely but I gather that the main evidence against him is that a Goldman saleswoman, Gail Kreitman, told her client ACA Capital Management that Paulson & Co. was going to be a long investor in a CDO called Abacus. That turned out to be false, and arguably in a material and fraudy way. So: why isn’t the SEC suing Gail Kreitman? Well, because someone told her that that it was true, and there’s at least, like, a 60/40 chance that that someone was Fab. Because he was pretty competent: Read more »