• 04 Apr 2012 at 6:59 PM

I Give Up: What Did RBC Do To Piss Off the CFTC?

Okay one more from the recent CFTC trilogy: what is up with RBC? Is it the strangest of them all? I’m pretty sure I haven’t earned the right to have an opinion on that, or even a theory, but I have some questions.

One is: what was the scam here? I mean, here was the scam:
(1) RBC buys or owns stocks whose dividends are deductible for Canadian tax purposes,
(2) RBC hedges those stocks by selling single stock futures or narrow-based index futures to other bits of itself,
(3) So RBC is flat, gets the div one way and pays it the other, but gets a tax benefit from the div it gets and also presumably a deduction on the div it pays, so its net position is zero + tax benefit,
(4) EXCEPT that the bit of it that owns the stock and is short the future is flat but the bit of it that bought the future is, of course, long, so summing over all of its bits RBC is still long the stock, which is a part of this that confuses me, though not the only one,*
(5) anyway though the trades were arranged between bits of RBC rather than competitively bid,
(6) but then they memorialized them by printing them to the OneChicago exchange overseen by the CME and the CFTC,
(7) which created misleading prints because they were non-competitively-priced wash sales instead of real market trades between arms’-length counterparties,
(8) so the CFTC sued.

So, sure, I’ll go along … that sounds sort of scammy. But one thing that is weird is that OneChicago as far as I can tell is just a market for memorializing your privately negotiated trades. RBC was trading narrow-based index futures on OneChicago. Here is what OneChicago has to say about those: Read more »

If you’re into this sort of thing you can go read Mitt Romney’s tax returns and learn (on page 5 of the 2011 return) that he is in the “independent artists, writers, performers” business, which seems about right. (But which one?) You can also learn that he’s doing okay, financially-wise, and some more specific stuff; tantalizingly, you can’t get a good picture of his returns on assets because his financial disclosure forms are so meaninglessly bucketed. Most crucially, you can learn that he paid about a 15% tax rate on his take last year. There is a lot you can think about this. Some of it revolves around the badness of taxing capital gains at a lower rate than labor income, which, whatever, not my beat. Some of it revolves around the badness of taxing private equity labor income as capital gains, which, I mean, I’m sympathetic to, but also not my beat, but in any case this income is actually capital gains. Like, Mitt wasn’t working at Bain Capital last year. He was just sitting around, doing his “independent artist/writer/performer” thing, collecting money from the other money that he got 20 years ago. That’s what capital gains is. Anyway.

If you’re really into this sort of thing you can also go read Newt Gingrich’s tax return, but you won’t, because the numbers on it are smaller and where’s the fun in that? But USA Today of all people actually went and read it and they found … maybe tax fraud? That was unexpected:
Read more »

  • 07 Dec 2011 at 4:21 PM

With A Name Like Feline Pride It Has To Be Good

Sometimes it’s useful to be reminded that not all financial structuring is designed to get around capital requirements or defraud customers. Some is designed to get around taxes and defraud the treasury! One group of people who like to think about that kind of thing is the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, who took some time out from shouting about payroll taxes yesterday to have a geeky hearing about the state of financial instrument taxation. Short version is, they’re not all that happy about it.

The JCT staff generally say pretty smart stuff about tax policy, and they get that shit is fucked up and bullshit. Or as they put it more diplomatically:

The timing, character, and source rules apply differently to (and are sometimes uncertain for) equity, debt, options, forward contracts, and notional principal contracts. These five basic instruments can be combined in various ways to replicate the economic returns of any underlying asset. … The flexibility of financial instruments also creates great difficulties in the taxation of financial instruments. This report provides examples of taxpayers’ uses of financial instruments to achieve desired timing, character, and source outcomes and describes how the tax laws have or have not addressed this tax planning.

There are two useful takeaways here. One is kind of weird: there are a bunch of fairly basic things (exchange-traded notes, CDS) where nobody – not the IRS, not the JCT, nobody – knows how they’re supposed to be taxed. That … seems like a bad thing. And, I’m going to guess, not so much the fault of evil financial innovators.

The second takeaway, which is related but more satisfying to fulminate about, is that evil financial innovators can mix and match stuff until they get any tax result they want: Read more »

As you may have heard, over the weekend, Denmark introduced a tax on fat. The measure is aimed at “increasing the average life expectancy of Danes” but obviously it’ll make the country a little extra coin, too. Great for them, not so great for hedge fund manager Julian Robertson, who had to sit at home steaming over the fact that his idea had been stolen. For those who supposedly don’t remember what we’re talking about, perhaps this quote will jog your memory?

“I would love to be the Obesity Czar.” Read more »

  • 03 Oct 2011 at 11:54 AM
  • taxes

George Soros Can’t Wait For The Buffett Rules

“As one of the people who will be directly affected by the proposed new rules, let me say that I wholeheartedly endorse them,” says George Soros of carried interest and Obama’s proposed Buffett rule, which would force those making more than $1 million to pay at least as much federal income and payroll taxes as those who make less. [AR]

Over the last 10 months or so, the relationship between hedge fund manager Phil Falcone and his investors has not exactly been mutually satisfying. Not that they’ve been keeping a list but, if pressed to get into specifics, Harbinger Capital clients might cite a few reasons why they’ve been less than thrilled with Falcone of late such as: 1) The lackluster returns in Harbinger Capital’s flagship, which have in no way mimicked the highs of 2007. 2) That time he told reporters his investors are idiots. 3) The fact that he’s come to adopt a loose definition of the term ‘hedge,’ and put a whole lot of their money in a wireless venture that the universe seems hell bent on making sure never even has the chance to cause GPS interference. 4) The note those who requested their money back received in July, informing them that rather than getting cash, they’d be the lucky recipients of illiquid LightSquared equity. And then there would be the incident about which they really get pissy, and where things started to go down hill: 5) The time Phil choose to “loan” himself $113 million from a gated fund in order to pay personal taxes. Today, however, brings word that should do a lot to smooth ruffled feathers. On points 1-4, not much to say there. No one changes in a day. But! On point 5? Big progress. Huge. Read more »

Warren Buffett says he’s absolutely “fine” with President Obama calling the new plan to establish a minimum tax rate for individuals making more than $1 million a year the “Buffett Rule.” Reached Sunday in Omaha, Nebraska, the outspoken billionaire said the administration “asked me if they could use my name (on it) and I said, ‘Sure. It’s what I believe.'” [FBN]

Did you know it takes 1,000 people to staff 6 Applebee’s? Read more »