Football? Yep. Oscars? OK. The VIX? Really?

I was scoring up the Super Bowl (small loss) when Ocean called. Ocean is a good customer. He had a couple questions, and I told him fire away. First he wanted to know if we were doing the Oscars again this year. Of course we are. I'm not thrilled about it –I'm half paranoid about inside information bubbling on the Internet, but I'm learning to embrace the inside mis-information. Most importantly, we do it as a service, so the customers won't start betting online with bookies in Costa Rica. Ocean was pleased. For what it's worth, he likes The Artist at very short odds. He watches rom-coms. With his wife, he says. His favourite movie though is Love Story, and he cries shamelessly every time he watches it: he truly believes that love means never having to say you're sorry. I've never figured that out. I'm forever apologizing to my wife for doing boneheaded things and saying stupid shit. And apologizing is a necessity But whatever. A happy customer is a beautiful thing. And I thought the phone call was over. And then Ocean said it. “What do you have on the VIX for this summer?” I asked him what the hell he was talking about because I didn't compute what I was hearing. He then said how he had been watching CNBC. He went to his mutual fund guy determined to buy the VIX, and the salesman blew him off with “Oh, that's just gambling”. So, hey, I must surely book the VIX, right, because I take bets from gamblers? Well I totally had my pants down and started mumbling about monthly contracts and the need to be a sophisticated investor and how there were a few products out there and...he cut me off. He understood how “the 1% were trying to make this complicated” and he just wanted a near-even-money type bet that the VIX would be over 30 at the end of June, as per the top of the screen on CNBC. I gave him the bet. 30's a pretty big number, and I figure this'll make me learn about trading the VIX instruments so I can lay it off if I want to. (I've never done anything more sophisticated than buy a put spread when I was afraid of a downturn. Go ahead, laugh.) 30's a lot. So I let him have it at 6-to-5. He was only expecting even money or slightly worse, so he was pleased. Ten minutes later I was using this episode as an object lesson for my Faithful Assistant, a guy who is muddling through an MBA while living in his parents' basement. Garage loft, I stand corrected. Anyway, good customers need to be kept happy, good customers lose, and happy customers pay. The Hollywood-movie days of kneecapping customers who stiff you were over before I was born, if they ever even existed, and—and the phone rang again. Ocean again, wanting an over/under number on where Apple would be in a couple months' time. Oh, and Facebook. I told him I would have to call him back. I started throwing coffee cups and in between my screams my Faithful Assistant told me he'd just pretend I have Tourette's. He's cold. Then he asked me what was going on. And after I told him, he smiled, and tried to give his boss an object lesson of his own: “This is great. You trade the odd option. All my electives are Finance. We just set the over-under price, I mean you KNOW he's going 'over', high enough that we can buy calls a couple strikes below that number. We use his bet to buy the calls, if he wins we clean up, and we're covered.” And when I asked what would happen to Ocean's bankroll over time, the answer came back that we would sodomize it. I just shook my head. My young friend may well end up in a business career where the necessary m.o. is to grab-it-all and grab-it-now, but that's not how my business works. I actually want my customers to win 45-50% of their bets, lose fairly small amounts over time, and never lose so much in one fell swoop that they can't pay or that they decide to stop playing. There's a purpose behind all that languid ritual at the Baccarat table in the high-limit room at the casino: try to keep the House's earn slow-and-steady. It makes the news when a whale beats Vegas for $10 million, or drops $10 million, but the casinos tolerate those lumpy earnings—aside from a little ink, they don't really want them. The casinos want everybody playing dollar-slots, losing three cents a spin. His eyes kind of glazed over, so I thought, what would Suze Orman do to get her point across? I figured Suze, to make the young'uns understand, would probably Go Gangsta. So I said “Look, we make money by drawing blood from our customers.” His eyes lit up as I continued: “We're blood collectors. We need a nice orderly blood bank. What you're proposing, is a drive-by.” (Well, I actually said “drive-thru”, but we sorted it out after a little confusion.) So we've told Ocean that these bets are going to be for peanuts and we're going to have fun with them. He's on board, and he's all excited. Faithful Assistant is going to make the numbers and I told Ocean to give us some requests for stocks he thought would go lower. “Oh you mean I could bet 'under' too? Not just 'over'?” Yep, 'under' too. February's a shit month in the bookie biz—the regulars are there, but football's over and it's a ways before March Madness. Ocean's stockpicking is going to keep me interested.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

I was scoring up the Super Bowl (small loss) when Ocean called. Ocean is a good customer. He had a couple questions, and I told him fire away.

First he wanted to know if we were doing the Oscars again this year. Of course we are. I'm not thrilled about it –I'm half paranoid about inside information bubbling on the Internet, but I'm learning to embrace the inside mis-information. Most importantly, we do it as a service, so the customers won't start betting online with bookies in Costa Rica.

Ocean was pleased. For what it's worth, he likes The Artist at very short odds. He watches rom-coms. With his wife, he says. His favourite movie though is Love Story, and he cries shamelessly every time he watches it: he truly believes that love means never having to say you're sorry. I've never figured that out. I'm forever apologizing to my wife for doing boneheaded things and saying stupid shit. And apologizing is a necessity But whatever. A happy customer is a beautiful thing. And I thought the phone call was over. And then Ocean said it.

“What do you have on the VIX for this summer?”

I asked him what the hell he was talking about because I didn't compute what I was hearing. He then said how he had been watching CNBC. He went to his mutual fund guy determined to buy the VIX, and the salesman blew him off with “Oh, that's just gambling”. So, hey, I must surely book the VIX, right, because I take bets from gamblers?

Well I totally had my pants down and started mumbling about monthly contracts and the need to be a sophisticated investor and how there were a few products out there and...he cut me off. He understood how “the 1% were trying to make this complicated” and he just wanted a near-even-money type bet that the VIX would be over 30 at the end of June, as per the top of the screen on CNBC.

I gave him the bet. 30's a pretty big number, and I figure this'll make me learn about trading the VIX instruments so I can lay it off if I want to. (I've never done anything more sophisticated than buy a put spread when I was afraid of a downturn. Go ahead, laugh.) 30's a lot. So I let him have it at 6-to-5. He was only expecting even money or slightly worse, so he was pleased.

Ten minutes later I was using this episode as an object lesson for my Faithful Assistant, a guy who is muddling through an MBA while living in his parents' basement. Garage loft, I stand corrected. Anyway, good customers need to be kept happy, good customers lose, and happy customers pay. The Hollywood-movie days of kneecapping customers who stiff you were over before I was born, if they ever even existed, and—and the phone rang again.

Ocean again, wanting an over/under number on where Apple would be in a couple months' time. Oh, and Facebook. I told him I would have to call him back. I started throwing coffee cups and in between my screams my Faithful Assistant told me he'd just pretend I have Tourette's. He's cold. Then he asked me what was going on. And after I told him, he smiled, and tried to give his boss an object lesson of his own:

“This is great. You trade the odd option. All my electives are Finance. We just set the over-under price, I mean you KNOW he's going 'over', high enough that we can buy calls a couple strikes below that number. We use his bet to buy the calls, if he wins we clean up, and we're covered.”

And when I asked what would happen to Ocean's bankroll over time, the answer came back that we would sodomize it.

I just shook my head. My young friend may well end up in a business career where the necessary m.o. is to grab-it-all and grab-it-now, but that's not how my business works.

I actually want my customers to win 45-50% of their bets, lose fairly small amounts over time, and never lose so much in one fell swoop that they can't pay or that they decide to stop playing. There's a purpose behind all that languid ritual at the Baccarat table in the high-limit room at the casino: try to keep the House's earn slow-and-steady. It makes the news when a whale beats Vegas for $10 million, or drops $10 million, but the casinos tolerate those lumpy earnings—aside from a little ink, they don't really want them. The casinos want everybody playing dollar-slots, losing three cents a spin.

His eyes kind of glazed over, so I thought, what would Suze Orman do to get her point across? I figured Suze, to make the young'uns understand, would probably Go Gangsta. So I said “Look, we make money by drawing blood from our customers.” His eyes lit up as I continued: “We're blood collectors. We need a nice orderly blood bank. What you're proposing, is a drive-by.”

(Well, I actually said “drive-thru”, but we sorted it out after a little confusion.)

So we've told Ocean that these bets are going to be for peanuts and we're going to have fun with them. He's on board, and he's all excited. Faithful Assistant is going to make the numbers and I told Ocean to give us some requests for stocks he thought would go lower. “Oh you mean I could bet 'under' too? Not just 'over'?” Yep, 'under' too.

February's a shit month in the bookie biz—the regulars are there, but football's over and it's a ways before March Madness. Ocean's stockpicking is going to keep me interested.

Related

Bookie Confessional, Early Baseball Edition

Mike is my best baseball client. He bets three or four grand a night, spread out over the whole card. He can't possibly win over time. Sadly, such golden geese occasionally shit on the lawn. That's what Mike did Friday, when he called and asked me to give him another bookie's number. Nobody in particular—just anybody's. He wanted a second place to bet. Basically he was sitting at his regular table and asking the Maitre d' where ELSE he should go to dinner. I told him to call me back Saturday. Well, I fumed awhile, then it came to me. Mike had rarely talked to Faithful Assistant. I summoned Faithful Assistant and told him his dreams were about to come true: he was opening his own shop, with exactly one disposable cell phone, and exactly one very good customer. Turns out that wasn't Faithful Assistant's dream. His dream involves some newly single woman with expensive tastes: the weasel told me that if he was going to play this charade it was going to cost me a full 15% of Mike's losses on both phone numbers. I was outraged and we started negotiating and by the time we were done 15% had become 20%. After making a mental note never to negotiate with Faithful Assistant again, I picked up the phone to hire the new book's collection agent. Melody, a good customer's wife, asked me for a job a couple months back. I offered and she accepted this part-time gig as an audition. Mike had his new place to play, Faithful Assistant was angling for a raise to 30%, and I set up a Monday meeting with Melody to tell her how all this would go down. Melody was a quick study. Faithful Assistant was her boss-and-contact and she was supposed to pass by Mike's office every Tuesday afternoon to pay or collect. She wanted to know what to do if Mike didn't have the money. She was disappointed to learn she should do nothing, just call us. I don't think she wanted to break his legs, but I think she wanted to give him a serious telling off, preferably in front of people. Too bad—that's not the way it works. It's a non-issue anyway: Mike pays. Turns out the 20% I'm paying Faithful Assistant is money well spent: he quickly put together that Mike is betting the same teams with both our places. That might be the stupidest piece of betting I've ever laid my eyes on. He calls one number, bets the Yanks, then calls the second number and bets the Yanks again. His second price is almost always worse—how much worse, well, it depends on how greedy we feel. There is no logic to this—he ought to put his whole bet in at the first place he calls, or better yet call both joints for prices and put the bet in at the shop with the better price. (Faithful Assistant is routinely varying prices on the Mike Phone by a penny or two anyway.) The only way Mike's current plan would make sense is if Mike was putting in maximum sized bets and needed to get down two max bets whatever the cost – but that's not happening: Mike's just putting down a few hundred at each place. Aspiring MBA-er Faithful Assistant says that Mike is trying to spread out his “credit risk," so that if one shop goes bust owing him money, he still has the other. Our shenanigans aside, that helps Mike little: If you think your bookie can't pay, don't spread out your risk—just stop calling him and find someone else you're actually comfortable with. It's a bookie joint, not a bank. So we were a little surprised about this but the final shock was Melody's. Melody showed up on Tuesday at Mike's office to pick up $600. She won't have to bother going downtown anymore: She knows “Mike” well: their kids are best friends since they've been neighbors for nine years.

Thursday Night Football: The Quants' View (Week 5)

At numberFire.com, we use contextual, efficiency-based metrics and similarity algorithms to predict sports player and team performance. Just like you (or someone you know) spend your days digging for the real drivers of a stock or fixed income product so you can make the best investment decisions, we dig for the most descriptive player and team information in figuring out who to start in fantasy lineups and which bets to take. We provide that fantasy and handicapping advice to you at numberFire.com. Division... rivalry? Division battles are supposed to be close contests, right? I guess the Pony Express got lost between St. Louis and Phoenix. In their last 11 games against the Rams, dating back to December 2006, the Cardinals have won 10 times. That's not surprising; the Rams have had some horrendous teams (the starting QB for Rams in the week 16, 2009 game was Keith Null). What is surprising, though, is how the Cardinals have dominated the Spread. The Cardinals have won Against the Spread in 73% of those meetings, including both games last season. And two of the three times they didn't cover (Week 11, 2009 and Week 5, 2007), they won but missed the cover by one point. Under the Bridge Judging defensive effectiveness by Yards Allowed is as hopeless a pursuit as looking for love at 230 5th… You need to look at context: the caliber of an opponent is very important. In numberFire's opponent-adjusted defensive rankings, both the Cardinals (#2) and Rams (#9) have top ten defenses. Teams currently in the top ten have faced off six times this season, and, in those games, Vegas has horrendously miscalculated the totals line: the under has been the correct choice five times: Cleveland/Philadelphia (under 42.5), Atlanta/Denver (under 50.5), Chicago/St. Louis (under 42), Arizona/Philadelphia (under 41), and Atlanta/San Diego (under 47). Only Houston/Denver (43.5) went over. The QB Connection Are you one of those old-school folks who thinks QBs are overrated? Well, last week, the teams with more efficient QBs went 11-4. With that in mind, it becomes important to examine the Bradford-Kolb matchup. We’ll use numberFire's best friend, the Net Expected Points (NEP) formula, which lets us measure a skill player’s efficiency, to do so. Kolb has been surprisingly efficient this season, with a +19.51 NEP total, and +0.16 NEP/pass, meaning that he has added 19.51 total points and .16 points/pass to the Cardinals’ offense over what a league average QB would have added this year. Of the four games Sam “I was a #1 draft pick” Bradford has started this year, three saw barely positive NEP performances. The big indicator for our purposes came in week 3 against the Bears when Bradford posted a -24 NEP. You could see that as an outlier, but, again, context is key! That Bears game was the only time Sam Bradford faced a defense in numberFire's top 10. The Bears are #3. The Cardinals are #2.

Swamped

Summertime, and the livin' is easy. The NBA is through its first round of playoffs, there hasn't been a college board of a hundred games in over two months, and football is so far away that HBO still has a casting call out for Hard Knocks. Baseball's the main attraction, and baseball bettors are gentlemen and so old school the periodic table only has about 50 elements. How did we get here? It was one of those darkest-before-the-dawn moments, that moment that feels like it's darkest-before-it's-totally-black. I strolled in on the last day of the NBA regular season, a Thursday, fashionably late. He asked me where the hell I had been. I always show up late on summer Thursdays, and leave early. There's little baseball, and little else. But Faithful Assistant pointed to a screen and said “I'm fucking buried on the Wizards game”. The Washington Wizards are a bad basketball team. They were matched up against the Miami Heat, a very good basketball team. The Heat have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and that guy who Shaq said looks like Ru Paul. Except the market said the Heat didn't give a flying fuck about that game, and the Wizards were 8-point favorites. I asked him if maybe the Heat were the favorites. No, said Faithful Assistant, it was the Wizards. And our clients, all of whom fancy themselves smarter than the average bear, had bet $25K on the Wizards, -7.5, -8, -8.5, -9.5. So dump it, I said. We can lay off 50K with one phone call, usually more. “I can't. He's got jury duty.” What was this world coming to, bookmakers being summoned to sit on juries. So I told him to keep calling every half hour or so. In the meantime I'd handle any more Wizards bets myself. They kept calling for the Wizards. Over and over and over again. The market was -8, and I was dealing it -10 and getting buckets of abuse. “-10? Get outta here. ESPN says they're -8.” I quickly broke my clientele into two groups. The clients I didn't care about, I told them “OK, fine. Call up ESPN and give them your bet.” Some of them screamed. Several questioned my parentage. Most of them laid -10. My better clients got better treatment. I explained how the book was hopelessly one-sided and my layoff guy was “in court”. (I let them imagine he was the guy in the orange jumpsuit, not somebody who would be leaving by the front door.) I took their bet at -10, but told them that if and when my guy came through, I'd call them back and give them the -8. They thanked me like I was doing them a favor. Great. The first people who weren't angry all day. The pros called too. One nibbled on the Heat +8 at even money, but the rest passed. Court let out at 4:30. My guy didn't make the jury: something about his wife's job getting in the way. He took our bet for all we could eat at -7.5 and I started calling the clients back changing their -10 to not -8 but -7.5. People were thanking me as if I'd given them a kidney. Faithful Assistant's quick tally when the game tipped off saw him scream “We cannot lose!” I pointed out that while we would indeed win money, that wasn't the same as being invulnerable. For the sake of peace, love, and client happiness, we needed these lowly Wizards to win by a pile. Happy customers keep coming back, and there'd be no talk of conspiracies, fixed games off funny betting lines, and so on. The Wizards rolled. Up by 25 at half, they cruised to a 34-point win. The Heat played their B team all night. (The Tepid?) No LeBron, no Wade, no Ru Paul, no problem. The clients were ecstatic. One of them even sent us flash-frozen steaks. It's actually helped us change the summer baseball operation. Now when people call up looking for a team at such-and-such a price, if we don't have it and they're willing to leave the order open, we take the order and call them back when we fill it. A good client now calls us his “betting con-au-pairs”. I think he means “concierges”, but I don't speak French. Whatever. It's working out.

Maddeningly Bad Luck

March Madness has been a disaster: two of my best customers, who know each other, combined to go 2-for-39 on the first two weekends. Faithful Assistant has been laughing at their tought breaks, but I've been trying to soothe them. I need these guys to keep playing, losing, and paying. Their luck really has been atrocious. 18 of the losses have been by three points or less. One of them asked me if I'd ever heard anything worse. I guess there's Tsotomu Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi was on a business trip in Hiroshima when the A-bomb dropped. Wounded, he figured he'd better get out of Dodge ASAP, so he barrelled home the next day – to Nagasaki. I reminded the client that his bad luck paled in comparison to Yamaguchi's, and that Yamaguchi lived another 65 healthy years...plenty of time to make more bets. But now I'm dealing with more than bad luck. These guys have now declared that sports are rigged. This month's point-shaving scandal at Auburn hasn't helped, and it brings others of recent years to mind. The NBA has Tim Donaghy. Overseas, it looks like half the Turkish soccer league is going to jail, and half of Italy has already been. I actually believe that most of sports are on the level. Disagree if you want, that's OK. But what really gets my goat are the people who think the bookies want the games rigged. We don't. If people think the games are fixed, and thus become afraid to bet, I'm out of business. It's the same story for the guy running a poker game or the CEO of a retail brokerage. No faith, no business. There's a really simple reason somebody with the available cash or credit can get down a $500,000 bet on the NFL, but might not be able to easily bet $50 on Wrestlemania: the market can take the $500,000 football bet, adjust the price slightly, and bettors will come for the other side. There is no market for Wrestlemania, because nobody trusts it. So these clients are generally miffed, but also fixated on one game: Syracuse vs. Kansas State. The price started moving 20 minutes before tip when a K-State star was ruled ineligible. These guys took the new price on K-State thinking they got a deal, when it was just the market reacting to information. Well, Syracuse rolled and now it's allegedly a “fix”. Of course it's not a fix—it's just betting dumb with less info than everybody else. They should have checked why the spread was moving. Emotion trumps reason, though, and there was no reasoning with these guys. And maybe that's why these guys bet with me instead of going online somewhere—they're so Old School, the building probably only had one room. If you want to be a pro gambler these days, there's a ton of free information all over the Internet. I'm not saying it's easy to win over time—it's not. But there's a bucket of info out there on any game you want to study, and all sorts of arcane stats to help inform your decisions. And since everyone else is studying, you better too. When I worked in Chicago, we had a good customer who worked at O'Hare. He would bring us out-of-town sports sections that travellers left behind as they boarded planes. We got useful injury information from beat writers in other cities that the rest of the Chicago market just didn't have. That was 20 years ago, but when I tell that story to Faithful Assistant, he usually asks if Orville and Wilbur Wright were flying the planes. He's been on the Internet since middle school, and pretends he can't remember life without it. So I'm not sure what to do with these guys—they bet six times a day, but haven't called since Saturday. I think I'll give them a free bet equivalent to what they lost on Kansas State. I know I don't have to, but I'm not willing to risk losing the business. That's the worst part of all this—and the reason why I'm trying to get out of this racket. I don't just need the customers to lose, I need them to lose slowly and have fun doing it. I'm not a psychiatrist trained to actually convince people that betting really is a random thing for the vast majority of gamblers and losing streaks just happen. I wonder if I should join the Army. I'm not much for getting shot, but I hear the poker games are good. Baseball starts next week and the guys who just bet bases are much easier to deal with. They understand the nature of a game where the very best teams win 65% of their games and the absolute worst teams still win 35% of the time. I can't wait. Anybody know if Tim Tebow needs someone to take his action? He's on every channel, everywhere.

Credit Where Credit Is Due: Peregrine Financial Once Won The "Iowa Character Award"

You know those letters that go out from banks and brokerage firms a couple days after a financial disaster has hit the news? They usually begin with “Dear Valued Customer,” and they assure freaked-out investors that that sort of thing would never happen here. Like this one, published November 1, 2011, the day after MF Global filed for bankruptcy. “Dear PFGBEST customers,” it began. Those rogues at MF Global might have lost track of a billion dollars or so of their customers’ money, but PFG clients could count on “the absolute dedication of PFGBEST to protect you and your PFGBEST accounts.” The soothing dispatch was signed by Russell Wasendorf, Jr., president and chief operating officer and son of the CEO Russell Wasendorf, Sr. It pledged that PFG was “compliance-focused,” and said the principled firm was in communication with regulators “to assist in any way” after the purloining of MF Global’s clients. Well, you can’t argue that the senior Wasendorf didn’t assist his regulators. The CEO of PFG Best, aka Peregrine Financial Group, even sat on an advisory committee of the National Futures Association. On that “compliance-focused” part, though, the your-money-is safe-with-us vow didn’t turn out to be so reliable. Eight months after the “Dear customer” letter, PFG filed for liquidation under Chapter 7 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code on July 10 -- a day after the NFA said the Cedar Falls, Iowa futures brokerage firm was short about $200 million in its customer accounts. That would be the same NFA whose board had on three occasions – in 2004, 2007 and 2009 -- voted to put Wasendorf, Sr. on its Futures Commission Merchant advisory committee that weighed in on new rules. NFA spokesman Larry Dyekman declined to comment. Russ Senior today is in the Linn County jail in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, having been charged with making false statements to regulators about the value of his customers’ accounts. His bail hearing is on Friday. Junior hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing and his lawyer told The Wall Street Journal that the younger Wasendorf is cooperating with regulators to track down assets. Neither man’s lawyers returned phone calls. The elder Wasendorf tried to commit suicide on July 9 and left a note saying he’d been stealing from customers for 20 years. “I had no access to additional capital and I was forced into a difficult decision,” he wrote. “Should I go out of business or cheat?” Well, we know the answer to that one. During the years he was dipping into customers’ funds, Wasendorf was honored with awards for his charity, his patriotism, and his devotion to green initiatives. The firm received accolades, too. Last year, it was among 13 winners of the “Iowa Character Award.” Spokeswoman Amy Smit of “Character Counts in Iowa” said in an email that PFG won for its “extensive community involvement,” including research for pediatric diseases and support to tornado victims. Futures magazine called it “one of the nation’s Top 50 Brokers” for 13 years in a row. Ginger Szala, group editorial director at Summit Business Media, which publishes Futures, said in an email that the list is based on “customer equity reports” that the magazine gets from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The CFTC gets those from the firms. “We rely on the regulator to confirm the amount as accurate, and of course, that now is under question,” she said. Oh yeah, that. We could take a little comfort if it had all come as a surprise – the cagey guy who’d never given the regulators a clue. No such luck. While he was picking up his trophies over the years, Wasendorf was running companies that waved red flags. He owned a securities firm, Peregrine Financials & Securities Inc., that first registered with Finra in 1998. That firm wound up terminating its registration in June of 2004, just two months after Finra fined it $251,000 for “unfair and excessive” commissions and for failing to keep proper records of emails. A year before that, in February of 2003, Finra said Peregrine had filed inaccurate reports and had failed to maintain the minimum required net capital. Peregrine also lost arbitrations with customers in 2001 (for breach of contract) and 2004 (for misrepresentation and “fraudulent activity.”) His separate futures trading company, PFG, had its own set of problems. In 2009, an administrative law judge said it had failed to investigate numerous questionable activities in the account of a 73-year-old retiree, adding that PFG had shown “a reckless disregard” for its duties. Ten years before, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said the firm had failed on several occasions to report that it had fallen below minimum financial requirements, and that it had been showing receivables as current assets in its reports to the regulator. There is more, but you get the idea. Wasendorf thought regulators were kind of dumb, and while he may be a big-time liar, you can’t argue with him on that one. It was “relatively simple” to trick regulators, he said in his suicide letter. At a hearing of the House Committee on Agriculture Wednesday, amid talk about how to prevent future MF Global and Peregrine-style fiascos, witnesses from the financial industry made the familiar business lobby pitches that regulations can kill competition, stifle innovation, and lead to firms leaving the futures business altogether. The carrying on could almost have been scripted by Wasendorf himself. When the CFTC was proposing increased margin rules for foreign exchange traders in 2010, Wasendorf said in a press release that the changes would send thousands of U.S. jobs overseas. “Congress made it clear that the industry was to be policed, not abolished,” he said at the time. Even if this guy gets stuck doing a couple years in prison, there’s got to be a financial lobbying job in his future. Susan Antilla is a columnist for Bloomberg View.

Opening Bell: 04.13.12

JPMorgan Profit Slips (WSJ) J.P. Morgan reported a profit of $5.38 billion, down from $5.56 billion a year earlier. On a per-share basis, earnings were $1.31, up from $1.28 as the share count outstanding declined. The latest quarter included a net 8-cent per-share loss tied to litigation expenses and changes in the value of the bank's debt. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected a per-share profit of $1.18, excluding debt-related charges. Revenue rose 6.3% to $27.42 billion. Analysts were looking for $24.68 billion. Wells Fargo reports higher first-quarter profit (Reuters) Wells Fargo, the nation's fourth-biggest U.S. bank, said net income was $4.25 billion, or 75 cents a share, in the quarter, compared with $3.76 billion, or 67 cents, a share in the same period a year earlier. The average estimate from analysts was 73 cents per share. JPMorgan Said to Transform Treasury to Prop Trading (Bloomberg) Achilles Macris, hired in 2006 as the CIO’s top executive in London, led an expansion into corporate and mortgage-debt investments with a mandate to generate profits for the New York- based bank, three of the former employees said. Dimon, 56, closely supervised the shift from the CIO’s previous focus on protecting JPMorgan from risks inherent in its banking business, such as interest-rate and currency movements, they said. Some of Macris’s bets are now so large that JPMorgan probably can’t unwind them without losing money or roiling financial markets, the former executives said, based on knowledge gleaned from people inside the bank and dealers at other firms. Bank Bonus That Tops Salary May Be Banned by EU Lawmakers (Bloomberg) Governments and lawmakers in the 27-nation EU are considering rules for lenders that would go far beyond international agreements approved by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision. Denmark, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, has proposed empowering nations to set surcharges of up to 3 percent across their banking systems. Karas yesterday suggested adding language to the legislation that would ban banker bonuses that exceed fixed pay, following calls from other lawmakers to rein in excessive compensation. IMF Lifts Growth Forecast, Cautiously (WSJ) Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said the world economy is marked by "a high degree of instability" even though prospects for global growth are better than they were a few months ago. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Ms. Lagarde said the IMF, which marked down its 2012 forecast for global growth in January to 3.3%, has now marked it up to reflect improving conditions in the world economy. But she said the new forecast, to be released next week, remains more pessimistic than the one it made last September, which predicted 4% growth. Europe remains the biggest single risk to the global economy, the former French finance minister said. Hedge Fund Driver Guns DownArmed Robber (NYP) A retired NYPD lieutenant blew away a drugstore bandit yesterday as the suspect tried to gun down three police officers during a foot pursuit, sources said. Thomas Barnes, Barnes — a driver for hedge fund manager Philippe Laffont, was filling his tank at the BP station on East 119th Street and First Avenue at around 11 a.m. when he saw gunman Rudolph Wyatt running from the store, and sprang into action. He crouched behind his hedge-fund boss’ Mercedes SUV and squeezed off three shots, killing Wyatt, 23. The trigger-happy thug — wanted on warrants for two other shootings — lay dead in a pool of blood on the sidewalk wearing a black stocking mask with a wad of stolen cash spilling out of his pocket, witnesses said. “Part of the back of his head was missing. He had a large head wound and there was tons of blood,” said witness John Brecevich, 59, owner of the Original Patsy’s restaurant nearby. “It was a scene straight out of NYPD Blue.” Trustees Aim For MF Execs (NYP) The trustee tasked with clawing back money for burned customers of MF Global is training his sights on the brokerage firm’s executives — a list that likely includes former CEO Jon Corzine. In a statement yesterday, trustee James Giddens said he is considering pursuing claims against “certain responsible individuals” who worked for MF at the time customers’ trading accounts were improperly tapped. Kent Jarrell, a spokesman for Giddens, declined to name names but said the trustee is considering civil suits against “officers, directors or other employees” of both the brokerage firm and the holding company. Fed Officials Differ on Need to Keep Rates Low to 2014 (Bloomberg) William C. Dudley, president of the New York Fed, and Vice Chairman Janet Yellen said the 2014 time-frame is needed to lower unemployment from 8.2 percent. Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota said rising inflation may prompt an interest-rate increase as early as this year, while Philadelphia’s Charles Plosser said policy should hinge on economic performance, not a calendar commitment. Newark Mayor Cory Booker: Race into home fire was a "come to Jesus moment" (CBS) Booker arrived home last night to discover his next-door neighbor's house on fire, and rescued a young woman trapped upstairs by carrying here through the flames, suffering second-degree burns in the process. The mayor's security team discovered the fire and pounded on the door to alert residents, when an elderly woman said that her daughter was trapped upstairs. At first, Newark Police Detective Alex Rodriguez would not let Booker into the burning house. "He basically told me, 'This woman is going to die if we don't help her,' and what can I say to that?," Rodriguez said. "I let him go and without thinking twice, he just ran into the flames and rescued this young lady." Booker said that as he jumped through the kitchen on the second floor, "I actually wasn't thinking. When I got there and couldn't find her in all the smoke, looked behind me and saw the kitchen really erupting with flames all over the ceiling, that's when I had very clear thoughts that I'm not going to get out of this place alive and got ... very religious. He admitted he was "not gentle" with her - "I just sort of threw her over my shoulder and dragged her through the kitchen."

Opening Bell: 01.04.13

SEC Drops Case Against Ex-Berkshire Exec Sokol (Reuters) The U.S. securities regulator has decided not to take action against David Sokol, once considered a possible candidate for the top job at Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, Sokol's lawyer told Reuters. In 2011, Buffett said Sokol violated the company's insider trading rules to score a $3 million windfall profit on shares of U.S. chemicals maker Lubrizol, which rose by nearly a third after Berkshire Hathaway announced it would buy the company. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating Sokol's investment in Lubrizol shortly after Sokol resigned from Berkshire Hathaway. Sokol's lawyer Barry Wm. Levine told Reuters late on Thursday that he was informed that the SEC had wrapped up its probe and decided not to take action against Sokol. "SEC has terminated its investigation and has concluded not to bring any proceedings against Sokol," said Levine, a lawyer at legal firm Dickstein Shapiro. Sokol has been "completely cleared" as there was no evidence against his client, Levine said. Cohen’s SAC Tops Most Profitable List Amid Insider Probes (Bloomberg) SAC Capital International, Cohen’s flagship fund, was the world’s most-profitable hedge fund in the first 10 months of 2012, earning $789.5 million for Cohen, 56, and his managers, according to Bloomberg Markets’ annual ranking of hedge funds...SAC Capital International is No. 1 not because of performance; it ties for No. 86 on that measure, with a 10 percent return in the Markets ranking of the 100 top-performing funds. Rather, the fund earned the most money because Cohen charges some of the highest fees on Wall Street. While most funds impose a 1 to 2 percent management fee and then take 15 to 20 percent of the profits, Cohen levies 3 percent and as much as 50 percent, according to investors. Geithner's Planned Departure Puts Obama In A Tough Spot (Reuters) The Treasury Department said Geithner would stick to his previously announced schedule to stay until sometime around the Jan. 21 inauguration. Obama chose Geithner to lead the just-ended negotiations with Congress to avert the Dec. 31 fiscal cliff of spending cuts and tax hikes that threatened to push the economy back into recession. But the deal, which preserved most of the Bush-era tax breaks for Americans, sets up a series of crucial fiscal deadlines by delaying automatic spending cuts until March 1 and not increasing the government's borrowing limit. That puts Obama in the tough spot of nominating another Treasury secretary and asking the Senate to approve his choice when lawmakers are in the middle of another budget battle. Egan Jones Says Further US Downgrades Unlikely (CNBC) "This latest round (of negotiations) indicates a sign of health. You have a major ideological clash going on in Congress and many people uncomfortable with it, but it is part of democracy. The more positive light is that we actually have a deal and can move forward," Sean Egan, managing director of Egan-Jones told CNBC on Friday. "We've gotten a lot more comfortable about the U.S. and we probably won't take additional negative actions for the foreseeable future," he added. Almost All of Wall Street Got 2012 Market Calls Wrong (Bloomberg) From John Paulson’s call for a collapse in Europe to Morgan Stanley’s warning that U.S. stocks would decline, Wall Street got little right in its prognosis for the year just ended. Paulson, who manages $19 billion in hedge funds, said the euro would fall apart and bet against the region’s debt. Morgan Stanley predicted the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index would lose 7 percent and Credit Suisse foresaw wider swings in equity prices. All of them proved wrong last year and investors would have done better listening to Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein, who said the real risk was being too pessimistic. The ill-timed advice shows that even the largest banks and most-successful investors failed to anticipate how government actions would influence markets. Unprecedented central bank stimulus in the U.S. and Europe sparked a 16 percent gain in the S&P 500 including dividends, led to a 23 percent drop in the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, paid investors in Greek debt 78 percent and gave Treasuries a 2.2 percent return even after Warren Buffett called bonds “dangerous.” Fed Divided Over Bond Buys (WSJ) A new fault line has opened up at the Federal Reserve over how long to continue bond-buying programs aimed at spurring stronger economic growth. Minutes released Thursday of the Fed's Dec. 11-12 policy meeting showed that officials were divided. Some wanted to continue the programs through the end of 2013, others wanted to end them well before then and a minority wanted to halt the programs right away. Swiss Bank Pleads Guilty In Probe (WSJ) In the latest blow to Switzerland's centuries-old banking practices, the country's oldest bank pleaded guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge in the U.S. on Thursday and admitted that it helped wealthy Americans for years avoid tens of millions of dollars in taxes by hiding their income from secret accounts abroad. Wegelin & Co., founded in 1741, is the latest Swiss bank to reach a deal with U.S. prosecutors as they crack down on Americans who kept their money in secret accounts overseas and the entities which helped them. Three Wegelin bankers also were charged criminally in the U.S. last year. Subway worker tells customer to 'fight me like a man,' during confrontation over ketchup (WFTV) Luis Martinez said he stopped by a Subway shop in a Walmart on South Semoran Boulevard late Tuesday night to get something to eat. He said he ordered a Philly cheese steak the way he always does. "American cheese, onions and ketchup," said Martinez. Lawrence Ordone was working behind the counter. "He wants ketchup on the Philly cheese steak and I have never put -- we don't even have ketchup at Subway -- I've never put ketchup on anybody's sandwich," said Ordone. Martinez said he didn't want the sandwich without the ketchup and that a man next to him in line offered to buy the sandwich. Ordone said that Martinez mouthed off at the man. Martinez denied saying anything, but neither he or Ordone disputed what they said happened next. "That's when I flew off the handle," said Ordone. "He shoved a chair to the side, like knocked it down to come at me, and I said, 'This is going to be serious,'" said Martinez. "I said, 'Let's go, fight me like a man,'" said Ordone. "I was scared. Next thing, I'm thinking a gun's going to come out," said Martinez. Ordone said he blocked the customer so he couldn't get out. "He threatened to kill me in front of my wife," said Martinez. Martinez called 911, but by the time police got there the Subway worker had already left. Ordone said he was fired from his job Wednesday, and that he is baffled the confrontation started over something as simple as ketchup. "There's ketchup three aisles down. You can go buy your own ketchup, and I promise to God, you can put as much as you want on it and nobody's going to say nothing," said Ordone. Economy Adds 155,000 Jobs (WSJ) Rebuilding following superstorm Sandy, which struck the Northeast in late October, likely added to job growth last month. Nationally, employment in the construction sector advanced by 30,000 jobs. Meanwhile, manufacturing payrolls increased by 25,000 and health-care jobs grew by 45,000. JPMorgan Faces Sanction for Refusing to Provide Madoff Documents (Bloomberg) The Treasury Department’s inspector general has threatened to punish JPMorgan Chase for failing to turn over documents to regulators investigating the bank’s ties to Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Inspector General Eric Thorson gave the largest U.S. bank a Jan. 11 deadline to cooperate with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency probe or risk sanctions for impeding the agency’s oversight. JPMorgan, according to the Dec. 21 letter, contends the information is protected by attorney-client privilege. Rich Catch a Break With Budget Deal Providing Deductions (Bloomberg) “The increases in taxes and limits to deductions are more favorable than expected,” said Christopher Zander, partner and head of wealth planning at Evercore Partners Inc. (EVR)’s wealth management unit. “They could have been worse for high net-worth taxpayers.” Regulators to ease up on banks to get credit flowing (Reuters) Banks will get more time to build up cash buffers to protect against market shocks under a rule change that could help free up credit for struggling economies, a European regulatory source said. The Basel Committee, made up of banking supervisors from nearly 30 countries, is expected to announce the revision on Sunday to its "liquidity coverage" ratio or LCR, part of efforts to make banks less likely to need taxpayer help again in a crisis. The change comes after heavy pressure from banks and some regulators, who feared Basel's original version would suck up too much liquidity at a time when ailing economies are badly in need of a ready supply of credit to finance growth. 'Stripper' arrested after performance art leads to ruckus in Hallandale (SS) According to police and witnesses, Mena, 25, was first spotted standing and yelling in the middle of A1A outside her condo building along the 1800 block of South Ocean Drive about 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday. Noel von Kauffman, 40, said he was walking along the street when he noticed Mena trying to direct traffic while wearing a tank-top, cut-off jean shorts and tall boots...At some point, Mena picked up a traffic cone and threw it at a car driven by Dieter Heinrich, 49, of Dania Beach, according to an arrest report. The cone broke the car's side mirror, causing about $300 in damages, the report indicated. When Heinrich got out of his car, Mena allegedly spat in his face. Von Kauffman said he jumped in to help Heinrich, who had children in the back seat of his car. Mena scratched von Kauffman's wrist as the two men tried to restrain her and move her away from the busy roadway, according to the police report. After pinning her to the ground, von Kauffman said the woman first tried to say the incident was part of a television show and that everything was being caught on camera. Then she claimed she was a federal agent. Then she said she was friends with Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper and everyone involved would be in trouble, von Kauffman said.