Category Archives: Banana republic

Jeb Bush: The Forrest Gump of Financial Improprieties?

The Financial Times has an unusual story featured prominently today. As Jeb Bush has made a soft launch of his presidential campaign, the pink paper has published a surprisingly long list of financial relationships that do not put the Florida governor in a particularly good light.

The intriguing part isn’t so much a history of dubious-looking complicated money dealings. It’s the fact that many of them are live.

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Did Wall Street Need to Win the Derivatives Budget Fight to Hedge Against Oil Plunge?

Conventional wisdom among banking experts is that Wall Street’s successful fight last week to get a pet provision into the must-pass budget bill (or in political junkies’ shorthand, Cromnibus) as more a demonstration of power and a test for gutting Dodd Frank than a fight that mattered to them. But the provision they got in, which was to undo a portion of Dodd Frank that barred them from having taxpayer-backstopped deposits fund derivative positions, may prove to be more important than it seemed as the collateral damage from the 40% fall in oil prices hits investors and intermediaries.

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Bill Black: Second Circuit Decision Effectively Legalizes Insider Trading

Yves here. Bill Black is so ripshit about a Second Circuit court of appeals decision that effectively legalizes insider trading that he doesn’t unpack the workings until later his his important post. Let’s turn to Reuters (hat tip EM) for an overview:

A U.S. appeals court dealt federal prosecutors a blow in their crackdown on insider trading on Wall Street on Wednesday, overturning the convictions of two former hedge fund managers charged with making illegal trades in technology stocks.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said prosecutors presented insufficient evidence to convict Todd Newman, a former portfolio manager at Diamondback Capital Management, and Anthony Chiasson, co-founder of Level Global Investors.

The court held that defendants can only be convicted of insider trading if the person trading on confidential information knew the original tipper disclosed it in exchange for a personal benefit.

What does this mean in practical terms? The court has just provided a very-easy-to-satisfy roadmap for engaging in insider trading legally.

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Obama Administration Muzzling Its Climate Scientists

Yves here. The fact that Team Obama is gagging its climate scientists should come as no surprise. First, the Administration is obsesses with secrecy and image-management, as its extremely aggressive posture on classifying records and prosecuting leakers attests. Second, Administration climate policy is founded on a Big Lie. As Gaius Publius has written at length, its greenhouse gas measures exclude methane, the most potent greenhouse gas. That omission favors fracking, which fails the “clean green” test when you factor in methane releases. And that’s before you factor in contamination of water supplies.

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Elizabeth Warren Escalates Fight over Treasury Nominee Antonio Weiss, Goes to War with Wall Street Wing of Democratic Party

Earlier this week, we wrote about how the New York Times’ Dealbook, the creature of Wall Street sycophant Andrew Ross Sorkin, had launched a fierce campaign against Elizabeth Warren’s latest move, her opposition to the Obama administration’s nomination of Lazard’s Antonio Weiss, a mergers and acquisitions banker. Warren’s grounds for objecting to Weiss were straightforward: his experience was no fit for the requirements of his proposed Treasury role. On top of that, he had been involved in and therefore profited from acquisitions called inversions that Treasury opposes because they reduce the taxes paid by the acquirer, which uses the acquired company to move its headquarters to a lower-tax jurisdiction.

Dealbook published three Warren-bashing columns in as many weeks; the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal ran editorials making similar arguments, suggesting that all were picking up on the same talking points out of Treasury. One tell: the Times had to issue a correction on one of its pieces because it relied on a Treasury document that exaggerated Weiss’ accomplishments.

Warren upped the ante in a speech on Tuesday, making Weiss, who is now head of investment banking at Lazard, a symbol of what is wrong with the relationship between the government and Big Finance: that of far too much coziness between the large, influential players and financial regulators. And in sharpening and further documenting her critique, she has put the Robert Rubin wing of the Democratic party in her crosshairs.

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Yanis Varoufakis: Burst Greek Bubbles, Spooked Fund Managers – A Cause for Restrained Celebration

Yves here. Varoufakis describes a classic case of the old investing adage, “Little pigs get fed, big pigs get slaughtered.” In this case, the big pigs decided to ride what was clearly only a momentum trade on Greek sovereign debt, since anyone with an operating brain cell could tell that Greece was not getting better any time soon, and limited German tolerance for bailouts meant that some sort of restructuring was inevitable. The concern that the Greek bubble will be pricked sooner than expected looks to have wrong-footed some big name investors.

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NYTimes Dealbook’s Dishonest Salvo at Elizabeth Warren Over Calling Out an Unqualified Nominee for Treasury Post

Even though Andrew Ross Sorkin and his mini-empire, the New York Times Dealbook, are reliable defenders of their Big Finance meal tickets, they’ve managed to skim above, if sometimes just barely above, abject intellectual dishonesty. But Dealbook has published not one but three pieces in as many weeks in defense of an unacceptably weak Obama Administration nominee for an important Treasury post, the Under Secretary of Domestic Finance.

The candidate is Antonio Weiss, a Lazard mergers and acquisitions professional who was elevated to head of investment banking in 2009. There’s no doubt that Weiss is accomplished. The non-trivial problem, as Elizabeth Warren and others have pointed out, is that Weiss’ experience and skills have absolutely nothing to do with the Treasury role.

What is striking is the way that Sorkin and his colleagues have launched what amounts to a media war against Warren in defense of Weiss, and have shameless resorted to a drumbeat of Big Lies in the hope that their messaging will stick. The fact that they can’t even mount a proper case on its merits speaks volumes about Weiss’ qualifications for the job.

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Tom Engelhardt: Washington – War Party Ascendant

It was the end of the road for Chuck Hagel last week and the Washington press corps couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about writing his obituary. In terms of pure coverage, it may not have been Ferguson or the seven-foot deluge of snow that hit Buffalo, New York, but the avalanche of news reports was nothing to be sniffed at. There had been a changing of the guard in wartime Washington. Barack Obama’s third secretary of defense had gone down for the count.

But the press blood lust conveniently missed the real story, that of the ever-increasing power of the War Party within the Beltway.

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Jeffrey Sachs Channeled His Inner Bill Black – and Obama and Holder Ignored Him Too

Yves here. This post by Bill Black serves to illustrate the difficulties of effecting change. As much as Black in particular has been a forceful and articulate advocate for tougher bank regulation and prosecution of executives, arguments like his get at most polite lip service from the enforcers. Recall that Black is far from alone. Others who’ve called for a more tough-minded approach include Charles Ferguson of Inside Job, Eliot Spitzer, Neil Barofsky, Joe Stiglitz and Simon Johnson.

We are seeing more and more of the elite willing call for more aggressive measures to combat bank misconduct.

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Meet and Greet Natalie Jaresko, US Government Employee, Ukraine Finance Minister

The new finance minister of Ukraine, Natalie Jaresko, may have replaced her US citizenship with Ukrainian at the start of this week, but her employer continued to be the US Government, long after she claims she left the State Department. US court and other records reveal that Jaresko has been the co-owner of a management company and Ukrainian investment funds registered in the state of Delaware, dependent for her salary and for investment funds on a $150 million grant from the US Agency for International Development. The US records reveal that according to Jaresko’s former husband, she is culpable in financial misconduct.

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Economic Development and the Effectiveness of Foreign Aid: A Historical Perspective

Yves here. Ebola is serving as a reminder that the fate of members of advanced economies isn’t necessarily divorced from those of citizens of poor, developing nations. And it isn’t as if those countries are completely neglected. They are simultaneously the recipients of foreign aid, while at the same time being de facto capital exporters. So while this study below is informative, it ignores the elephant in the room, which is the degree to which looting simply overwhelms the amount of funding provided by foreign aid.

As Nicholas Shaxson wrote in Treasure Islands (p. 157):

Global Financial Integrity (GFI) in Washington authored a study on illicit financial flows out of Africa (March 2010). Between 1970 and 2008, it concluded:

Total illicit financial outflows from Africa, conservatively estimated, were approximately $854 billion. total illicit outflows may be as high as $1.8 trillion… The GFI estimate – equivalent to just over 9 per cent of its $51 billion in oil and diamond exports during that time – simply has to be a gross underestimate of the looting. Many billions have disappeared offshore through opaque oil-backed loans channeled outside normal state budgets, many of them routed through two special trusts operating out of London.

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Chicago Public Schools’ $100 Million Swaps Debacle Demonstrates High Cost of High Finance

I’ve been late to write up an important series published by the Chicago Tribune earlier this month on a costly swaps misadventure by the Chicago Public Schools. Like all too many state and local government entities, the Chicago Public Schools were persuaded to obtain $1 billion of needed ten-year financing not through the time-and-tested route of a simple ten year bond sale but the supposedly cost-saving mechanism of issuing a floating-rate bond and swapping it into a fixed rate. An impressive, expert-vetted analysis of the deal by the Chicago Tribune estimated that the school authority has in fact incurred $100 million in present-value losses on that $1 billion bond issue.

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Bill Black: The New York Times Thinks Jailing Banksters Would Cause a “Bind”

Yves here. Bill Black continues to heap well-deserved scorn on efforts to defend New York Fed president William Dudley’s revealing performance in Senate testimony last week. In its efforts to pretend that the New York Fed can’t possibly be expected to regulate, the Grey Lady goes beyond the usual hoary canard that jailing banksters is just too hard (as in trying to say that what they perpetrated didn’t break any laws, when plenty of writers, such as Charles Ferguson, long form in Predator Nation, and yours truly, among plenty of others, have cited both legal theories and fact sets that show the reverse). The additional bogus claim is….drumroll…that keeping banks out of criminal and improper conduct is somehow inconsistent with making sure they “operate successfully”. In other words, the Times is effectively saying that banks have become so dependent on criminal and near-criminal conduct as profit sources that regulators dare not deprive them of that out of fear of weakening their financial performance.

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