Category Archives: Investment management

SEC Commissioner Kara Stein Fighting for Tougher Bank Sanctions, Stymies Bank of America Settlement

One of the things that continue to be a source of anger in the American public is the way that banks were rescued en masse without the perps, the managers and producers in the businesses that produced toxic product facing much if anything in the way of consequences. Another is that the banks pay fines that are inadequate relative to the amount of damage that they did.

SEC commissioner Kara Stein has been using her post as a surprisingly effective bully pulpit to pressure the agency and other regulators into upping their game. It’s unusual for an SEC commissioner to play that role; the post is typically a runway for becoming either a lobbyist or a director on financial services company boards. Even more rare is that Stein is regularly crossing swords with SEC chairman Mary Jo White, who is taking a much more industry-friendly line than she promised at the time of her confirmation. It’s virtually never done to have a commissioner from the same party buck the chairman.

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Gretchen Morgenson on the Damage of Private Equity Secrecy (and a Mention of Our CalPERS Suit)

Gretchen Morgenson filed a must-read story on the range and some of the consequences of the private equity fetish for secrecy. The short version is that if the private equity industry had nothing to hide, they wouldn’t be hiding it.

Even so, Morgenson’s story is certain to be an eye-opener to readers fresh to this topic and has important revelations for even those who’ve been on this beat for a while.

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NJ Pension Fund Scandal: Chris Christie’s Nose is Getting So Long He Needs to Get a Hacksaw

If you see politics as a form of bloodsport, there’s nothing more fun that seeing a politician start attacking a reporter. That almost without exception means the charges have hit a weak spot, that the incumbent has little to no valid defense and instead starts lashing out.

In this case, it’s particularly amusing to see New Jersey governor Chris Christie as the would-be pugilist. We are seeing that while Garden State pols may be great on the offensive in bare-knucle fights, they have a glass jaw when put on the defensive.

Here, the combatants are International Business Times reporter, David Sirota, against various officials with close ties to Christie who administer state pension funds. Sirota has been making a mini-speciality of state pay-to-play scandals.

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An Accident Waiting to Happen: The $1 Trillion Leveraged Loan Market

A new article in Bloomberg gives a well-researched overview of a mess-in-the-making that regulators are choosing to ignore: the leveraged loan market. For newbies, “leveraged loans” means “risky loans to big companies”. For the most part, they fund private equity buyouts and restructurings. The juicy fees on these financings, 1% to 5% of the amount raised, versus an average of 1.3% for junk bonds, is a big reason why none of the incumbents is particularly eager to change a market that is working just fine for them in its current, creaky form.

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Investment Bombshell: CalPERS Exiting Hedge Funds

CalPERS, the largest public pension fund in the US, is widely seen as an industry leader and its practices are emulated by other public pension funds. CalPERS has just announced that it is withdrawing from hedge fund investing entirely.

Ironically, the very first post on this website, on December 19, 2006, Fools and Their Money (Hedge Fund Edition), chided CalPERS for its continued loyalty to hedge funds.

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Is New Jersey Fudging Its Pension Fund Results to Defuse a Christie Scandal?

You cannot make stuff like this up. New Jersey, in its attempt to diffuse a pension fund scandal that implicates Chris Christie (it roused him to respond in public), looks to have committed the classic crisis management blunder of a cover-up worse than the original crime.

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Philip Pilkington: The Efficient Markets Hypothesis Has Been Proved Wrong But Economists Do Not Want to Listen

Yves here. The Efficient Markets Hypothesis, along with the Capital Assets Pricing Model, is one of the cornerstones of financial economics. Pity both are wrong.

Actually, it’s worse than a pity, since financial economics informs not only how professional investors construct their investment portfolios, but similarly is the foundation for orthodox thinking among retail investors. And the Efficient Markets Hypothesis and the Capital Assets Pricing Model both understate market risk, so following their dictates leads investors to take on more risk than they intended to.

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Pump and Dump: How to Rig the Entire IPO Market with just $20 Million

How much does it cost to manipulate an entire market? Not much. And it’s getting cheaper!

It was leaked on Tuesday by “people with knowledge of that matter,” according to the Wall Street Journal, that VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers had decided in May to plow up to $20 million into message-app maker Snapchat, for a tiny portion of ownership. An undisclosed investor also committed some funds. The deal, which apparently hasn’t closed yet, would give Snapchat a valuation of $10 billion.

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Burger King the Latest to Jump on the Corporate Tax Inversion Bandwagon

A number of corporations have engaged in corporate tax “inversions” this year, which typically involves a large U.S. company merging with a smaller counterpart in a lower-tax country abroad, then moving the corporate billing address to the lower-tax country to reduce the overall tax burden. The actual headquarters and the executives go nowhere, but the nominal address changes so the company can avoid U.S. tax rates. A number of corporations in the pharmaceutical space have pulled this off in 2014, but it took the drugstore giant Walgreen to flirt with the idea (through a merger with the Swiss company Alliance Boots) for the non-financial press and the public to really catch on. Outcry actually stopped Walgreen from going through with the inversion; they merged with Alliance Boots, but kept their headquarters in the U.S. Clearly, it was easier to rally public scrutiny to a consumer-facing brand attempting to skip out on America while still using the public resources afforded any company selling their wares here.

Now, the same coalition that stopped the Walgreen inversion will get another chance with Burger King:

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Regulators Punting on “Too Big to Fail” Problem of Repo, Looking to Install Yet Another Bailout Vehicle

The post-crisis era is rife with band-aid-over-gunshot-wound approaches to deep-seated weakness in the financial system. Perversely, because the authorities were able to keep the system from falling apart, albeit via a raft of overt and covert subsidies to the perps, they’ve reacted as if all that needs to be done is a series of fixes rather than more fundamental interventions. One glaring example is a critically important funding mechanism, repo, for firms that hold large inventories of securities and/or enter into derivative positions, such as major capital markets firms like Goldman, Deutsche Bank, and Barclays, as well as hedge funds. Here, the authorities have been giving way to industry demands that will assure that repo, which was bailed out in the crisis, will be bailed out again.

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The SEC’s Mary Jo White: A Failure, or Doing Her Real Job?

Your humble blogger has to confess to having called Mary Jo White’s appointment incorrectly, based on enthusiastic readings on her from people who’d worked with her as a prosecutor, such as Neil Barofksy. But the default assumption for Obama appointees, that he’d never give anyone who’s rock the status quo a serious role, was the right assessment. White’s ten years in the private sector at Debevoise seems to have reinforced habits that aren’t serving her well, even in her role as Potemkin fixer-upper of an agency that is widely seen as timid and floundering. Not only is she failing to move regulatory measures forward quickly enough, but she’s also engaged in an unseemly amount of turf warfare with other agencies.

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Summer 2007 Deja Vu: Banks and Short Sellers Dump Risk on Chumps Via Complex Products

NC contributor Michael Crimmins flagged a Bloomberg article yesterday that described the proliferation of complex synthetic structures, depicting it as return to some of the bad risk-shifting of the blowout phase of the last credit bubble.

The amusing bit is the headline was toned down after the post was launched (you can tell by looking at the URL, which almost certainly tracks the original). The current version is the anodyne “JPMorgan Joins Goldman in Designing Derivatives for a New Generation.” But the very first paragraph flags the troubling resemblance to the last hurrah of the pre-crisis credit mania:

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