Charlie Gasparino over at the Daily Beast points out a new development in the neverending Ken Lewis saga, which if true, may mark the beginning of the end of the pristine image of Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson: "In defending former Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis against charges that he misled investors, his lawyers will call as witnesses former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and the current Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, according to people close to the matter." We hope the AG will take advantage of this opportunity to pursue justice, and expose the former Treasury Secretary and the just reconfirmed Fed Chairman who will under oath, be revealed as the true masterminds in this illegal operation.
The Syndicate Encouraging Corruption lately has been far more busy begging for money from the Tim Geithner's gargantuan budget than performing any enforcement, analysis, or regulation, case in point today's second attempt to kill any investigation into the ML/BAC merger. We hope some Congressional or Senate committee will finally find the guts to subpoena any and all communication between BACML, or any other banks, and the SEC related to this proposed settlement, to uncover just what the SEC's motives are to fast-lane yet another case involving the endless corruption on Wall Street. Luckily Cuomo is still there to pursue the punishment of real wrongdoing, since America is now completely unable to rely on the $1 billion publicly funded organization, which, at least on paper, "works in American investors' interest"... and by American investors we assume the agency does not refer to Goldman Sachs or Bank Of America. Yet judgment day for Mary Schapiro may soon be coming. Larry Doyle at Sense on Cents notes that next week FINRA's board of directors will finally address alleged wrongdoings by Schapiro. We join Larry in asking: "Will the Board realize it ultimately needs to be accountable to ALL its member firms and, by extension, to the American public at large? Will the Obama administration compel the Board to provide the transparency America so badly wants?"
We will start our market update with Greece's 5Y CDS market. The chart does not look like anything that could have a happy ending. Greece has come up with a plan to reduce the deficit which experts believe a) may not be enough b) will hard to achieve. The market obviously did not buy it either, and we have not really seen a wave of approval around Europe. If Greece wants to further they will have to start cutting entitlements and will face strikes which won't help the problem, so it leaves us most likely with some form of loan or bailout. We stick to our original thought that the EU won't let the IMF step in on their turf as it would be too humiliating, especialyl since this is the first harsh economic test for the union. The problem is that left holding the bag would probably be Germany (there are not that many candidates around the EU that can step in and help Greece, especially with Portugal and Spain waiting in line!). No wonder that today the German CDS was trading 8bps wider. As mr. Almunia said: in the EU there are no defaults! That does not bode well, because bail out or not, the problems of the EU are only beginning. - Nic Lenoir
Today's market action highlighted the perfect chaos that has engulfed the markets over the past several weeks, with most investors suddenly having no idea what to do with the mountain of cash on the "sidelines", and as a result putting most of it in Treasuries (remember the whole crash the markets hypothesis?), threatening to unwind the steepener trades that have become all the rage over the past several months. This is despite the just voted through $1.9 trillion debt ceiling increase, the ridiculous US budget deficit, looming state and municipal defaults, and the just cancelled MTA bond auction. Adding uncertainty to it all is tomorrow NFP report which as the BLS noted today, could probably see even greater revisions than the 824,000 presented before, coupled with rumblings of an incipient trade war between China and the US which could cause this major buyer of US heavy manufacturing to scale back its purchases. All of this is occurring on the backdrop of plunging markets everywhere, but especially in Europe where sovereign default risks are now spreading like wildfire, hitting stock and corporate levels without discrimination. And the cherry on top is that the contagion fears are spreading globally, with the Bovespa now closing 4.7% and the BZL plunging.
The latest casualty of New York's resurgent (not) commercial real estate market is rap mogul Jay-Z, who had previously guaranteed a $52 million loan for a Chelsea hotel, which subsequently has defaulted and is holding the artist as the responsible party for accrued interest. As a result, Jay-Z is lashing out, and in turn is suing defunct hedge fund Highland Capital (maybe he should have at least picked an adversary that can pay him), which last time we checked was still trying to offload second-lien debt at par plus. Bloomberg reports: "Carter, in his complaint filed yesterday in federal court in New York, claims Highland and co-defendant NexBank SSB are attempting to “bleed” from him funds in excess of those he and two other men pledged to pay when they guaranteed the non- principal obligations of a company planning to build a hotel in Manhattan’s west side neighborhood of Chelsea."
BlueMountain Capital, Stephen Siderow's fixed income fund, is liquidating one of its credit funds opened during the credit crisis, and returning capital to investors on the premise that the easy money has been made, and that the peak in the market is behind us. "We’ve captured most of the big opportunity,” BlueMountain co-founder Stephen Siderow, 42, said. “It isn’t going to happen again anytime soon and that’s why we urged our clients to move on.” Instead, Bloomberg reports, the fund is now urging clients to invest their money into other funds of the hedge fund, presumably the "less than bullish ones."
It's Official: Congress Passes Debt Ceiling 231-195; All Republicans, 20 Democrats Vote Against RaiseSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/04/2010 - 14:32
Congress Democrats have just signed off on the US hitting 100% debt/GDP. About 140% if one adds GSE liabilities which also should be on the budget.
"A handful of high-frequency trading firms accounted for an estimated 70 percent of overall trading volume on U.S. equities markets in 2009. One firm with such a computerized system traded over 2 billion shares in a single day in October 2008, amounting to over 10 percent of U.S. equities trading volume for the day. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this technology-dependent trading environment, and how are its risks controlled?... The high-frequency trading environment has the potential to generate errors and losses at a speed and magnitude far greater than that in a floor or screen-based trading environment." - Chicago Federal Reserve
Berkshire Hathaway Downgraded By S&P From AAA to AA+, As BRK Launches Massive $8 Billion Bond OfferingSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/04/2010 - 13:38
The rating actions are based on our view that Berkshire's overall capital adequacy, as well as that of its insurance operations, has weakened to levels no longer consistent with a 'AAA' rating and is not expected to return to extremely strong levels in the near term. Furthermore, we expect that the consolidated liquidity position of BRK will be reduced from extremely strong historical levels as a result of the acquisition. As capital adequacy and liquidity levels have declined, investment risk remains very high in our view, compounding the need for extremely strong capital and liquidity given potential investment volatility. A key concern is that BRK's risk tolerances appear to have increased, yet we believe they remain ill defined while the organization increases in complexity. Generally, we believe Berkshire has a high risk tolerance for capital volatility and investment risk. We do not believe that the company's overall risk management framework has evolved atthe same pace as the organization's complexity and that enterprise risk management practices remain in silos within each investment. - S&P
In short, in the process of acquiring Merrill, the Bank’s management misled its shareholders, the public, its board and its lawyers by concealing Merrill’s disastrous fourth quarter financial results in order to secure the shareholders’ uninformed approval of the deal. The Bank’s management then salvaged this potentially crippling situation by extracting billions in taxpayer bailouts by misleading the federal government. They did this, in part, by threatening federal officials that they would terminate the Merger Agreement based on a material adverse change—virtually the same material change they failed to disclosed to their shareholders prior to the vote. This action seeks redress under New York’s Martin Act for this conduct. - Andrew Cuomo
The Congressional debate over raising the debt ceiling by a ludicrous $1.9 trillion is now in session, with a vote expected at 2 pm. As a reminder, the Senate already passed this proposal last week. The debt "ceiling" raise by Congress seems like a done deal, but Congress will likely propose a statutory PayGo proposal to go along with the debt ceiling rise. Watch it live here on C-Span.
"The fun fact I'll give you is there is almost 70 billion sq. feet under construction right now in high rises, commercial, residential and light manufacturing. We estimate about 30 billion sq. feet is commercial, what we would consider is office space. That's a 5x5 cubicle for every man woman and child in China. They are building high rises in cities with already 15-20% vacancy rates, and those are the government's numbers. The real vacancy rates are higher... The Chinese banking system is the problem, it is loaded with bad debt...Our geostrategic position is a lot better than China. Keep in mind China imports almost all its essential materials... They send us stuff, we send them pieces of paper, who would you rather be." - Jim Chanos