Enron

On Wall Street Crime Pays - A 350% IRR To Be Exact

Previously we showed that when it comes to Wall Street's returns, the 8% market return benchmark that every first year analyst finds in Ibbotson's is for naive amateurs. With corporate lobbying returning anywhere between 5,900% and 77,500%, the real money is to be made in the buying and selling of politicians. Yet in our day and age, when information propagates rapidly and when political muppets can be exposed for the Wall Street purchased frauds they are, lobbying is getting increasingly more complicated. Which leaves one other high returning "investment", which unlike lobbying is completely riskless when one is a Wall Street firm: crime. But not just any crime, the type of crime where a firm settles "without admitting or denying guilt" and in the process is slapped with a fine that barely covers the government's legal fees. Case in point: U.S. v. Morgan Stanley, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York Case #11-6875, where MS was punished with the epic disgorgement penalty of $4.8 million. Of course, the fact that Morgan Stanley, who did not admit wrongdoing, generated profits of $21.6 million, is merely a triviality. But a useful one: it allows to calculate that on Wall Street crime does pay, and the IRR is in give or take 350%.

Enron Redux Has JPMorgan Probed For Abusive Energy Trading

While the CIO was clearly not populated by the smartest guys in the room, it appears the bank that just can't get a break has hit another snag as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is probing them over 'bidding practices' and abusive trading in California and Midwest energy markets. Via Bloomberg:

  • *FERC PROBES POTENTIAL POWER-MARKET MANIPULATION BY JPMORGAN
  • *FERC ASKS U.S. COURT TO ORDER JPMORGAN TO PRODUCE DOCUMENTS
  • *FERC SAYS PROBE COVERS JPMORGAN'S `BIDDING PRACTICES'   :JPM US
  • *FERC SAYS CALIFORNIA, MIDWEST OPERATORS CITED ABUSIVE TRADING

Is there a wondrous capital structure here for Bethany Mclean to investigate? We can only assume that JEDI Morgan is 'not the Chewco FERC is looking for'.

Frontrunning: July 3

  • The next Enron: JPMorgan at centre of power market probe (FT)
  • Former Brokers Say JPMorgan Favored Selling Bank’s Own Funds Over Others (NYT)
  • Ex-JPMorgan Trader Feldstein Biggest Winner Betting Against Bank (Bloomberg)
  • Finland Firm On Collateral As Spain Aid Terms Discussed (Bloomberg)
  • Heatwave threatens US grain harvest (FT)
  • Wall Street Is Still Giving to President (WSJ)
  • Greenberg Suit Against U.S. Over AIG To Proceed In Court (Bloomberg)
  • Crisis forces "dismal science" to get real (Reuters)
  • Hope continues to be as a strategy: Asia Stocks Rise On Expectation Of Monetary Policy Easing (Bloomberg)

JPM Hires Ex-SEC Chief Enforcement Officer To Help Prop Trading Loss Damage Control

For anyone who had doubts that the JPM CIO debacle was only just starting, the just broken news by Bloomberg that the firm has hired former SEC enforcement chief William McLucas "to help respond to regulatory probes of the firm’s $2 billion trading loss" should put all doubts to rest. Because the last thing JPM needs now is to be perceived as engaging in even more regulatory capture (its current general counsel was also previously a head of enforcement at the SEC) . Yet because it is doing precisely this, means that the offsetting cost, namely the fallout that will be associated with the CIO unwind if and when completed (and we will know for sure when the Q2 earnings are released at the latest), will be fast and furious.

Swiss Parliament Examines ‘Gold Franc’ Currency Today

A panel of the Swiss parliament is discussing the introduction of the parallel ‘Gold franc’ currency. Bloomberg has picked up on the news which was reported by Neue Luzerner Zeitung. The Swiss parliament panel will discuss a proposal aimed at introducing a new currency, or a so-called gold franc. Under the proposal, which will be debated in the lower house’s economic panel in Bern today, one coin in gold would be worth about 5 Swiss francs ($5.30), the Swiss newspaper reported. The Swiss franc would remain the official currency, the paper said. The proposal may lead to a wider debate about the Swiss franc and the role gold might again play to protect the Swiss franc from currency debasement. The initiative is part of the “Healthy Currency” campaign which is being promoted by the country’s biggest party – the conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP).

Full LightSquared Org Chart

Good news: it is not the Enron (wall of pain) org chart. Bad news: it is the SkyTerra, pardon, LightSquared one. Bad for Falcone that is and its various unsecured creditors. Good for Milbank Tweed which has just started billing hundreds of attorneys to the estate at about $500/hour on average. Expect many, many more bankruptcy professionals to get involved shortly in this fee bonanza in a desert of recent restructuring assignments. Time for Centerview to shine.

John Arnold Closing Centaurus Energy Master Fund As Central Planning Slowly Kills Off Commodity Trading

More troubles for the nat gas world, as flashing red headlines confirm the inexorable trend which started years ago with the departure of more and more hedge fund titans who no longer have an advantage in a world where only liquidity matters.

  • NATURAL GAS HEDGE FUND MANAGER JOHN ARNOLD TELLS INVESTORS HE IS CLOSING CENTAURUS ENERGY MASTER FUND - RTRS

Why is this not a surprise? Simple. As the FT reported earlier, take virtually everything you know about the nuances, the complexities, the intricacies of commodity trading... and shove it. But don't forget to thank the Chairman first, because the last bastion of "veteran advantage" in what used to be a rational trading arena, is now gone.

Visualizing Aubrey McClendon "Rehypothecation" Scheme... And The China Trail

Aubrey McClendon is no amateur when it comes to shady personal transactions involving his company, nat gas giant Chesapeake: Back in October 2008, just after the financial crisis erupted, he was forced to sell more than 31 million Chesapeake shares for $569 million to cover margin calls generated from buying CHK stock just prior on margin. The company’s stock fell nearly 40 percent the week of McClendon’s share sales. McClendon issued an apology but the company’s credibility with many shareholders suffered significantly. It looks lie the story is repeating itself, only this time the margined security is not company stock, but company loans. As Reuters reports in a must read special report "Since he co-founded Chesapeake in 1989, McClendon has frequently borrowed money on a smaller scale by pledging his share of company wells as collateral. Records filed in Oklahoma in 1992 show a $2.9 million loan taken out by Chesapeake Investments, a company that McClendon runs. And in a statement, Chesapeake said McClendon’s securing of  such loans has been “commonplace” during the past 20 years. But in the last three years, the terms and size of the loans have changed  substantially. During that period, he has borrowed as much as $1.1 billion – an amount that coincidentally matches Forbes magazine’s estimate of McClendon’s net worth." Ah yes, net worth calculations, which always focus on the assets, but endlessly ignore the liabilities (as Donald Trump will be first to admit). But ignore that: what is more notable here is the circuitous way that McClendon basically lifted himself by his, or rather CHK's bootstraps: all the loans are collateralized by his 2.5% working interest in new CHK wells drilled every year. In essence a roundabout way of generating "cash" by hypothecation, and levering into an "upside" corporate case. Should CHK however incur asset impairments, and/or if the current price of gas stays at or $2.00, then not only will CHK be gutted but so will the asset quality securing the private loans to the CEO, which on top of everything have no covenants ("There are no covenants or obligations in my loan documents or mortgages that bind Chesapeake in any way," McClendon wrote in an email to Reuters.) and thus no stakeholder protections. Is it any wonder then that CHK is getting creamed as of right now as investors are once again reminded that CHK may not quite play by the rules?

From Enron To Sino-Forest - Same Old Song

Enron --> Worldcom --> Adelphia --> Lehman --> MF Global --> Greece --> Sino Forest --> ????
We would rank these as some of the more notorious bankruptcies. These weren't normal course of business bankruptcies. These were dark and deviant. They have many similarities. Opaque and convoluted accounting and finances are common to them all.  Whether it was Jedi for Enron, repo 105 for Lehman, or off-market swaps with Goldman for Greece, they all used every trick in the book to keep debt off balance sheet and to obfuscate the risk. It is hard to watch what is going on in Europe and not believe that Greece is just the first of many. Countries and their banks. Countries and their regions. Countries and EU programs. Banks and their national central banks. Banks and the ECB. It is hard to pin down the fatal flaw, but for us it is harder to believe that there is nothing to see there and we should happily move along.

Frontrunning: March 20

  • BHP Billiton sees China iron ore demand flattening (Reuters)
  • Australia Passes 30% Tax on Iron-Ore, Coal Mining Profits (Bloomberg)
  • State Capitalism in China Will Fade: Zhang (Bloomberg)
  • Venizelos quits to start election campaign (FT)
  • Fed’s Dudley Says U.S. Isn’t ‘Out of the Woods’ (Bloomberg)
  • China Is Leading Foreign Investor in Germany (WSJ)
  • Fed undecided on more easing: Dudley (Reuters)
  • Martin Wolf: What is the real rate of interest telling us? (FT)

A Wall Street Insider's Response To Greg Smith

This cannot be the right course for us to take in the wake of such a widely recognized crisis. The lack of purposeful outrage is deafening. We cannot restore lasting stability to our economy and society unless we are willing to face up to what we did wrong, right it, and throw out the bums who put us there. Without that, the pattern of ever escalating crisis and interventionist, market-distorting solutions will surely lead to a bigger crisis still ahead... Perhaps the most important symbol of our failure to address reform are the pictures accompanying much of the coverage of Greg Smith’s letter, those of a power-posing Blankfein and Cohn, who without the Government’s accommodation might be striking a very different pose, indeed. You want to sign on to Mr. Smith’s army in joint distaste for Goldman’s lost culture? Please, be my guest. But more deserving of your enmity is the insidious co-option of the core premise of capitalism by a handful of people to ensure the banks’ undeserved survival, and their managers’ really nice lifestyle.