Yes, I’m alive! I’m terribly sorry for the extended silence, but I’ve had some big changes going on in my personal life and have been out of the loop for a while (honestly, my feed reader needs to start reading itself–I have over 1,000 unread posts when looking at just 4 financial feeds). So, here’s what I haven’t had a chance to post…
1. I totally missed the most recent trainwreck of a P.R. move at Citi (NYSE:C). There is so much crap going on around Citi… I really intend to write a post that is essentially a linkfest of Citi material that stitches together the narrative of how Citi got into this mess and how Citi continues to do itself no favors. There was also a completely vapid opinion piece from Charlie Gasperino that said absolutely nothing new, save for one sentence, and then ended with a ridiculous comparison that was clearly meant to generate links. I’m not even going to link to it… It was on the Daily Beast, if you must find it.
2. I haven’t really had the opportunity to comment on the Obama administration’s overhaul of the financial regulatory apparatus. Honestly, it sucks. It doesn’t do much and gives too much power to the Fed. You’d think that after that recent scandal within the ranks of the Fed there would be a political issue with giving it more power. Even more interestingly, all other major initiatives from the Obama administration have been drafted by congress. Here, the white paper came from the Whitehouse itself. That won’t do too much to quiet the critics who are claiming that the White House is too close to Wall St. Honestly, if one is to use actions instead of words to measure one’s intentions, then it’s hard to point to any evidence that the Obama administration isn’t in the bag for the financial services industry.
3. The Obama administration did an admirable job with G.M. and Chrysler. They were both pulled through bankruptcy, courts affirmed the actions, and there was a minimal disruption in their businesses. Stakeholders were brought to the table, people standing to lose from the bankruptcy, the same people (I use that word loosely–most are institutions) who provided capital to risky enterprises, were forced to take losses, and the U.S.A. now has something it has never had: an auto industry where the U.A.W. has a stake and active interest in the companies that employ its members. Perhaps the lesson, specifically that poorly run firms that need to be saved should cause consequences for the people who caused the problems (both by providing capital and providing inadequate management), will take hold in the financial services sector too–I’m not holding my breath, though.
4. Remember this problem I wrote about? Of course not, that is one of my least popular posts! However, some of the questions are being answered. Specifically, the questions about how and when the government will get rid of its ownership stakes, and at what price, are starting to be filled in. It was rather minor news when firms started paying T.A.R.P. funds back. However, the issue of dealing with warrants the government owns was a thornier issue. Two banks have dealt with this issue–Goldman purchased the securities at a price that gives the taxpayers a 23% return on their investment and JP Morgan decided that it would forgo a negotiated purchase and forced the U.S. Treasury to auction the warrants.
On a side note: From this WSJ article linked to above, its a bit maddening to read this:
The Treasury has rejected the vast majority of valuation proposals from banks, saying the firms are undervaluing what the warrants are worth, these people said. That has prompted complaints from some top executives. [...] James Dimon raised the issue directly with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, disagreeing with some of the valuation methods that the government was using to value the warrants.
If I were on the other end of the line, my response would be simple:
Well, Jamie, I agree. The assumptions we use to value securities here at the U.S. government can be, well … off. So, we’ll offer you what you think is fair for the warrants if you’ll pay back the $4.4 billion subsidy we paid when we initially infused your bank with T.A.R.P. funds.
Actually, I probably would have had a meeting with all recipients about it and quoted a very high price for these warrants and declared the terms and prices non-negotiable–does anyone really think that, in the face of executive pay restrictions, these firms wouldn’t have paid whatever it would take to get out from under the governments thumb? As long as one investment banker could come up with assumptions that got the number, they would have paid it. Okay, that’s all for my aside.
5. I’m dreadfully behind on my reading… Seriously. Here’s a list of articles I haven’t yet read, but intend to…
- The Science of Economic Bubbles and Busts — A scientific look at bubbles, specifically the psychology.
- Sheila Bair, FDIC, and the financial crisis — A profile of Sheila Bair. I find the New Yorker profiles very good and nearly impossibly long.
- Rich Harvard, Poor Harvard: Vanity Fair — An interesting look at Harvard and how its fortunes interplay with its endowment and its in-house money manager.
- Prophet Motive — A profile of Nouriel Roubini. My gut tells me he’s a case study in being more lucky than right, but I haven’t read it, so who knows.
- The Way We Live Now – Diminished Returns — A NY Times article whose title makes too much sense to pass up!
- Confessions of a Bailout CEO Wife — As close as I’ll ever get to US Weekly.
- What Does Your Credit-Card Company Know About You? — Ugh. My gut tells me too much. As a Consumerist reader, I think I know what this is, but we’ll see.
- At Geithner’s Treasury, Key Decisions on Hold — An article that got a lot of play as a good case study.
- Paulson’s Complaint — Paulson claiming Lehman didn’t cause the huge problems in the markets and economy that followed its bankruptcy. I don’t buy it.
- The Crisis and How to Deal with It — A weird multi-person article in the New York Review of Books.
- The New York Fed is the most powerful financial institution you’ve never heard of. Look who’s running it — A Slate article by Eliot Spitzer. I admit to not really get the Fed system.
- Tracking Loans Through a Firm That Holds Millions — A look at a servicer, I believe.
- Flawed Credit Ratings Reap Profits as Regulators Fail — Wow. Based on the title, I must have dangerously low blood pressure that needs boosting!
- The formula that felled Wall St — Another look at Gaussian Copula, I think. Felix, also looked at this.
- Peter Orszag and the Obama budget — Another New Yorker profile.
- Geithner, Member and Overseer of Finance Club — A NY Times profile of Tim.
- HMC Tax Concerns Aided Federal Inquiries — Interestingly, an article that got national press, is an investigative piece, and deals with finance from a college newspaper!
- Treasury Chief Tim Geithner Profile –Portfolio profile of Tim. I’ll know everything about him by the end of this list.
- Lewis Testifies U.S. Urged Silence on Deal – I really don’t know about this situation. I want to read up and understand all the details.
- The Wail of the 1% — Honestly, not sure. Talking about the plight of the rich?
- Economic View – Why Creditors Should Suffer, Too — The title makes me want to read this. Confirmation bias, perhaps?
- How Bernanke Staged a Revolution — A profile of Ben Bernanke by the WaPo.
- 5 Ways Companies Breed Incompetence — Just five?
- Ten principles for a Black Swan-proof world — An opinion piece from the FT by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
- A New Era for Financial Regulation — Megan McArdle looks at the proposed regulatory structure. Honestly, I don’t read her, so I’m skeptical about this piece.
- U.S. Plan to Stem Foreclosures Is Mired in Paper Avalanche — Not sure. One of the longer NY Times pieces.
- Bill Gross of Pimco Is on Treasury’s Speed Dial — A profile of Pimco’s role in fixing the financial problems, conflicts, etc.
- Congress Helped Banks Defang Key Rule — Another fix for low blood pressure.
- Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers – The Case for Financial Regulatory Reform — OpEd by Geithner and Summers.
- SEC Chief Strives To Rebuild Regulator — An article on the problems at the S.E.C.
- A Daring Trade Has Wall Street Seething — A writeup of how a small firm worked the system to make money. Should be interesting.
- President’s Economic Circle Keeps Tensions at a Simmer — An interesting case study on how Obama’s economic team works.
- Back to Business – Banks Dig In to Resist New Limits on Derivatives — Hey! We’re paying banks to spend money to lobby ourselves to not regulate them so they can profit off of our money! Sweet!
I hope to get more time to post in the coming days. Also, I am toying with the idea of writing more frequent, much shorter posts. On the order of a paragraph where I just toss out a thought. Not really my style, but maybe it would be good. Feedback appreciated.