Tag Archives: USA

>Details of the accusations against IMF chief


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just in case you were curious, the details of the DSK accusations are below.

Here are the criminal charges filed against IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn in the Manhattan Criminal Court, NY.

He was denied bail on Monday on attempted rape and other criminal charges and prosecutors said they are investigating whether he may have engaged in similar conduct once before.

Detective Steven Lane, shield 03295 of the Detective Boro Manhattan Special Victims Squad, states as follows: On May 14, 2011, at about 12:00 hours inside of 45 West 44th street in the county and state of New York, the defendant committed the offenses of:
1. Criminal sexual act in the first degree (2 counts)
2. Attempted rape in the first degree (1 count)
3. Sexual abuse in the first degree (1 count)
4. Unlawful imprisonment in the 2nd degree-DNA-eligible MISD (1 count)
5. Sexual abuse in the 3rd degree-DNA-eligible MISD (1 count)
6. Forcible touching-DNA-eligible-MISD
The defendant engaged in oral sexual conduct and anal sexual conduct with another person by forcible compulsion; the defendant attempted to engage in sexual intercourse with another person by forcible compulsion; the defendant subjected another person to sexual contact by forcible compulsion; the defendant restrained another person; the defendant subjected another person to sexual contact without the latter’s consent; and in that the defendant intentionally, and for no legitimate purpose, forcibly touched the sexual and other intimate parts of another person for the purpose of degrading and abusing such person, and for the purpose of gratifying the defendant’s sexual desire..
The offenses were committed under the following circumstances:
Deponent states that deponent is informed by an individual known to the District Attorney’s office that defendant 1) shut the door to the above location and prevented informant from leaving the above location; 2) grabbed informant’s breasts without consent; 3) attempted to pull down informant’s pantyhose and forcibly grabbed informant’s vaginal area; 4) forcibly made contact with his penis and informant’s mouth twice; and 5) was able to accomplish the above acts by using actual physical force.

Details of the accusations against IMF chief | Reuters:

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>FT Alphaville » If algos can mis-value a book by $23.7m…


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If algos can mis-value a book by $23.7m…


… how might they be mis-valuing equities?
So asks Themis Trading on Tuesday after discovering this curio of a story from CNN about algo-bots gone wild on Amazon.
The story relates to the listing of a book called “The Making of a Fly” by Peter Lawrence on Amazon.com on April 18 for no less than $23,698,655.93 (plus shipping) — seemingly the result of an algo price war.
The price anomaly itself was unearthed by Michael Eisen, an evolutionary biologist and blogger, who logically observed this couldn’t be a one off situation.
As he noted on his blog:

What’s fascinating about all this is both the seemingly endless possibilities for both chaos and mischief. It seems impossible that we stumbled onto the only example of this kind of upward pricing spiral – all it took were two sellers adjusting their prices in response to each other by factors whose products were greater than 1. And while it might have been more difficult to deconstruct, one can easily see how even more bizarre things could happen when more than two sellers are in the game. And as soon as it was clear what was going on here, I and the people I talked to about this couldn’t help but start thinking about ways to exploit our ability to predict how others would price their books down to the 5th significant digit – especially when they were clearly not paying careful attention to what their algorithms were doing.

Cue in-depth analysis of third party vendors providing pricing algorithms for independent traders on Amazon and Ebay.
As CNN points out, individual booksellers on Amazon and other sites pay such companies for services which automatically update prices. Some work very well, “getting sellers up to 60 per cent more sales because they underbid the competition automatically and repeatedly”.
Some, as the case above illustrates, lose touch with reality altogether.
Now, as Themis Trading points out, all of this does bear an uncanny resemblance to what’s going on in financial markets thanks to the algo strategies deployed by high frequency traders.
These sorts of algos, after all, are equally prone to losing touch with the fair value of the equities they are pricing, as the notorious flash-crash of May 6 proves. Now, if you keep the parallel going, that means the example of the $23.7m fly book is nothing more than Amazon’s own equivalent of a market flash or dash.
As Themis’ Sal Arnuk observes:

So, now we have Flash Crashes and Flash Dashes outside the stock market! Is everything being priced in the universe today, not with forethought, but rather as some relation to another price, which in turn is set in relation to yet another price? All without human intervention? Is this wise? Is anyone doing the thinking? Is anyone doing “the work” in our stock markets, as well as on AMAZON? On the eve of the May 6th Flash Crash, perhaps it is wise to think about that question.

Of course, while most ‘flash crash day’ trades were cancelled in the end, we wonder how many Amazon buyers who realise they’ve been had via algo mispricing end up cancelling their trades. And how often it happens.
Secondly, does this make Amazon and Ebay the dark pools of the retail sector, with John “never knowingly undersold” Lewis the equivalent of a market exchange?
And last – is it time for a retail versus financial market structure comparison diagram? We think yes

FT Alphaville » If algos can mis-value a book by $23.7m…

>Higher Rates Likely to Keep Euro Rising – WSJ.com


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Higher Rates Likely to Keep Euro Rising – WSJ.com 
NEW YORK—Currency investors’ scramble for yield is likely to lift the euro against the dollar this week, but rising concerns about the euro-zone’s sovereign-debt crisis could curb the common currency’s gains.

Zuma Press

The European Central Bank, headed by President Jean-Claude Trichet, right, is expected to keep raising interest rates in the months ahead as the Federal Reserve leaves rates near zero.
The European Central Bank is expected to continue raising rates in the months ahead while the Federal Reserve leaves U.S. rates near zero for the rest of this year, a prospect that is boosting the euro.
The euro hurdled $1.45 for the first time since January 2010 last week, before pulling back slightly, while some big foreign-exchange banks have raised their forecasts for the common currency. Deutsche Bank and Citigroup now both expect the euro to rise toward $1.50 in coming months.
“The biggest driver for two months now has really been interest rates, interest rates and, of course the third thing being, interest rates,” said Jonathan Wetreich, a currency strategist with Brown Brothers Harriman.
As worries grew last week that Greece will eventually need to restructure its debt, and as Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Ireland’s credit rating on Friday, the euro retreated against the dollar, but only to the $1.44 area, still among the strongest levels it has seen this year.
Late Friday, the euro was at $1.4427 from $1.4494 late Thursday. The dollar was at ¥83.08 from ¥83.45.
Interest-rate differentials will likely push the euro even higher in the week ahead, analysts said.
“It’s really a question of whether the euro is getting to a valuation where it’s harder to keep going, but I think it will keep going,” said Adnan Akant, head of foreign exchange and managing director at money manager Fischer Francis Trees & Watts, a New York unit of BNP Paribas. The money manager is still betting on the euro to rise, though it’s not an “overemphasized” position, he said.
“If you clear your head and think about what’s going on, it’s still an interest-rates story,” he said.
The spread between the euro and dollar two-year swap rate touched its highest level since 2008 on Friday, and if it continues to widen, it will be euro-supportive, said Ron Leven, a strategist with Morgan Stanley.
Deutsche Bank raised its euro forecast Friday, projecting the euro will rise to near $1.50 in the next three to six months. The bank had previously expected the euro to trade within a $1.25 to $1.40 range against the dollar throughout 2011. Citigroup now expects the common currency at $1.50 over six to 12 months, up from a previous forecast of $1.45.
Meanwhile, J.P. Morgan Asset Management, one of the world’s biggest asset-management firms, has abandoned its bet on a decline in the euro against the dollar, said Robert Michele, global chief investment officer for the New York, London and Asia investment teams of J.P. Morgan Asset Management’s Global Fixed Income Group, in a phone interview Friday.
However, the euro-zone debt crisis still poses a risk for the euro, analysts said.
If Greece is forced to restructure its debt, it “is likely to send a shockwave” through the euro zone and its currency, said Brian Dolan, chief currency strategist at Forex.com.
In addition, Finland, which is the only euro-zone country that requires bailouts to be approved by parliament, held parliamentary elections Sunday. The anti-bailout True Finns Party appeared to make a strong showing, according to exit polls, and that could raise fears about whether the results will undermine a planned rescue for Portugal.
Investors continue to view Spain as the real tipping point, though it seems to be on solid ground for now because of headway on reforms and fiscal austerity measures. But market analysts are keeping a close eye on the shaky Spanish housing market, the country’s high jobless rate and its vulnerable savings banks.
If such sovereign-debt jitters still weigh on the currency this week, it could mean a mild rebound for the U.S. dollar, Mr. Dolan said.

—Min Zeng contributed to this article

>BANCO DO BRASIL EYES US LENDER


>BANCO DO BRASIL EYES US LENDER
By Samantha Pearson in São Paulo and Andres Schipani in MiamiPublished: April 11 2011 19:08 | Last updated: April 11 2011 19:08
Brazil's biggest bank by assets and profits is poised to become the first in the country's history to acquire a US retail bank, as surging profits and a strong local currency pave the way for international expansion, according to people close to the negotiations.
State-owned Banco do Brasil is in advanced talks to buy Eurobank, a regional lender based in Miami, for an undisclosed amount according to people close to the negotiations. Acquiring the bank, which has three branches in Florida, would give Banco do Brasil a vital foothold in the US market as well as access to lucrative money remittances from the state's Latin American residents. Banco do Brasil later confirmed it had begun talks with the bank.
This article can be found at:
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6596d610-6463-11e0-a69a-00144feab49a,_i_email=y.html
"FT" and "Financial Times" are trademarks of The Financial Times.
Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2011

>Text: Money to burn for insider trading suspects | Reuters


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Gotta love these jokers…

Bauer: “…I am sitting with over $20 million in the bank…. I am not worried about me going broke… If you need to pay for more lawyers, use everything you have

Bauer: “You know what, you know what, if you feel better, burn the money and I’ll give it back to you.”
Co-conspirator: “Burn it?”
Bauer: “I would burn it in a fire….”
Bauer: “We have to get the fingerprints off that money.”

– ON DISCUSSING WHAT TO DO WITH $175,000 IN CASH THAT HAD BAUER’S FINGERPRINTS ON IT

Federal prosecutors said Matthew Kluger, a former lawyer at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, regularly stole information about anticipated deals. He is accused of passing the tips to an unnamed co-conspirator, who then supplied them to trader Garrett Bauer with instructions on how to trade, according to the criminal complaint.

 Money to burn for insider trading suspects

3:37pm EDT

(Reuters) – A lawyer and a trader were charged on Wednesday with conspiring to trade on corporate merger secrets in one of the largest insider trading cases in the United States. Prosecutors said they stole confidential merger information from three prominent law firms.

Following are excerpts of telephone conversations quoted in the court complaint, secretly recorded after the FBI had searched the co-conspirator’s home and asked about suspicious trades:
BAUER AND CO-CONSPIRATOR DISCUSSING POSSIBLE ARRESTS:
Bauer: “Don’t worry about any money (name of co-conspirator). At some point in the future when this is cleared up, you will have whatever you need… I am sitting with over $20 million in the bank…. I am not worried about me going broke… If you need to pay for more lawyers, use everything you have.”
Co-conspirator: “OK, I will, I am glad you, I’m glad you mentioned that. And if I go to jail, would you … is there any chance you might help (co-conspirator’s spouse) out?”
Bauer: “Of course … You, your kids, everything, it will be set.”
DISCUSSING WHAT TO DO WITH $175,000 IN CASH THAT HAD
BAUER’S FINGERPRINTS ON IT:
Bauer: “You know what, you know what, if you feel better, burn the money and I’ll give it back to you.”
Co-conspirator: “Burn it?”
Bauer: “I would burn it in a fire….”
Co-conspirator: “You know something, that – that’s foolish.”
LATER CONVERSATION ABOUT THE $175,000:
Bauer: “We have to get the fingerprints off that money.”
Co-conspirator: “Yeah.”
Bauer: “Like you wearing gloves or something and wiping every bill down or something. But it has to be done. Or as, like, you giving it to me and me wiping every bill down or something.”
Co-conspirator: “You know something. Somebody did say, ‘Why don’t you just run it through a dish-, a washing machine?'”
Bauer: “Well, I, I don’t know. I mean, I’ve seen that in the movies but I don’t know.”
KLUGER ASKING WHAT CO-CONSPIRATOR’S ATTORNEY IS ADVISING:
Kluger: “So, what he’s telling you is that you should flip, right? That’s what, that’s what I mean all these guys do — that’s all they ever do.”
Co-conspirator: “Yeah, no.”
Kluger: “Unless you get one that used to work for the mob or something… That’s all these former prosecutors know.”
(Reporting by Dena Aubin; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

© Thomson Reuters 2011

Text: Money to burn for insider trading suspects | Reuters

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>John Paulson’s Interview With The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission


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John Paulson’s Interview With The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission
Courtesy of zerohedge.com
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John Paulson, of the eponymous uber-hedge fund did an hour-long interview with the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.  I listened to it (thanks to NYT Dealbook, although not sure where they got it from), and really, I got a kick out of it even though I think my carpal-tunnel is really flaring up now.  Anyway, without further ado, here’s what the man behind the Greatest Trade Ever has to say about the Financial Crisis…
Description: http://stonestreetadvisors.wordpress.com/wp-includes/js/tinymce/plugins/wordpress/img/trans.gifWhen asked what he saw, when, and why he decided to get short, he said “First thing we noticed was that real estate market appeared very frothy, values rose very rapidly, which led me to believe real estate markets were over valued.”  That’s pretty simple/straightforward, no?  I think it’s pretty interesting that he said the 3 homes he’s bought were all out of foreclosure, and they’d increased in value 4-5x over a 2-3 year period through ~’2005.  Apparently the impetus for the research that led to The Trade was literally staring him in the face every time he got home from work!
He explained his approach, and the way he put it makes me really think the guys who didn’t leave their trading desks & “never saw the bubble/crash coming” really had their heads buried in the sand deeper than I previously thought.  As Paulson said, “Credit markets were very frothy, very little attention paid to risk, spreads were very low, we thought when those securities correct, it could present opportunities on short side.”
Their research approach was pretty straight-forward: Focus on subprime, where they were amazed at how low quality the underwriting was, and how low the credit characteristics were on the loans.  They found the average FICO  was around 630, and over half of the loans were for cash-out refi’s, which were based on appraised, not sales prices (so “value” could be manipulated).  For many of these loans, LTV was very, very high, 80, 90, 100% with many of them concentrated in California (no surprise there).  Close to have of the mortgages they looked at were of the stated-income, no-doc variety.
Those who did report incomes had D/I ratios of > 40% before taxes and insurance.  80% of them were ARMs, so-called 2/28’s with teaser rates around 6-7% for those first 2 years, but after they reset, the rates were L+ 600bps which at the point would have doubled the interest rate on these loans, and Paulson & Co thought there was very little – if any – chance borrowers would be able to afford the higher payments.
Once the rates reset, the only thing these borrowers could do would be to sell, refinance, or default.  These were people spending > 40% of their gross income on their mortgages already, once the rate jumped up after the teaser period, they expected that many borrowers would simply default, and the price of the RMBS into which these loans were securitized would fall drastically, while the price of the protection (CDS, etc) Paulson bought on them would skyrocket.
Paulson & co also went much further in their analysis, well-beyond what many of those on Wall Street were doing.  In May, 2006, they researched growth of 100 MSA‘s and found that there was a correlation between growth and the performance of subprime loans originated within them.  As growth rates slowed, defaults rose.  From 2000-2005, they found that with 0% growth, there’d be losses of around 7% in the mortgage pools.
When they looked at the structure of the RMBS they found the average securitization had 18 separate tranches and that the BBB level only had 5.6% subordination, essentially, once losses surpassed that point, the tranches would become impaired, and if they reached 7% losses (what Paulson thought would happen once home price appreciation only slowed to 0%), the entire tranch would get wiped-out entirely.
By mid-2006, home prices not only had slowed to 0% but were actually decreasing, albeit slowly, only about 1%.  Even still, demand from institutional investors was so great, spreads tightened to 100bps. Why?  Because as Paulson went on to explain, institutional investors were buying up the BBB tranches (the lowest investment grade ones) in hoards.
While he didn’t say it, I will (for the umpteenth time!): This is what happens when institutions effectively outsource credit research to the Ratings Agencies, even though many had/have internal credit analysis groups (ahem IKB ahem).  They buy the highest-yielding security you can find that meets your investment guidelines, which meant that for many, they could only buy securities deemed by the brain trusts at the Ratings Agencies as “Investment Grade.”
Paulson started their credit fund in June, 2006, and as he explained, it wasn’t really as simple as it may seem. Historically – going back to about WWII – the average loss on subprime securities was 60bps, nowhere near what Paulson & Co expected was about to happen.  As he said “according to the mortgage people, there’d never been a default on an investment grade (IG) mortgage security.”  These same people were also of the mindset that they’ll NEVER get to the levels where the BBB tranches are impaired let alone wiped out completely.   These were also the same people who said that not since the Great Depression there hadn’t been a single period where home prices declined nation-wide.  These same people thought, worst case, home price growth would drop to 0% temporarily and then return to growth, just like before.

Why would “the mortgage people” expect anything else?  From their desks on the trading floors in Manhattan, Stamford, London, and everywhere else, things looked just peachy!  Spreads were tightening, demand for product was up, and more importantly, so were bonuses!  As far as they knew, the mammoth mortgage finance machine they’d created, based on their complex models and securities was working perfectly…
Paulson also made a distinction missed by many if not most: Everyone was looking at nominal home price appreciation, but real appreciation numbers were much different.  Going back 25+ years using real growth rates, they found that prices had never appreciated nearly as quickly as they had from 2000-2005, and that this trend was unlikely to continue for much longer, i.e. there would be a correction and then mean reversion.  Their thought was that once this correction came about, because of the poor mortgage quality and questionable assumptions/structures in mortgage securities, losses would be much worse than estimated.
Paulson was intent to make one distinction, one that must have been the cause of at least some frustration (followed by fantastic jubilation), that they did their own analysis, they weren’t really trying to attack “the mortgage people’s” views specifically.  Instead, they were trying to understand the conventional wisdom and understand why they had contrary viewpoints.  As myself and countless others have pointed out over the years since, the mortgage industry (I guess we’ll stick with calling them “the mortgage people?”) brushed Paulson off as “inexperienced, as novices in the mortgage market, they were very, very much in the minority…Even our friends thought we were so wrong they felt sorry for us…”
The mortgage people didn’t see any problems because there’d never been a default, except for one manufactured housing (mobile home) deal in the early 1990’s in California.
“The Ratings agencies – Moody’s – wouldn’t let you buy protection on securities from a particular state, because they ensured that the pools were geographically diversified, so they were essentially national pools, although California loans had the highest concentrations therein the pools correspond to the level of home sales in each state.”
What I found surprising from the interview is that Paulson actually praised the mortgage underwriting/originating practices of the big established banks like Wells Fargo and JP Morgan, which he said generally had the best underwriting standards and controls.  The worst were from the New Centuries and Ameriquests, eclipsed in their lax standards only by the mom & pop type shops who were really just sales businesses who made money on the volume of product they originated and sold to Investment Banks like Lehman and Morgan Stanley that didn’t have their own origination network.
These smaller “rogue” mortgage originators were mostly private entities who weren’t under the same scrutiny of their larger, publically-traded “competition.”  Their sales teams were compensated purely on quantity of loans originated with little-to-no care for quality.  These were the guys who routinely falsified documents, appraisals, incomes, assets and/or encouraged borrowers to do the same.  These were the kind of places that made Countrywide’s standards and controls look almost honorable by comparison.
The FCIC then asked Paulson about the infamous ABACUS debacle.  Paulson’s tone when responding to questions from the FCIC here was so, so, awesome; you could hear it in his voice, like he wanted to just say “are you guys freaking kidding me?  Seriously?!?!  REALLY?!??!” every time they asked him about how CDO’s got made.  He basically said (paraphrasing) “If ACA and IKB or Moody’s didn’t like the ~100 subprime reference securities we helped pick for the deal, they could have…not bought the deal or – get this – replaced them with ones they liked better…I couldn’t have gone short if they hadn’t gone long, they agreed on the reference portfolio, it got rated, boom, done”  It sounded like he just wanted to say something like “Hello morons?!  This is how Finance works, HELLOOO!!!”
The ABACUS conversation ended pretty awkwardly (as you might imagine), and then the FCIC moved onto asking Paulson about his Prime Brokerage relationships and what he thought about the Banks.  Interestingly (to me, at least), Paulson had much of it’s assets with Bear Stearn’s Prime Brokerage primarily because the way Bear was structured , the PB assets were ring-fenced from the rest of Bear’s assets in a separate subsidiary, so even if Bear went down, the PB assets would theoretically be safe.  The rest of Paulson’s assets were with Goldman’s PB.  When Bear’s Cioffi/Tanin-run internal hedge funds failed, Paulson saw that as the proverbial canary in a coal mine; they knew the crap that Bear, Lehman, and everyone else had on their books.  They didn’t pulled all of their cash balances from their prime brokers and set up a contra-account at Bank of New York, where, by the time Lehman went Bankrupt, they were holding most of their assets in Treasuries there.
Next, the FCIC asked him about regulators and banks and what people could (or, better, SHOULD) have done that might have prevented the crisis.  Paulson called out the Fed for not enforcing the mortgage standards that were already in effect.  He mentioned that pre-2000, no-doc loans were only given to people who could put 50% down and only represented about 1% of the mortgage market, but only a few years later, originators were “underwriting” NINJA loans with 100% LTV!
Paulson went on to explain how simple fixes, so-to-speak, just enforcing existing regulations like requiring income/asset verification, that homes were owner-occupied, and a downpayment, as low as 5% would have made a huge difference.  Most of the mortgages that failed didn’t have those characteristics.  Excessive leverage and poor understanding of the credit, problems Paulson also say brought down Bear and lehman.  They were leveraged (total assets: tangible common equity) on average, 35:1.  At that sort of massive leverage, a 3% drop in assets would wipe out every $ of equity!
Even if that ratio was brought down to 12:1 and you increase their capital ratio to 8%, the banks still couldn’t hold some of the riskier, more illiquid assets like Private Equity interests, equity tranches of CDO’s, lower-rated buyout debt from many real estate deals, and other assets that themselves were already highly-leveraged.  Adding further leverage to assets themselves already levered an additional 12:1 is just lunacy.  No financial firm should be able to do that, at max those assets should only be allowed to be levered 2:1 (similar to the max leverage for stocks due to Fed Regulation T).
He went on (this is pretty much verbatim, emphasis mine): “Under those scenarios, I don’t think either bank would default.  AIG FP was absurd and exemplified the derivative market where you can sell protection with zero collateral.  AIG FP Sold $500bn in protection with $5bn collateral, 100:1 collateral.  ACA was collateral agent, they were like 120:1 leveraged.  $50bn protection on $60mm collateral.  You have to hold collateral, we need margin requirements for both buying & selling protection.  It’s not the derivative itself that’s the problem, it was the margin requirements (or lack thereof).  We need something like Reg T (max 2:1 leverage at trade inception).  What these guys did would be like like buying $100 of stocks with $1 of equity, a tiny downward move is a huge loss of equity.  In all, these four things would have likely prevented the crisis:

  1. Mortgage underwriting standards, simple & logical
  2. Higher bank capital ratios
  3. Higher capital against risk assets
  4. Margin requirements against derivatives

Paulson was then asked about the Ratings Agencies and what role they played in the bubble/crisis.  Regular readers know where I stand on them & NRSRO regs, and no surprise, Paulson is similarly critical, particularly of the issuer-pays compensation structure, calling it the perverse incentive that it really is, despite whatever nonsense rhetoric RA executives say.
That, combined with being public (or part of public companies) and they were in this race to keep pace with their competitors, to keep up earnings growth with their derivatives business, which he called a “perverse economic incentive that may have led to their laxness in rating securities”
He went-on to explain this same – in the immortal words of Citi CEO Chuck Prince – “keep dancing while the music’s still playing” – incentive structure led the Banks to take similarly short-sighted actions as they struggled to keep up earnings, growth, and of course, bonuses.  At that point, the only way to do that was to grow their balance sheets, add more leverage to earn spread.  In Paulson’s words “Once things go up like that, you don’t see any downside, so at top of market they just weren’t looking at the downside, just upside, became more and more aggressive until they blew up.”
Paulson said the Fed certaintly could have cracked-down on lax-underwriting standards, eliminated negative-amortization loans, stated-income, 100% LTV, IO’s, etc where most of the problems developed.  On the banks and more broad financial services industry, he said “…people became delusional, ‘we can leverage AAA 100:1…’ if you had margin requirements against derivatives, AIG could have NEVER happenedIf they held higher equity against risky investments, they would have never defaulted. Constructively, that’s what Basel 3 says, 8% equity/capital and higher risk weightings for illiquid risky type assets.  I think adoption of those rules will lead to a safer financial system.”
When asked about the role of Fannie May & Freddie Mac, he pointed out the problem was largely similar to what brought down the banks and AIG: excessive leverage and poor oversight/underwriting. “They deviated from their underwriting standards as a way to gain share in alternate mortgage securities, of poor quality & higher losses.  Second, they were also massively leveraged 80-120:1 if you include on-balance sheet assets & guarantees which is way more than any financial institution should have.”
Yea, I think 120:1 leverage is just a wee bit more than prudent, just a bit though…
From this interview it seems painfully clear that those with whom the safety of the Financial System rested were in a deep coma at the helm, Bank executives, regulators, Congress, institutional money managers, all of them.   It’s clear that the nonsensical argument put-forward by Tom Arnold & Yves Smith that those who were shorting housing, subprime, etc were NOT IN ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM remotely responsible for causing the crisis.  Institutional managers were not gobbling-up BBB-rated RMBS CDO tranches because shops like Paulson & Co were shorting them. Like I said before: they wanted the highest yield they could get away with holding!
As Paulson said, anyone who looked at the data he did should have noticed the impending doom, but apparently, either very, very few people did that type or analysis or they did and just, like Chuck Prince said, kept on dancing until the music stopped.
These traders thought tight spreads indicated safety, which is just wrong in so many ways.  These are the same morons who – thought they should know better – constantly confuse correlation with causation.  Low spreads may have been historically correlated with low default and loss rates, but low spreads do not cause low losses/defaults.  Spreads, like stocks, trade as a function of supply and demand, and all low spreads indicate(d) is that, as Paulson noted, institutional managers were swallowing up as much of these MBS and derivatives (for reasons I explained above), and, like a bunch of lemmings, all thought history would continue despite significant evidence suggesting this time, it was actually different.
One other thing that critics and the public at large probably doesn’t know is that Paulson & Co had a MASSIVE internal, independent research effort wherein they did crazy things like *gasp* look at loan-level data.  Imagine that!  This enabled them to hunt for CDO and other product that contained an inordinate amount of crap for them to short.  This same work also helped them to buy RMBS/CMBS etc when the market turned in 2008 and 2009. They had done the work, and knew what they were willing to pay once it was time to go long.
I’m not saying there’s anything necessarily wrong technical, momentum, and quantitative trading strategies.  There is, however, something very wrong, and very dangerous about relying on these strategies alone while ignoring fundamentals, as evidenced by the housing crisis.  Those who did the hard work like Paulson & Co. made the greatest trade ever, while those who ignored or were otherwise blind to the fundamentals got absolutely crushed.

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>COMEX Default Or Hunt Brothers Redux? COMEX Silver Inventories Drop To 4 Year Low


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COMEX Default Or Hunt Brothers Redux? COMEX Silver Inventories Drop To 4 Year Low
zero hedge
The small size of the physical silver market is seen in the fact that at $30 per ounce, the COMEX silver inventories are only worth some $3 billion. The US government is now paying some $4 billion a day merely on the interest charges for the national debt. It is also the same value as Twitter’s new venture round of financing or Ford’s debt pay down in the first quarter.

From GoldCore
Silver Bullion COMEX Stocks at 4-Year Low as Backwardation Deepens
Gold and silver are higher after last week’s 1% and 3.5% gains in dollars. Silver is particularly strong again this morning and the euro has come under pressure as bonds in Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Greece continue to rise. While Asian equity markets were higher, European indices have given up early gains.
GoldCore
Silver’s backwardation has deepened with spot silver at $30.16/oz, March 2011 contract at $30.13/oz and April’s at $30.00/oz. While spot silver has risen nearly 1% so far today, the July 2012 futures contract was down 0.187% to $29.81/oz.

The gradual drain of COMEX silver inventories seen in recent months continues and COMEX silver inventories are at 4 year lows. Total dealer inventory is now 42.16 million ounces and total customer inventory is now at 60.68 million ounces, giving a combined total of 102.847 million ounces.
The small size of the physical silver market is seen in the fact that at $30 per ounce, the COMEX silver inventories are only worth some $3 billion. The US government is now paying some $4 billion a day merely on the interest charges for the national debt. It is also the same value as Twitter’s new venture round of financing or Ford’s debt pay down in the first quarter.

Comex Silver Inventory Data GoldCore
Comex Silver Inventory Data

Talk of a default on the COMEX is premature but the scale of current investment demand and industrial demand, especially from China, is such that it is important to monitor COMEX warehouse stocks.

The Hunt Brothers were one of a few dozen billionaires in the world in 1979 when they attempted to corner the market. Today there are thousands of billionaires in the world, any number of whom could again corner the silver market. Also, today unlike in the 1970s, there are sovereign wealth funds and hundreds of hedge funds with access to billions in capital.

The possibility of an attempted cornering of the silver market through buying and taking delivery of physical bullion remains real and would likely lead to a massive short squeeze which could see silver surge as it did in the 1970s.
NEWS:

(Financial Times) Gold ETF outflows and shifts in investor sentiment
Large outflows from precious metals exchange traded funds since the start of the year have left some analysts questioning if investor sentiment towards gold and silver could be shifting.

“Heavy redemptions from the gold and silver ETFs in early 2011 may be a sign of things to come,” said Daniel Major, precious metals analyst at the Royal Bank of Scotland.

A decline in safe haven buying interest for gold and the prospects for interest rates returning to more normal levels in the US and Europe could mean that “positive sentiment towards [gold and silver] ETFs may be fading”, according to Mr Major.

He added that if ETF inflows were to dry up or reverse, then it would be difficult for gold and silver prices to make further gains and the silver market would be “particularly vulnerable to a price correction”.

Mr Major said he did not expect “large scale selling” but he estimated that the value of holdings in all precious metals ETFs has dropped almost $10bn so far this year with withdrawals mainly coming from the gold and silver products.

Other analysts acknowledge that ETF outflows have weighed on sentiment but say that the fundamentals supporting the gold price remain intact.

Suki Cooper, precious metals analyst at Barclays Capital said that the gold market was facing “short-term headwinds”.

However, Ms Cooper also said that longer-term investment demand remains intact, given low interest rates, concerns about currency debasement, inflationary risks and rising geopolitical tensions as demonstrated by the situation in Egypt.

According to Barclays, holdings in gold ETFs ended 2010 at $98bn, a record, even though last year’s inflows at 330 tonnes were down by almost half compared with 614 tonnes in 2009.Total gold ETF holdings were 2,142 tonnes at the end of 2010, slightly below the all-time high of 2,155 tonnes reached in the middle of December.

The latest available data suggests total gold ETF holdings have fallen to around 2,166 tonnes after a record monthly outflow in January.

With the gold price down around 4 per cent so far this year, the value of gold ETF holdings has retreated to around $90.4bn.

Michael Lewis, commodity strategist at Deutsche Bank said that the rally in gold prices has gradually run out of steam over the past five months due to concerns about a turn in the global interest rate cycle.

But Mr Lewis also said these concerns were overdone and that ongoing weakness in the US dollar and further diversification by central banks should sustain a positive outlook for the gold market.

Edel Tully, precious metals analyst at UBS, noted that outflows from gold ETFs were “relatively modest” so far in February, in contrast to the heavy selling seen in January.

“This suggests to us that the bulk of the ETF holders who wanted to exit gold have already done so,” said Dr Tully.

She also warned against assuming that outflows from gold ETFs represented “absolute selling” as there was evidence to suggest that some institutional investors had been switching their exposure from ETFs into “allocated” gold (numbered bars held in bank vaults in a separate allocated account).

“The picture painted by recent persistent ETF outflows is not wholly accurate,” cautioned Dr Tully.

(Bloomberg) — Investors Boost Bullish Gold Bets as Egypt Turmoil Fuels Demand
Hedge funds are piling back into New York gold futures and options as turmoil in Egypt sent bullish bets on the metal to the highest since April 2010, government data show. Holdings in silver also increased.

Managed-money funds held net-long positions, or wagers on rising prices, totaling 145,846 contracts on the Comex as of Feb. 2, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data showed on Feb. 11. The holdings jumped 17 percent, after five straight weeks of declines.

Gold rallied 0.8 last week, the biggest price gain since December, as protests in Egypt forced President Hosni Mubarak to flee the country after 30 years in power. In January, the metal dropped 6.1 percent as an improving world economy eroded gold’s appeal as a haven investment. Prices have rallied for 10 straight years, touching a record $1,432.50 an ounce on Dec. 7.

“You’re seeing a renewed interest in gold from speculative money who put the brakes on the metal earlier this year,” said Adam Klopfenstein, a senior market strategist at Lind-Waldock in Chicago. “There’s turmoil in Egypt, and inflation is heating up. Investment advisers and money managers are ready to put their money back to work. People are more comfortable jumping back into gold after a correction.”

Gold futures for April delivery settled on Feb. 11 at $1,360.40, after rallying to a three-week high of $1,369.70 during the session.

Investments in exchange-traded products backed by gold fell to 2,019.4 metric tons as of last week, down 0.6 percent since January, when holdings plunged 3.1 percent, the biggest decline since April 2008, data compiled by Bloomberg show. ETPs trade on exchanges, with each share representing metal held in a vault. They accounted for 21 percent of investment demand last year, according to GFMS Ltd., a London-based research firm.

Silver Holdings
Bullish silver holdings by managed-money funds totaled 29,742 contracts, up 27 percent from the previous week and the highest total since November, CFTC data show. Silver settled Feb. 11 at $29.995 an ounce on the Comex, capping three straight weeks of gains.

This year, silver rose to $31.275 on Jan. 3, the highest in 30 years, before dropping as low as $26.30 on Jan. 28.

“We’re more bullish on silver than gold because of its industrial component,” said Barry James, the president of James Investment Research Inc. in Xenia, Ohio, which manages about $2.5 billion.

“After silver’s dipsy doodle, it’s creeped right back to where it started the year,” said James, who has reduced the fund’s holdings of silver and gold to about 2.5 percent from 7.5 percent in the fourth quarter. “We’re more neutral than bullish on gold and don’t expect it to pick up steam and race to a new record. The dollar will probably recover and show some strength.”

Managed-money positions include hedge funds, commodity- trading advisers and commodity pools. Analysts and investors follow changes in speculator positions because such transactions may reflect an expectation of a shift in prices.

(Bloomberg) — Gold Stalls in ‘Tug of War’ Moving Average: Technical Analysis
Gold, which has rebounded this month from the worst January since 1997, is stalling near a key moving-average, signaling a “tug of war,” said Matthew Zeman, a trader at LaSalle Futures Group.

April gold futures have closed near the exponential 50-day moving average for four straight days as a move below or above this level may signal the metal’s next direction, Zeman said by telephone from Chicago. The average is near $1,361 an ounce.

If the commodity can “breach” the level by closing higher, it can climb above the record $1,432.50 reached on Dec. 7, Zeman said. If prices don’t rally above the resistance, they will likely fall to the 200-day moving average near $1,291, he said.

“Technical traders will initiate short positions below this level, and gold can’t stage a rally until it vaults above this level,” said Zeman. “Gold is staging a tug of war.”

The last time gold posted consecutive closes near the average was in early January. After falling below the level, the metal tumbled 6.1 percent that month, the worst start to a year since 1997. Prices have rebounded as unrest in Egypt spurred investors to buy gold, historically used as a hedge against geopolitical risk.

On Feb. 11, prices erased early gains after Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president of Egypt and handed power to the military, bowing to the demands tens of thousands of protesters who have occupied central Cairo.

Gold futures for April delivery dropped $2.10, or 0.2 percent, to $1,360.40 on Feb. 11. The metal was still up for a third week, gaining 0.8 percent.

Economic Outlook
Bullion has dropped 5 percent since touching the all-time high in December, partly as improving U.S. economic data eroded demand for the precious metal as an alternative to equities.

“Gold is getting a lot of competition from other products,” Zeman said. “Equities are at multiyear highs, and interest rates and the dollar continue to rise.”

The metal jumped 30 percent in 2010, a 10th straight annual gain, as escalating European and U.S. debt boosted haven demand. The decade-long surge attracted fund managers from John Paulson to George Soros, and is now spurring central banks to add to their reserves for the first time in a generation.

Prices have also been able to stay above the 150-day moving average, near $1,315, even after the January slump, a signal that the decline was a “a healthy break,” not the start of a bear market, David Hightower, the president of the Hightower Report, said last month.

In technical analysis, investors and analysts study charts of trading patterns and prices to predict changes in a security, commodity, currency or index. The exponential moving average is a technical indicator that displays the average value of a security over a specified period of time, giving more weight to recent data.

(Bloomberg) — Gold Investment Demand in South Korea May Climb, Hyundai Says
Investment demand for gold in South Korea may advance as investor awareness increases and the price climbs to a record, according to the manager of the nation’s first gold-backed exchange traded fund, or ETF.

Investors “want it as a store of value with governments in advanced countries still having fiscal-debt problems,” said Cha Jong Do, chief fund manager of the alternative investment team at Hyundai Investments Co. The Hyundai Hit Gold ETF, which listed in November 2009, is worth $5.3 million.

Bullion soared 30 percent in 2010, advancing for a 10th year, as investors sought a haven from the European sovereign- debt crisis and weakening currencies. Lion Fund Management Co. said last month it raised $483 million for China’s first gold fund to be invested in overseas exchange-traded products.

“South Korean demand for gold-related investment products will gain steadily, and we expect gold ETFs to become a major investment product,” Cha said in a Feb. 11 interview. Gold may advance to $1,600 an ounce this year, Cha said.

Gold for immediate delivery was little changed at $1,357.63 an ounce at 10:45 a.m. in Seoul. The price, which touched a record $1,431.25 an ounce on Dec. 7, has dropped more than 4 percent this year amid signs of a global economic recovery.

Exchange-traded funds allow investors to hold assets such as precious metals without taking physical delivery and they trade like stocks on exchanges. Holdings in the 10 gold ETFs tracked by Bloomberg have dropped 3.7 percent this year.

(Forbes) — Chinese Demand For Gold Surges To Around 25% Global Production
It’s hard to believe that ordinary Chinese citizens are responsible for an increase in gold imports to China– some 5 times larger than in the recent past. But, that is what the Financial Times of London reported this past week.

For one thing China is already the globe’s largest producer. So, it has its own domestic supply of gold. Also, it suggests that possibly the Chinese are utilizing far greater amounts of their savings to purchase gold, rather than increase domestic consumption. Or that official figures of Chinese wealth are being under-stated.

Gold prices have been in a consolidation phase, trading between $1325 an ounce and $1375 an ounce for the past few months, as the dollar has been somewhat stronger in reaction to improving statistics on the US economy.

Another positive for gold is last week’s recommendation from the IMF that $2 trillion in the form of a new international currency be created out of a weighted average of several currencies to begin the replacement of the dollar as the globe’s chief reserve currency.

Gold experts point out that the recent weakness in gold has hit the price of the small mining company shares worse than the majors as speculation in gold has quieted down. The speculative interests in gold futures on the Comex has been substantially reduced. And net redemptions in the ETF GLD, has reduced its gold holdings by $2 billion or almost 4%.

So, you might say that the Americans are slightly retreating from gold as the Chinese holdings show record increases.

(FT Money) — Silver set for gains
I suggested on October 23 – when silver was trading at around $23.50 – that $31.75 was one obvious place for its next sell-off to begin, with December 22 a likely date for turns. The semi-precious metal peaked at $31.28 on January 3, within seven trading sessions of my target date.

While I would have preferred its subsequent sell-off to have gone deeper, I retain my view that silver is in for substantial gains. I reiterate my targets of $39.62 and perhaps $45.69.


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