January 28, 2008

There were some very interesting tid-bits of news today. Naked Capitalism posted an article regarding some of the unintended consequences of Credit Default Swaps. I have commented on this news more thoroughly on the PrefBlog CDS Primer Post.

And the SocGen Futures Fiasco continues its fascination:

Europe’s largest futures exchange queried the bank about its trades as early as November.

“Eurex was alarmed by the size of the positions,” Prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin said at a press conference today, citing Kerviel. He said the trader was able to explain away the concerns.

Jean-Pierre Mustier, chief executive officer of Societe Generale’s corporate and investment bank, said on a conference call yesterday that trades by Kerviel that exceeded limits had been caught by the bank’s back office before.

“He would admit he had made a mistake, the transaction would be canceled and he would replace it by another one that would be controlled by another department,” Mustier said. “He wasn’t making more mistakes than other traders.”

The case has raised fresh doubts about risk management at the world’s biggest financial institutions and prompted calls for increased disclosure from French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He also suggested top managers should bear a greater share of the blame.

“When someone is very highly paid, even when it’s probably justified, you can’t avoid responsibility when there’s a major problem,” Sarkozy told reporters today after giving a speech outside Paris.

“There was clearly a fault in the bank’s control systems,” said Jean Peyrelevade, a former CEO of Credit Lyonnais and a member of the board of Barings when Leeson’s losses brought down the bank.

It pains me to have to quote Sarkozy actually saying something sensible on a topic related to capital markets, but hey – even a stopped clock is right twice a day!

Apparently, Kerviel didn’t take his vacations:

He took only four days off last August and postponed a vacation at the end of the year, Societe Generale said. Banks often make trading staff take time off so any concealed positions will become evident in their absence.

… and, although I can no longer find the link, was mentioned somewhere as having a departmental password that gave him some information. Well … maybe a departmental password is acceptable for access to the page that provides information about the staff Christmas party, but I can’t see any other rational use! And, of course, there’s the “calendar of the controls” issue that I mentioned on Friday.

There’s no real information available. It’s in the bank’s interest to make this guy out to be a combination of Einstein and Satan … it’s not in their interest to provide a full and dispassionate account of how the little accident occurred. This is particularly the case since given the short period of time since the discovery, the only people who really have a thorough knowledge of the situation and industry comparables are the ones with their asses on the line.

But really, it’s sounding to me more and more like everybody involved in the policy-making for the controls, from the department manager to the risk committee of the board of directors, now has the onus to explain why they should be allowed to keep their job.

Naked Capitalism also ruminates on the bond insurer bail-out and the failure of the ratings agencies to update the status of their reviews:

there is every reason to expect the rating agencies to knuckle under if Dinallo can raise a modest amount of dough, even as little as, say, $2 billion. The agencies through their mistakes have now created the situation where they could be the ones to Destroy the Financial World as We Know It. They will take any route offered to keep from pushing the button, in the hopes that either the economy will miraculously recover or other events will lead to credit repricing, so that the eventual downgrade of the insurers has far less impact than one now.

I still don’t think a bailout is likely to succeed, despite the considerable costs of a bond guarantor downgrade. But the fact that the rating agencies will probably go along with any remotely plausible scheme means that a smoke and mirrors version might be put into place.

With respect to this particular tale, it is fascinating to learn that JPMorgan has increased its Ambac stake to 7.7% from 5.4%.

And, in news that will be not be welcomed by those speculating that BCE / Teachers will succeed, another LBO in the States has bitten the dust … but for a novel reason:

Blackstone Group LP’s $6.6 billion leveraged buyout of credit-card payments processor Alliance Data Systems Corp. may collapse because bank regulators have placed “unacceptable” requirements on the acquisition.

Alliance Data plunged 35 percent in New York trading today after Blackstone said conditions requested by the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency would impose “unlimited and indefinite” liability on the firm. It will try to keep the deal alive, the New York-based company said in an e-mailed statement.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. also regulates Alliance Data because it operates an industrial bank. Before today, Alliance Data shares had dropped more than 10 percent four times since Nov. 29 on speculation the transaction will be reworked or abandoned. Three times Alliance Data issued public statements that the two sides were working to complete the deal.

Now, I don’t believe that banking regulators have any direct involvement in BCE / Teachers, but this deal’s collapse seems to have had a ripple effect anyway! BCE was down $1.34 on the day, to close at $34.95.

The TSX is late again with my daily prices. The indices (and HIMIPref™) are being updated at various odd hours, but will be unavailable on a daily basis until the data becomes available at a reasonable time.

4 Responses to “January 28, 2008”

  1. kaspu says:

    very nice article about you in the the Globe today. No mention, however, about your brilliant assiduous readers…..

  2. adrian2 says:

    Hi James,
    I’m experiencing withdrawal symptoms due to the missing daily “Major Price Changes” and “Volume Highlights”. I understand TSX is late with the data, but would it be too much to ask to backfill the tables even with a delay of a day?

  3. jiHymas says:

    Kaspu – yes, I was very pleased to see those buckets of ink! I may get even more Assiduous Readers!

    Adrian2 – OK OK OK! Tell you what … if I don’t have today’s prices at the time I should, I’ll update yesterday’s data instead. Does that work for you? Also, FYI … you will note that the HIMIPref™ Indices data is getting closer and closer to current. When I catch up, I’ll be able to prepare these tables programmatically – except for snide comments – which will make preparation EASY!

  4. adrian2 says:

    Thanks, James, that would work fine for me.

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