The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is investigating whether high-frequency traders have established controls to ensure their algorithms don’t malfunction and cause broader harm to markets.
Finra sent letters this week to about 10 trading firms asking nine detailed questions about how they use and deploy algorithms, according to George Smaragdis, a spokesman for the U.S. brokerage industry’s self-regulator. Finra had expressed concern about how firms supervise trading algorithms after Knight Capital Group Inc. bombarded exchanges in August with mistaken orders that cost the company $400 million.
The examination, described in a letter on Finra’s website, as part of an effort to explore technology controls more deeply, according to exam priorities the Washington-based regulator published in January. Finra asks firms in the letter to disclose whether they use kill switches to halt individual algorithms and under what conditions they would shut off trading.
“In light of several high-profile algorithmic trading failures that caused significant market disruption in 2012, Finra continues to be concerned about how firms are supervising the development of algorithms and trading systems,” the regulator said in a document laying out examination priorities for this year.
Top Senate, House Tax Writers Predict Passage of Code Rewrite
A tax code rewrite has a greater than 50 percent chance of passing, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Republican from Michigan.
Speaking at an Economic Club luncheon in Washington, Camp said the bill would probably start first in the House. Baucus said “tactics” concerning its passage haven’t been decided.
Camp has released draft legislation on international taxation, small businesses and financial products. Baucus has begun a series of closed-door committee meetings on rewrites.
Morgan Stanley Says Leverage Ratio Missed Proposed Minimum
The company’s supplementary leverage ratio, a gauge of capital to total assets, was 4.2 percent in the second quarter, below the proposed 5 percent minimum, Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat said on a conference call with analysts yesterday. The ratio at Morgan Stanley’s deposit-taking bank subsidiary was above the proposed 6 percent minimum, she said.
Morgan Stanley will exceed both requirements by 2015, Porat said. The company announced plans earlier in the day yesterday to buy back $500 million in stock, and Porat said the firm’s plan to reach 5 percent by 2015 includes further capital returns to shareholders.
While banks would have more than four years to comply, lenders may have to retain some capital to meet the requirements that they otherwise could pay out through dividends or share repurchases. Chief Executive Officer James Gorman has said his plan to boost return on equity to 10 percent by next year depends on regulators allowing the firm to return a “reasonable” amount of capital to shareholders.
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South Korea Indicts Chaebol Head in Tax Evasion Crackdown
Seoul prosecutors indicted the head of CJ Group, a South Korean food and entertainment group, for tax evasion and embezzlement as part of a government drive to crack down on corporate crime.
Lee Jay Hyun, the 53-year-old chairman of the group, was charged yesterday after an investigation that started in May, according to the prosecutors. The group is the country’s 14th-largest chaebol, the conglomerates that dominate South Korea’s economy.
President Park Geun Hye pledged to crack down on tax evasion and the country’s tax agency began 23 separate investigations in May.
Lee avoided 54.6 billion won ($49 million) in taxes and misappropriated 96.3 billion won in company assets, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said in a statement yesterday. Lee had used a CJ Group unit to provide collateral and guarantees for property purchases in Japan, according to the statement.
Dow Loses Appeal of $84.5 Million Fine in Rubber Cartel Case
Dow Chemical Co. (DOW) failed to overturn a 64.6 million-euro ($84.5 million) antitrust fine in a rubber cartel after a European Union court rejected arguments that it shouldn’t be liable for the actions of subsidiaries more than 10 years ago.
The EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg rejected the appeal in a ruling yesterday.
The commission, the 27-nation EU’s antitrust regulator, in November 2006 fined five companies 519 million euros for rigging prices of synthetic rubber in a cartel that lasted from at least 1996 to 2002. Bayer AG escaped a fine after it tipped off the EU about the cartel.
Dow said in a statement that it didn’t participate in any of the wrongful conduct and that it was disappointed with the ruling.
The case is: C-499/11 P, Dow Chemical and Others v. Commission
Goldman Sachs Witness Says Tourre Didn’t Disclose Paulson Role
The Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) employee who ran the firm’s mortgage correlation trading desk testified that Fabrice Tourre failed to tell investors about the role of Paulson & Co. in the deal at the center of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud case against him.
The SEC sued Tourre and Goldman Sachs in 2010 over the transaction. Paulson, run by billionaire John Paulson, used the deal to bet against mortgage-backed securities. Investors on the other side of the bet lost more than $1 billion. New York-based Goldman Sachs paid a then-record $550 million to settle the case.
Jonathan Egol, now a Goldman Sachs managing director, told jurors in Manhattan federal court yesterday that he is “not aware of any” disclosures to investors that Paulson, a New York hedge fund, helped select the mortgage-backed assets underlying Abacus 2007-AC1, a synthetic collateralized debt obligation.
Egol said Tourre did make sure to tell a superior that Paulson helped pick the portfolio of 90 subprime mortgage-backed securities when Goldman’s money was at risk.
The SEC sued Tourre after dropping a plan to file claims against Egol, according to interviews with SEC enforcement staff conducted by the agency’s inspector general, which were made available to Bloomberg News through a Freedom of Information Act request. Egol testified July 17 that Tourre was the Goldman Sachs employee primarily responsible for the Abacus transaction.
Earlier this week, SEC lawyer Matthew Martens found himself sparring with his own witness, Paolo Pellegrini, 56, a former Paulson executive who claimed the agency intimidated and tricked him in its investigation into the deal at the heart of its civil fraud case against Tourre.
At one point Pellegrini disavowed testimony he’d given in a 2008 deposition, in which he said he didn’t recall telling a key participant in the transaction that Paulson planned to take a short position. Pellegrini said he thought he was being tricked at the deposition and was scared.
Later, with the jury and the witness outside the courtroom, Martens told U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest that Pellegrini’s claims of being scared at the deposition were “garbage” and “utter nonsense.”
The case is SEC v. Tourre, 10-cv-03229, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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Isaac Says U.S. ‘Needs’ Big Banks to Compete Globally
William Isaac, chairman of Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB) and a former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., talked about the outlook for U.S. banks and financial regulation.
Isaac spoke with Tom Keene, Sara Eisen, Scarlet Fu and Joshua Green on Bloomberg Television’s “Surveillance.”
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Bernanke Testifies on Economy, Policy to Senate Panel
In wide-ranging remarks, Bernanke touched on topics including quantitative easing, the U.S. housing market, the Volcker rule, too-big-to-fail banks, financial regulation and the Basel III accords.
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Levitt Says White House Soft on Financial Regulation
Arthur Levitt, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, discussed the Obama Administration’s role in financial regulation. Levitt talked with Bloomberg’s Tom Keene and Michael McKee on Bloomberg Radio’s “Bloomberg Surveillance.”
For the audio, click here.
Gorman Says He’s Encouraged by Merrill’s Higher Margin
James Gorman, chief executive officer at Morgan Stanley, talked about his company’s second-quarter profit, banking regulation and Federal Reserve policy.
He spoke with Erik Schatzker on Bloomberg Television’s “Market Makers.”
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Comings and Goings
SEC Nominees Stein, Piwowar Approved by Senate Banking Committee
The U.S. Senate Banking Committee approved the nominations of Michael Piwowar and Kara M. Stein to be members of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The committee approved the nominees by voice vote yesterday along with a full five-year term for SEC Chairman Mary Jo White, who is currently serving the remainder of a term vacated by her predecessor Mary Schapiro. The nominations now move to the full Senate, where they may be approved before lawmakers leave for the August Congressional recess.
Stein and Piwowar would join the SEC as it adapts to a new agenda under White, who says the agency’s rulemaking priorities are prescribed by the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 and the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act of 2012.
Stein, 49, would replace Elisse B. Walter as a Democratic commissioner and Piwowar, 45, would succeed Troy A. Paredes as a Republican appointee on the five-member commission.
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