Most of the major pieces of financial news all shared one thing in common this week: an air of mystery.
Was Mario Draghi a hero or a goat this week by unleashing another Whitman's Sampler of stimulus, including sending deposit rates further into negative territory?
What exactly led to the the death of "cocky, bold, seemingly indefatigable" fracking king Aubrey McClendon?
Why did one of the world's biggest hedge funds, Bridgewater Associates, hire the guy who invented the iPod to help run the firm?
Will anyone ever buy Steve Cohen's allegedly "cursed" penthouse?"
Who is the mysterious person or entity known as "The Dude" who's been freaking everyone out in Turkey with enormous trades that can be twice what the market does on an average day?
Will this column be able to avoid numerous "The Big Lebowski" references now that "The Dude" has been evoked?
Sadly, we don't have a lot of answers. (Well, except for that last one because, as you can guess, only a nihilist would be able to do that.)
When it comes to the Trade of the Week, there is one mystery that stands out head-and-shoulders above the rest of the week's news. And as The Dude would say, this a complicated case, man, lot of ins, lot of outs, lot of strands to keep in my head.
In a nutshell, the Bangladesh central bank said someone had swiped about $100 million from its account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, apparently by following all the right protocols and and using the appropriate SWIFT codes needed for international wire transfers. It sounds as if the thieves tried to launder the money through three casinos in the Philippines (potential for a good time: high). They also attempted to go back in to lift an additional $870 million, according to Bangladesh, but the Fed blocked the transaction. (If you're not into the whole brevity thing, read all about it in this in-depth piece by David Tweed and Arun Devnath.)
This caper is important for so many reasons. First, let's be honest: While we would never recommend trying this at home, you have to admit that stealing a hundred million bucks -- and attempting to steal almost a billion -- is pretty impressive! And all they needed was a SWIFT code. It makes all that hard work in heist flicks like "Ocean's 11" and "The Italian Job" seem pretty silly by comparison.
More important, it shows that despite the fact that the world's banks are practically writing blank checks to bolster their cybersecurity, the financial system is only as secure as its weakest link. And this makes you wonder if the weakest link is, in fact, the most important one.
It would be easy enough to dismiss this if it was the first time. But it's not. The Fed has been left with egg on its face before when it comes to security.
Last year, the St. Louis Fed acknowledged that hackers had manipulated routing settings at a domain-name service vendor to redirect traffic to "rogue webpages" made to look like Fed research sites. The year before that, a Briton was charged with hacking into New York Fed computers to steal names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses. He had also been accused earlier of stealing huge amounts of confidential data from the U.S. Army and U.S. Missile Defense Agency, and even breaking into NASA's computers.
Just last year, the central bank's inspector general found flaws with the Fed's Statistics and Reserves System, which collects periodic reports from financial institutions and manages their reserve requirements and term deposits.
Something's amiss here. Let's hope the inspector general is cleaning the magnifying glass as we type. And the banks, for all the stress-test scrutiny they're getting, should be making some loud noises about this. The big banks have developed such a healthy case of paranoia that one can hardly switch to premium gas these days without getting a call from the credit-card fraud department at Chase or Bank of America. If the Fed needs outside help securing its systems, that's the obvious place it should turn for tips.
Anyway, let's not drive this negative energy into the weekend, man. There is a silver lining in this, if only tongue-in-cheek. The ECB had to resort to negative deposit rates to scare European banks into taking cash out of the Eurosystem and putting it to work elsewhere. Maybe when a hundred million bucks vanishes into thin air from under the nose of the U.S. central bank, it will have an even greater effect! The Gadfly Dude abides.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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Michael P. Regan in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org
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