Weil’s View on Finance
Today marks the start of a new feature where I’ll post links to news and other articles worth reading on finance, accounting, economics and capital markets. Here goes.
1. “Steve Cohen Is Not Al Capone.” So says Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins. “We just thought we'd make that clear given the popularity of comparisons in the press.” He writes that the standard rhetoric of prosecutors about how insider trading cheats the public is nonsense. “The solution is obvious: We should ban the stock market, which so nefariously incentivizes people to seek accurate information on which to trade.” (Yes, he was joking about that part.)
2. An Ugly Scenario for SAC. New York Times columnist Gretchen Morgenson says SAC Capital may have to unwind its portfolio, and she notes that the hedge fund has used leverage to fuel profits: "When Wall Street firms get a whiff of trouble at a fund whose holdings they know well, they are known to capitalize by front-running -- buying and selling in advance of the fund's forced trades, increasing its losses as it liquidates." That is what happened when Long-Term Capital Management went down in 1998. "In other words, in a liquidation, Mr. Cohen may learn how loyal, or not, the firms on which he lavishes such hefty commissions over the years will be."
3. Fannie and Freddie Finished?: Jon Laing of Barron’s says of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that “it’s highly unlikely that the common or preferred shares hold any lasting value.” (He will get no argument from me on that point.) “There is little appetite in Congress or elsewhere to permit the two government-sponsored enterprises ever again to exploit their federal charters, with the cheaper borrowing costs and implicit government backstop of their obligations, to enrich shareholders and leave the American taxpayers to pick up the pieces when the model blows up.”
4. In Defense of Multilevel Marketers. John Hempton of the investment manager Bronte Capital has been writing a lot of posts lately aimed at debunking William Ackman’s short-sale thesis on Herbalife, the multilevel marketing company that sells nutritional supplements. In this one he compares Herbalife to Pampered Chef, a unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.
5. The Rift Between Detroit and Its Suburbs. In Detroit the per-capital income is $15,261. In nearby Birmingham, it’s $67,580. Mark Niquette of Bloomberg News examines the generations-long divide between the bankrupt Motor City and its suburbs, and asks “how affluence can co-exist with poverty and whether urban areas with hollow cores can thrive.”
(Jonathan Weil is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)