Weil on Finance: Berkshire Billionaires

Howdy, View fans. Time for your morning links. Here is a look at some of my breakfast reading today.

Howdy, View fans. Time for your morning links. Here is a look at some of my breakfast reading today.

What if Obama picks someone other than Janet Yellen for Fed chief?

It would drive her supporters batty. But it could happen, writes Andrew Ross Sorkin in his New York Times column today. The dark horse contender for the post is former Fed Vice Chairman Donald Kohn, now that Larry Summers has withdrawn his name from consideration amid opposition from Senate Democrats: "If President Obama had hoped to nominate Mr. Summers based on his experience handling crises, Mr. Kohn may fit the mold even better than Ms. Yellen, who succeeded Mr. Kohn when he retired," Sorkin says. Even so, the scenario seems unlikely.

The battle over new rules for lease accounting

Tom Selling, who writes the Accounting Onion blog, takes on the Financial Accounting Standards Board over its latest efforts to change the rules for how leases get reported on companies' financial statements. The standards in this area have been a mess for decades and are easy for companies to get around. That's why airlines, for instance, tend not to have many airplanes on their balance sheets, even if they own them in substance. Selling makes the case that the FASB's latest proposal wouldn't be an improvement and that the board needs to take a fresh look.

The latest drip of London Whale news

Here we go again. The news today is that JPMorgan Chase & Co. will admit "wrongdoing" -- a term that has no particular meaning -- when it settles with the Securities and Exchange Commission and other regulators over their probe into the London Whale trading debacle. As everyone following these sorts of deals should know by now, that's not the same as admitting liability for violations of specific rules or laws. By all indications, JPMorgan won't admit liability for anything -- just pay a fine and move along. Separately, the two former JPMorgan traders who were criminally charged in August in connection with the trading scandal have now been indicted by a grand jury. They, of course, won't be offered the option of admitting "wrongdoing" in exchange for having their cases dismissed.

Another hidden billionaire discovered

His name is Stewart Horejsi of Paradise Valley, Arizona. His family business distributed hydrogen and oxygen tanks. And along the way he accumulated 4,300 Class A shares of Berkshire Hathaway, which makes him worth at least $1.1 billion. He started buying them in 1980 for $265 each. Richard Teitelbaum of Bloomberg News says there undoubtedly are more Berkshire billionaires out there like him that we don't know about.

Treasury tells Elizabeth Warren to buzz off

The proprietor of Naked Capitalism, who writes under the pen name Yves Smith, doesn't like the replies that the Treasury Department sent to Senator Elizabeth Warren in response to her questions about things like subsidies for too-big-to-fail banks: "One of the aggravating facts of life in bureaucracies is having to contend regularly with misrepresentation. And I don't mean faux friendly corporate bromides like `We're here to help,' but weaselly, technically accurate but substantively misleading statements. A Treasury reply to some questions from Elizabeth Warren is a classic in this genre."

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    Jonathan Weil at jweil16@bloomberg.net

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