Weil on Finance: Stakes are Low in SEC vs. Mark Cuban

Here are links to some of what I have been reading this morning.

Good morning, View fans. Here's a look at some of my breakfast reading today.

Change at the top at Intesa Sanpaolo

Intesa Sanpaolo, Italy's second-largest bank, abruptly changed chief executive officers over the weekend. Enrico Tommaso Cucchiani, resigned after less than two years. His successor, Carlo Messina, previously the head of the bank's retail division, is walking into a difficult job. The company trades for only about half of its book value. So, like most other large European banks, investors don't believe its balance sheet. Plus, the country's politics are a mess, which matters because almost all of Intesa's business is in Italy, and the bank owns a lot of Italian government bonds.

Will anybody be rooting for the SEC to beat Mark Cuban?

OK, maybe some basketball fans who don't like Mark Cuban's courtside antics will be cheering for the Securities and Exchange Commission when it faces the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks in court over an ancient set of insider-trading allegations. Ben Protess of the New York Times has a nice bit of size-and-scope in a curtain-raiser about the trial scheduled to begin today: If he loses, Cuban faces a fine of about $2 million, or about as much as he has paid in fines to the National Basketball Association.

A victory lap after a great short

Last week the SEC settled fraud claims with former officers of Universal Travel Group, a China-based travel-services concern, as well as the company itself. John Hempton of Bronte Capital, who sold the stock short and publicly exposed the company in 2010, had a couple of blog posts over the weekend looking back at what smelled rotten to him. As for the SEC fines, they look awfully small: $750,000 for the company; $125,000 for the former chief executive officer; and $60,000 for the former chief financial officer. Hempton says he wonders "if there is a risk that the court rejects the settlement," although this probably is wishful thinking.

The perils of due diligence in China

Bill Alpert and Leslie Norton of Barron's have a chilling story about two investment analysts who were arrested and remain jailed in China for their research into Silvercorp Metals, a Canadian mining company that has a New York Stock Exchange listing and a powerful local presence in China: "At the least, China's clampdown on business research means that investors will have to place their China bets with less information. The type of research...is akin to that used in the West, part of the `tire-kicking' that responsible stockpickers do before buying or selling short a stock."

Woo pig sooie, shutdown edition

A government shutdown looks unavoidable and could start as early as midnight tonight. What I don't get is why Tim Griffin, a Republican congressman from Arkansas, was holding a football at a press conference about it. He was one of about 20 House Republicans who gathered in front of the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol yesterday for a media event, according to Bloomberg News. "This is the old football strategy," Griffin said, holding a football. "When you get to where you want to be in a football game, you run out the clock." Who does he think he is, Jerry Jones? Where do we get these people?

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