Weil on Finance: Hank Greenberg's Vision

Jonathan Weil joined Bloomberg News as a columnist in 2007, and his columns on finance and accounting won Best in the Business awards from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers in 2009 and 2010.
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Hello again, View fans. Here are your morning links.

More trouble for UBS in Puerto Rico

It was only last year that UBS's Puerto Rico subsidiary settled Securities and Exchange Commission claims that it defrauded Puerto Rican mutual-fund customers by concealing a liquidity crisis, artificially propping up market prices and masking its controls of the secondary market for proprietary closed-end funds that it managed on the island. Now the New York Times reports that "a number of UBS clients have been forced to liquidate hundreds of millions of dollars in holdings" in highly leveraged local municipal bond funds run by UBS "to meet margin calls. And the bank says it has begun an internal investigation into the lending practices of some of its top-producing brokers in the commonwealth." The plunge in the bond funds' values has tracked Puerto Rico's worsening economic troubles. But here's the big question: Why did UBS's Puerto Rico customers stick with UBS and keep listening to its advice in the first place?

Bill Ackman tweaks his big Herbalife short

In a letter to Pershing Square Capital Management investors, Ackman said he converted 40 percent of his fund's $1.5 billion Herbalife equity short position to long-term put options. He continues to call Herbalife a pyramid scheme. But the regulators don't seem to care, and his bet so far has been a big loser.

Government shutdown politics, explained

Paul Kane of the Washington Post has an incisive analysis of House Speaker John Boehner's predicament. He "has at his disposal the political tools to reopen the government at a moment's notice. But he would have to rely on an uneasy coalition of Democrats and a few moderate Republicans to pass a bill to fund federal agencies and national parks for the next six weeks." Doing that "would undermine his position among his members going into negotiations with the White House and Democrats over raising the federal debt limit, which Boehner and his leadership team regard as more critical than the impasse on government funding." Ultimately, it's about Boehner's own career future: "Within the increasingly right-leaning GOP caucus, Boehner might survive one big vote that relied heavily on Democratic support. But two important votes — on the government funding and the debt ceiling — with mostly Democratic backing would leave the already embattled speaker on political life support." Here's the bumper-sticker slogan: Save Boehner's job, keep the government closed.

With friends like these...

Hank Greenberg, the former head of American International Group Inc., comes to the defense of Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan Chase & Co. in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, although I doubt he helped their cause. "The global bank is now under siege by federal and state regulators," he writes, which is true. (So far, so good.) Then comes this: "What I see in New York and Washington is a regulatory culture that seems manifestly determined to make this state and nation the last places where any responsible CEO would want to do business." So there you have it, responsible CEOs aren't going to want to do business in America anymore unless we do what Greenberg says. How will the country ever survive?

Don't understand the whole Bitcoin thing?

Click for a good backgrounder by Max Raskin of Bloomberg News.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Weil at jweil16@bloomberg.net