Weil on Finance: Wall Street Disgrace

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, View fans. Here is some of what I've been reading this morning.

What you don't know about managed-futures funds can cost you

This story by Bloomberg News investigative reporter David Evans is bound to have an impact. It's about managed-futures funds, a little-known area of alternative investing. Here's the gist: Customers invest their money and receive little to none of the profits, because they get eaten up in commissions, expenses and fees. One fund he profiled was Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Spectrum Technical LP. It made about $490 million in trading gains and interest income during the 10 years ended in 2012, while investors wound up losing about $8 million. This sort of thing is commonplace for the industry. Bart Chilton, a member of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, says he hadn't been aware of the high costs for investors, even though the CFTC oversees managed futures.

A ridiculous WSJ editorial about Apple's taxes

From the Wall Street Journal's editorial page: "Senate investigations kingpin Carl Levin (D., Mich.) loudly accused Apple in May of being `the Holy Grail of tax avoidance,' whatever that means, and the folks at the Securities and Exchange Commission quickly followed orders. The resulting SEC investigation of the tech maker's tax strategies has now cleared Apple of wrongdoing. Could it be that there was never any evidence behind Mr. Levin's smears?" For heaven's sake, the SEC didn't investigate Apple's tax strategies. The SEC reviewed Apple's fiscal 2012 annual report, including how the company accounts for taxes under generally accepted accounting principles. But that has nothing to do with whether the tax strategies are allowed under the tax code or whether they should be -- which are the questions Levin went after. The editorial's headline said "an SEC investigation approves the company's overseas tax strategies." The SEC did nothing of the kind.

Don't read this unless you have $5 million of assets or more

OK, go ahead if you must. Barron's has this weird blog that can be a hoot to read called Penta Daily, which it bills as "insights and advice for families with assets of $5 million or more." In other words, people with serious, high-class problems. For example, what are you supposed to do if your daughter hopes to be on the Canadian Olympic equestrian team someday, and your family badly needs to take her to Palm Springs, California, for training, but she also needs to keep up with her schoolwork? Easy! Bring a private tutor along for the trip: "The family paid for his hotel and all expenses. He tutored Monday and Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and then 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesday. The client was billed by the agency at Travis' usual rate of $60 an hour; the family paid for his entire time away from home. `I taught all the needed subjects,' he recalls. `I became part of the family. I dined with them. I watched the (daughter's horse jumping) competitions. The interpersonal connection is something I love. I'm with them long-term, seeing the (student's) growth.'"

Carl Icahn is tweeting his book again

This time he said he bought almost 6 percent of Talisman Energy Inc., a Canadian oil producer. Word that something was afoot may have leaked ahead of time. "The revelation came after days of speculation that an activist shareholder was buying up a position in the company, which had lifted the stock about 11 per cent since the start of the month," Toronto's Globe and Mail said.

Brilliant, now China is lecturing the U.S. over the debt ceiling

From Hong Kong's South China Morning Post: "A senior Chinese official yesterday voiced concern over a looming deadline for raising the U.S. debt ceiling, saying the `clock is ticking' to avoid a default that could seriously damage China's economic interests. `As the world's largest economy and the issuer of the major reserve currency in the world, it is important for the U.S. to maintain the creditworthiness of its Treasury bonds,' vice-finance minister Zhu Guangyao said. `It is important for the U.S. economy as well as the global economy.'"

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