Weil on Finance: Easy Money Wins
Happy Monday, View fans. Here's a look at some of my breakfast reading this morning.
Joshua Brown at Reformed Broker had a couple of posts this past weekend that, taken together, reflect what's probably on the minds of a lot of investors: The market is starting to look frothy again, but the flood of easy money from central bankers is too powerful to resist. On Saturday he wrote: "Chilling signs of a market top." The next day his headline was "Lesson: Don't Fight the Global Fed." He makes a good effort at reconciling the two notions here: "If the entities in control of trillions of dollars all want asset prices to be higher at the same time, what the hell else should you be positioning for?" He adds: "I know, I know, this will end badly. Someday."
Earnings spin is out of hand again
Gretchen Morgenson weighed in on one of my pet subjects: the resurgence of corporate news releases highlighting earnings before bad stuff. One of my all-time favorites in this genre goes back more than a decade, when Waste Management Inc. excluded truck-painting expenses from its nonstandard earnings metrics on the grounds that painting trucks was a one-time expense. For her favorite, she cites Homestore.com, a dot-com that crashed in 2001, which lauded the "share of mind" it enjoyed among its customers. And then there is Twitter Inc., the latest poster child for hot profitless companies that look great if only you focus on their preferred earnings measurements.
Banks banning traders from chat rooms ?
Jenny Strasburg of the Wall Street Journal reports that: "Big banks are considering blocking employees from computer chat rooms that have become pervasive tools of the modern trading floor, but which face mounting scrutiny from regulators as potential venues for collusion and market manipulation." The impetus is obvious: the investigations into Libor and other market-rigging have turned up a lot of conversations that hurt the banks with regulators and prosecutors. It would be nice to see the banks come out and tell their employees not to collude or manipulate markets. Instead the message from the top seems to be that they shouldn't leave an evidence trail. I'm not sure how practical it would be to block chat rooms, either. Traders still have to communicate quickly with each other. Are they going to ban e-mail and phone conversations, too?
On the trail of fraudsters whose liability for some reason can be proven only by a preponderance of the evidence
Federal prosecutors asked a judge for $863 million in damages in their case against Bank of America Corp.'s Countrywide unit, which was found liable last month by a jury in Manhattan for defrauding Fannie and Freddie Mac. The bank's fraud was "simple but brazen," prosecutors wrote in a court filing Friday night. "They made bad loans and they knowingly sold those bad loans as good loans to cheat Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac out of money." One thing I still don't understand about this case: If the fraud truly was brazen, why wasn't anyone charged criminally?
Accountants scamming accountants
There was a time not many years ago when securities and accounting regulators were pushing the U.S. toward adopting international accounting standards. That isn't happening now, because it finally dawned on them that there isn't much demand among U.S. companies and investors for a switch. Plus, the international standards are no better than U.S. generally accepted accounting principles. Tony Catanach writes on his blog, Grumpy Old Accountants, that the whole push toward international standards was cooked up by the large global accounting firms as a way to generate business for themselves: "This really may be the greatest accounting swindle of all times...one created by the greed and deception of large firm accountants, then forced upon the rest of us."
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Jonathan Weil at firstname.lastname@example.org