Weil on Finance: Currency Traders’ Sidebets

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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Happy Hump Day, View fans. Here's a roundup of what I've been reading this morning.

The underbelly of currency trading

We don't have any names or faces showing who did what, but this is an amazing story about foreign-exchange dealers in London and the lengths to which some would go to make personal bets on the side. From Bloomberg News: "Bank employees used their mobile phones and instant-messages to transmit details of impending orders to individuals working from rented trading desks in offices on the outskirts of the U.K. capital, according to three traders who said they had witnessed the practice over a period of years. The day traders then made bets on the direction of currencies and any profit was later divvied up in cash, said two of the people, who asked not to be identified because the agreements are private." One of the people said that "weeks after one profitable trade, he witnessed a day trader handing over an envelope filled with cash to another currency dealer in the parking lot of a bar in Essex."

How much of banks' recent profits are a mirage ?

Only two months ago, Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry delivered a speech in which he warned that U.S. banks seemed to be scrimping on their loan-loss reserves. SNL Financial has an article and a bunch of charts showing that reserve levels continued to fall during the third quarter.

Criticism of the JPMorgan settlement is all ove r the place

It's hard to find anyone praising the settlement agreement that JPMorgan disclosed with various state and federal agencies yesterday, aside from the politicians themselves. The Wall Street Journal editorial page says "the Beltway plundering of bank shareholders is now official." Dennis Kelleher, who heads the nonprofit public-interest group Better Markets, says "the most important part of the settlement is not the dollar amount: it is that no information was released that would enable anyone to judge the merits of the deal." Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik says the $13 billion headline figure isn't nearly enough money. So there are plenty of things for everyone to dislike, whatever your political or socio-economic views.

Ben Bernanke gave another speech last night

No surprises, but worth a read. Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times described the speech as having "valedictory overtones," now that Bernanke is down to his final weeks as Federal Reserve chairman. Bottom line: More of the same. "The economy has made significant progress since the depths of the recession," Bernanke said. "However, we are still far from where we would like to be, and, consequently, it may be some time before monetary policy returns to more normal settings. I agree with the sentiment, expressed by my colleague Janet Yellen at her testimony last week, that the surest path to a more normal approach to monetary policy is to do all we can today to promote a more robust recovery." He said the Federal Open Market Committee "remains committed to maintaining highly accommodative policies for as long as they are needed."

Ah, the good old days of bank foreclosures

Here's a story, via American Banker, that PNC Bank's executive chairman, James Rohr, told at a conference in Philadelphia this week about what foreclosure was like when he was a young banker in training: "We went to see a police officer, he called a couple of guys and we went over to a house. He knocked on the fellow's door [and when] he answered the door, [the officer] grabbed him by the shirt, pulled him out of the house and said, 'If you ever go back in there again, I'm going to throw you in jail for the rest of your life.' He sent two guys in there -- they took everything out of the house and put it on the curb. He locked the door... and said, 'The house is now yours.' And then he turned to the fellow sitting on the stoop and he said, 'I'm coming back at 4 o'clock with a can of gasoline. If any of that stuff is on the curb, I'm going to light it on fire.'"

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