Weil on Finance: Beware Chinese VIEs

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 Monday, View fans. Here's a look at my breakfast reading.

What investors don't know about Chinese VIEs can hurt them

The Securities and Exchange Commission is forcing some Chinese companies, including Baidu Inc., to make additional disclosures about their corporate structures, write Shai Oster and Dune Lawrence of Bloomberg News: "At issue are `variable interest entities,' or VIEs, which are used to circumvent the Chinese government's restriction on foreign ownership of key industries. The VIEs give overseas investors both the economic gains and losses of the business through contracts rather than direct ownership." One problem with VIEs is that sometimes the people with the direct ownership have looted the assets and skipped town. Plus, the contracts may not hold up in court. The second link takes you to a recent blog post by Paul Gillis at China Accounting Blog, who writes about some VIE-related problems at a New York-listed Chinese company called FAB Universal. Then again, all you really needed to know to stay away from FAB Universal was its ticker symbol: FU. (No, I'm not making that up.) Seriously, why would anyone pick that for a ticker symbol?

Getting all grumpy about Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs

Villanova University accounting professor Anthony Catanach, who writes the blog Grumpy Old Accountants, has a good riff about some neat financial-reporting tricks at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs that have been in the news of late. Recall that Morgan Stanley said not too long ago that a $9.2 billion error on its cash-flow statement was immaterial.

Reality check for Mary Barra

The new General Motors chief executive gets some free advice from Al Lewis at the Wall Street Journal, who was born on the same day she was: "Don't start believing the headlines about GM's turnaround. It wasn't so terribly amazing, given a $49.5 billion bailout. Additionally, the bankruptcy process allowed GM to ditch tens of billions in debt, shutter rusting plants and abandon thousands of employees. Most struggling businesses could succeed for a long time if they could get rid of their costs."

Gretchen Morgenson makes some good points about the Volcker rule

It won't mean squat if the regulators don't enforce it: "These are the very people who didn't see the mortgage crisis bearing down on them. One reason: Where the big banks are concerned, the overseers often favor the overseen. And yet regulators for the most part have not been held accountable for their woeful performance in the years leading up to the financial debacle. Instead, they have received even greater powers."

Here are 20 dogs who think they're Santa Claus

Good stuff. So cute.

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