Weil on Finance: Bill Ackman Keeps Hope Alive

A daily roundup of Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Weil's morning reading.

Bill Ackman's crusade against Herbalife.

The New York Times has a good blow-by-blow for anyone who hasn't been paying attention, although anyone who has been following Ackman's big short probably won't find any major surprises. Here's a taste: "To pressure state and federal regulators to investigate Herbalife, an act that alone could cause its stock to dive, his team has helped organize protests, news conferences and letter-writing campaigns in California, Nevada, Connecticut, New York and Illinois, although several of the people who signed the letters to state and federal officials say they do not remember sending them, an investigation by the New York Times has found. His team has also paid civil rights organizations at least $130,000 to join his effort by helping him collect the names of people who claimed they were victimized by Herbalife in order to send the leads to regulators, the investigation found." Paying six figures to civil-rights organizations as part of a campaign to drive down a company's stock price does look more than a little weird, doesn't it? Keep hope alive.

Why Chinese banks keep bailing out the trust products they sold.

This article from Institutional Investor helps explain it, as does this anecdote in particular from a customer at China Construction Bank named Alicia Dou who gave in and bought one after the bank pitched her more than 10 times: "I remember reading the fine print on the certificate: `The bank doesn't guarantee the safety of this investment.' I asked the teller about it, and she said, `Just ignore that: It's standard contract language. I can tell you our bank will guarantee your money back plus the interest stated on the certificate.' Though I enjoyed a 12 percent gain, I decided one year of risk was all I was willing to take." And in a bailout-oriented economy, she's the sucker because she acted prudently by taking her money out.

The pros and cons of central banks' forward guidance .

This comes from two economists at the Bank for International Settlements, Andrew Filardo and Boris Hofmann. So far, they write, forward guidance by the four major central banks has "reduced the volatility of near-term expectations about the future path of policy interest rates, suggesting that near-term policy intentions have been clarified." But this has come with risks to the central banks' reputations as well as to financial stability. Worth a read.

Add this to the list of things an investment bank shouldn't do.

Let's say there's a bank that wants to finance a buyout where the terms are still being negotiated. Now let's say it would be accurate to describe the bank's activities as: "one team of a bank wooing the likely buyer while another gives the seller advice that makes the buyer's offer look good." This is known as playing both sides and could get the bank sued, which is what happened to RBC Capital Markets in connection with a bid by private-equity firm Warburg Pincus to buy an ambulance operator, Rural/Metro. The Wall Street Journal has a good roundup of a ruling in which a Delaware judge found that RBC "failed to disclose the relevant information to further its own opportunity to close a deal, get paid its contingent fee, and receive additional and far greater fees for buy-side financing work."

Why investors should avoid King Digital Entertainment's initial public offering.

Good piece by James Surowiecki in the New Yorker: "The IPO is no surprise, given King's domination of the booming mobile-game business, but it's likely to end badly, because King is part of a venerable tradition: the one-hit wonder. Like Coleco, with Cabbage Patch Kids, or Ty, Inc., with Beanie Babies, King's business is dependent on its one star product; although the company has more than a hundred titles, almost eighty per cent of its revenue comes from Candy Crush. King has done a great job of making money from the game, and of keeping it fresh, but Candy Crush is still a fad, and, like all fads, it will fade."

Yet another reason to hate flying .

Virgin Atlantic has a dancing air steward named Michael who does high kicks and splits during the safety routine.

(Jonathan Weil is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @JonathanWeil.)

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