Levine on Wall Street: Worldly Philosophers

Merger litigation is terrible, but you knew that. Bank of America is settling Fannie Mae mortgage claims for billions of dollars, but you definitely knew that, that happens all the time.

There are some Bank of America settlements .

It is almost impossible to be interested in the mortgage-backed securities settlement --$6.3 billion or $9.3 billion, depending how you count, over sales of mortage-backed securities to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- though in fact it ends a long-running and occasionally entertaining drama. Also if you're keeping count, Bank of America settled another mortgage case with Fannie Mae a year ago for $10.3 billion, so, you know, maybe there'll be more? Maybe BofA will pay Fannie $10 billion a year every year for the rest of time? (And then Fannie will pay that $10 billion to Treasury, hahahaha.) Also Ken Lewis agreed to pay $10 million to Eric Schneiderman for being a little sneaky about BofA's acquisition of Merrill Lynch, though he can probably get indemnified by the bank.

Merger litigation is terrible.

"If the goal of the legal system is to add value for shareholders, it's failing," says a law professor, and that is a big "if." The goal of the M&A litigation system is to pay plaintiffs' lawyers six-figure fees in exchange for giving the parties to a merger a release against any claims that the deal was improper. It's deal insurance, and sometimes it pays out. There is no reason to think this would benefit shareholders; quite the reverse. This is an amazing and terrible and surely true paragraph:

The flood of filings may be creating odd incentives. Some critics of companies allege they are deliberately withholding deal details to have fodder for quick settlements.

Because the way you settle merger lawsuits is by adding some disclosure so you can convince a judge that the plaintiffs' lawyers earned their fees. Because these lawsuits, even if they don't get shareholders any money, at least get them better disclosure. But better than what?

Will Dan Loeb win his poison pill lawsuit against Sotheby's?

I'm kind of rooting for him, but Ronald Barusch at Dealpolitik says no, and I can't really disagree; Delaware law is pretty pro-pill. In other activism news, Bill Ackman probably has not yet broken even on Herbalife; CNBC thinks he's still down by about $121 million against a $53-ish stock price, which seems plausible. And Carl Icahn wrote a manifesto about stockholder rights; it quotes me making fun of my old law firm, which I feel sort of bad about.

Randomized order delay as a cure for abusive high frequency trading.

Thoughts? It's growing popular in the foreign exchange market, with Thomson Reuters adding it to its matching platform. EBS and ParFX already use the technology, where orders are subject to a random delay -- ParFX's is 20 to 80 milliseconds -- so that speed becomes less useful.

"The latency floor addresses the 'technology arms race to the bottom' whereby continuous incremental spend on the fastest technology is required in order to stay competitive," says John Schoen, co-head of EBS Market. "It is a way of ensuring that speed as a standalone strategy is not a prerequisite for success on EBS."

Speaking of abusive FX trading, soon there will be no human traders left, so it's important to get the computerized systems right.

Would you like to buy some Oculus ?

Which Oculus? Shares of Oculus VisionTech and Oculus Innovative Sciences jumped on the news that Facebook was buying Oculus VR Inc., because people are dumb and algorithms are even dumber. "I think it's the fact that we have the same first name," says Oculus VisionTech's CFO. Was there insider trading in the Wrong Oculuses in advance of the deal for the Right Oculus? Would that be illegal? I sort of give up. Remember, start a fund that invests in little public companies that sound like buzzy private companies, this is investment advice.

Call in the mystery shoppers .

The U.K. Financial Conduct Authority fined Santander 12.4 million pounds for various retail investment-sales violations. None of the violations is all that entertaining on its own, but I appreciated the way the FCA caught them: Santander, and also the FCA, conducted "mystery shops" where undercover agents walked into Santander branches and were like, hey, I would like to buy some investments, but I am very risk-averse, can you hook me up? And then the Santander reps handed them a flaming bag of garbage and promised that it would double in value and etc. etc. etc. 12.4 million pound fine. I feel like, especially in the U.S., you don't hear a lot about regulation by mystery shop. I suspect there's a lot of low hanging fruit there.

Call in the weirdy beardy .

This is the story of Roger Steare, a "corporate philosopher," or more specifically "a long-haired, paisley shirt-wearing professor known as the 'weirdy beardy.'" He advises banks like Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland, or rather, he does whatever this is:

the 56-year-old sits with executives and asks questions such as "Why do you exist?" and "Who are you?" Sometimes bankers break down and cry, he says.

He got his philosophical training from one of Wittgenstein's pupils, no, just kidding, he worked as "a social worker and then a recruiter," and then "became an executive coach and ran a popular retreat in an abbey called 'The Soul Gym.'"

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

    (Matt Levine writes about Wall Street and the financial world for Bloomberg View.)

    To contact the author on this story:
    Matthew S Levine at mlevine51@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor on this story:
    Toby Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net

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