Weil on Finance: FBI Hops on Michael Lewis Bandwagon

Morning links from Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Weil

Greetings, dear readers. Here are your morning links.

Michael Lewis is a lucky guy to have the FBI promoting his book .

What a charmed life. He rolls out a new book about high-frequency trading, and even the FBI tries to help give it a plug. OK, I'm kidding, but only a little. Here's the story today from Bloomberg News: "Federal agents are investigating whether high-frequency trading firms break U.S. laws by acting on nonpublic information to gain an edge over competitors. The Federal Bureau of Investigation's inquiry stems from a multiyear crackdown on insider trading, which has led to at least 79 convictions of hedge-fund traders and others. Agents are examining, for example, whether traders abuse information to act ahead of orders by institutional investors, according to an FBI spokesman." We're told the FBI began its investigation last year. But come on. The FBI just happens to go on the record with Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and other news organizations to talk about it almost immediately after Lewis's new book is released? Nice timing. Why can't all financial journalists be so fortunate?

What's old is new again .

From the Financial Times: "Europe's banks hold more sovereign debt than at any other time since the eurozone crisis, fueling worries about the potentially destabilizing links between the region's financial institutions and national governments." Gee, what could possibly go wrong? Oh, silly me, I forgot, sovereign debt has a zero-risk weighting under the Basel rules. So going wrong would be a violation of European Union policy.

Investment bankers can be emotional .

Especially when they lose out on a big deal. For example, see this article from the South China Morning Post: "Jealous. This is the word many Western bankers in Hong Kong will use when they talk about the mega-sized reverse takeover deal of Citic, one of the most important state-owned industrial giants on the mainland. Why jealous? It took Citic, led by Chairman Chang Zhenming, just six months to finalize the plan to let its Hong Kong-listed subsidiary Citic Pacific acquire its assets in a deal valued at about US$36 billion. The only help that senior executives at Citic received was from a small team of Beijing-based merger and acquisition specialists -- fewer than 10 people -- at subsidiary Citic Securities, the largest securities house on the mainland." Cue the violins.

On Federal Reserve monetary policy and the stock market.

Here's a thoughtful piece from John Hussman of Hussman Funds called "Shifting Policy at the Fed: Good for Long-Term Growth, Bad for Cyclical Bubbles." Worth reading.

Showtime for Caterpillar and its auditor.

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations will hold a hearing today on an aggressive tax-shelter scheme that Caterpillar Inc. bought from PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP more than a decade ago, which enabled the company to avoid paying $2.4 billion in U.S. taxes. Should be fun.

Here are two people even luckier than Michael Lewis.

If a high-speed trader pulled off a feat like this, is there anyone who wouldn't be suspicious? Here's the headline from USA Today: "Virginia couple wins lottery three times in same month."

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