Levine on Wall Street: Vikram Pandit Gets Into the Nudge Business

Why did no (oops, one) banksters go to jail for causing the financial crisis? Why are business students studying philosophy? What is Shane Dineen up to? Did that mongoose really talk?

Poor Kareem Serageldin.

Jesse Eisinger has a fascinating and nuanced article about why there have been so few financial-crisis prosecutions, touching on the fate of former Credit Suisse trader Kareem Serageldin ("the only Wall Street executive sent to jail for his part in the financial crisis," for mis-marking some mortgage bonds), the legal developments that made it harder for prosecutors to indict banks, and the prosecutorial motivations that made financial-crisis cases less desirable than insider trading ones:

Time magazine put Bharara on its cover, with the bold headline: "This Man Is Busting Wall Street." Yet Bharara didn't touch Wall Street's real players -- top bankers. The former prosecutor was almost sheepish about the insider-trading cases when I spoke to him: "They made our careers, but they don't change the world."

Banks were terrible at foreclosures.

In 2011, a bunch of big banks entered into consent orders to review their foreclosure practices. In 2013, they agreed with regulators to stop doing the reviews and just pay a bunch of money instead, because the reviews were hopeless. Now there is a new report about just how hopeless the reviews were:

The report by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency was released a few days after a government watchdog criticized the way regulators negotiated certain aspects of the settlement.

In particular, the Government Accountability Office, an auditing arm of Congress, said this week that regulators had not demanded specific terms for $6 billion in foreclosure prevention measures that the banks agreed to undertake, in addition to the $3.9 billion in cash pay outs to homeowners.

So ... another settlement?

Regulators have cut back on leveraged lending.

After a lot of regulatory pressure from the Fed and the OCC to push banks to be more conservative about leveraged lending, companies are finding it harder to get leveraged loans. For instance, "Rocket Software Inc. pulled $725 million of loans from the market this week that would have refinanced debt and paid for a dividend to its co-founders and private-equity firm Court Square Capital Partners LP." The funny thing is how happy all the investors are about it: "The balance of power, for the moment, has a little bit shifted to the buy side," says one manager; another laments the old days when he couldn't "sit on cash and had to buy nearly every new issue that came to market." Thanks, Fed! You saved us from ourselves.

The winner of the TXU deal is Blackstone .

"After getting shut out of the giant buyout of the Texas utility in 2007, the private-equity firm bought the company's debt at a discount," and has made money trading the debt and stands to get a chunk of the regulated business in the reorganization. And its advisory bankers were hired to advise in the bankruptcy. Meanwhile, here is Distressed Debt Investing on the DIP Financing Motion in the Energy Future Holdings bankruptcy. And is Exelon overpaying for Pepco?

Vikram Pandit has a new job.

It's at TGG Group -- "short for The Greatest Good" -- a, I don't know, pop-economics consultancy co-founded by Steven Levitt and run by Andrew Rosenfeld:

"He would have been an extremely successful academic, which is an unusual characteristic for someone who became the CEO of one of the world's largest companies," said Mr Rosenfield, who is a managing partner at Guggenheim Partners, the asset manager.

Do you want your CEO to be an extremely successful academic? And there's this:

In an internal memo to staff, which he said included about 50 young economists and statisticians, Mr Rosenfield spared no buzzword, saying the company was about "unpacking the knowledge hidden in 'big data'. We also exploit the newest thinking in behavioural economics and are the leading experts in designing 'nudges' and 'choice architectures'."

In other news, "Why Don't Wall Street Stars Get Endorsement Deals?"

MBAs don't make very good philosophers.

This article starts by asking why business schools have started teaching philosophy classes, and then sort of throws up its hands in despair about ever finding an answer:

She eventually replaced theory-based readings with traditional case studies, though she still tries to conduct discussions on abstract topics, such as how cultural stereotypes stymie innovation. "I spent six years thinking about the definition of culture. At a business school, culture can be measured through a survey," she says. "It's so solution-oriented. We don't ask, and we don't let them have space to ask better questions."

Shane Dineen is apparently writing about Herbalife.

In an earlier life Dineen talked, at some length, about Herbalife for Pershing Square. Then he left Pershing, but he's still not a fan of Herbalife. He leads off with Venezuelan foreign exchange rates, so if you're into that sort of thing, you know what to do.

Things happen.

Questions for Warren Buffett. Libor licensing fees. "Zuckerberg to Obama Channel Jobs in Search for Alone Time," okay. Some retail investors are complaining that their brokers won't route their orders to IEX, which sounds like silly attention-seeking to me. How net neutrality hurts the poor. Burritos for hamsters. A talking mongoose.

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:
    Matthew S Levine at mlevine51@bloomberg.net

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

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