Levine on Wall Street: Mexican Loans and Irish Taxes


Citi's Mexican troubles.

Here is the goofy story of how Citigroup discovered that its Banamex subsidiary's loans to Oceanografia were fraudulent. Citi was discounting Oceanografia's invoices to Pemex, the Mexican state oil company, and Oceanografia was forging the invoices. Banamex got nervous and set up a meeting with Pemex:

But when the Banamex executives traveled to Pemex's headquarters in Mexico City, they learned that many of the 217 pieces of paper they had lugged to the meeting in boxes were apparent forgeries with fake signatures, according to the person who attended the meeting.

The invoices "looked like they had been done on Microsoft Word," the person said.

Is it weird for invoices to be done on Microsoft Word? Also the boxes seem like overkill -- don't these things get emailed as PDFs? -- but I guess if you're checking signatures for forgery you want to bring the actual signature to the person supposed to have signed it. I don't know. Anyway Citi fired a bunch of people and then said some nice things about Banamex that do not seem to have been entirely deserved.

Z for Grexit.

Here is part 2 of Peter Spiegel's tale of how the euro was saved, and it's about preparations in case it wasn't. The EU and the IMF developed "Plan Z," "a detailed script of how to reconstruct Greece’s economic and financial infrastructure if it were to leave the euro," in creepy secrecy:

According to one participant, no single Plan Z document was ever compiled and no emails were exchanged between participants about their work. “It was totally fire-walled even within [the institutions],” said the official. “Even between the teams there was fire-walling.” A decision was made not to involve Greek officials out of fear of leaks. ...

Mr Barroso acknowledged the plan’s existence and offered to show it to Ms Merkel but she said his word was enough, according to officials in the room. Under the German system, such documents can be requested by the Bundestag, and senior German officials were concerned they would be obliged to disclose such planning if they had it in writing.

Remember, laws about transparency and disclosure have unintended consequences too.

Tax inversions are a good deal.

Here is the story of "Endo International Plc, one of a half dozen U.S. drugmakers that recently took Irish addresses to save on taxes." To discourage such moves, the U.S. tax code has an excise tax on the stock options of executives who lead them. And to encourage such moves, the companies tend to just pay the excise taxes for their executives. Arguably this is not what Congress intended but obviously companies do not care. Endo is expecting to save $75 million a year on taxes from the move, but will pay $60 million (once) to gross up executives for U.S. excise taxes. This is like the day-care late pick-up fee problem: If you charge companies an excise tax for inverting, you make it clear that they can invert if they pay the tax. The they just have to way up the costs and benefits and find, huh, inverting is a good deal. On the other hand, sanctions against Russia actually seem to have reduced lending and tightened terms of loans even to non-sanctioned companies.

Why hedge funds don't worry about carried interest tax rules.

Because you can always just keep your income in the Cayman Islands and defer taxes as long as you want.

Will Johnson-Crapo pass?

Don't hold your breath, is I guess a takeaway here. The bill to replace Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with heavily capitalized private-sector mortgage insurance has some problems, including that it would significantly raise mortgage rates, increase banking concentration, and have pro-cyclical effects on risk.

Not everyone likes poison pills.

Here are two Columbia professors who are unimpressed by Delaware courts' deference to management:

The key to understanding the Sotheby’s case is that the assumption about shareholder distribution baked into Delaware corporate governance law is now simply wrong. Institutional investors own on average 70 percent of the equity of the top 1000 US public corporations, with something more than half of that owned by mutual funds. These are smart people. The 1980s claim by target boards and endorsed by the Delaware courts that the shareholders will be taken in by those challenging a board’s discretion is not even remotely viable. Management defenders now try to recharacterize the debate by calling institutional investors “short-termist” rather than dumb, but the argument is the same. Boards require discretion because shareholders can be expected to make incorrect decisions about company value.

Meanwhile, Alison Frankel at Reuters is a big fan of Valeant's and Bill Ackman's fake Allergan shareholder vote (as am I).

SALT is happening.

The SkyBridge Alternatives Conference, which somehow abbreviates SALT, is going on in Las Vegas. It's full of celebrities and brand awareness and talk about "the 1 percent," come on, and about how low interest rates are hurting savers. So that's what you're missing, if you're missing it, which I am. Charlie Gasparino is reporting live from the urinals.

Things happen.

Monopoly, like everything, is better with convertible bonds. Summers on Piketty. Mian and Sufi on Geithner. Go ahead, be annoying. Don't go to law school, come on. Digital Taylorism. Military infographics. Nudist bitcoin (NSFW-ish 1 ).

Things happen in Silicon Valley.

"It also has a day each week where the employees are encouraged to wear their gym attire to work so that they can spontaneously break out into different workout moves throughout the day," I will stay in New York, thank you.

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  1. But I tweeted the good parts.

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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