Levine on Wall Street: Loan Sharks and Lobster Fights

Matt Levine is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was an editor of Dealbreaker, an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, a mergers and acquisitions lawyer at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and a clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
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Prosecutors can game the rules too.

Here's a fun DealBook article about how Credit Suisse was prosecuted for tax evasion in Virginia, which is weird because it has no offices there. Federal prosecutors there had jurisdiction because "A lone Credit Suisse client, on a single day eight years ago, flew out of Dulles International Airport in Virginia on his way to Zurich." I guess one fights silly technicalities with silly technicalities.

Boiler-room loan sharks.

Here's a nutty Bloomberg News story about loan-sharking cold callers, one of whom trained Vin Diesel in cold calling. ("A natural.") It's a good business, you probably won't be surprised to learn. Maybe the nuttiest part of it to me is that some of these high-interest loans were securitized earlier this month in a $175 million transaction with, as far as I can tell, a 54.4 percent weighted average loan interest rate, 5 percent overcollateralization, and coupons on the securitization tranches. of 3.15 and 5.68 percent, respectively. Surely the guys providing the money should get a little more of that 54 percent interest rate? In other news Blackstone priced just under a billion dollars of single-family-home rental securitizations rather tighter than that.

Darden has itself a proxy fight.

Starboard Value, which has been trying to break up Darden Restaurants but was "livid last week when Darden announced a stand-alone sale of Red Lobster, foiling Starboard's plans," is running a proxy fight to replace the entire board. Here is Ronald Barusch on some tactical questions. Particularly notable is that even if Starboard wins it probably can't get out of the Red Lobster sale. Here, meanwhile, are some awful puns.

Bitcoin is expensive.

Apparently Bitcoin insiders are concluding that "the cryptocurrency’s competitive transaction fee may be dependent on a constant capital transfer from real money systems," and that as that stops happening -- as mining rewards go down either by design or because people stop flocking to Bitcoin and pushing up its price -- there will need to be new ways to incentivize miners to confirm transactions. I said something like that in January: Bitcoin "mining" rewards disguise transaction costs, but a mature Bitcoin would need to undisguise them, and it's not like a priori obvious that payment processing via computing-intensive cryptography will be cheaper than the existing banking system. On the other hand, Bitcoin does have another advantage over the banking system, which is that it makes it faster and easier to send money, especially to poorer countries with less payment infrastructure, except wait oops that's not true either.

What's in a name?

Steven Cohen was charged with insider trading, but not that Steve Cohen. This one is one of three brothers of a board member of NBTY Inc., a "Long Island-based vitamin company" that was acquired by the Carlyle Group; the board member leaked details of the acquisition and you get the idea. Meanwhile here is some crazy stuff about New York politician Sheldon Silver and his nemesis Sheldon E. Silver. It is possible that I am especially partial to these stories since I have been one of two Matthew Levines pretty much everywhere I go.

Don't fall for penny stock scams.

How many penny stocks are there? Are there any that are not manipulated all the time by guys in Florida boiler rooms? It seems unlikely. "The SEC has now charged 48 individuals and 25 companies in this series of penny stock investigations out of the agency’s Miami Regional Office," and you can read more about them here, but it's tawdry stuff.

Tim Geithner has a book out.

On Wednesday he chatted with some online journalists, and then with Jon Stewart. Here is Mike Konczal criticizing Geithner's focus on financial panic rather than housing leverage as the key issue of this recession.

Things happen.

"A banker dancing on a table surrounded by bottles of vodka and champagne doesn't impress" Linette Lopez "the way it used to." Banks are hiring traders again. The VIX is down. Tom Steyer seems to be having fun. "Q. There were voluminous errors? A. There were a lot of errors." Parking in New York is hard. The Zone of Death. "This kinetic sculpture consists of 81 erectable penises that respond to either a viewer's movements or to realtime movements in the stock market." Happy hour extended.

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