Levine on Wall Street: Victory Ties and Soccer Betting

Apparently most of the good money managers come from Harvard, which you may not have known. Unless you've met any of them, in which case they've probably told you.

Nelson Obus had a good weekend.

How would you celebrate being cleared of insider trading charges? Here's how Nelson Obus celebrated on Friday:

  • He took off his dark blue tie and put on a bright red "victory tie"; there is a picture.
  • He yelled at the Securities and Exchange Commission's lawyers -- "If you had been doing your job this never would have happened."
  • He "read a long prepared statement outside the courtroom, at times veering off script to talk about his childhood and his father."

Generally he sounds pretty fun -- "his belt was repeatedly unbuckled as he came in and out of the courtroom" -- and the evidence against him seems pretty weak -- a judge had previously dismissed the case, and it didn't take the jury long to find in his favor this time -- so it is sort of hard to understand why the SEC has been going after him for twelve years. Surely there are targets who are less appealing and more, you know, guilty?

How's Harvard's endowment doing?

Pretty average, says The Harvard Crimson, but that's not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is this:

“I don’t think it’s ever going to be true that most of the good managers on Wall Street are from any place other than Harvard,” said David L. Yermack ’85, a professor of finance at the Stern School of Business at New York University. “Because of that, the University is going to get access and information that just isn’t going to be duplicated by any other competitor, and that’s a fairly timeless advantage that works very much in Harvard’s favor.”

Yup! Harvard, producing most of the good managers on Wall Street since 1636, or I guess since Wall Street was invented probably.

Can Credit Suisse still manage pensions?

The Labor Department is considering whether to give Credit Suisse a waiver to retain its status as a "qualified professional asset manager" under pension rules, despite being a felon. You'd think that that's the sort of thing that prosecutors, and Credit Suisse, would have cleared up with the Labor Department before Credit Suisse's guilty plea, but apparently everyone forgot to ask Labor? Or else the Labor Department was consulted and decided to play it cool, as suggested by its spokesman, who said that Labor "is not a rubber stamp" and that "This is a very serious matter, and we are closely monitoring the situation."

The French have a point.

Some French people are upset about U.S. plans to fine BNP Paribas $10 billion for evading U.S. sanctions, and they have something to say about it. Le Monde called the fine a "masterful slap," which feels very Continental to me; I don't think Americans have ever really developed an aesthetic of the slap. "This affair is part of Washington’s hegemonic ambition in law and commerce," says one French politician; another calls it "shocking and exorbitant.” And an American lawyer in Paris says "it is likely to increase debate in France and the rest of Europe about the essential fairness of U.S. criminal procedures." Meanwhile, speaking of hegemonic ambition, the New York Department of Financial Services wants BNP to fire a bunch of people to settle the case. Apparently "the statute of limitations may prevent criminal charges against any employees involved in illegal transactions, something that has irked prosecutors." The prosecutors are "irked" that they have to follow the law, which might lead you to some conclusions about the essential fairness of U.S. criminal procedures.

International soccer is unbelievably corrupt.

The Sunday Times and the BBC report that Qatar bought the 2022 World Cup. Meanwhile the New York Times reports that international friendlies ahead of the 2010 World Cup were also fixed. On the other hand, here is a cheerful Bloomberg Pursuits story about soccer bookies; the ones described here don't seem corrupt. And this ESPN story about Luis Suarez, and a missing referee whom he may or may not have headbutted, is absolutely nuts. And here is an excellent paper airplane throw.

It's okay to be a banker.

I find Kevin Roose's diagnosis of investment banking recruiting as a default path for risk-averse prestige-driven elite college graduates mostly persuasive, but Josh Barro is right that it's an industry where you can learn a lot, and that can prepare you for a lucrative and fulfilling post-finance career as a financial or economics blogger. "The key is to be the right banker at the right bank," which is true enough, though I suspect the prestige-driven college kids might read it the wrong way; Barro was in commercial real estate lending at Wells Fargo and seems to have been more fulfilled, and less overworked, than he would have been in, you know, Goldman FIG.

Things happen.

A world without banks. A world where tech companies replace banks. KKR shut down its hedge fund. Frontier markets are pretty stable, all in all. The new BIS Quarterly Review is out but it's a shell of its former self: "This issue now contains only information on BIS statistics, notably the statistical annexes; relevant material about financial developments will be included in the Annual Report." I'm seven pages into "On the Run" and I endorse it; here is Tyler Cowen's more informed endorsement ("may well be the best social science book of the year so far"). Google's office perks are getting out of hand. Dead or meditating? While money talks.

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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