Levine on Wall Street: BNP, Bulgaria and Blackstone

BNP is going to plead today, some Bulgarians successfully destabilized some banks, Blackstone is starting another hedge fund, and some people settled some lawsuits.

Happy BNP day!

The day seems to be today, the number seems to be $8.9 billion, and the dollar clearing ban appears to be operating on a slight delay:

Authorities have agreed to delay the start of the suspension period for about six months, they said, giving the bank until January 2015 to make alternative arrangements for its clients to maintain their access to US dollar financing.

You can make fun of the U.S. authorities for being so accommodative of BNP's business: The goal sometimes seems to be to impose punishments that don't do any harm, and prosecutors rarely show similar concerns for the convenience of poor human criminal defendants. That said though this punishment actually sounds reasonable: If BNP did a lot of sanctions violating in your Geneva office and your oil financing business, why not make it stop using dollars in those businesses for a while? Perhaps all the clients will be so happy with their alternative, non-sanctions-violating, arrangements that they'll never return to BNP for help violating sanctions? I don't know. Here is a sympathetic account of BNP's troubles; apparently executives were too busy "working 16 hours a day, seven days a week ... trying to avert an implosion of the global financial system" to worry about sanctions violations. Elsewhere in sanctions news, Red Bull North America agreed to pay $89,775 for filming a documentary in Cuba without authorization from the Treasury, which I suppose is not much of a useful comparison for BNP's fine.

What's up with Bulgaria?

I ... have no idea? Here's a pretty solid sentence though:

The European Union gave Bulgaria authority to provide 3.3 billion levs ($2.3 billion) in state aid for lenders after police there arrested men they said triggered a run on deposits of the third-largest bank.

So, one, the EU is bailing out Bulgaria, "despite the fact that the Bulgarian banking system is well capitalized and has high levels of liquidity," says the European Commission, so that's nice. But, two: You can be arrested in Bulgaria for "spreading information aimed at destabilizing banks." Bulgaria's State Agency for National Security did the arresting, and "said some of the men owed large amounts of money to banks." I have to say I quite like the idea of falling behind on your mortgage and deciding that the mature way to deal with that would be to collapse your country's banking system. 1 "If my bank disappears, I don't have to pay back my loans" is a pleasing, though wrong, piece of magical thinking.

Blackstone is starting a hedge fund.

Again. The Wall Street Journal says that Blackstone "has only twice tried to build an internal fund" before this one, and I feel like you can't really say "oh this is only the third time I've tried to start a hedge fund"? Anyway this will be more like a loosely affiliated collection of independent concentrated equity long-short funds, which "will scour the globe for four to six big bets a year that may profit on either rising or falling share prices" and will pitch their ideas to Blackstone for possible co-investment. The structure -- independent managers operating under prestigious umbrella, with possible extra capital allocation from the boss for the best ideas -- is, as the Journal points out, reminiscent of SAC Capital. I guess it's a sensible piece of opportunism for Blackstone to step in to fill that now-vacated niche, though, you know, watch out for insider trading! "They were independent managers, I didn't know what they were getting up to" no longer seems like a tenable excuse.

HP and plaintiffs' lawyers are teaming up.

Remember how stock-drop lawsuits work? Hewlett-Packard's stock dropped when it announced that it had found accounting, um, the polite term is "irregularities," at Autonomy, a company it had bought. So lawyers sued it, claiming that HP "ignored warnings about accounting irregularities at Autonomy and failed to properly vet the British software maker’s finances before the $10.3 billion acquisition in 2011." The intended outcome of this lawsuit was, of course, to transfer money from HP's current shareholders to those who owned shares in 2011, with plaintiffs' lawyers taking a chunk. But then someone had a better idea: When HP bought Autonomy, it gave a whole lot of that $10.3 billion to one guy, Autonomy co-founder Michael Lynch, who might have had some involvement in those irregularities. Maybe the plaintiffs' lawyers and HP could team up and sue him for the money? Worth a shot. So that seems to be what they'll do now, and if they're right about the irregularities, surely transferring money from the guy who committed them to innocent public shareholders is a better idea than transferring money from innocent public shareholders to other innocent public shareholders. Good work, everyone.

Allergan and Pershing Square are friends again.

Well, not really, but they have clarified that Pershing is allowed to talk to Allergan shareholders about its proposed special meeting without triggering the company's poison pill. This was pretty obviously allowed, but not obviously enough for some shareholders, and so Pershing sued. What does the settlement tell us about the future? Ronald Barusch says that the lesson is, "Don’t mess with a shareholder vote using a poison pill, even by creating uncertainty," and that seems right: Even though the case settled, the Chancery Court made enough noise about how the pill can't prevent shareholder voting that future shareholders might be a bit less afraid of the poison pill. And David Gelles notes that Allergan agreed to this stipulation a week earlier than it absolutely had to, which might be meaningful for the proposed acquisition by Valeant and Pershing: "By agreeing earlier than was technically necessary, Allergan exhibited some measure of cooperation with Pershing Square and the Delaware courts and may have effectively allowed a vote on its fate to take place that much sooner."

Things happen.

The Epicurean Dealmaker is right; banks will never get rid of business travel. James Gorman refers to his dog as "it." "David C. Johnsen, the director of the bank's Electronic Trading Business Development, was hired at Barclays soon after being fired by Goldman Sachs on March 9, 2012, for poor supervision of its Sigma X dark pool," oops. Prosecutors think Mathew Martoma should get more than eight years in prison. Charlie Ergen seems to be missing out in the LightSquared bankruptcy. "At the time of writing, all core/semi core Eurozone countries are still in the competition (Germany, Netherlands, France, Belgium, plus uber-hard currency Switzerland), while all the peripheral crisis countries(Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy) are out of the tournament." "Gold-plated KFC chicken bone necklaces are already sold out." Millennials smell bad.

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  1. "That happened in the U.S. a few years back!," some of you will say, and others will be horrified by your victim-blaming. So enjoy that conversation.

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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