Levine on Wall Street: Kids These Days

The FBI ran a fake hedge fund, private equity hires earlier and earlier, little Argentine holdouts want their money back, and the dollar causes French CEOs ennui.

Capital from the FBI is expensive.

So the FBI ran a fake hedge fund that offered a tiny not-so-great company a $5 million investment in exchange for a 50 percent commission paid directly to the fake hedge fund manager. A 50 percent commitment fee is high but, you know, surely not the highest ever recorded? Several chief executives of tiny companies took the deal; one said "Your fee is fine because you're definitely bailing me out." But if a deal is too bad to be true it probably isn't. (Isn't true. Is bad.) The executives were convicted of fraud, though it is ever so slightly perplexing whom they defrauded (the fake hedge fund? their own shareholders?). There are other questions here, like why armored teams need to arrest stock fraudsters with their guns drawn, or why these companies were an FBI priority. Meanwhile here is another senior Justice Department official talking about how "The government has gotten more sophisticated and more willing to investigate complicated fraud" at big financial institutions, and how the DOJ doesn't pick its cases but "follow[s] the evidence where it leads." You can do the same I guess, so follow the evidence to your own conclusions on that one.

France is still unhappy about BNP Paribas.

Sheesh, France, the U.S. has moved on, why can't you? "Companies like ours are in a bind because we sell a lot in dollars but we do not always want to deal with all the US rules and regulations," says the chief executive of a French industrial company, and I suppose your reaction to that will break down along nationalistic lines: Either "hahaha that guy is such a crook, not wanting to follow the law" or else "well, yeah, why should a French company selling French goods to a Chinese company have to follow U.S. law?" Anyway a bunch of French officials and business people are going around saying nice-global-reserve-currency-you've-got-there-shame-if-anything-were-to-happen-to-it things, arguing for more use of the euro in international trade, but no one seems to be that serious about it. Meanwhile U.S. terrorism-financing rules also mean that Latin American and African immigrants can't send money home to their families.

Argentina has little holdouts too.

Supposedly Argentina is negotiating a settlement with Elliott Management and other big holdout bondholders, but there are lots of other people who hold small amounts of unrestructured Argentine bonds and want their money back. This is their story. One thing to consider is, suppose Argentina reaches a settlement with Elliott et al. to pay them, say, 85 cents on the dollar. But then one other, little, holdout comes to Judge Griesa and says: Well, wait. My bonds are pari passu with those guys. So I want to be paid 100 cents on the dollar, and if I'm not, you should enjoin Argentina from paying anything on both the exchange bonds and the newly-settled-Elliott bonds. Doesn't the logic of Judge Griesa's decisions mean that he'd have to grant that injunction? If I were Argentina I'd find a straw plaintiff to buy like $1,000 of New York law bonds and then mess up Elliott's payments the way Elliott has messed up everyone else's.

22-year-olds are in demand.

Any recruitment equilibrium is unstable so you can pretty much always read about how private equity firms are hiring from investment banks earlier and earlier. (There are occasional exceptions, when the firms all get together, say "this is silly," and agree to wait, but that breaks down fast.) The timeline now is that you get hired to work at a PE firm six months into your stint as a bank analyst, 18 months before you start at the PE firm. Is that the limit? It hardly seems like it. The PE firms could recruit a month after the banks, during college, so you get your PE offer as soon as you get your banking offer (and before you start in banking), and then just treat banking as a two-year training program for your real job. I guess that's pretty much how it's treated now? But the earlier recruiting would at least let people skip class, rather than work, to do their PE interviewing. This article also features a good cautionary tale where Goldman pulled a bunch of analysts with PE offers into a room, asked them if they'd accepted those offers, and then fired the ones who told the truth. This seems like a poor application of game theory from Goldman; no wonder all the analysts are leaving for private equity.

Kids these days are horrifying.

Here is a New York Post story about a college dropout who created a fake credit card with a fake Latin name and convinced "Olympic hopefuls, scenester DJs, tech innovators and socialites" to pay $250 for it. And then the Post convinced them to talk about it! Every line here is amazing and you should read the whole thing, and then gouge your eyes out probably, but I want to focus on the "Bowling Alone" aspect. New York can be an intimidating and isolating city for young people and it is important to find a community, whether that's with your college friends or your work colleagues or your neighbors or a sports league or a church or what have you. I choose to read this article as a heartwarming story of young people whose New York community is provided by their credit card. "How'd you meet?," you ask the newly engaged couple. "Oh, we have the same credit card. It's stainless steel, see? We met over oysters and cocktails at our credit card's townhouse." Wonderful.

Things happen.

"If you're worried about whether you're going to die, the affairs of the bank become less interesting but to the shareholder they're as important as they were before"; this quote is true but remember we are all going to die. There are more repo fails. Equity bought deals are a nasty business. American Apparel and Standard General are in last-minute talks, and don't both those names sound fake? Archer Daniels Midland is buying Wild Flavors, and Wild is a guy's name, not an adjective. "Nearly one in five high school seniors smokes hookah, study says." Business teamwork.

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

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.