Levine on Wall Street: Bank of America, After the Settlements

What's Bank of America's next trick? Why would you do business with Robert Mugabe? Why would Bart Chilton lobby for HFTs? What's Al Gore up to? Allergan? Dollar Whatever?

Maybe Bank of America should start thinking about making money now?

Now that Bank of America is finally shutting down its random number generator for paying mortgage settlements -- after a great run! -- there are those who are asking questions like "They’ve probably come to the end of that clean-up phase, now people are saying what’s the next chapter? Is there a growth strategy?" You can see how they'd be lost without mortgage settlements to give their lives meaning. And there are ominous rumblings; as a reformed lawyer myself I was offended on Brian Moynihan's behalf by questions like this:

“You’ve had a lawyer at the helm for the last four-and-a-half years to clear up legal issues, is he the right person to lead the bank for the next five years? It’s not quite clear he understands the strategy or operations as well as someone would need to,” said Mike Mayo, CLSA analyst.

Elsewhere apparently regulators sometimes call up banks and gently suggest that they improve their controls and risk management and systems, and good lord, were the regulators doing something else before? "Oh look, we've finally installed phone lines, let's try calling some banks and telling them to be better banks."

Och-Ziff, funder of dictators.

Here is an amazing Bloomberg Businessweek story about platinum concessions in Zimbabwe and how they fund Robert Mugabe's horrible regime, and about how the hedge fund Och-Ziff is a major investor in Camec, a mining company that acquired a platinum concession from Mugabe in pretty dodgy-looking circumstances. Don't get too smug, though; if you use anything made with platinum then you're complicit too, just at one or two more removes. One thing that an interconnected global economy is good at is funding horrible dictators.

Bart Chilton, HFT lobbyist.

Don't get me wrong, I think that high-frequency trading is mostly fine and has an undeserved bad reputation, so it's perfectly reasonable and worthwhile to work on improving its image. Still though, is Bart Chilton really the right guy to advise an HFT lobbying group? Bart Chilton, the folksy, outspoken, weirdly coiffed, recently departed CFTC commissioner who called HFTs "cheetahs" until they started paying him to do otherwise? It's a little too transparent for my tastes; I like a little plausible deniability with my revolving doors. (Still: Update your revolving-door theory; there's no doubt that Chilton's toughness as a regulator made him more attractive as a post-regulator.)

Al Gore, M&A litigant.

I once had a landlord who didn't want to return my security deposit when I moved out, so made up some claims about damages to stonewall me. Eventually I took her to small claims court and won. That's basically what Al Gore is up to these days, only for $65 million: He sold Current TV to Al Jazeera America, $85 million of the purchase price was put into escrow to cover breaches of reps and warranties and other badness attributable to the pre-closing period, and Al Jazeera refused to return some of the escrowed money for reasons that it thinks are legitimate and that Gore thinks are hogwash. So he's hired David Boies to sue them, because I guess the guy who led the unsuccessful lawsuit to fix Gore's unsuccessful presidential bid is the natural choice to lead the lawsuit to fix Gore's unsuccessful merger of his unsuccessful TV channel.

Checking in on Allergan/Valeant/Pershing.

Allergan's insider trading lawsuit in California, and Valeant/Pershing's counter-lawsuit for miscellaneous securities fraud, will still go on, but it won't delay an Allergan special meeting if Pershing Square has the votes to call one. Also noteworthy: Pershing Squares says it has those votes, so I guess it's on to the next dispute. The shareholders can work out what will happen in the merger fight, and then later the lawyers can work out who committed securities fraud against whom at their leisure.

Checking in on Family Dollar General Tree.

I guess I was a little too dismissive yesterday when I said that Family Dollar's brush-off of Dollar General looked really bad. Steven Davidoff Solomon points out that there's a perfectly plausible, shareholder-value-oriented reason for Family Dollar to prefer a lower-priced Dollar Tree deal over a higher-priced Dollar General one: Dollar General raises a significantly higher antitrust risk, and you don't want to abandon a deal that's likely to close to take a deal that may not. (One solution would be for Dollar General to take on more of the antitrust risk in the deal, with a "hell or high water" standard for divestitures, but so far it doesn't seem interested.) On the other hand, the antitrust risk is sort of subjective -- Dollar General itself says it's very low -- and so, if Family Dollar's management was just picking the Dollar Tree deal to keep their own jobs, this would be a convenient excuse.

There's an M&A app.

"It’s like an online dating website. It can help bankers find the perfect match," says one guy. "Once you start using it, you go nuts and it’s hard to quit," says another guy. I tease a little, but the point is basically to serve as a clearinghouse for potential buyers and sellers in small and mid-market international deals, and that does seem like something to automate. There are not a lot of banks with both broad international contacts and an interest in the middle market, so why not link small advisers with an app? Elsewhere here is Felix Salmon arguing that Silicon Valley will render investment bankers unnecessary.

Things happen.

German households are surprisingly indebted, though they're getting better. "Skin in the game," but not necessarily your skin. Guess what Marty Lipton thinks about "The Long-Term Consequences of Hedge Fund Activism." People multitask on conference calls, a study has found, for some reason. Nobody used the Yo car service. $900 cupcake. Alex Tabarrok on Ferguson. Underwater puppies.

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:
    Zara Kessler at zkessler@bloomberg.net

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