Levine on Wall Street: Burgers for Breakfast

S&P 1997.92, Buffett money for Burger Tim, Allergan shareholder defenses, European bank asset sales, and a mortgage crisis for 2015, why not. Also golf.

Congratulations everybody!

We did it! S&P 2000! Art Cashin calls it an "achievement," so give yourself a pat on the back, you deserve it. And take some time to reflect on the meaning of your stock indexes:

"It's similar to an anniversary," says Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst for S&P Dow Jones Indices. "It forces people to some degree to look back, like any nostalgic item, and to see where they've come from, how they've reacted to it, and more importantly, where they want to be and how they can get there."

Oh wait never mind the S&P 500 closed at 1997.92, after hitting an intraday high of 2001.95. So it's only an intraday achievement, tempered by an end-of-day shameful failure. Don't look back, don't think about where you want to be (higher, right?) or how you can get there (I'm guessing ... buy more stock?). Save that for, what, this afternoon?

Warren Buffett would finance the Burger Tim deal.

Apparently Berkshire Hathaway is planning to help financeBurger King Worldwide's offer to take over Tim Hortons, buying preferred stock for around 25 percent of the deal price. Outrage outrage tax inversion Buffett patriotic blah blah blah, though my own view is that this is not a bad inversion as inversions go. (Shawn Simpson, interviewed by the Post while "ordering a Double Whopper and onion rings," disagrees: "For them to take their headquarters and move it across the border is a negative for me.") It does seem like another vote of confidence by Buffett in 3G Capital, Burger King's main owners; he bought Heinz with them last year and has promised to do more deals with them. And here are analyses of Burger King's plans to compete for breakfast and build a fast food empire, though step one seems to be the entirely predictable "what if we put a Tim Hortons next to a Burger King?"

What is Allergan up to?

Pershing Square delivered requests for a special meeting from 31 percent of Allergan stockholders, so under its bylaws Allergan has to call a special meeting on the proposed Valeant deal within 120 days. One approach would be to say "okay you win this round Pershing Square, we'll hold the meeting but we're confident that shareholders will side with us." Here is Ronald Barusch speculating on what Allergan might do instead:

[I]n the meantime, the directors have the authority to approve most types of transactions without asking shareholders. The Allergan board has the ability to enter into a major acquisition, borrow large amounts of money to finance the deal and thereby make Valeant unable to complete its deal.

And there's a broader trend of companies making it easier for shareholders to replace directors, with fewer staggered boards and other takeover protections, which makes hostile deals easier and more common. Allergan's own takeover defenses were dismantled by the activism of small gadfly shareholder John Chevedden, who is pleased: "Companies belong to us, the shareholders. Why shouldn't we be the ones to decide?" Marty Lipton is less pleased: "Responsible institutional investors … need to take a good look at themselves and ask whether their insistence that American companies render themselves more vulnerable to hostile takeover bids like this one has increased the true value of their portfolios."

Do we have a new mortgage crisis to look forward to?

Here is David Dayen saying yes: There are a bunch of payment resets coming up in 2015, from home equity lines of credit that will start paying off principal to Home Affordable Modification Program relief running out. "All told, research firm Black Knight estimates that two million modifications will face interest rate resets in the coming years, and 40 percent of those homes remain 'underwater.'" Maybe don't get too excited, though; that's 800,000 underwater mortgages resetting, or about 1 percent of the total outstanding mortgages. Elsewhere Adam Levitin tracks the money from $94.6 billion in big bank mortgage settlements; the upshot is that "the distribution shows how badly non-GSE investors got shafted," with a lot more money going to the Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission, which never bought dodgy mortgages, than to the investors who did. And here is a proposal for a strict liability regime for credit rating agencies.

European banks are selling assets.

This all sounds like good news: European banks "have shunted more businesses, bad loans and spoiled investments into units to be sold or wound down," and are actually selling them. They're getting very attractive prices in competitive auctions from non-bank investors, and "Selling bad debts and underperforming operations frees up funds firms can use to increase lending." One thing to think about this might be that long delays in recognizing and dealing with losses actually worked: By building up expectations about asset sales, and then constantly disappointing them, the banks created demand to match the supply that is now finally coming to market.

Things happen.

If you like exchanging stock tips in the open air, you'll love The Barclays Pro-Am. Lacrosse player finds success in finance. "But some have found another edge, at the end of a yoga mat." Swiss private bank reports results. Another Wall Street chat room service. Cyber threats to banks. Male novelist jokes. Cool story bro.

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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