Tag Archive: SEC

May 21 2014

The SEC and Private Equity

Naked capitalism‘s Yves Smith appeared in RT news Boom/Bust to discuss the risky business and abuses of private equity in the real estate rental market. Her segment starts at 3:45.

In her article, Yves also noted this piece from an article on private equity from Friday’s Bloomberg News:

PE Slump

Private-equity transactions overall have fallen 22 percent to $53 billion through April, data compiled by Bloomberg show, led by the drop in buyouts of public companies. The value of those leveraged buyouts declined to $3.2 billion compared with an average of $34 billion in the 10 years through 2013.

The peak for buyouts came before the financial crisis, when U.S. funds struck $659 billion of deals from 2005 through 2007, including the purchases of HCA Inc., Hilton Worldwide Inc. and Biomet Inc., the data show. Buying inexpensive public companies was generally easier for the funds than carve-outs are, said Raymond Lin, a mergers and acquisitions attorney at Latham & Watkins LLP.

“The easy days for private-equity buyers are over when they profited from buying undervalued companies,” he said. “Carve-out deals require a lot of up-front work that would incur additional costs and could affect returns.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, which reached a record this week, trades at 17.4 times reported profit, the highest level since 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

PE’s Limits

While high valuations haven’t scared off dealmaking between companies, buyout firms are motivated by different factors, said Gordon Caplan, chairman of the private-equity practice group at law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP.

“If business growth slows, companies have to buy things,” he said. “Private-equity buyers can’t create synergies like company mergers can in most cases.”

Corporations are more willing to spin off divisions as management continues to clean up underperforming businesses and pay down debt following the financial crisis, said Tom Franco, a partner at Clayton Dubilier.

SEC Official Describes Widespread Lawbreaking and Material Weakness in Controls in Private Equity Industry

Posted on May 8, 2014 by Yves Smith

At a private equity conference this week, Drew Bowden, a senior SEC official, told private equity fund managers and their investors in considerable detail about how the agency had found widespread stealing and other serious infractions in its audits of private equity firms.

In the years that I’ve been reading speeches from regulators, I’ve never seen anything remotely like Bowden’s talk. I’ve embedded it at the end of this post and strongly encourage you to read it in full.

Despite the at times disconcertingly polite tone, the SEC has now announced that more than 50 percent of private equity firms it has audited have engaged in serious infractions of securities laws. These abuses were detected thanks to to Dodd Frank. Private equity general partners had been unregulated until early 2012, when they were required to SEC regulation as investment advisers. [..]

Bowden pointed out that private equity is unique among the investment advisers the SEC supervises. The general partners’ control of portfolio companies gives them access to their cash flows, which the GPs can divert into their own pockets in numerous ways. Naked Capitalism readers may recognize that this arrangement is similar to the position mortgage servicers are in: they control the relationship with the funds source, and they are also responsible for records-keeping and remitting money to investors. And as we’ve chronicled at considerable length, servicers have shown remarkable creativity in lining their wallets and investors have been unable to discipline them. [..]

Needless to say, this overly cozy arrangement has proven to be a ripe breeding ground for illegal conduct.

Apr 29 2013

Sunday April 28, 2013: Up With Steve Kornacki Tweets

Today's topics were comprehension immigration reform, The SEC, money in politics, voting rights, Voter ID laws, and North Carolina politics. But most importantly, for me, Alexis Goldstein is back on #Uppers.

People loved the shit out of this one.

Thank you for reading.

Aug 10 2012

Countrywide/Bank of America whistleblower practically begs for subpoena

I ran across this posting in Rolling Stone from a management-level whistleblower, who provided information about frauds which took place at Countrywide Home Loans and Bank of America.  The author has prevailed in a wrongful termination ruling from OSHA that requires Bank of America to reinstate her and pay significant damages.

The whistleblower writes:

In 2010, I was interviewed by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) and offered evidence of systemic fraud. Other whistleblowers have done the same. The Commission’s report concluded that fraudulent actions were systemic in certain financial institutions, and referred these practices to federal authorities. Not a single successful criminal prosecution has resulted.

President Obama’s DOJ claims that prosecutors can’t indict and convict financial executives just because they behaved badly; greed, they say, is not a crime. Together with other FCIC witnesses, however, I alleged fraud, not greed, and that is a crime. The DOJ needs to investigate our allegations, and prosecutors could start by contacting whistleblowers like me. We have a lot to say, but many of us are gagged by our former employers unless subpoenaed.

Today, millions of Americans are paying more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, and millions more are facing foreclosure. Meanwhile, those who cashed in while ordinary Americans lost their homes and their jobs remain at large, continuing both the crimes and the cover-up. Whistleblowers like me know who they are because we were there. We’re willing to talk. Why won’t the government listen?

There are people with knowledge of serious crimes that want to come forward and help the justice system to set things right.  But there is a piece missing:

The Obama administration plans to add thousands of investigators to enforce the health care reform law, but has added just 25 positions to investigate whistleblower claims.

The Obama administration does not seem interested in what whistleblowers are reporting, nor does it seem all that interested in protecting whistleblowers that can provide valuable information to prosecutors.

If the Obama administration was paying attention, they would find that public disappointment with the lack of significant and aggressive prosecutions of the serious frauds that caused our financial crisis has spread far beyond the Occupy movement and has now entered the jury pool.  In a recent SEC prosecution of a Citigroup employee, the jury had some interesting thoughts:

As Beau Brendler sat in the jury box listening to the government’s case against a former Citigroup midlevel executive, the same question kept entering his mind.

“I wanted to know why the bank’s C.E.O. wasn’t on trial,” said Mr. Brendler, who served as the jury’s foreman. “Citigroup’s behavior was appalling.”

So, despite the fact that the jury found that the SEC had failed to prove its case against the midlevel employee, in an unusual act for a jury, they issued a statement along with their verdict:

“This verdict should not deter the S.E.C. from continuing to investigate the financial industry, review current regulations and modify existing regulations as necessary.”

The jury foreman explained their reasoning this way:

“We were afraid that we would send a message to Wall Street that a jury made up of regular American folks could not understand their complicated transactions and so they could get away with their outrageous conduct,” Mr. Brendler said. “We also did not want to discourage the government from investigating and prosecuting financial crimes.”

There is a thirst for justice in the American public.  It is long past time for the Obama administration to demonstrate that they are on the side of regular Americans and do something.  

Let’s see, there’s big money on one side of this issue and votes on the other side.  What’s a politician to do?  

Aug 01 2012

How To Lose a Slam Dunk

What was should have been an open and shut case against a mid-level executive with Citibank over the banks’s sale of risky collateralized debt obligations (CDO) somehow was lost by Security and Exchange Commission lawyers.

The Securities and Exchange Commission had accused Brian Stoker, a former midlevel Citigroup executive, with negligence related to his role in creating exotic mortgage securities known as collateralized debt obligations, or C.D.O.’s. In a lawsuit filed last October, the government said that Mr. Stoker, who prepared sales materials for C.D.O.’s, knew or should have known that he was misleading investors by not disclosing that Citigroup helped select the underlying mortgage securities in the C.D.O. and then placed a large bet against it.

The jury rejected the S.E.C.’s case, concluding that Mr. Stoker was not liable under the securities laws. In addition to handing up its verdict, the jury also issued an unusual statement.

This verdict should not deter the S.E.C. from investigating the financial industry, to review current regulations and modify existing regulations as necessary,” said the jury’s statement, which was read aloud in the courtroom by Judge Jed S. Rakoff, who presided over the two-week trial in Federal District Court in Manhattan.

Citibank has already entered an agreement to pay $285 million to settle a civil suit filed by the SEC about the CDO’s. As part of the agreement, Citibank would not have to admit to any wrong doing. Judge Rakoff has rejected that deal and told the parties to prepare for a trial. That ruling is being appealed.

Mr. Stoker’s lawyer depicted him as a “scapregoat” who was merely doing what he was told. Stoker knew full well that the CDO’s were very risky but failed to warn investors who lost over a billion dollars, but he was following instruction from the higher ups. Seriously? The Nuremberg defense is now acceptable?

As Yves Smith observes the SEC showed abject incompetence in prosecuting Stoker:

The SEC’s performance in the case at issue, SEC v. Stoker, was such a total fail that the odds are high that any motivated member of the top half of the NC readership would have done a better job of arguing this case pro se than the SEC did. Even though this case was argued before a jury (ooh, scary! They might go into My Eyes Glaze Over mode on CDO details), the basic issues were simple. The CDO squared that Citigroup director Brian Stoker marketed to investors was presented as having its assets selected by an independent asset manager. This is crucial. Just as investors in mutual funds understand they are hiring a fund management firm, and they compete on track records, so to were managed CDOs sold on the notion that the managers were serving the interests of the investors. And this is particularly important for CDOs, since the fact that the final asset list is made available shortly before closing makes it pretty much impossible for investors to evaluate a CDO on their own even if they had the skills and motivation. [..]

So what did the SEC’s strategy appear to be? This seems to have been a parallel to the approach in the Goldman suit against Goldman’s Fabrice Tourre: to target an non-executive and get him to roll the higher ups. But Tourre and Stoker were both enough made men to be willing to fight. Stoker had a $2.2 million guarantee for 2007. Guys like that do not want to lose their access to the industry meal ticket.

So what was Stoker’s defense? That he was being scapegoated, and Citi should really be on trial. Huh? In prosecutions, whether other parties are being charged is irrelevant. The question at hand is: did the party on trial engage in the conduct in question or not? Saying, “I was only the car driver in the robbery, I didn’t enter the convenience store” does not get you off of being an accessory to a crime. It’s pretty bloomin’ obvious that Stoker misrepresented the deal to investors. He had held securities industry licenses; he knew what the standards were.

It’s fairly obvious from day one of this entire case against Citibank that the SEC was trying very hard to let them off the hook. It is past time that the SEC was staffed with people who are more willing to regulate the banks and up hold the law. I have some heavy doubts that will ever happen under this administration or any other, now or in the future.

May 24 2012

JP Morgan: Oops, They Did It Again

Yes they did it again, JP Morgan profited from the Facebook loss by betting against it. Casino Royale:

The concerns center on Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and other banks involved in the I.P.O. that shared a negative outlook about Facebook with a select group of clients, rather than broadly with all investors.

In the days leading up to Facebook’s debut, analysts at several banks ratcheted down their growth estimates for the social network. The move came after the company told them that quarterly and annual revenue would be on the softer side, said people briefed on the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

As is typical in the I.P.O. process, research analysts at Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and other firms contacted certain clients to discuss their revised expectations, while other big investors called on the banks to get their new take. But ordinary mom-and-pop investors did not have the same access to the valuable information.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts has issued a subpoena over the discussions that analysts had with certain investors over those “revised expectations”:

The analyst’s revisions came after Facebook revised its prospectus on May 9, which the firm forwarded to all of its retail and institutional clients, according to the statement. [..]

As of Monday afternoon, some customers of Fidelity Investments, Morgan Stanley and Charles Schwab were still waiting to see if their trades for Facebook shares were completed on Friday.

Then Reuters reported late Monday that the consumer Internet analyst at lead underwriter Morgan Stanley cut his revenue forecasts for Facebook in the days before the offering, information that may not have reached many investors before the stock was listed.

Cenk Uygur cuts to the chase:

As Cenk noted and Matt Stoller at naked capital reported, over 99% of these investigations are resolved without an admission of guilt:

In a hearing last week titled “Examining the Settlement Practices of U.S. Financial Regulators”, various regulators tried to justify their practice of settling with financial firms and not requiring them to admit wrongdoing. In that hearing, Federal Reserve General Counsel Scott Alvarez, stated that only seven of the roughly one thousand enforcement actions taken in the last decade were resolved without consent.

   The vast majority of the Federa Reserve’s formal enforcement actions are resolved upon consent, which is fully consistent with the goal of resolving supervisory concerns with bank management quickly and firmly. In crafting enforcement actions that are entered by consent, the Federal Reserve typically sets out summary recitations of the relevant facts in “Whereas” clause provisions; however, like our fellow banking regulators, it has not been our practice to require formal admissions to the misconduct addressed in our enforcement orders given the remedial nature of our enforcement program. Requiring admission of fact and legal conclusions as a condition of entering into a consent action is likely to have a deleterious effect on our supervisory efforts by causing more institutions and individuals to challenge the requested relief in contested administrative proceedings, which typically takes years to reach final resolution, and which could delay implemenattion of necessary corrective action.

In other words, the Federal Reserve will only punish banks who break the rules if those banks consent to punishment.  This attitude is pervasive among all regulators.

Can you imagine of our criminal court system ran like that? Oh wait, if you have money . .

Apr 03 2012

Carolyn Maloney Gets an Education on Financial Fraud

Anytime that Congress passes a bill with a cute acronym, you should be very suspicious. ~ Chris Hayes

Last week Congress passed the Jump Start Our Business Startups Act (pdf), the JOBS Act, which is set to be signed into law with much fanfare by President Obama despite the fact that it will in all probability create an explosion of financial fraud. The act rolls back many of the regulations that were passed under Sarbanes-Oxley in 2002. Professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Bill Black wrote an outstanding article for the New Economic Perspectives that was cross posted at naked capitalism, explaining with clarity how the jumpstart Obama’s Bucket Shops Act is just another in a long series of fraud-promoting legislation. He closed with this analysis:

We have trashed a regulatory system that was the envy of the world. It helped bring us prosperity, far greater economic stability, fewer and less severe recessions, and reduced income inequality. It made freer enterprise possible because the regulatory cops on the beat helped limit the Gresham’s dynamic in which bad ethics drives good ethics out of the marketplace. When frauds prosper honest businesses are among the victims. The three de’s have brought us recurrent, intensifying financial crises, the end of any material gains by the middle class, losses for the working class, the expansion of poverty and extreme inequality, and the domination of our political system by crony capitalism. Elite fraud and corruption are now common in America.

The entire article is a must read.

During a panel discussion on Up with Chris Hayes, Prof. Black and Alexis Goldstein of Occupy the SEC “educated” Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney, who represents the the Upper East Side constituency of top Wall Street earners, on just how bad this bill is. As Yves Smith observes, “it is pretty hard to imagine that Carolyn Maloney would do anything that would seriously inconvenience her constituency”:

You need to watch the full segment to get the effect, but Maloney starts out by saying that the JOBS Act probably won’t create many jobs, but she was nevertheless getting complaints about how costly it was for “small” businesses to hire auditors (earth to base, if they are public, they would not qualify as “small” in most people’s book). Goldsmith devastates Maloney with her command of the bill, pointing out that it covers companies of up to $1 billion in revenues, that the tech companies its backers keep invoking have VC firms ready and willing to invest, and the new format well be used by PE firms flipping companies they had taken private back to public investors. By the end, Maloney is telling Goldsmith to send her suggestions for improved legislation and she’ll put it forward (I’ll believe her sincerity when I see action).

Yves is right, Alexis shreds Carolyn. Watch this segment, it is a thing of beauty.

Prof. Black also explains “stump & dump” scams and “cloud financing” that can cause devastating losses and won’t create any jobs.

Jan 09 2012

Judge Rakoff and the SEC

Recently Federal District Court Judge Jed Rackoff rejected the $285 million settlement that Citibank had negotiated with the SEC over $1 billion in mortgage securities fraud that would also have exonerated the bank of guilt. The SEC acceptance of “neither admit nor deny” language that has been considered “boilerplate” in these settlements has now been, not only rejected by the courts, but dropped by the SEC in securities fraud cases:

The Securities and Exchange Commission, in a fundamental policy shift, said Friday that it would no longer allow defendants to say they neither admit nor deny civil fraud or insider trading charges when, at the same time, they admit to or have been convicted of criminal violations.

The change is the first time that the S.E.C. has stepped back from its longstanding practice of allowing companies to settle fraud charges by paying a fine without admitting wrongdoing. The new policy will also apply to cases where a company or an individual enters an agreement with criminal authorities to defer prosecution or to not be prosecuted as part of a settlement.

Robert Khuzami, the director of enforcement at the S.E.C., said the agency would continue to use the “neither admit nor deny” settlement process when the agency alone reached a deal with a company in a case of civil securities law violations. Those types of cases make up a large majority of S.E.C. settlements.

As David Dayen at FDL so rightly notes, “This is a first step to stopping this travesty of allowing companies to get off the hook and pay their way out of fraud violations without even admitting they did anything wrong. And this never happens without the work of Jed Rakoff.”

Nov 30 2011

The Courts Are Doing The SEC’s Job

Matt Taibbi: Rakoff decision to reject the Citigroup settlement

Keith and “Countdown” contributor Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone discuss the remarkable decision by U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff to reject a $285 million settlement between Citigroup and the Securities and Exchange Commission for misleading investors. Taibbi points out that banks take punitive settlements in stride, saying, “They recognize that every now and then they’re going to get dragged into court, they’re going to have to give a little bit of money to somebody, and then they get to walk away and keep doing it.”

Federal Judge Pimp-Slaps the SEC Over Citigroup Settlement

Rakoff’s 15-page final ruling read like a political document, serving not just as a rejection of this one deal but as a broad and unequivocal indictment of the regulatory system as a whole. He particularly targeted the SEC’s longstanding practice of greenlighting relatively minor fines and financial settlements alongside de facto waivers of civil liability for the guilty – banks commit fraud and pay small fines, but in the end the SEC allows them to walk away without admitting to criminal wrongdoing.

This practice is a legal absurdity for several reasons. By accepting hundred-million-dollar fines without a full public venting of the facts, the SEC is leveling seemingly significant punishments without telling the public what the defendant is being punished for. This has essentially created a parallel or secret criminal justice system, in which both crime and punishment are adjudicated behind closed doors. [..]

Judge Rakoff blew a big hole in that practice yesterday. His ruling says secret justice is not justice, and that the government cannot hand out punishments without telling the public what the punishments are for. He wrote:

  Finally, in any case like this that touches on the transparency of financial markets whose gyrations have so depressed our economy and debilitated our lives, there is an overriding public interest in knowing the truth. In much of the world, propaganda reigns, and truth is confined to secretive, fearful whispers. Even in our nation, apologists for suppressing or obscuring the truth may always be found. But the S.E.C., of all agencies, has a duty, inherent in its statutory mission, to see that the truth emerges; and if it fails to do so, this Court must not, in the name of deference or convenience, grant judicial enforcement to the agency’s contrivances.

Notice the reference to how things are “in much of the world,” a subtle hint that the idea behind this ruling is to prevent a slide into third-world-style justice. There are many such loaded passages in Rakoff’s ruling. Another one comes up around the issue of the “public interest.” [..]

On the other hand, both the SEC and Citigroup insist that this secretive payoff system is defensible and must continue. They clearly believe, sincerely, that none of this stuff is really the public’s business.

This is an extraordinarily condescending attitude and shows exactly how little they think of the public at large. One wonders if decisions like Rakoff’s will at least help to wake the government up.

Nov 28 2011

NY Judge Rejects SEC/Citibank Mortgage Fraud Fine

Bloomberg News is reporting that a NY Federal Judge has rejected the $285 million settlement that Citibank had negotiated with the SEC over $1 billion in mortgage securities fraud that would also have exonerated the bank of guilt. Citibank Citibank had led investors to believe that the mortgage investments were safer than they actually were, leading to a financial loss of around $700 million.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff rejected the settlement in an opinion released today. The judge has criticized the agreement for permitting New York-based Citigroup to settle without admitting or denying liability in the matter. [..]

“In any case like this that touches on the transparency of financial markets whose gyrations have so depressed our economy and debilitated our lives, there is an overriding public interest in knowing the truth,” Rakoff wrote in the opinion.

Rakoff consolidated the case with another SEC suit involving former Citigroup employee Brian Stoker and scheduled the combined case for trial on July 16, 2012. The parties may try to reach a revised settlement, which must be approved by Rakoff to take effect.

From Think Progress:

The “judge wrote that there is an overriding public interest in knowing the truth about the financial markets. He set a July 16 trial date for the case.”

The SEC should have fined them twice the losses, not that it would have deterred Citibank from doing it again.  

Apr 18 2011

DOJ Ignoring Grand Theft Wall Street

Former New York governor and attorney general general, now CNN talk show host Eliot Spitzer appeared on Anderson Cooper’s “360” with “Rolling Stone” editor and blogger, Matt Taibbi discussing the two year investigation of the financial institutions that “plunged the U.S. economy into a painful recession”. The Senate subcommittee’s 650 page report that was released on April 13th is a scathing indictment of cover-ups,  lies, the conflict of interest of regulators and the cozy relationship with ratings agencies. During the discussion, Spitzer challenged Attorney General Eric Holder to either prosecute Goldman Sachs or resign:

SPITZER: Senator, I’m going to take a leap. I’m going to say it out loud. Very directly.

   Goldman Sachs, you lied to the public. You lied to your clients. You’ve got a problem. You come on the show. Sue me. I don’t care. You lied to the public, you should be prosecuted.

   I’m going to say it right now. And I hope they are.

It isn’t surprising that the “powers that be” went after Spitzer because this is the man who should be the US Attorney General.

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