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How “Activist Investors” David Einhorn and Dan Loeb Brought Their Special Talents to Bear On New Century Financial

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How “Activist Investors” David Einhorn and Dan Loeb Brought Their Special Talents to Bear On New Century Financial

You don’t hear much about it, but the March 2007 bankruptcy of a company called New Century Financial was arguably one of the most important events leading up to the financial crisis that nearly caused a second Great Depression.

It was the demise of New Century, then the nation’s second largest mortgage lender, that triggered the collapse of the market for collateralized debt obligations. And it was the collapse in the value of collateralized debt obligations (a majority of which contained New Century mortgages) that hobbled a number of big financial firms. Once hobbled, the likes of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers were ripe targets for unscrupulous hedge fund managers who amplified their problems by spreading exaggerated rumors while bombarding them with illegal naked short selling.

So we must ask: Why did New Century Financial go bankrupt? Did the company die of natural causes, or did miscreants orchestrate its destruction? And if miscreants destroyed New Century, did they do so planning to profit from the broader economic calamities that were certain to result from its collapse?

I do not yet have definitive answers to these questions. But interviews with sources close to New Century and a review of documents, including the oddly biased 500-page New Century bankruptcy report, make it clear that at least two hedge fund managers — David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital and Dan Loeb of Third Point Capital — played a significant role in creating the conditions that made New Century vulnerable to catastrophe. And they did so while building massive short positions in Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, MBIA and other companies that were likely to be seriously damaged if New Century were to go bankrupt.

Einhorn was a major investor in New Century and took a seat on the company’s board in early 2006. He has gone to lengths to suggest that he lost a lot of money from his investment. But given that his activities on the board were so contrary to New Century’s best interests, and given that he was otherwise so heavily invested in the collapse of the mortgage markets, it is reasonable to ask if he was  in fact short selling New Century’s stock, or buying credit default swaps that would pay out in the event of the company’s bankruptcy.

Moreover, some banks, most notably Goldman Sachs, created and sold collateralized debt obligations containing New Century mortgages while simultaneously betting that the CDOs would plummet in value. Multiple media stories (such as this one in “Investment News”) have speculated that Goldman Sachs actually designed these CDOs in such a way that they would be certain to implode, delivering large profits to Goldman and preferred hedge fund clients. Those CDO could not have been created without Einhorn and his allies inside New Century delivering the mortgages that went into them. And there is no doubt that Goldman Sachs delivered the knock-out punch that put New Century out of business, ensuring that the CDOs would, in fact, implode. This constellation of facts may be coincidental, of course. Or not. This essay lays them out, and leaves it to the reader to decide.

New Century’s problems began in December 2005, when board member Richard Zona drafted a letter in which he threatened to resign if senior executives did not agree to sell a greater percentage of the mortgage loans on its books to various banks, such as Goldman Sachs. In his letter, Zona explicitly stated that he was making this demand in league with David Einhorn and Dan Loeb.

Unfortunately, according to the bankruptcy report, New Century’s executives never saw that letter. Zona stashed the draft letter on his computer and instead submitted a letter making a similar demand, but omitting all mention of Einhorn and Loeb. In all likelihood, Zona changed his letter because he knew that New Century’s executives had good reason to doubt whether Einhorn and Loeb, who had recently reported large shareholdings in New Century, were acting in the company’s best interests.

As Deep Capture has thoroughly documented, Einhorn and Loeb are part of a network of hedge fund managers and criminals who use a variety of dubious tactics to destroy, seize, and/or loot public companies for profit. It is not unusual for money managers in this network to appear as long investors in the companies they are attacking, and sometimes they seek to obtain a seat on a target company’s board in order to be better placed to run the company into the ground for their own private profit.

Essentially everyone  in this network – including Einhorn and Loeb — are connected in important ways to Michael Milken, the infamous criminal who specialized in loading companies with debt, looting them, and then profiting still more from their inevitable bankruptcies.

Einhorn spent his early career working for Gary Siegler, who was formerly the top partner in the investment firm run by Carl Icahn, a corporate raider and ne’er-do-well who owes his fortune to the junk bond finance that he received from Michael Milken in the 1980s. Icahn has various other seamy connections, and has employed people with ties to the Mafia (see “The Story of Dendreon” for details).

Prior to his attacks on Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, Einhorn was best known for his eminently dishonest attempt to demolish a financial company called Allied Capital. The attack on Allied began in 2002 at a hedge fund luncheon. Halfway through that luncheon, Einhorn stood up and declared that “Allied Capital is going to zero!” Sitting next to Einhorn at that luncheon was Carl Icahn.

Some weeks before the luncheon, Michael Milken had appeared in the offices of a top Allied Capital executive. “You know,” Milken told the executive, “I already am quite a large shareholder of your stock – but my name will never show up on any list you’ll see.” This may have been a reference to a practice called “parking stock” (owning stock but “parking” it in the accounts of friends with whom one has made under-the-table arrangements), a practice that figured in the high-count indictment that sent Milken to prison in the 1980s. Milken appeared to the Allied executives to be threatening Allied and fishing for information, paving the way for Einhorn’s more public vitriol.

The Allied story is outside the remit of this article, but it is enough to know that Einhorn proceeded to accuse the company of massive fraud and of failing to account for its loans at “fair value”. With some minor exceptions, none of Einhorn’s allegations of fraud were ever proven to have merit. And it was clear from the get-go that Einhorn’s notion of “fair value” had nothing to do with “fair” (as in “what the market was paying”). Rather, “fair value” was an arbitrary metric that could be taken to mean whatever Einhorn said the value of the loans should be. This is important because Einhorn’s outlandish “fair value” calculations featured prominently in his attacks on Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. In addition, as we will see, arbitrary and over-the-top “fair value” assumptions about mortgage loans featured in the bankruptcy of New Century.

As for Loeb, he is a long-time Einhorn accomplice who worked side-by-side with many of Milken’s former traders at Jeffries & Co. He got his first big break by obtaining preferential access to certificates of beneficiary interest that had been issued by Milken’s bankrupt operation at Drexel, Burnham, Lambert. Loeb seems to take a certain pride in his bad boy image, and has distinguished himself in all manner of chicanery, such as hiring a cast of convicted criminals and scofflaws to spread false information about public companies on the Internet. (Please search Deep Capture’s archives; we have compiled substantial evidence implicating Loeb in various misdeeds).

Given their backgrounds, there was every reason to doubt the merits of the demand that Einhorn and Loeb had articulated through New Century board member Richard Zona. Indeed, the majority of New Century’s top managers (the company had three CEOs at the time) were opposed to the Einhorn-Loeb demand to sell off all of New Century’s mortgage loans, and for good reason. Selling off all the loans would make the company entirely dependent on the banks, such as Goldman Sachs, that bought the loans. If, for some reason, the banks were to demand that New Century buy back its loans, the company would go bankrupt.

Shortly before Zona submitted his letter demanding that New Century sell off its loans, one of the company’s co-founders, Patrick Flanagan, said by sources to be an ally of Einhorn and Loeb, left the company. After a brief time, Flanagan went to work for hedge fund Cerberus Capital. Cerberus Capital was run by Ezra Merkin, famous for being one of the biggest feeders to the Bernard Madoff fraud, and Stephen Feinberg, who was formerly a top employee of Michael Milken. Cerberus is also the proud owner of an Austrian bank called Bawag, which was at the center of a scandal that wiped out Refco, once one of the most abusive naked short selling outfits on Wall Street. (Refco’s former CEO, Phillip Bennett, and executive Santo Maggio have been convicted and are serving prison sentences, while one of its naked short selling clients, Thomas Badian, is still living in Austria as a fugitive from US law)..

Sources tell Deep Capture that Cerberus made massive profits from the demise of New Century, and if so, it is likely that Flanagan had a hand in this. It is perhaps also no coincidence that Cerberus now also employs Thomas Marano, the former head of mortgage trading at Bear Stearns, and Brendan Garvey, the former head of mortgage trading at Lehman Brothers. Marano and Garvey helped sink their companies by buying New Century’s repackaged loans from Goldman Sachs and a few other banks.

While still at Bear Stearns, Marano seemed almost eager to see the bank collapse. At one point he called Roddy Boyd, a reporter with close connections to the Einhorn-Milken nexus of hedge funds, to leak an  account of  Bear Stearns’ problems, though as we have documented, that leak seems to have been exagerrated when Marano made it.  One has to wonder why he was leaking about his employer, and also wonder at the coincidence of the fact that he was doing this while preparing to go to work for a large hedge fund that was betting against that employer.

After Flanagan left New Century, Zona organized a highly unusual “off site” board meeting. The directors at this meeting (which excluded all opposing viewpoints) decided to implement a radical change to New Century’s management structure. Among other changes, CEOs Ed Gotchall and Bob Cole were removed from their posts, and the company was put under the sole leadership of the third CEO, Brad Morrice.

Einhorn and Loeb orchestrated this change. Sources say the two hedge fund managers had considerable input at the “off site” board meeting even though Einhorn was not yet a director. And Zona stated in the initial draft of his letter (the one that stated that he was making his demands in alliance with Einhorn and Loeb) that Gotschall was “immature and disruptive,” while Cole was “not fully engaged” – because they opposed the demand to sell off the loans.

In Morrice, Einhorn and Loeb had a CEO whom they could work with. Prior to entering the mortgage business, Morrice had been the founding partner, along with Richard Purtrich, of law firm King, Purtrich & Morrice. In 2008, Purtrich was sentenced to prison for funneling illegal kickback payments from a crooked law firm called Milberg Weiss. Milberg’s top partners, Bill Lerach and Melvyn Weiss, were also indicted in the scheme.

According to the DOJ, the kickbacks were paid to plaintiffs who filed bogus class action lawsuits against public companies “anticipating that their stock prices would decline.” Deep Capture has published extensive evidence showing that Milberg prepared those bogus lawsuits in cahoots with hedge funds in David Einhorn’s network. The hedge funds, of course, profited from short selling the targeted companies, and it is indeed likely that the bribed plaintiffs were  “anticipating that the stock prices would decline” because they knew that the hedge funds were going to attack the companies via illegal naked short selling and other tactics.

So it is fair to say that Morrice (whose former partner was funneling kickbacks to plaintiffs who were conspiring  with Einhorn’s hedge fund network to attack public companies) was intimately familiar with the tactics of Einhorn’s hedge fund network.

In any case, soon after Morrice took the helm at New Century, he quickly set about meeting Einhorn’s demand to sell off New Century’s mortgage loans. Whole loan sales comprised less than 70% of New Century’s secondary market transactions in 2005. By September of 2006, whole loan sales comprised a full 95% of New Century’s mortgage lending. As a result, whereas in all of 2005, New Century had sold a mere $256 million worth of loans at a discount, during the first nine months of 2006, New Century sold $916 million worth of loans at a discount.

Much of the income from those loan sales was not used to build New Century’s liquidity. Rather, at Einhorn’s suggestion, it was used to buy back stock and pay out massive dividends to shareholders like Einhorn. At the end of 2005, New Century was paying $1.65 a share in dividends. In January 2007, two months before New Century’s bankruptcy, the company was paying dividends of $1.90 a share. If we accept the proposition that Einhorn might have profited from New Century’s collapse, it is clear that he planned first to profit from his long position. This is similar to a classic “pump and dump” scam, except that the strategy is to pump and destroy.

In March 2006, with the support of Morrice and Zona, Einhorn obtained a seat on New Century’s board of directors. At this point, according to one member of senior management, the “activist investors” on the board did become extremely “active,” agitating for more loan sales while pushing for changes in  New Century’s accounting. Many of these changes were based on the premise that New Century was not accurately recording the “fair value” of  loans that it had to repurchase from Goldman Sachs and other buyers.

Meanwhile, Einhorn convinced the board to create a finance committee and presented himself as the man to run it. According to the bankruptcy report, this committee met “unusually often,” and according to sources, its principal activity was to handle New Century’s relationships with Goldman Sachs and the 13 other banks that were buying New Century’s mortgage loans. In June 2006, at Einhorn’s behest, New Century hired a woman named Lenice Johnson to serve as chief credit officer, responsible for managing those same relationships.

As we shall see, two of those relationships – especially the one with Goldman Sachs – would later  mysteriously deteriorate, leading to New Century’s demise. And soon after New Century went bankrupt, Johnson went to work at the above-mentioned Cerberus Capital (the Milken-crony hedge fund).  You may remember that Cerberus Capital was mentioned above because  Thomas Marano the head of Bear Stearns’ mortgage trading desk, sunk Bear Stearns by buying Goldman-packaged new Century debt, then leaked information about Bear Stearns’ financial condition to New York Post reporter Roddy Boyd (Boyd is Deep Capture All Star; his dishonesty has been fodder for many of our stories), a few weeks before joining the hedge fund – Cerberus Capital — that was betting against Bear Stearns. In sum, then: Cerberus Capital bet that New Century would face a credit crunch and bet against Bear Stearns for buying New Century’s debt, then hired the New Century chief credit officer and the head of the Bear Sterns desk that was making the bad bets.

As Einhorn and Morrice eagerly sold off all of New Century’s loans, other board members became alarmed. In August 2006, board member Fred Forster wrote a letter to Einhorn stating: “Whatever we do, we need to be very comfortable that less capital/liquidity does not in any material way threaten the very existence or viability of New Century.”

It needs to be stressed that at this point New Century was seemingly in good health. Defaults on its mortgages had increased only slightly, and in the third quarter of 2006, the company recorded a profit of more than $200 million. The problem was that nearly 100 percent of the mortgages it wrote were now being sold to Goldman Sachs and 13 other banks. With no mortgages on its books, the company depended entirely on the banks for income. If just one of those banks were to pull the plug, the company would go bankrupt. And as we know, one of those banks, Goldman Sachs, was placing large short bets on CDO’s containing New Century mortgages, meaning that Goldman had a motivation to see New Century fail. In other words, New Century climbed into Goldman’s life support chamber while Goldman kept its hand on the plug and bought insurance that would pay out in the event of New Century’s death.

Of course, as we know, Goldman was also selling CDOs that had been stuffed with New Century’s subprime mortgages. No doubt, Einhorn and his allies at New Century aided the proliferation of these CDOs by selling Goldman ever-larger numbers of subprime mortgages. Again, the problem was not that the subprime mortgages had high default rates. The mortgages were always expected to have high default rates. That’s why they were called “subprime.” The problem was that Goldman (perhaps with encouragement from their key client Einhorn) was selling the subprime mortgages in essentially fraudulent CDOs that disguised the subprime mortgages as AAA rated debt.

It was just a matter of time before the markets would discover the true nature of these CDOs. That, no doubt, is one reason why Goldman was simultaneously shorting them. All the better for Goldman if New Century were to collapse before the CDO scam was discovered. According to a McClatchy news report, when New Century did collapse, Goldman was prepared with shell companies in the Cayman Islands through which it could offload the last of its New Century debt to unwitting foreign investors.

Supposing that miscreants did want New Century to go bankrupt, all that was required was some precipitating event – an event that would allow one of the 14 banks (say, Goldman Sachs) to force New Century to repurchase its mortgage loans under the terms of its contractual repurchase agreement.

As it happened, the foundations for that precipitating event were laid in November 2006, when New Century demoted its chief financial officer, Patti Dodge, and hired a man named Taj Bindra to take her place. As Morrice, the New Century CEO, told the bankruptcy examiner, Zona and Einhorn “had expressed doubts about Dodge’s capabilities and competence to be the company’s CFO,” and sources tell Deep Capture that Bindra was hired at Einhorn’s behest.

Prior to joining New Century, Bindra had been the vice president of mortgage banking at Washington Mutual. A lawsuit filed by a consortium of respected insurance companies that were investors in Washington Mutual alleges that JP Morgan conspired with “investors” (read: “short sellers”) to drive down Washington Mutual’s share price and manufacture falsehoods about its financial health so that JP Morgan could take the company over at a substantial discount. As part of this scheme, the lawsuit alleges, JP Morgan “deceptively gained access to Washington Mutual’s confidential financial records through the use of ‘plants’ and ‘moles’ engaged in corporate espionage.” The lawsuit alleges that one of the “moles” was … Taj Bindra. It is this same Taj Bindra who then went on to bigger things as CFO of New Century Financial.

Whether or not you believe that Bindra was part of a conspiracy to take down Washington Mutual, it is clear that his actions as CFO of New Century Financial were strange. Understanding why, however, requires delving into a bit of accounting arcara.

According to one source, Bindra had been CFO for “no more than two days” before he began asking questions about New Century’s accounting for mortgage loans that the company had so far repurchased from Goldman Sachs and the 13 other buyers. Specifically, Bindra asked why New Century did not include so-called “income severity” (i.e. a mark down of the value of repurchased loans to reflect their actual resale value) in its reserve calculation.

Normally, one wants reserves in any financial company to properly estimate the risks of certain events, and their potential costs. However, Bindra’s  question was somewhat esoteric (especially for  a CFO who had only been at New Century for two days) because it referred specifically to an obscure change in New Century’s accounting that had been made in the second quarter of 2006. That change was as follows: instead of recording the mark-down in its reserves, it recorded it in “loans held for sale.”  This does not mean that New Century had stopped including income severity in its calculations, but rather, had  moved it to another (and equally or more visible) part of its balance sheet.  The books continued to balance (that’s why they call it a “balance sheet”) and, accounting experts tell Deep Capture, the change had absolutely no effect on New Century’s  bottom line, nor was it any less transparent. Multiple New Century executives explained this to Bindra. In addition, KPMG, New Century’s accountants, confirmed to Bindra that the change did not affect earnings.

But Bindra persisted. And, according to the bankruptcy report, “such inquiries by Bindra led in relatively short order to the discovery of material accounting errors.”  Those “material accounting errors” were none other than the obscure change in accounting for income severity – i.e. the change that had no effect on New Century’s earnings. By remarkable coincidence, just as Bindra discovered this supposed “error” in December 2006 (which was long before the “error” was mentioned in any other public forum), the Center for Financial Research and Analysis, an outfit known to cater to short sellers, published a report that alluded to this very same “error.”

When Bindra took this supposed “error” to the board, there was much confusion among most of the directors. But Einhorn and Zona insisted adamantly that New Century would have to restate its earnings. This was strange not only because the change in how the company recorded income severity had no material effect on earnings, but also because Einhorn had eagerly signed off on the change in the first place. In fact, the change had been  one of the board’s first initiatives after Einhorn took over the finance committee. Given this, it certainly appears possible that Einhorn  initiated the accounting change so that his hand-picked CFO would have some “irregularity” to point to a few months later.

In any case, on February 7, 2007, New Century announced that it had violated accounting rules and would have to restate earnings for the previous year. Oddly, New Century never indicated by how much it would have to restate earnings. It simply said that it would restate. Given that the “violation” discovered by Bindra had no effect on earnings, it makes sense that the company would not provide a figure. That is to say, the figure could not be provided because, as far as anyone at New Century knew at the time, the figure was zero.  But this “restatement” announcement was nonetheless catastrophic for New Century, and the beginning of the end for the stability of the American financial system.

It was catastrophic because Goldman Sachs and the 13 other banks that were buying New Century’s mortgage loans had small print in their contracts that allowed them to cut off finance and force New Century to buy back its loans if New Century were to restate earnings. Indeed, a restatement was one of the only events that would allow the banks to force New Century to repurchase all of its loans.

Still, nobody actually expected any bank to act on this small print.  Presumably it would be mutually assured destruction, with New Century going bankrupt and the banks losing a fortune in the market for CDOs. Several weeks after the earnings restatement, Citigroup made a large investment in New Century, obviously reckoning that the fundamentals of the company were just fine.

But as we know, Goldman Sachs was impervious to mutually assured destruction because it had been short selling the CDOs all along. And sure enough, on March 7, 2007, Goldman, acting on that small print in its contract, sent a non-public letter demanding that New Century repurchase every single one of its Goldman-financed loans. The next day, IXIS Real Estate Capital, then a subsidiary of the French bank Natixis, sent New Century a similar letter. David Einhorn had recently become a major investor in Natixis and had been threatening to topple its management, but that is no doubt another coincidence.

Certainly not a coincidence is the fact that a massive illegal naked short selling attack on New Century began just before Goldman Sachs sent its letter. SEC data shows that there were “failures to deliver” of more than 4 million New Century shares on March 8, 2007. Since failures to deliver occur three days after the selling date, those 4 million phantom shares must have been sold by March 6, one day before Goldman sent the letter. It appears that somebody knew what Goldman had in store for New Century.

An independent company that tracks the trading of hedge funds reports that the biggest traders in New Century stock at this time were SAC Capital, run by Steve Cohen, who was once investigated for trading on inside information provided by Michael Milken’s shop at Drexel Burnham, and none other than Dan Loeb, who was Einhorn’s early ally in the ultimately successful effort to force New Century to sell off all its loans. We do not know for certain that those trades were short sales because the SEC does not require hedge funds to report their short positions (on the grounds that it might reveal their “proprietary trading strategies” which  are, in some cases, flagrantly illegal), but it would be unlike Cohen and Loeb to invest in a company that was about to be wrecked by Goldman Sachs.

In the days after Goldman and IXIS cut off credit, New Century’s remaining bankers panicked. With Goldman pulling out and naked short sellers on the rampage, it was clear that New Century’s days were numbered. The other bankers pulled the plug and within a matter of weeks, New Century, a company that had reported a strong profit a few months before, declared bankruptcy. The news of the bankruptcy immediately crashed the CDO market (the market actually began to sink around the time Goldman sent New Century its letter, but it went completely under on the news of the bankruptcy). This set off shockwaves that ultimately collapsed the American economy. Meanwhile, of course, Goldman made a handsome profit, having bet that all this was going to happen – that is, it bet that the instruments with which it was flooding the US financfial system would turn toxic.

As we also know, Einhorn also earned a tidy sum — from his short sales of MBIA, which insured the CDOs, and later from his short selling of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, which had bought the CDOs. Did Einhorn or others in his network profit more directly from the collapse and naked short selling of New Century? That is for the SEC to decide.

But, of course, the SEC is unlikely to look into this. Instead, it has charged New Century’s former CFO, Patti Dodge, and two other New Century executives for violating accounting rules.

Yet to this date, no reputable independent body has provided evidence that the change in accounting that Bindra “discovered” in December 2006 actually affected earnings. And it is that change that prompted the disastrous announcement two months later that New Century was going to restate. KPMG, New Century’s accounting firm, was never consulted about the “restatement” and was fired before it had a chance to object. The decision to announce this restatement (and to not specify by how much the restatement would affect earnings) seems to have been made entirely by Bindra, the CFO, and one of Bindra’s minions, with the encouragement of David Einhorn and his ally Richard Zona.

In prosecuting Dodge and her colleagues for accounting violations, the SEC seems to have taken its cues from the bankruptcy examiners’ report, which goes to lengths to paint Dodge and other New Century executives (namely, those who were not allied with David Einhorn) as criminals. But strangely, while the bankruptcy examiner insists that there were all manner of misdeeds, it nonetheless admits that it is possible that no actual accounting rules were violated.

Indeed, the bankruptcy report is convoluted  beyond belief, and to this eye, biased beyond explanation. The examiner who authored this report stated that he “found no persuasive evidence” that New Century had deliberately inflated its repurchase reserve calculation. He notes that the all-important income severity component was indeed recorded in “loans held for sale” (and therefore had no effect on earnings). But he nonetheless suggests that earnings were inflated, noting that the “elimination of Inventory Severity in the LOCOM valuation account increased earnings by approximately 23.4 million” in the second quarter.

This is a actually a neat trick. The examiner is not stating here that income severity wasn’t recorded accurately. He is saying that it wasn’t recorded in the “LOCOM valuation” – i.e. at “fair value.” As I have mentioned, notions of “fair value” are often arbitrary. Indeed, from the report itself, it would appear that the examiner  pulled that $23.4 million figure out of thin air. The tactic seems to be to point to a change in accounting (one that had no effect on earnings) and suggest that this change did inflate earnings by alluding to something altogether unrelated – i.e. random assumptions about fair value.

That is, the argument (which, incidentally, is the same argument that was heard from Einhorn at New Century board meetings) seems to go like this:

Einhorn/bankruptcy examiner: “New Century changed its accounting. It didn’t book income severity in repurchase reserves. Therefore, New Century inflated earnings.”

Innocent executive: “But we did record income severity, in ‘loans held for sale.’ Earnings aren’t affected by the change.”

Einhorn/bankruptcy examiner: “New Century changed its accounting. Therefore, New Century must have inflated earnings.”

Innocent executive: “But Einhorn signed off on the change. In fact, it was his idea. And, again, it had no effect on earnings.”

Einhorn/bankruptcy examiner: “Well, there was a change. That must mean something is wrong.”

Innocent executive: “No”

Einhorn/bankruptcy examiner: “Look, the problem is that income severity wasn’t recorded at ‘fair value.’”

Innocent executive: “What is ‘fair value’?”

Einhorn/bankruptcy examiner: “Here’s a number. I found it in my underpants.”

Innocent executive: “That’s completely arbitrary. We have a formula for marking to market that has served us for years.”

Einhorn/bankruptcy examiner: “No, we should use the number from my underpants. To prove my point, I will note that New Century changed its accounting.

Innocent executive: “Changing the accounting had no effect on the calculation of the expense!”

Einhorn/bankruptcy examiner: “Right, but you changed the accounting.”

Innocent executive: “I give up. This may wreck the American economy, but I give up.”

Aside from the income severity issue, the bankruptcy examiner provides a litany of other accounting violations that might have been committed by New Century even though the examiner says it found no evidence that any were broken. None of these supposed misdeeds had anything to do with the restatement announcement that enabled Goldman to torpedo New Century, and most of the alleged violations concern supposed miscalculations of “fair value.” Time after time, the examiner opines as to what the fair value of various loans should be, but not once does he explain where in the world he is getting his numbers. If anyone were to ask where he got his numbers, his answer would no doubt be: “They changed the accounting.”

This sort of shifty eyed, misdirecting gobbledygook defines David Einhorn’s style, so it is perhaps no surprise that the bankruptcy examiner seems to think that Einhorn is the one New Century insider who is actually a terrific fellow (though he is the one who instigated the accounting change that the bankrupcy examiner thinks is so evil).

The examiner, by the way, is named Michael Missal. Prior to becoming a bankruptcy examiner, Michael Missel was a defense lawyer for the above-mentioned, infamous Michael Milken. But that is probably another coincidence.

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John Paulson and the Greatest Pump and Short Fraud Ever

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John Paulson and the Greatest Pump and Short Fraud Ever

By now, everybody knows that the market for collateralized debt obligations was riddled with fraud in the lead-up to the financial crisis. What is less known is the fact that hedge fund managers helped create and inflate the market for these toxic securities specifically so that they could bet against them and profit from the inevitable collapse.

An example of a particularly sordid scheme, orchestrated by hedge fund billionaire John Paulson, was discovered some time ago by David Fiderer, a blogger for the Huffington Post. The information in Fiderer’s blog is rather incriminating, and, of course, the mainstream media is not on the case, so I think it bears repeating.

In a close reading of Wall Street Journal Gregory Zuckerman’s book, “The Greatest Trade Ever”, an otherwise starry-eyed account of Paulson’s bets against the mortgage market, Fiderer discovered this nugget:

“Paulson and [partner Paolo Pellegrini] were eager to find ways to expand their wager against risky mortgages. Accumulating it in the market sometimes proved to be a slow process. So they made appointments with bankers at Bear Stearns, Deutsche Bank (NYSE:DB), Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), and other banks to ask if they would create CDOs that Paulson & Co. could essentially bet against.”

As Fiderer explains, Paulson asked the banks to create those CDOs “so that they could be sold to some suckers at close to par. That way, Paulson’s hedge fund could approach some other sucker who would sell an insurance policy, or credit default swap, on the newly minted CDOs. Bear, Deutsche and Goldman knew perfectly well what Paulson’s motivation was. He made no secret of his belief that the CDOs subordinate claims on the mortgage collateral were close to worthless. By the time others have figured out the fatal flaws in these securities which had been ignored by the rating agencies, Paulson could collect up to $5 billion.

“Paulson not only initiated these transactions, he also specified the terms he wanted, identifying which mortgages would be stuffed into the CDOs, and how the CDOs should be structured. Within the overall framework set by Paulson’s team, banks and investors were allowed to do some minor tweaking.”

It is not clear which banks ultimately participated in Paulson’s scam, but Fiderer quotes Bear Stearns trader Scott Eichel as saying that his bank refused. “It didn’t pass the ethics standards;” Eichel said, “it was a reputation issue and it didn’t pass our moral compass. We didn’t think we could sell deals that someone was shorting on the other side.” Bear Stearns’ moral compass was usually pointed towards the darker regions, but perhaps this is why Paulson subsequently became one of the more eager short sellers of Bear Stearns’ stock.

Fiderer continues: “Prior to 2006, there were not many opportunities for naked short selling on subprime securitizations. But in January of that year, investment banks launched a new product, which enabled Paulson to place those bets on a large scale. The ABX index, a sort of Dow Jones Average of subprime mortgage securities, facilitated benchmarking the price of credit default swaps.”

In fact, it was a black box company called the Markit Group that created the ABX index. The banks were minor shareholders in Markit Group and provided data. I have noted in a previous blog that the Markit Group is a dubious outfit to say the least, and there is good reason to suspect that the direction of the ABX index was influenced by hedge fund managers and their allies at the big banks. I do not have evidence that Paulson was one of those hedge funds, but authorities ought to be asking questions.

Fiderer goes on to suggest that bad loans to homeowners were a significant cause of the financial crisis. On this front, I disagree with him. Certainly, some mortgage lenders were unscrupulous, and there was a certain amount of predatory lending, but the conventional wisdom that this is what crashed the economy is simply false.

At the time that the mortgage securities markets began to go south in 2007, defaults on subprime loans had increased only slightly month-to-month, and were in fact considerably lower than in earlier years. In the second quarter of 2007, for example, only 7.7 percent of subprime loans were 30 days past due, slightly up from 6.76 percent in the second quarter of 2006, but considerably lower than the 9.9 percent in the second quarter of 2001.

The problem lied not in the loans themselves, but in the fact that the loans had been packaged (apparently, to a large extent, at the behest of John Paulson and perhaps other bearish billionaires) into fraudulent securities that were traded and probably manipulated by a select number of hedge funds and large banks. In a somewhat similar scheme, hedge funds often pump up the stock of public companies before initiating short selling attacks aimed at demolishing those same companies.

The economy was brought to its knees by a few powerful and eminently dirty players on Wall Street, not by poor people who had the temerity to buy themselves houses.

Posted in Featured Stories, The Deep Capture Campaign, The Mitchell ReportComments (91)

New Evidence Raises Serious Questions About Kingsford Capital’s “Donation” to the Columbia Journalism Review

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New Evidence Raises Serious Questions About Kingsford Capital’s “Donation” to the Columbia Journalism Review

A blog published by the University of North Carolina School of Journalism reported recently that Steve Cohen of hedge fund SAC Capital managed to kill a story by Reuters reporter Matt Goldstein. It seems that Goldstein was going to shed some light on allegations that Cohen engaged in insider trading. Cohen didn’t like that, and got in touch with Goldstein’s superiors.

It remains unclear how Cohen convinced Goldstein’s superiors to shelve their journalistic ethics, but it is not surprising that he succeeded. After all, Cohen is “the most powerful trader on the Street.” He is also part of a network of closely affiliated hedge fund managers that for many years all but dictated much of what was published by the New York financial press.

Three years ago, while working for the Columbia Journalism Review, a magazine affiliated with Columbia University’s school of journalism in New York, I began investigating this network of hedge funds. I worked for many months on this story, and compiled evidence that the hedge fund managers, including Steve Cohen, had developed extremely odd relationships with small number of dishonest journalists.

This evidence gradually convinced me that the hedge funds and journalists not only routinely worked together to disseminate false information about public companies, but also set out to cover up the serious crime of market manipulation via naked short selling.

As I was preparing to publish this story, a hedge fund called Kingsford Capital donated a large sum of money to the Columbia Journalism Review. Indeed, it was made clear to me that my salary would be paid directly from Kingsford’s donation.

I have made this abundantly clear in various stories that I have since written for Deep Capture, but new evidence confirms that Kingsford is tied directly to Steve Cohen’s network of hedge funds and shady journalists – that is, the very network that I was planning to expose in the Columbia Journalism Review when Kingsford announced that it would henceforth be paying my salary.

I left the Columbia Journalism Review soon after Kingsford announced its “donation.” It is possible that my editors would have done the right thing and published my story had I remained. However, I have no doubt that Kingsford Capital’s “donation” stemmed not from some newfound dedication to the field of media criticism, but was intended as a means of acquiring leverage over the Columbia Journalism Review.

Moreover, new information suggests that Kingsford’s financial inducements might have persuaded other journalists to cover up short seller crimes.

This is a scandal of rather significant proportions, so let’s review the evidence, old and new.

  • While at Columbia, a key focus of my investigation was a financial research shop called Gradient Analytics. Former Gradient employees had testified under oath that short selling hedge funds – especially Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital and Rocker Partners – wrote and traded ahead of Gradient’s false, negative reports on public companies. Former employees of Gradient also said that journalist Herb Greenberg, then of CNBC and MarketWatch.com, timed his false, negative stories, which were based on Gradient research, so that Rocker could profit from the effect those stories had on stock prices.
  • In the course of investigating SAC Capital and Rocker, I was taking a close look at the bear raid on a company called Fairfax Financial (NYSE:FFH). As we have since shown in numerous Deep Capture reports, Rocker, SAC Capital and a few closely affiliated hedge funds – including Jim Chanos’s Kynikos Capital, and Dan Loeb’s Third Point Capital – conspired to destroy Fairfax. As part of this ultimately unsuccessful attack, the hedge funds attempted to cut off Fairfax’s access to credit. They traded ahead of false financial research that had been written with their cooperation. And they hired a thug named Spyro Contogouris to harass and threaten Fairfax executives.
  • Emails obtained from discovery in a lawsuit filed by Fairfax Financial (NYSE:FFH) show that Kingsford Capital, the hedge fund that donated money to pay my salary at the Columbia, is directly tied to Steve Cohen, Rocker Partners and the other hedge funds that were attacking Fairfax at the time of my investigation. In one email, from Kingsford manager David Scially to Rocker Partners employee Russell Lyne, the subject line reads: “http://www.spyrocontogouris.com” – a reference to the website of the above-mentioned thug, Spyro Contogouris. The contents of the email is redacted, so it is difficult to know what was discussed, but it is safe to assume that Kingsford and Rocker were communicating about the attack on Fairfax.
  • It has also come to my attention that Kingsford Capital at one time employed the above-mentioned thug, Spyro Contogouris. Two weeks after Kingsford agreed to “donate” money to the Columbia Journalism Review, the FBI arrested Contogouris as part of an investigation into this same network of hedge funds.
  • Another target of my investigation was TheStreet.com (NASDAQ:TSCM). Although some good journalists work for that publication, a review of hundreds of stories and numerous bear raids made it clear to me that TheStreet.com had been founded partly to serve the financial interests of select short selling hedge funds, including Rocker Partners, which was then TheStreet.com’s largest shareholder (apart from founder Jim Cramer). Over the course of my investigation, I closely examined the journalism of TheStreet.com’s five founding editors. It was clear that these five journalists had routinely disseminated false information that served the interests of their short selling sources, including Rocker Partners and SAC Capital.
  • Four of the five founding editors of TheStreet.com were as follows:

1) Jim Cramer, famously of CNBC;

2) David Kansas, then of the Wall Street Journal;

3) Herb Greenberg, the CNBC and MarketWatch reporter mentioned above, said to be conspiring with Rocker and Gradient Analytics;

4) Jon Markman, then running a hedge fund out of the offices of the above mentioned Gradient Analytics. (Markman has since gone on the record saying that hedge funds pay journalists to write false stories.)

  • The fifth founding editor of TheStreet.com was Cory Johnson. In 2006, Cory Johnson was a manager of Kingsford Capital, the hedge fund that donated money to pay my salary at the Columbia Journalism Review, right before I was to publish a story exposing the five founding editors of TheStreet.com and the hedge funds in their network. After I published my first Deep Capture story raising questions about Kingsford’s donation to the Columbia Journalism Review, Johnson removed all references to Kingsford from his online profiles at LinkedIn.com and other social networking sights.
  • Another focus of my investigation at Columbia was a hedge fund manager named Jim Carruthers. Patrick Byrne, in his capacity as CEO of Overstock.com, had recently sued Rocker Partners and given a famous conference call presentation in which he described the shenanigans of Rocker and affiliated hedge funds. During this presentation, Patrick stated that he had been informed that Carruthers had been posing as a private investigator as part of the network’s efforts to smear public companies. An email obtained in the Fairfax discovery, written by an employee of the above-mentioned Third Point Capital, and addressed to the above-mentioned Dan Loeb, states: “Jim Carruthers (ex Eastbourne partner, Scially friend, etc.) would like to come up and meet with you…It would be well worth your time.” In other words, Scially, the Kingsford Capital manager, was on good terms with both Carruthers and Loeb, at the time that Kingsford announced that it would be paying the salary of the journalist (me) who was seeking to expose Carruthers, Loeb, and the rest of their network.
  • Deep Capture reporter Judd Bagley has obtained a list of people whom Kingsford Capital manager David Scially invited to be his “friends” on Facebook, the social networking site. Among Scially’s Facebook friends were Rocker Partners’ managing partner, and three of this managing partners’ family members. Several bloggers, such as Gary Weiss (more on him below), have written that Judd’s Facebook list is a Nixonesque “enemies list” dreamed up by Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, when in fact Byrne was not involved in its creation, most of the people on the list have nothing whatsoever to do with Overstock.com, and it was not “dreamed up”, but merely documents cold facts (bilateral Facebook friendships) that are in fact public. When considered alongside the emails and other evidence, the Facebook revelation is excellent evidence that Scially is close to Rocker Partners – close enough to invite the managing partner and much of his family to be his internet pals. That is big news – a clear motive for Kingsford Capital to begin paying my salary right before I was going to publish strong evidence that Rocker Partners and others in its network were dirty players.
  • Scially’s Facebook friends also include the above-mentioned Dan Loeb, accused of conspiring with Rocker Partners in the attack on Fairfax; David Einhorn, a hedge fund manager whom I was investigating because he consistently attacks public companies in cahoots with Loeb and others in the network; and Dan Colarusso, a journalist I was investigating because he had vowed to use “barrels of ink” to “crush” Patrick Byrne, who was famously crusading against naked short sellers and this same network of miscreant hedge fund managers. (Patrick is now a Deep Capture reporter.) This additional Facebook information is clear evidence that Kingsford Capital is part of the network I was investigating when Kingsford Capital “donated” money to the Columbia Journalism Review.
  • Another target of my investigation at CJR was a journalist named Gary Weiss. Weiss, a former reporter for BusinessWeek magazine is flat-out corrupt. It is a disgrace to the profession of journalism that he is still working. While at BusinessWeek, he published stories fed to him by Kingsford Capital while deliberately covering up illegal naked short selling by Kingsford’s then business partner. Since then, Weiss has been caught anonymously authoring blogs that spew lies about people he considers to be his enemies. He has been caught anonymously authoring blogs in which he effusively praises himself — Gary Weiss. He has denied that he authored the blogs about himself despite all evidence to the contrary. He was caught shilling for the Depository Trust and Clearing Corp. (an outfit at the center of the naked short selling scandal) while posing as a journalist. He was caught lying about his shilling. He was caught lying and denying when he was caught controlling the Wikipedia entry on naked short selling. He has lied repeatedly in his blogs about Deep Capture reporters Patrick Byrne and Judd Bagley. He has lied about me – for example, stating that I was fired from the Columbia Journalism Review. He has continued to lie and cover up the crime of naked short selling. He has lied and covered up crimes committed by people tied to the Mafia. And the common denominator of all this lying has been to boost the profits of short selling hedge fund managers, such as his pals at Kingsford Capital, which “donated” a lot money to the Columbia Journalism Review shortly before I was going to publish a story exposing Gary Weiss and his hedge fund friends. (For complete evidence of Gary Weiss’s lying, and his ties to Kingsford Capital, please search through Deep Capture’s archives. We have published extensively on the subject).
  • Another target of my investigation at CJR was a hedge fund manager named Manuel Asensio, who is tied closely to Gary Weiss. Asensio previously worked for First Hanover, a brokerage tied to the Mafia. He is a self-confessed naked short seller and has been fined for naked short selling infractions. He was also once a business partner of Kingsford Capital. That is to say, Kingsford and Asensio contractually agreed to attack public companies together. I think it’s safe to say that Asensio was close to Kingsford Capital at the time that Kingsford Capital delivered a bundle of money the Columbia Journalism Review.
  • Another focus of my investigation at CJR was the appalling bear raid on a collectibles company called Escala (NASDAQ:ESCL). Not only was Escala the victim of massive amounts of illegal naked short selling, but a hedge fund convinced the Spanish government that Escala’s parent company, based in Madrid, was fleecing investors in philatelic collectibles. The Spanish government closed the parent company, Afinsa, but not a single executive of the company has since been prosecuted for any crime. Former clients of Afinsa are now petitioning the Spanish government, claiming that the closure was a gross miscarriage of justice. For the full story, I encourage you to visit a website (www.gregmanning.me) put together by Escala’s former CEO. This website provides evidence that the hedge fund at the center of the bear raid on Escala – the hedge fund behind the Spanish government’s decision to close Afinsa — was none other than Kingsford Capital, which donated a bundle of money to the Columbia Journalism Review while I was busy trying to figure out which hedge fund was at the center of the bear raid on Escala.
  • While I was working on my story for the Columbia Journalism Review, a reporter named Justin Hibbard was working on a similar story for BusinessWeek magazine. I have reviewed emails between Hibbard and one of his sources. These emails clearly show that Hibbard had received evidence that various companies had been clobbered by illegal naked short selling. The emails suggest that Hibbard was investigating ties between journalists and naked short sellers, and that he had interviewed the above-mentioned Herb Greenberg. But for some reason, Hibbard’s story was killed. It never appeared in BusinessWeek. Shortly after Hibbard’s story was killed, Hibbard had a new job – working as consultant to Kingsford Capital.
  • After I wrote my first story raising questions about Kingsford’s “donation” to the Columbia Journalism Review, Hibbard erased all mention of Kingsford from his profiles on LinkedIn.com and other social networking sites. In a phone interview, Hibbard told me that he “preferred not to discuss” his relationship with Kingsford. When I asked what happened to his BusinessWeek story about naked short selling and corrupt journalists, he said that he had never worked on any such story. When I told him I had evidence to the contrary, he said he might have done some initial research on naked short selling, but he never finished the story. Currently, Hibbard works as a private investigator catering to the needs of short sellers and other “activist” investors. In an interview with an online publication, he said he serves hedge funds by “covertly” observing executives of public companies, taking photos of the executives with a spy camera, staking out offices, using multiple cars to trail the executives, etc. I assume Kingsford Capital is one of his clients.
  • My successor at the Columbia Journalism Review is now referred to as the “Kingsford Capital Fellow.” He has written several stories arguing that the above-mentioned Gradient Analytics is innocent, despite massive amounts of evidence to the contrary. He has written that short sellers are swell and good sources for journalists (glossing over the distinction between short selling and abusive short selling, just as a child molester would gloss over the distinction between sex and pedophilia). He has criticized a 60 Minutes television news expose on Gradient and Steve Cohen of SAC Capital. He has criticized Bloomberg News for writing that criminal naked short sellers helped take down Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. And he has portrayed the corrupt Gary Weiss as a respectable reporter. I don’t mean to suggest that the “Kingsford Capital Fellow” is dishonest, but I predict he will not write about journalists who have been corrupted by Kingsford Capital’s network of hedge fund managers.

To summarize, a particularly nasty network of hedge fund managers and criminals use underhanded tactics to influence the press. We have a money trail, multiple motives, and plenty of other reasons to believe that this network got to the Columbia Journalism Review, which is the only watchdog there is to keep the press honest.

So it goes. Interesting world, isn’t it?

Posted in Featured Stories, The Deep Capture Campaign, The Mitchell ReportComments (73)

Yet another naked shorting disinformation campaign laid bare

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Yet another naked shorting disinformation campaign laid bare

It’s difficult to overstate the influence of Wikipedia these days, particularly when it comes to informing media coverage. A recent experiment, carried out by a student in Ireland, makes this very clear. So it should come as no surprise that those who wish to minimize the perceived impact of illegal naked short selling on markets and the economy as a whole have made the online encyclopedia a major point of focus.

Recently, yet another effort to infiltrate and alter the content of Wikipedia by a proponent of illegal shorting came to light and was foiled. As before, the infiltrator was former Business Week reporter Gary Weiss (whom a senior contributor recently termed “one of [Wikipedia’s] most slippery sockpuppeteers”), operating for over a year in complete defiance of an edict specifically banning him from the site based on his very well-documented history of abusing Wikipedia for his own conflicted purposes.

In the past (as you can read about here), we know Weiss spread misinformation relating to stock fraud via Wikipedia on behalf of the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation (DTCC), the Wall Street firm considered a key enabler of illegal short selling. Exactly who’s sponsoring Weiss these days is unclear; however, as the evidence that follows will demonstrate, his concerted effort to whitewash DTCC’s Wikipedia article makes that company the prime suspect.

Now that his ruse has been uncovered – yet again – the focus becomes one of identifying and repairing the damage done. A brief review of some of the thousands of changes made by Weiss will give you a sense of both the scope of the problem and the nature of his motives. I’m organizing the following tiny sampling of Weiss’s Wikipedia edits by topic, with the content as it originally appeared on the left, with Weiss’s changes on the right. Words added or removed appear in red.

As you read what follows, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Which version, be it the left (before Weiss) or the right (after Weiss), better reflects reality and serves readers (particularly journalists) seeking to form an opinion?
  2. What might be Weiss’s motive for obsessively making these changes (and literally hundreds more like them)?
Wikipedia Article Before After
Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation While there is no dispute that illegal naked shorting happens, there is a fight as to the extent to which DTCC is responsible. Some blame DTCC as the keeper of the system where it happens, and charge that DTCC turns a blind eye to the problem. Critics blame DTCC as the keeper of the system where it happens, and charge that DTCC turns a blind eye to the problem.

Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation In 2007, WayPoint Biomedical sued DTCC for DTCC’s refusal to comply with a subpoena request for documents that Waypoint needs to track trades in the company’s shares.

Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation The DTCC has also denied having any relationship with financial journalist Gary Weiss. Weiss is alleged to have manipulated an account on Wikipedia, with assistance from several Wikipedia administrators, to promote naked short selling on the website from January 2006 to March 2008. (added by others and removed by Weiss five times)

Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation DTCC has been sued with regard to its alleged participation in naked short selling. Further allegations about DTCC’s possible involvement have been made by Senator Robert Bennett and discussed by the NASAA and in articles — disagreed with by DTCC — in the Wall Street Journal and Euromoney. DTCC has been sued over alleged participation in naked short selling.

Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), however, views naked shorting as a serious enough matter to have initiated two separate efforts to restrict the practice.

Naked short selling Author and reporter Gary Weiss maintains that the SEC enacted Regulation SHO in part due to pressure from a handful of small and microcap companies. He also cites economic justifications for naked short selling and downplays its significance as a problem for the market.
(note: upon making this change, Weiss also added a link to his book, referring to himself as a source of “notable media opinions.”)

Naked short selling Amidst growing concern in 2008 about the effect of naked short selling on faltering companies, the SEC issued a temporary order restricting short-selling of the shares of 19 financial firms deemed systemically important. Shortly following the failure of Lehman Brothers in September of 2008, the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history, the SEC expanded the temporary rules to remove exceptions and to cover all companies. As part of its response to the crisis in the North American markets in 2008, the SEC issued a temporary order restricting fails to deliver in the shares of 19 financial firms deemed systemically important. In September of 2008, the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history, the SEC expanded the temporary rules to remove exceptions and to cover all companies.

Naked short selling During hearings on the 2008 financial crisis before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, former Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld said a host of factors including a crisis of confidence and naked short selling attacks followed by false rumors contributed to both the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. During hearings on the 2008 financial crisis before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, former Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld said a host of factors including a crisis of confidence and naked short selling attacks followed by false rumors contributed to both the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. However, Fuld’s testimony was generally derided as self-serving.

Naked short selling Rolling Stone magazine featured naked shorting in an article, “Wall Street’s Naked Swindle” by Matt Taibbi, in October 2009. In the article, it was reported that an unknown investor had shorted $1.7 million worth of Bear Stearns stock through a variety of options. For the item to make a profit, Bear Stearns would have had to have lost half its value or more in less than nine days. When Bear Stearns collapsed, the options were worth $270 million, or 159 times its previous value. Rolling Stone magazine featured naked shorting in an article, “Wall Street’s Naked Swindle” by Matt Taibbi, in October 2009.

Naked short selling Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi presentation on Naked Shorting

Naked short selling In an October 2009 article in Rolling Stone magazine, journalist Matt Taibbi wrote that there had been an attack on Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers in March 2008 employing “naked short-selling”.

Naked short selling Effective September 18, 2008, amid claims that aggressive short selling had played a role in the failure of financial giant Lehman Brothers, the SEC made permanent and expanded the rules to remove exceptions and to cover all companies. Effective September 18, 2008, the SEC permanently removed an exemption for market making in options on stocks, and making an explicit anti-fraud regulation relating to that activity. The stringent delivery requirement is temporary.

Naked short selling https://www.deepcapture.com/ Blog devoted to naked shorting practices

Robertson v. McGraw-Hill Co. In the article, Weiss described…Weiss claimed…Weiss told how…Weiss described…Weiss’ report was distributed…Weiss’ predictions… The article described…it claimed…The article told how…it described…the article was distributed…the article’s predictions

Robertson v. McGraw-Hill Co. In the suit, Robertson requested $1 billion in damages for, in Robertson’s words, “false and defamatory statements” contained in Weiss’ article. Media response to the suit noted the unusually high damages demanded for a libel suit and speculated that the case would be watched with concern by the publishing industry. The suit was subsequently settled without payment of damages, and Robertson’s fund closed in March 2000.

Michael Milken Starting in June 2009, a series of articles by Mark Mitchell were published on a website called Deep Capture about Milken’s ties to a select group of hedge funds and the stock manipulation of a company called Dendreon (NASDAQ:DNDN). Dendreon has developed a drug called Provenge that enables the human body’s immune system to better fight prostate cancer. (removed by Weiss and replaced by others at least three times)

If there is a silver lining to this cloud, it’s the following: Wikipedia’s current ruling Arbitration Committee, which has the unenviable task of, among other things, dealing with Weiss and his continued efforts to subvert their authority, is genuinely interested in doing the right thing in this situation. Though you might take that for granted, I can assure you that this has not always been the case. Indeed, at one time, Wikipedia’s ArbCom seemed to go out of its way to enable Weiss’s abuse of this most important social media platform, resulting in (if you can believe it) an even greater number of yet more dramatically skewed and self-serving changes to these articles by Weiss.

Wikipedia has come a long way since then.

Finally, it seems unlikely that Portfolio.com, where he authors a business column, is aware of Gary Weiss’s actions. They would probably appreciate knowing more. If you agree, consider sending a brief and informative note to Condé Nast Publications Group President David Carey: David_Carey@condenast.com.

Postscript: If you’re at all unclear on why you should be bothered that DTCC seems to have hired former journalist Gary Weiss to cover-up the crime of illegal of naked short selling, I strongly suggest you check out Lila Rajiva’s recent post on the composition of that company’s board of directors.


And now, for what long-time readers of DeepCapture.com will recognize as my favorite part of writing about Gary Weiss: a little running up of the score (piling on with additional insights that don’t necessarily make the case on their own, but certainly make the case much more entertaining).

After discovering the Wikipedia edit placing Gary Weiss within the Fort Knox-like DTCC (see this for the explanation, if you didn’t already follow the link above), I sent DTCC spokesman Stuart Z. Goldstein the following email:

From: Judd Bagley
Stuart Goldstein
Wed, 31 Jan 2007 10:24 PM
media inquiry
Mr. Goldstein,
Yesterday I received some information suggesting Gary Weiss either is or has been hired or retained by the DTCC (or DTC or NSCC). Can you confirm the existence of a professional relationship between Gary Weiss and your organization?

More than two days passed with no response. Finally, I received the following:

From: Stuart Goldstein
To: Judd Bagley
Date: Fri, Feb 2, 2007 at 12:00 PM
Subject: your inquiry

*** Body Not Included ***

That’s right…the body of the email read only “*** Body Not Included ***”

With that, I responded:

From: Judd Bagley
To: Stuart Goldstein
Date: Fri, Feb 2, 2007 at 1:20 PM
Subject: Re: your inquiry

Mr. Goldstein,
Thanks for your reply, though the body appears to be missing…may I trouble
you to re-send your reply?

Goldstein’s record-breaking response (especially considering his earlier reply took two days to arrive) hit my inbox three minutes later:

From: Stuart Goldstein
To: Judd Bagley
Date: Fri, Feb 2, 2007 at 1:23 PM
Subject: Re: your inquiry

My response to your question is no.

On the surface, this would seem to be Goldstein denying a relationship between DTCC and Weiss. The problem is, I didn’t ask a yes or no question. I asked him to confirm something specific, to which he responded “no.” The answer didn’t fit.

I twice asked Goldstein to clarify his response, and was twice ignored.

That’s when I realized I’d been played.

Goldstein’s quick reply of “My response to your question is no” was probably calculated beforehand as his response to my inevitable request that he re-send the reply which read only “*** Body Not Included ***”.

He got me.

Here’s how this applies to Weiss.

Weiss’s most recently-banned Wikipedia sockpuppet, known as JohnnyB256, generally began to arouse suspicion in September, following a series of extremely slanted edits to the Wikipedia article on DTCC. At that time, multiple Wikipedia editors asked JohnnyB256 if he had a relationship with Gary Weiss. JohnnyB256 avoided answering the question (other than to dismiss it as “unmitigated gall”) until a senior Wikipedia administrator known as Lar inserted himself into the conversation to say he felt it was a “reasonable question.”

JohnnyB256 then responded, in a way that was unambiguously directed to Lar alone, saying, “The answer to your question is ‘no’.”

Only problem is, Lar was the one person who never asked him the question. Unfortunately, nobody picked up on this serpentine strategy at the time, allowing JohnnyB256 to claim he’d already answered the question of  a link to Weiss when it came up from time to time.

Anybody else suspect Weiss and the DTCC are using the same playbook?

Posted in AntiSocialMedia with Judd Bagley, Featured Stories, The Deep Capture Campaign, The Hijacking of Social MediaComments (64)

Congress prepares to bypass impotent SEC

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Congress prepares to bypass impotent SEC

SB 605 is a bill on Capitol Hill

SB 605 is a bill on Capitol Hill

Something of great importance in our effort to finally end illegal naked short selling took place recently.

Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware, together with three colleagues, distributed a letter to the remaining 96 members of the Senate formally requesting co-sponsors for SB 605: A bill to require the Securities and Exchange Commission to reinstate the uptick rule and effectively regulate abusive short selling activities.

You can find a copy of the letter and the bill itself here.

This is a very good sign that this most vital bill has momentum. However, this is always a very tenuous time for any bit of nascent legislation. That’s why I encourage all supporters of true market reform to contact their US senators (remember you each have two!), encouraging them to co-sponsor Senate Bill 605.

Every additional co-sponsor’s name added to the bill reduces the likelihood that backroom shenanigans — something at which our adversaries are experts — will kill our best opportunity for true reform yet, while still in its cradle.

Please reach out to your senators today. Click here to find his or her contact information.

Posted in Featured Stories, The Deep Capture CampaignComments (85)

Roddy Boyd and the Bear Stearns Insider

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Roddy Boyd and the Bear Stearns Insider

“Telling the truth is only possible by accident through a special sort of boastfulness…”

– Fyodor Dostoevsky, “The Idiot”

Regular readers of Deep Capture are aware that we have sought to expose certain journalists who seem to serve the interests of a network of market miscreants, many of whom are tied to the famous criminal Michael Milken or his close associates.

One of these journalists is Roddy Boyd, who worked at the New York Post before moving to Fortune magazine. It has come to our attention that Roddy has left Fortune. The magazine did not return a phone call seeking comments on the circumstances behind his departure, but whatever those circumstances might be, it seems fit to honor his departure by publishing an excerpt from a book called “House of Cards.”

In this book, which is written by a Wall Street insider named William Cohan, Roddy is quoted at length, and one particular passage stands out for being quintessentially Roddy. While you are reading the passage, keep in mind that I spent a number of hours talking to Roddy some years ago, and can report that he has a manner of speaking that is similar to what Dostoevsky called “a special sort of boastfulness” –which is to say that Roddy likes to stroke his own back, and in so doing, he often rambles in such a way as to unintentionally admit to his own buffoonery, or to some form of miscreancy on the part of his favorite Wall Street sources.

In this passage, Roddy tells the story of certain communications he had with Tom Marano, Bear Stearns’s (NYSE:BSC) top mortgage trader, on March 6, 2008 – a few days before false rumors began swirling about Bear Stearns’s access to credit. The following week, the false rumors were rampant, and those rumors, along with naked short selling, quickly brought Bear to its knees.

A couple of weeks after the collapse of Bear Stearns, Marano found a new job – with Cerberus Capital Management. As I have detailed elsewhere, Cerberus is run by Steve Feinberg, who was once one of Michael Milken’s top traders at Drexel Burnham. After working for Milken, Feinberg moved to Gruntal & Co., a criminal-infested brokerage, where he worked closely with Steve Cohen, who was once investigated by the SEC for trading on inside information fed to him by Michael Milken’s staff at Drexel.  Cohen now runs SAC Capital, believed to be one of the biggest short sellers of Bear Stearns’s stock.

I am not yet going to state what I think is important about the passage quoted below. But I have other reasons to believe that the facts that Roddy drops in the course of his braggadocio are key to understanding what happened to Bear Stearns. Read the passage yourself, focusing on the facts, not on Roddy’s version of the facts. Consider that Roddy’s conversation with Marano took place on March 6, when there were not yet any rumors in the market, and Bear’s stock was trading above $60. Then, let me know if you spot what’s important.

Here’s the passage:

“…at eleven in the morning on March 6 Marano placed a phone call to Roddy Boyd, then a writer at Fortune. Marano had been a source of Boyd’s for years, when the journalist was covering Wall Street at the New York Post, and had freely offered commentary about his competitors and the markets generally. Boyd had been a trader for eight years before switching careers to journalism, and the two men spoke the same language. ‘I know the mortgage product dead cold,’ Boyd said. Their relationship was a well-defined pas de deux.  ‘It was unusually well defined,’ [Boyd] explained. ‘We knew exactly what we were saying. I could have a very long conversation in two minutes. I protected him always. I never BS’d with him. I never got him in hot water. The corollary was he never BS’d with me, and he would give me good stuff.’

“This time, Marano called Boyd to talk about Bear Stearns, and specifically about his concern that the firms he had traded with for years were suddenly asking him whether Bear had enough cash on hand to execute his trades. ‘He called me at 11:00 A.M. that day and we talked about one or two things,’ Boyd continued. ‘It was weird. He knew it was weird. We did small talk in under ten seconds. I said to him, ‘What’s up?’ He said, ‘What are you hearing about Bear?’ I said, ‘You know what I’m hearing and you know what I’m seeing. He said, ‘I know what you’re hearing and you’re seeing. It’s just baffling.’ Now here I’m playing him a little because I’m hearing things and I’m seeing some things, but he’s not saying much more than I am, so I let him walk and talk. He said to me, ‘Roddy, our guys, our senior guys here, are hearing a really strange thing from custies.’ That’s customers. He said, ‘We were not prepared to hear stuff like this. This is baffling. People are quite literally questioning our solvency, questioning our ability to go on. The shorts are having a lot of fun with us today.’…

“‘He’s thinking two things,’ Boyd continued. ‘One, he’s got to stop this whole line of inquiry right here, right now, because if you have to ask the question, oh my God. Second, he’s thinking about the trajectory of rumor and supposition, and that thesis of smoke versus fire….With a question of their ability to act as a counterparty on the table, that’s unimaginable. I mean, this is Bear Stearns….Now they’re being questioned from the standpoint of fundamental liquidity. He [Marano] said that he believed that these short sellers had been speculating in the credit default swap market and telling counterparties at other firms that they had concerns about Bear Stearns’s liquidity and solvency, and that was driving the cost of spreads wider. What that was doing was making their overnight funding more expensive. That was cutting into their profit margin, and in turn was also starting a sort of cottage industry of rumors about Bear Stearns.’

Roddy continued: “‘There’s no need to explain anything between us,’ he [Marano] said.  I said, ‘Are you sure you’re seeing this?’ He said, ‘Look at [the credit default] swaps.’ So I looked them up and then I see the hockey sticks’ —  a sharp spike up in their cost… ‘He said, ‘It’s unbelievable. It all bullshit.’ At that point—he’s very much a corporate guy—but he had left me [with a clear message]. I’m not stupid. Hedge funds and prime brokerage accounts are unusually skittish about questions of financial health, financial solvency, and he said, ‘I’m hearing there’s questions about our financial health.’ At that point, Marano is telling me he knew he was done, because once that question of credibility goes out there, and serious people say it to you enough, you’re done. It’s all that there is to it. It’s all that there is to it. Where do you go to get your reputation back.’ …

“Boyd worked hard [the following night] and over the weekend trying to figure out which bank—said to be European—had decided it would no longer be a counterparty to Bear Stearns in the overnight financing markets. Obviously, this would be a huge negative development for the firm…‘At that point, I’m pulling my fucking hair out—pardon my language—calling everybody,’ [Boyd] said. ‘I’m calling Deutsche Bank, I’m calling UBS, and I’m very aggressive. Get your senior guys on the phone. Get your financing desk on the phone. I don’t want to talk to some stupid flack. I spent eight years on a desk. I’m smarter than all those flacks. They’re all Kool-Aid drinkers. They don’t honestly know a derivative from a bond from a stock. None of them are going to be able to ask their financing desk. They don’t even know enough to call the repo guys on the financing desk. I told them, Get your financing guys or get your credit guys on the phone with me, or you’re going in Fortune. Here’s the New York Post coming out of me. I said, There’s two ways this is going to work: bad or good. This hand is good; this hand is bad. I shake your hand or I punch you. Let me know…I’m talking to the guys in New York, and they’re saying, We swear to Christ we are not the ones to have done that [cut financing]. If Deutsche Bank had done it, I’m thinking, ‘Okay, that’s the story right there.’ The minute a repo line gets pulled, you die, okay? They die a terrible death.’…

Roddy continued that, after the March 6 call with Marano, ‘“I was thinking, I’m going to poke around in this more…but then I was thinking, This is strange. This is like a situation where you can abuse your position as a reporter. When you’re at Fortune, you have to do stuff right. When you’re at the New York Post, you have to be there first and fastest. At Fortune, you write the first draft of history, and you have to get it right and you have to be consistently right. I’m thinking, I don’t really want to screw with this company – I don’t want to spread rumors. I don’t want to become part of the story. I don’t want to hurt people unnecessarily. I’m an aggressive guy and I’ll pick fights with anyone or anything, but there’s a right way of doing my job and there’s a wrong way. I weighed my duty as an employee here versus the right thing to do.”

Do you see what happened here? Feel free to post your opinion in the comments section. Or contact me privately by email at mitch0033@gmail.com.

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On Rolling Stone, Penson Financial, the Mafia, and Naked Short Selling

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On Rolling Stone, Penson Financial, the Mafia, and Naked Short Selling

As should be clear from the contents of Deep Capture, the world of illegal naked short selling is a weird one, populated by sociopathic billionaires, slick lobbyists, famous felons, bent regulators, crooked law firms, corporate spies, message board maniacs, sinister banks, shifty private investigators, mendacious professors, professional dissemblers, propagandists, grifters, thugs, liars, and the Mafia.

Things become all the more weird when you consider that regulators and law enforcement do almost nothing to stop naked short selling, even though a growing number of prominent people – everyone from U.S. Senators to George Soros – insist that criminal naked short sellers helped take down Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and the American financial system. Then there’s the weird fact that anybody who tries to shed light on this weird state of affairs is quickly subjected to smear campaigns that are…weird.

Anyway, message to Matt Taibbi: Welcome to our world.

Taibbi, as many people know, is the star reporter who published a major expose about naked short selling in the most recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine. In addition, he has published a few blogs providing more evidence to support his claim that illegal naked short selling is a big deal and it’s pretty “hilarious,” as he puts it, that the government hasn’t prosecuted the people who might have helped crash the financial system.

In one of his blogs (which you can read here), Taibbi posts a video that seems to show a day trader conducting a short sale of stock in an unnamed big bank through a brokerage called Penson Financial. The SEC says that short sellers have to have “reasonable grounds” that they can locate actual stock to deliver to their buyers. As Taibbi rightly points out, this is a “very  funny piece of regulatory policy – asking greedy ass financial companies to determine what to them is a ‘reasonable’ effort to follow the rules. “

At any rate, if you believe what you see in Taibbi’s video, Penson Financial gave that day trader a phony “locate” on quite a few of the unnamed big bank’s shares. In fact, the video seems to show Penson Financial confirming that it had “located” many billions of the unnamed big bank’s shares – altogether, five times as many shares as were then in circulation. In other words, it seems that if this trader had had the inclination and the funds, Penson would have accepted a massive naked short sale, helping the trader flood the market with billions upon billions of shares that simply did not exist.

This is rather important, because Deep Capture has reviewed evidence showing that little Penson Financial and one other relatively unknown firm were by far the biggest traders in financial stocks in the first nine months of last year, handling more than 80 percent of volume. To repeat, Penson Financial, a little firm in Dallas, Texas, and one other relatively small firm handled by far the biggest volume of trading in the stock of all those big banks that collapsed last year, leading to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. When it came to clearing trades in financial stocks, Penson was bigger than Goldman, bigger than Merrill, bigger than every major brokerage on Wall Street.

We do not know for certain that the trading through Penson was naked short selling. We know only that naked short selling accounted for much of the overall trading last fall in companies like Lehman Brothers. And we know that a preponderance of the overall trading went through Penson. Perhaps Penson carefully weeded out the naked short sellers, in which case it handled almost all of the trading in financial stocks except for naked short selling. But if Taibbi’s video is any indication, Penson was certainly willing to locate stock that did not exist.

If I have anything to add to Taibbi’s terrific reporting, it is this: Penson Financial’s vice president in charge of stock clearing (that is, the head of the division that appears to have located stock that did not exist) is a man named Christopher Sandel. From 1985 to 1995, Sandel was a top executive at Adler Coleman, best known for being the clearing firm to the Genovese Mafia family.

Adler Coleman famously went bust when its top customer, the Genovese-controlled brokerage Hanover Sterling, self-imploded in one of the greatest naked short selling scandals of all time. Several traders tied to the Gambino crime family were charged with naked short selling companies that were underwritten by Hanover. That the Genovese Mafia brokers at Hanover were not charged in this case seems odd, because the most likely scenario is that the Genovese underwrote hapless companies, pumped their stock prices, and then called in the Gambinos to vaporize the companies, with everybody profiting on the way down.

Anyway, when some of America’s biggest financial companies collapsed under a barrage of short selling last fall, an enormous chunk of that trading was being cleared by a fellow who used to work for a company that seemed to specialize in clearing trades for the Mafia. Should this concern us? Might the Mafia have played some role in the collapse of the financial system? If I were more heavily armed, I would venture an opinion.

Now, of course, there is a concerted effort to portray Taibbi as a sucker, and his video as a fake. One blogger who has suggested as much is Gary Weiss, a former BusinessWeek reporter. As we have documented elsewhere on Deep Capture, Gary Weiss is a corrupt pseudo-journalist whose sources have included naked short sellers with ties to the Mob. Among Gary’s favorite sources were John Fiero (fined $1 million in Hanover Sterling scandal), Anthony Elgindy (currently serving an 11 year prison sentence for short selling crimes and alleged to have had his finger sawed off by Russian mafiosi who were concerned that he would become a government informer), and Manuel Asensio (who once worked for a Mafia-controlled brokerage called First Hanover).

Weiss has reported extensively on the Mafia’s infiltration of Wall Street, but he has, for years, insisted that only conspiracy theorists believe naked short selling is problem. He wrote a great deal about Hanover Sterling, but not once did he mention that naked short selling was central to that case. In his book, “The Mob on Wall Street,” Weiss told the story of a Genovese Mafia broker, and mentioned that this Mafia broker claimed to clear his trades through none other than…Penson Financial.

But, of course, Gary insisted that the Mafia broker must have been lying, because Penson is a “legitimate firm.”

Meanwhile, a blog called ClusterStock has also suggested that Taibbi’s video is a “hoax.” Taibbi has written a fine rebuttal to that claim (which you can read here), so I have nothing to add, except that ClusterStock was founded by Henry Blodget, who was famously charged with securities fraud in 2002, and by the former co-owners of DoubleClick, a company that was once defrauded by the Colombo Mafia family. DoubleClick was never charged with any crimes, as it was, alas, the victim.  Such is the sad fate of many firms that  have business dealings with the Mafia (of course, this fate may be avoided by adhering to a simple dictum: “Avoid having dealings with the Mafia”).

I tell you this not because I think there is some kind of conspiracy, but  merely because I am fascinated by the always colorful biographies of people who attack those who seek to expose the crime of naked short selling. Blodget is, by all accounts, a reformed criminal, and I’m sure the other people at ClusterStock  are law-abiding people. Gary Weiss would be perfectly innocent, too — except that he’s an out-and-out fraud.

Recently, Deep Capture reporter Judd Bagley revealed that Weiss was the anonymous author of a blog on the popular website Daily Kos. This blog, of course, denied that naked short selling is a crime, while smearing those who said otherwise. To support its smears, the blog, written by the anonymous Gary Weiss, referred readers to another blog, written by none other than Gary Weiss.  Indeed, Gary Weiss has had a great many phony on-line aliases, and all of these Gary Weiss aliases proclaim that Gary Weiss is right and great.

In a variation of this on-line chicanery, ClusterStock’s writers littered the comments section of Taibbi’s blog with allegations that his video was a “hoax.” To support these allegations, the ClusterStock writers provided links to another blog…ClusterStock. Presumably, Gary Weiss will also provide links to ClusterStock. Oh wait, he already did that.

Meanwhile, Penson Financial, has written a letter to the SEC, suggesting that Taibbi’s video was (what else?)…”a hoax.”  In the letter, Penson Financial, which was fined in 2006 for naked short selling, promises that it does not engage in naked short selling.

The SEC no doubt believes this.

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Rolling Stone Reports that Naked Short Selling Killed Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers

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Rolling Stone Reports that Naked Short Selling Killed Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers

Matt Taibbi has published a story in Rolling Stone magazine that nobody should miss. It’s not yet available on-line, so you’ll have to pick it up at the newsstands, but here’s a quick summary.

Taibbi writes:

“On Tuesday, March 11th, 2008, somebody – nobody knows who – made one of the craziest bets Wall Street has ever seen. The mystery figure spent $1.7 million on a series of options, gambling that shares in the venerable investment bank Bear Stearns would lose more than half of their value in nine days or less. It was madness – “like buying 1.7 million lottery tickets,” according to one financial analyst.”

Bear’s stock would have to drop by more than half in a matter of days for the mystery figure to make a profit. And that is what happened.

As Taibbi explains, “the very next day, March 12, Bear went into a free fall…Whoever bought those options on March 11th woke up on the morning of March 17th having made 159 times his money, or roughly $270 million. This trader was either the luckiest guy in the world, the smartest son of a bitch ever or…Or what?”

Taibbi speculates (as has Deep Capture) that these options might have been purchased by somebody who was abusing the options market maker exemption to engage in illegal naked short selling. And Taibbi goes beyond speculation to state, as an obvious fact, that illegal naked short selling helped bring Bear Stearns to its knees.

Presumably operating under that assumption, the SEC issued more than 50 subpoenas to Wall Street firms in the wake of Bear’s collapse, but “it has yet to indentify the mysterious trader who somehow seemed to know in advance that one of the five largest investment banks in America was going to completely tank in matter of days.”

Taibbi continues: “The SEC’s halfhearted oversight didn’t go unnoticed by the market. Six months after Bear was eaten by predators, virtually the same scenario repeated itself in the case of Lehman Brothers – another top-five investment bank that in September 2008 was vaporized in an obvious case of [naked short sellers engaging in] market manipulation. From there, the financial crisis was on, and the global economy went into full-blow crater mode.”

Taibbi notes that there were many other factors that made the economy weak. But he says that naked short selling is what pushed Bear and Lehman over the edge. If it weren’t for naked short selling – a massive “counterfeiting scheme,” in Taibbi’s words — those banks would likely have survived, and we might have avoided an all-out financial catastrophe.

This cannot be stressed enough. Criminals deliberately destroyed two of America’s biggest investment banks, precipitating the greatest financial cataclysm since the Great Depression. And the government has done absolutely nothing to bring those criminals to justice. In fact, as Taibbi makes clear in his story and on his blog, the most likely culprits are feted by top government officials in closed door meetings.

I’d call this the biggest financial and political scandal in the history of this country.

Certainly, it is, as Taibbi writes, “one of the most blatant cases of stock manipulation in Wall Street history.” Certainly, it is, as Taibbi writes, “the two biggest murders in Wall Street history.” And, certainly, it is odd that this very big story has appeared in Rolling Stone, but has yet to be covered by a single mainstream news publication.

The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fortune, BusinessWeek – they have all known about naked short selling since Deep Capture reporter Patrick Byrne began hollering about it in 2005. But none of them write about it. Instead, we find a competent financial journalist, and the only major story about one the greatest financial crimes of all time, published in a slightly alternative magazine about music.

I worry for the Republic.

* * * * * * * *

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Three short hours inside the SEC

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Three short hours inside the SEC

I’m usually a real optimist. Sometimes to a fault, according to my more balanced wife. But when it comes to financial market reform, I’ve devolved into a deeply cynical pessimist.

Too many stinging disappointments, I suppose.

Too many instances of people behaving badly, to be certain.

But as they say, there’s some value in expecting the worst…you’ll never be disappointed.

And so it was with today’s second and concluding session of the SEC’s roundtable on securities lending and short selling: I expected the absolute worst, but in the end was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t quite as bad as I feared.

That’s not the same as proclaiming it a good thing, because it was not. Indeed, I stick by yesterday’s characterization of the event as farce with a pre-determined outcome.

Having said that, I was deeply impressed by two surprises I clearly had not anticipated. And I’ll get to those in a moment.

But first, an overview.

There were two panels. The first examined proposed pre-borrow and hard locate requirements — keys to closing two of the most dangerous remaining loopholes in the US stock settlement system. The second panel examined proposals requiring enhanced disclosure of short selling data — a good idea but ultimately one that would be much less necessary were the proposals discussed in the first panel enacted.

I’ll start with the second panel, which surprised me by coming down overwhelmingly in favor of more transparency in short selling.

Georgetown University Professor James Angel pointed out that greater disclosure would essentially be doing legitimate short sellers a favor, by vindicating them in cases when they are incorrectly accused of manipulation in response to stocks dropping in value.

David Carruthers, of short selling analytics firm Data Explorers, supported greater transparency in short selling where the goal was to “prevent market abuse and prevent the development of a false market, or to prevent situations where market participants take advantage of a vulnerable company.”

Richard Gates, founder of short selling hedge fund TFS Capital, denied that shorting exacerbated the onset of the current financial crisis, but went on to concede that there should be greater disclosure parity on the short and long sides of market activity.

Michael Gitlin of investment manager T. Rowe Price echoed the position of Professor Angel in saying real time reporting of short versus long sales would result in the “demystification of short selling,” adding, “The ongoing debate of what caused an individual security to decline would largely disappear with this added level of transparency.”

As the lone issuer represented on the panel, Jesse Greene, Vice President of Financial Management at IBM, was enthusiastically in favor of a general overhaul of the SEC’s short selling regulatory framework, including public disclosure of short positions, in order to “improve market stability and restore investor confidence.”

Joseph Mecane, Executive VP at NYSE, noted that market fragmentation has made it more difficult to detect manipulation, requiring regulators have access to more short selling data in order to better conduct market surveillance.

In other words, the second panel was a slam dunk in the right direction.

The first and ultimately more meaningful panel, on the other hand, was the Yin to the second panel’s Yang.

Appropriately enough, Managing Director of the Equities Division at Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) William Conley kicked things off, lamenting that “both the pre-borrow and hard locate requirement would require significant infrastructure builds on the part of the industry as well as its participants.”

By “infrastructure builds”, Conley is referring to the development of new software able to track down real shares for short sellers to borrow. He seems to have forgotten three things:

  1. When there’s money to be made, Goldman Sachs has a rare talent for developing extremely complicated software. Could it be that Conley never met former co-worker Sergey Aleynikov?
  2. LocateStock.com, then a bootstrapping startup, developed software that accomplishes precisely the same task Conley regards as so burdensome, on a shoestring budget.
  3. If Goldman Sachs has enough cash on hand to spend nearly $12-billion in employee bonuses this year, it can probably set a couple hundred thousand aside to write some crumby software.

As I predicted yesterday, much of the balance of Conley’s mic time was spent echoing the anti-reform talking points currently being circulated on Capitol Hill by his employer’s army of lobbyists — in some cases, verbatim.

William Hodash, Managing Director at DTCC, took us on a trip to his organization’s mindset circa 2005 by pointing out that fails to deliver are not necessarily evidence of naked short selling. With one foot remaining firmly in 2005, another in 2009 and a third in a pile of his own illogic, Hodash then said that the reduction in fails observed before and after the SEC’s implementation of Rule 204 “may be relevant to the discussion of whether naked short selling remains a problem.”

No, you didn’t miss anything. That’s what he said, with all remaining panelists basically pleading some variation of the on his and Conley’s approaches.

With one very prominent exception: Dennis Nixon, Chairman of International BancShares Corporation (NASDAQ:IBCA).

Looking at the program, I had assumed that IBCA’s role on the panel was that of a broker or other market intermediary. Well I was very wrong. IBCA was there in the role of an issuer targeted by naked short sellers, and Nixon very poignantly expressed the anguish of someone in his position, after a 45-day long bear raid removed $1.2-billion in IBCA shareholder value.

“And I think it was all attributed to this predator-type short selling that goes on in this market today that’s uncontrolled. It’s unbelievable,” Nixon said.

That was the first surprise.

The second surprise came from an even less likely source: Commissioner Elisse Walter.

Mostly silent throughout the previous day’s panels, today Walter made it clear that she’s not buying the excuses offered by industry representatives insisting this problem is too much for them to tackle.

“I’m sort of surprised that the industry hasn’t come up with a solution, particularly as this controversy has continued to swirl and does not go away,” Walter said, adding that by failing to address the issue, the industry is essentially passing the cost of non-compliance on to the SEC’s own Division of Enforcement.

I think she’d make a stronger case had the Enforcement Division brought more than two cases against naked short sellers in its entire history, but that’s a topic for another post.

The bottom line is, this panel was undeniably stacked against any additional meaningful steps to limit illegal naked short selling, but the contributions of Dennis Nixon and Elisse Walter were as welcomed as they were unanticipated.

The entire affair could have been much better, but also could have been much worse.

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Eight long hours inside the SEC

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Eight long hours inside the SEC

The view from the Lincoln Memorial.

Deep Capture goes to Washington.

(Washington, DC) The SEC’s roundtable on securities lending and short selling got started today, and Deep Capture was there.

What follows is my assessment, based on my observations thus far.

In the simplest terms, I’d say the situation at the SEC is one of extreme disconnection. This is an agency that has completely lost track of its founding mission.

The day consisted of four panels, all dedicated to examining different aspects of securities lending. The panelists included one academic, one public employees’ pension fund manager, the CEO of FINRA, and 20 representatives of hedge funds and brokerages or companies that provide services to hedge funds and brokerages.

Not a single representative or advocate of retail investors had a voice on any panel, and the substance of the panelists’ comments was consistent with the thinking that obviously called them all together: the discussion never got beyond reforms to benefit the institutions that get rich from lending out the shares entrusted to them by the rest of us.

Nor did retail investors get any more than a passing reference in any other context. The industry was there to talk about the needs of industry. Period.

The result was eight hours of possibly the least interesting discussion I’ve voluntarily endured. In fact, it more resembled two dozen high school book reports on a handful of facets of a single industry, as the same thing was said over and over in the lest interesting way possible.

For eight hours.

Meanwhile, the subject that really matters: illegal naked short selling, is scheduled for just three hours tomorrow (including a break!), with panelists hailing from four hedge funds, Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), DTCC, the Security Traders Association, NASDAQ, NYSE, one academic, and one fish-out-of-water from IBM.

Is there any question how those panels are going to come down on the issue?

This entire exercise, I’m nearly prepared to declare, is little more than a farce.

Lest I leave you with the impression that everything was devoid of meaning, allow me to recount one of those moments of cosmic synchronicity that make days like today all worthwhile.

It happened during the fourth panel. Specifically, during the opening remarks given by Leslie Nelson (yes, a male, but sadly no, not the guy from The Naked Gun movies), Managing Director of Global Securities Lending at Goldman Sachs.

Just as Mr. Leslie Nelson was beginning to talk, about 15 of you emailed me a link to Matt Taibbi’s recent post where he announced that naked shorting will be a major component of his upcoming piece in Rolling Stone.

Included in that post was a link to a pamphlet apparently being circulated broadly on Capitol Hill by Goldman Sachs lobbyists, intent on preserving the status quo with regard to loopholes permitting illegal naked short selling. Trusting my audio recorder not to miss anything, I decided to tune Mr. Nelson out slightly to read the words of his notorious employer.

In the Goldman pamphlet, the first sub-point of bullet point one reads:
“Rule 204 of Regulation SHO has been effective at reducing fails in the marketplace.”

At precisely the same time read that line, I heard Nelson read the following from his prepared statement (prefatory to what — consistent with the rest of the day’s panel — had nothing to do with delivery failures):
“Rule 204 has been undeniably effective at bringing US equities fails to levels that are truly de minimis.”

See…I read and heard those lines at precisely the same moment.

It was as though the Goldman Sachs government relations team had briefly hijacked my eyes and ears.

It’s also indicative of how very seriously Goldman is taking this challenge to what is likely one of that company’s most plumb sources of revenue.

Finally, I’d say it’s predictive of the message what we can expect to hear repeated over and over again as the issue makes its was earnestly through Congress and flaccidly through the SEC.

You know, I do not drink, but if I did, I’d suggest everybody take a shot whenever they hear that phrase repeated during the three short hours (including a break) of the roundtable’s second and final day. That might just make the thing tolerable.

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