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The Naked Short Selling That Toppled Wall Street

The Wall Street Journal stated in a lead editorial last week that the SEC was “reasonable” to “clamp down” on naked short selling. Well, that was progress of sorts, though one wonders how it could have taken all these years for the nation’s most important newspaper to suggest that it might be “reasonable” to put an end to criminal activity that has eviscerated hundreds of companies and destroyed countless lives.

And now that this criminal activity has been implicated in the Humpty Dumptying of our financial system, one grows wistful for the golden age of journalism when editorialists (people working for famous newspapers, not just cyber weirdos) would express a little outrage, demand that heads roll – muster something better than “reasonable” to describe the limpid “clamp down” of an SEC that bows in oily servitude to the very short-sellers who manhandled our markets.

Alas, The Wall Street Journal is not angry about the scandal of naked short selling. To the contrary, it devotes most of its editorial to tut-tutting the SEC for taking the mild step of requiring hedge funds to disclose their short positions. This, the Journal laments, means the government wants to “slap a scarlet letter on short sellers.” And (shed a tear) hedge funds will now have to “worry that their strategies will be put on display for the world to see.”

Might the world like to see which hedge funds are employing the strategy of illegal naked short selling – offloading huge chunks of stock that they do not possess – phantom stock – in order to drive down prices? No, nothing to see there, says the Journal. Having thoroughly investigated the matter, the editorialist reports that there is “no evidence of widespread naked shorting of financial stocks in this panic.” Indeed, the Journal assures us that there is no evidence that short sellers have engaged in any market manipulation whatsoever.

That is a mighty bold claim. As the Wall Street Journal itself reported, the SEC has ordered two dozen hedge funds to turn over trading records as part of its investigation into possible short-seller manipulation of six big financial institutions — American International Group, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, Washington Mutual, and Merrill Lynch.

The SEC has never in history prosecuted a major case against a short seller, and there is no reason to believe that it is actually going to nail someone now. But it is not difficult to see why the SEC feels that is has no choice but to investigate.

It must investigate, or at least appear to investigate, because the data scream, “Investigate!”

Take the case of Washington Mutual, which met its demise on the same day that the Journal published its editorial. While the SEC has not yet released data covering the last couple weeks of turmoil, the data through June show that at one point that month “failures to deliver” of Washington Mutual’s stock reached an astounding 9 million shares. From June 5 to June 19 there were, on any given day, at least 1 million WaMu shares that had “failed to deliver.”

In other words, hedge funds and brokers sold as many as 9 million shares that they did not possess (which is why they “failed to deliver” them), and they kept the market saturated with at least 1 million phantom shares for more than two weeks. WaMu’s stock price dropped by more than 30% during this period. Similar attacks, with similar effects, occurred one after another in the months leading up to June.

That is very good evidence of illegal market manipulation.

Aside from Washington Mutual, Bank of America, Fannie Mae, MBIA, Ambac, and close to 50 smaller financial firms – not to mention a couple hundred non-financial companies – have appeared on the SEC-mandated “threshold” list of companies whose stock has “failed to deliver” in excessive quantities.

That, too, is very good evidence of illegal market manipulation.

A number of the big banks never appeared on the SEC’s “threshold” list. Perhaps that explains the Journal’s claim that there is “no evidence” that naked short selling contributed to our financial crisis. If so, the Journal does not understand the methods that naked short sellers use to manipulate the markets. The Journal also does not understand how powerful financial elites manipulate the government (and the media).

Peter Chepucavage, the former SEC official who authored Regulation SHO (the rules that governed short sales from 2005 until the SEC temporarily banned short-selling of financial stock last week) has told us that the rules were watered down under fierce pressure from the hedge fund lobby.

One result is that Regulation SHO did not force short sellers to borrow real shares before they sold them. They were given three days to produce stock before it was declared a “failure to deliver.” If they missed the three-day deadline, they were given another ten days, after which they were supposed to buy (not borrow) real shares and deliver them, or face penalties.

In practice, many hedge funds and brokers ignored the deadlines without repercussions. But even traders who met the deadlines were able to churn the markets. Since they were not required to possess real shares before they hit the sell button, they could offload a large block of phantom stock and let it dilute supply for three to 13 days. When the deadline arrived, they might borrow real shares and deliver them, and then sell another block of phantom stock, which would hammer prices for another three to thirteen days.

Or, rather than borrow real shares, the hedge fund might buy stock (the price having been knocked down during 13 days of diluted supply) from a friendly broker. Often, the brokers did not have any stock to sell the hedge fund, but they pushed the sale button anyway. The hedge funds then used the broker’s phantom stock to settle its initial sale of phantom stock, and when the broker’s deadline came, he bought an equal quantity of phantom stock from another broker, and so on.

A lot of journalists have portrayed this naked short selling as “legal.” In fact, it is grossly illegal assuming the goal is to manipulate markets. But the SEC until recently shied away from making that assumption. So long as the hedge funds met the delivery deadlines, they could distort and destroy at will.

Another result of the short-seller lobby’s intervention is that a company does not appear on the SEC’s “threshold” list unless there are failures to deliver of more than 10,000 of the company’s shares (and at least 0.5% of its total shares outstanding) for five consecutive days. So long as there are no failures on day six, there are no flashing red lights at the SEC. That is, threshold (excessive) levels of phantom shares can float around the system for a total of eight days (three days before they are registered as “failures to deliver,” plus five more) without a company being designated a victim of naked short selling.

An eight-day blast (or even just a one day blast) of, say, a couple-hundred thousand phantom shares can knock down a stock’s price very nicely. Blasts of a million-plus shares, which are common, can do even more damage.

If a company has weaknesses that can be blown out of proportion with help from the media, and if hedge funds blast the company with phantom stock, then pause, then blast again, then pause, then blast again — over and over — for a couple of months, then the company’s share price can soon be in the single digits. – without ever having appeared on the SEC’s threshold list.

Unsurprisingly, the data through June shows this blast-pause-blast pattern in the stocks of nearly ever major financial institution that has been wiped off the map, and quite a few that were in death spirals before the SEC temporarily banned short-selling. Very often, huge failures to deliver have occurred in stretches of precisely five days – just long enough to keep a stock off the threshold list.

The attack on Bear Stearns, for example, began on January 9, when hedge funds naked shorted more than 1.1 million shares. The shares “failed to deliver” at the end of Friday, January 11 (the three-day deadline). For the next four days, beginning Monday, January 14, there were massive failures to deliver, peaking at 1 million shares on January 17. That is, the attack lasted a total of eight days, with failures to deliver lasting precisely five days. On day six, there were few failures to deliver, so Bear did not appear on the threshold list.

Over the next few weeks, there were several more blasts – with failures to deliver ranging from 200,000 to 500,000 shares. Those were threshold levels, but the failures lasted less than five consecutive days, so no flashing red light at the SEC.

On February 28, 800,000 shares of Bear Stearns failed to deliver. For the next five business days, anywhere from 100,000 to 350,000 shares failed to deliver. On day six, there was a pause — few failures to deliver. So no threshold list – no flashing red light at the SEC.

A week later, just before CNBC’s David Faber reported the false information (given to him by a hedge fund “friend” whom he had “known for twenty years”) that Goldman Sachs had cut off Bear’s credit, somebody naked shorted more than a million shares of Bear’s stock.. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, there was a sustained effort to drive the stock to zero, with massive failures to deliver every day — peaking at 13 million shares.

This attack lasted long enough to put Bear Stearns on the threshold list, but by then, it was too late. The bank’s mangled remains had been swallowed by JP Morgan. Ultimately, at least 11 million shares of Bear Stearns were sold and never delivered.

Meanwhile, the naked short sellers began their attack on Lehman Brothers. On March 18, Lehman’s stock had begun to increase sharply, so somebody unleashed more than 1.5 million phantom shares. Those failed to deliver on March 20. For the next three days, there were failures to deliver of between 400.000 and 800.000 shares — far exceeding the daily “threshold.” That helped the share price to fall sharply, but on day five, there were no failures, so Lehman didn’t appear on the threshold list of companies victimized by naked short selling.

On April 1, another round of naked short selling commenced, coinciding with a wave of false rumors about Lehman’s liquidity. That continued until April 3, when SEC Chairman Christopher Cox, for the first time, told a Senate committee hearing that naked short selling was a big problem. Using the words “phantom stock,” he said many companies had been affected and vowed to crack down.

For a few weeks after that, there was not much new naked short selling.

Then, on May 21, short-seller David Einhorn gave his famous speech accusing Lehman’s executives of cooking their books. Though Lehman, like most banks, was guilty of participating in the dodgy business of securitized debt, it was not cooking its books. It had, however, failed to mark some of its assets down to levels prescribed by Einhorn, who waved the CMBX index as the proper barometer of commercial mortgages.

The CMBX comes from a company called Markit Group, which is owned by four hedge funds, the names of which the Markit Group will not disclose. I don’t know if the managers of those hedge funds are friends of David Einhorn, but the Wall Street Journal’s Lingling Wei published a story in February noting that the CMBX “doesn’t make sense.” It grossly undervalues commercial property, implying default rates, for example, that are four-times higher than they are in reality.

Nonetheless, the media, including the Wall Street Journal, trumpeted Einhorn’s analysis, which was distorted in many other ways – but that is a tale for a future blog.

For now, it is enough to know that coinciding with Einhorn’s speech, somebody naked shorted more than 200,000 shares (the settlement date for that sale was May 27, three business days after the speech, owing to a holiday weekend). Thus began a five day stretch of failures to deliver (ranging from 120,000 to 450,000 shares). On day six, as usual, there were few failures to deliver, so Lehman did not appear on the threshold list.

After a pause of a few days, somebody circulated the falsehood that Lehman had gone to the Fed for a handout. Coinciding with that rumor, hedge funds naked shorted close to 1.5 million shares. Those shares failed to deliver three days later, on June 9. The next day, there were 650,000 failures. The day after that, 263,000 failures. On day four, there were 510,000 failures. On day five, there were 623,000 failures. Time for Lehman to appear on the threshold list. But, on day six, of course, the failures to deliver stopped. No list – no flashing red light at the SEC.

Throughout this time, Einhorn continued to appear on CNBC and in the major newspapers, doing his best to make Lehman’s problems (which were real, but probably, at this stage, manageable) appear to be both catastrophic and criminal. From May 21, the day of Einhorn’s speech, to June 15, the stock lost almost half its value.

For reasons that I cannot fathom, Lehman then opted for a strategy of appeasement. Rather than challenge Einhorn’s assumptions, Lehman aimed to silence him and his media yahoos by doing what they asked. It “reduced its exposure” to mortgages, primarily by marking them down to levels dictated by Einhorn’s bogus index – the CMBX. This is the main reason why it booked a 2.8 billion loss in the second quarter.

When Lehman announced its quarterly results, on June 16, there was another blast of naked short selling, with failures to deliver at threshold levels from June 19 to June 24. Exactly five days. Then the failures stopped. No threshold list. No flashing red light.

I look forward to the day (in a few months) when the SEC will release data covering July to September. But I can tell you right now what happened next.

On June 30, somebody floated the false rumor that Barclays was going to buy Lehman at 15 dollars a share (it was then trading at 20). Simultaneously, hedge funds no doubt naked shorted large blocks of shares. It’s a safe bet that the data will show failures to deliver lasting precisely five days.

On July 10, somebody (SAC Capital?) circulated the false rumor that SAC Capital was pulling its money out of Lehman. Hours later, there was another false rumor — that PIMCO was pulling out its money. Quite certainly, these rumors were accompanied by naked short selling, with failures to deliver beginning three days later, and probably continuing at threshold levels for precisely five days. Lehman’s stock lost almost 50% of its value in the four weeks leading to July 15..

At this point, the SEC finally came to realize what was happening to Lehman. It realized that similar madness had destroyed Bear Stearns. It realized that AIG, Citigroup, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bank of America and fifty other financial companies were getting clobbered in exactly the same fashion.

Clearly, naked short selling posed a real threat to the stability of the financial system. So the SEC issued an emergency order forcing hedge funds to borrow real stock before they sold it. No more saying “Yeah, my cousin Louie has the stock in a drawer somewhere.” No more naked short selling.

This order protected only 19 big financial institutions – which is as far as the SEC thought it could go and still retain friendly relations with its short-selling paramours – but it was something. During the three weeks that the emergency order was enforced, Lehman’s stock price increased by around 50 percent. The other companies that had been under attack enjoyed similar rebounds.

The short-sellers, of course, fumed. Some of those fumes wafted to The Wall Street Journal and other prestigious publications, which lambasted the SEC for issuing the emergency order. They published all manner of mumbo-jumbo about the emergency order wrecking “market efficiency” – though the only evidence of this was an utterly dubious report circulated by the short seller lobby (see here for the details), and it was hard to comprehend what could possibly have been “efficient” about a market getting smothered with false information and fake supply.

Of course, the SEC, captured by the short-sellers, and ever mindful of the media, decided to let its emergency order expire, and announced no new initiatives to stop naked short selling..

The day after the emergency order expired, Lehman’s stock nosedived. So did a lot of other stocks that had enjoyed a temporary reprieve.

Mark my words, the data for August and September will show that soon after the order was lifted, rampant naked short selling began anew.

It will show a sustained attack on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, with failures to deliver exceeding one million shares, until the day the two companies were nationalized. It will show Lehman getting hammered (blast-pause-blast) until its stock was so low that there was no way it could raise capital. And it will show that in Lehman’s final days, hedge funds sold unprecedented amounts of phantom stock, knowing that the stock would never, ever have to be delivered.

Two days after Lehman was vaporized, AIG watched its stock fall to as low as one dollar. The data through June shows that AIG was repeatedly blasted with phantom stock, often in stretches of eight days (three + five), with peak failures to deliver reaching 2 million shares. It’s a safe bet that the data will show that these attacks continued, and grew in magnitude, until a price of one buck per share resulted in paralysis, and AIG had to be nationalized. But the company never appeared on the SEC’s threshold list.

After AIG, the rumor was that Citigroup would go down next. The data through June shows that Citigroup was bombarded – blast, pause, blast – with massive amounts of phantom stock. Failures to deliver peaked at 8 million shares. No doubt, the blasts continued and grew in magnitude in the days leading up to September 16, when Citigroup’s stock went into a death spiral.

On September 17, the SEC rushed out new rules governing naked short selling. The new rules seemed a lot like the old rules. Hedge funds would not have to actually possess stock before selling it. Instead, they would merely have to “locate” the stock. The SEC would have no way of knowing whether hedge funds had “located” stock, but if they lied and told their broker, “Yeah, I located the stock, I got it somewhere, push the sell button,” then that would be “fraud.” Presumably, the brokers, who depend on the hedge funds for most of their income, and are complicit in their naked short selling, would line up to inform the SEC that their clients were telling them lies.

Meanwhile, the hedge funds would still have three days to deliver stock, with no strong penalties for failing to do so, and no mechanism for determining whether a hedge fund had delivered real stock, as opposed to new phantom stock that it had received from a friendly broker. As for the “threshold” of five consecutive days before a company could get on the list that sets off the flashing red lights that the SEC ignores – that would remain the same.

When these rules were announced, the short-seller lobby cheered loudly. The media transcribed the lobby’s cheerful press releases, and then the naked short sellers eliminated Merrill Lynch. After that, they turned on Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, at which point both stocks went into death spirals and the companies’ CEOs treated us to the spectacle of calling the SEC to complain that Morgan and Goldman (ie., the companies that housed the brokerages that invented and profited the most from naked short selling) were now getting mauled by their own monstrous creations.

A week later, the Wall Street Journal stated in an editorial that there was “no evidence” of naked short selling or market manipulation during this financial crisis.

* * * * * * * *

P.S. I am a former employee of The Wall Street Journal editorial page. I think it is the finest editorial page in the world. I enjoyed my time at the Journal. They let me live in Europe. I got to write mean things about socialists.

But with genuine respect, I say to my former colleagues –you are like the boy in the bubble. You live and breath the “free markets” paradigm. This is healthy, but it is limiting. It is not the real world..

Please, get out of that bubble. Get dirty with the data. Behold the slop in our clearing and settlement system. Consider how this slop is affecting our market, and tell me what is free or efficient about it.

Please, do it quickly.

If you do not, this nation is screwed.

Mark Mitchell


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Mr. Norris, We're Here to Help

Floyd Norris of the New York Times has written a column about the SEC’s recently expired “emergency order” preventing naked short selling of 19 financial stocks. His argument is…Actually, I have no idea what Mr. Norris is trying to tell us.

Mr. Norris provides a lot of data suggesting that the stock prices of those 19 companies might have gone up, or might have gone down. Meanwhile, the prices of other companies have gone down, or maybe up.

If this has some significance, Mr. Norris doesn’t say.

He adds, however, that short-selling in some companies has increased, and short-selling in other companies has decreased.

This, Mr. Norris writes, “could mean nothing.”

And, in conclusion, “10 of the 17 primary dealers in Treasury securities are headquartered outside the United States…” This reveals something new: financial markets are “global.”

Poor Mr. Norris. Obviously, he wanted to write a good column. But Mr. Norris, who is the chief financial correspondent of the New York Times, got confused. He wandered into the ward where they keep the irrelevant data. Then he forgot what his column was about.

Here’s some help, Mr. Norris. Your column was about the SEC issuing an “emergency order” to prevent fraudulent naked short selling. It was not about an SEC order to prevent stock prices from falling. It was not about an SEC order to curb legal short-selling. It definitely was not about globalization or U.S. Treasury securities.

Fraudulent naked short selling affects several hundred companies. Fraudulent naked short selling probably contributed to the demise of a big bank called Bear Stearns. Gary Matsumoto of Bloomberg News has written an excellent story about this. When you are ready, Mr. Norris, please read the story. It contains relevant data.

Mr. Norris, the SEC did not want other banks to fall prey to this crime.

The SEC did not want the American financial system to collapse.

The SEC is thinking about preventing illegal naked short selling across the market.

The SEC says it would like to stop criminals from selling stock they do not have.

The SEC says it would like to stop criminals from destroying corporations.

Mr. Norris, stopping crime is good.

Mr. Norris, I hope this helps.

Have a nice day.

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Mr. Norris, We’re Here to Help

Floyd Norris of the New York Times has written a column about the SEC’s recently expired “emergency order” preventing naked short selling of 19 financial stocks. His argument is…Actually, I have no idea what Mr. Norris is trying to tell us.

Mr. Norris provides a lot of data suggesting that the stock prices of those 19 companies might have gone up, or might have gone down. Meanwhile, the prices of other companies have gone down, or maybe up.

If this has some significance, Mr. Norris doesn’t say.

He adds, however, that short-selling in some companies has increased, and short-selling in other companies has decreased.

This, Mr. Norris writes, “could mean nothing.”

And, in conclusion, “10 of the 17 primary dealers in Treasury securities are headquartered outside the United States…” This reveals something new: financial markets are “global.”

Poor Mr. Norris. Obviously, he wanted to write a good column. But Mr. Norris, who is the chief financial correspondent of the New York Times, got confused. He wandered into the ward where they keep the irrelevant data. Then he forgot what his column was about.

Here’s some help, Mr. Norris. Your column was about the SEC issuing an “emergency order” to prevent fraudulent naked short selling. It was not about an SEC order to prevent stock prices from falling. It was not about an SEC order to curb legal short-selling. It definitely was not about globalization or U.S. Treasury securities.

Fraudulent naked short selling affects several hundred companies. Fraudulent naked short selling probably contributed to the demise of a big bank called Bear Stearns. Gary Matsumoto of Bloomberg News has written an excellent story about this. When you are ready, Mr. Norris, please read the story. It contains relevant data.

Mr. Norris, the SEC did not want other banks to fall prey to this crime.

The SEC did not want the American financial system to collapse.

The SEC is thinking about preventing illegal naked short selling across the market.

The SEC says it would like to stop criminals from selling stock they do not have.

The SEC says it would like to stop criminals from destroying corporations.

Mr. Norris, stopping crime is good.

Mr. Norris, I hope this helps.

Have a nice day.

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A Scandal Unfolds, and the Media Mob Scampers

Three years ago, Deep Capture reporter and Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne gave a famous conference call that he titled, “The Miscreant’s Ball.” His thesis was simple: Some short-selling hedge funds collude to destroy public companies by spreading misinformation, orchestrating government witch hunts, filing bogus class-action lawsuits, and, most egregiously, selling billions of dollars worth of phantom stock.

In the months that followed “The Miscreants Ball” presentation, a clique of journalists with close ties to short-selling hedge funds and CNBC’s Jim Cramer (himself a former hedge fund manager), set out to sully the reputations of Patrick and everyone else who sought to expose short-seller crimes.

Cramer pal Joe Nocera, who is the New York Times’ top business columnist, wrote that Patrick’s crusade against hedge funds that sell phantom stock was “loony beyond belief.” CNBC contributor and Marketwatch columnist Herb Greenberg, formerly an editor with Cramer’s web publication, TheStreet.com, labeled Patrick the “worst CEO in America” for taking on the shorts (ie., the same shorts who are now paying Herb for “independent” financial research). Fortune magazine’s Bethany McLean, who has yet to write a story that was not sourced from a small group of short-sellers connected to Jim Cramer, suggested in an article titled “Phantom Menace” that Patrick should be fired from Overstock for speaking out against the problem of phantom stock.

At the time, I was the editor of the Columbia Journalism Review’s online critique of business journalism. The attack on Patrick was like nothing I’d seen before, so I decided to write a story about the media’s coverage of short-sellers and phantom stock. When Herb Greenberg and Joe Nocera got word of this, they both called my editor demanding that he kill the story. Cramer sent a public relations goon to delay the story. Then a short-selling hedge fund, Kingsford Capital, appeared in my offices and offered to pay my salary.

My successor at the Columbia Journalism Review is now called “The Kingsford Capital Fellow.” One of Kingsford Capital’s managers was a founding editor of Cramer’s website, TheStreet.com. I do not believe that Kingsford’s interest in the Columbia Journalism Review is philanthropic. And I do not believe that the Columbia Journalism Review, “the nation’s premier media monitor” is capable of objectively monitoring the financial media so long as it’s chief writer on the subject is paid directly by this very controversial, Cramer-connected, short-selling hedge fund.

Perhaps facing similar pressures, or perhaps because they are unwilling to contradict Cramer’s influential Media Mob, or maybe because they’re just plain lazy, other journalists have shied away from covering the problem of illegal short-selling. Instead, reporters have incessantly repeated the party line that “short selling is good for the market. Only bad CEOs complain about short-sellers.”

In March, short-sellers destroyed Bear Stearns by spreading false information and selling millions of phantom shares. And now the shorts are going after another major investment bank. In a week of high drama, hedge funds have been circulating blatantly false and hugely damaging rumors that big institutions are pulling their money out of Lehman Brothers. If March SEC data is any indication, the shorts are also selling millions of dollars worth of phantom Lehman stock.

One of the nation’s most important investment banks is down, and another is on the brink. The American financial system wobbles.

And, suddenly, Cramer’s Media Mob is silent. Gone is all of the talk about Patrick Byrne being crazy. Nocera says nothing about the attacks on Lehman and Bear. Bethany McLean recently wrote a favorable review of a book written by David Einhorn, the most prominent short-seller of Bear Stearns and Lehman, but she dares not mention the current market predations.

Herb Greenberg, who used to sing the praises of short-sellers almost weekly, was last heard defending his hedge fund friends in April. CNBC seems to have taken him off that beat. (The network recently dispatched Herb to the San Diego County Fair, where he interviewed a vendor of deep-fried Twinkies).

But Jim Cramer is talking. No doubt to distance himself from the growing scandal, he went on CNBC today and said precisely what Patrick Byrne said three years ago. Noting that short-sellers are colluding to take down Lehman, he said the problem is “the need to be able to get a borrow and see if you can find stock….. no one is even calling to see if they can get a borrow. [In other words, hedge funds are selling stock they don’t have — phantom stock]. It’s kind of like, well listen, let’s just knock it down. It’s very similar to what Joe Kennedy would have done in 1929 [leading to Black Monday and the Great Depression] which is get a couple of cronies together and let’s take it down…”

Too late, Jim. For three years, you, CNBC, and a clique of journalists very close to you have ignored this crime because your short-selling hedge fund cronies claimed that phantom stock is not a problem. Meanwhile, hundreds of companies have been affected. Billions of dollars of value have been wiped out. And lives have been destroyed.

It is one of the most ignominious episodes in the history of American journalism.

Click here to enter the $75,000 “Crack the Cover-up” contest.

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JP Morgan CEO is Crazy, Too. Time to Subpoena CNBC

Certain journalists and convicted criminals with ties to hedge funds have suggested that we at Deep Capture are crazy because we believe some short-sellers deliberately destroy public companies for profit.

Last night, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon was interviewed by Charlie Rose.

Rose said, “[Bear Stearns CEO] Alan Schwartz is quoted as saying.. that he thought [the demise of Bear Stearns] was premeditated [by short-sellers].

Dimon responded: “I would say where there is smoke, there’s fire. If someone knowingly starts a rumor or passes on a rumor, they should go to jail…This is even worse than insider trading. This is deliberate and malicious destruction of value and people’s lives. They shouldn’t go to jail for a short period of time. So if I was the SEC I’d find out who made the money and I’d investigate–emails, phone records, you name it–and I’d find out….There’s enough smoke around that I think there should be a full investigation…”

So now the CEO of JP Morgan is crazy, too. So is former Bear Stearns CEO Alan Schwartz. Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld said something similar, so he must be a crackpot. The SEC itself claims to have begun an investigation. They’re all nuts.

Anyway, permit us to suggest an easy way to get this investigation moving: Send a subpoena to CNBC reporter David Faber.

On March 13 and March 14, Faber told CNBC viewers that a hedge fund manager – “a friend” whom he “trusts” – told him that Goldman Sachs had refused to accept Bear Stearn’s credit. This information was false. It was a deliberate, malicious rumor delivered to a friendly journalist in order to destroy Bear Stearns.

Find out who Faber’s hedge fund friend is. Case solved.

This would not be the first time that Faber reported misinformation in service to a hedge fund friend. He used to do it for Jim Cramer, back before Cramer became CNBC’s leading “journalist” – back when Cramer was running his own hedge fund. A former employee of Cramer’s hedge fund has written a book, “Trading with the Enemy,” in which he describes Cramer feeding Faber tips and illegally trading ahead of Faber’s reports on CNBC.

It is no small coincidence that a clique of journalists connected to Cramer regularly write false or misleading hatchet jobs on companies targeted by short-sellers connected to Cramer. And it is no coincidence that these same hedge funds have deliberately and maliciously sought to destroy dozens of public companies and people’s lives by circulating rumors, issuing bogus “independent financial research,” clogging Internet message boards with false information, filing bogus class-action lawsuits, getting the SEC and other government agencies to conduct dead-end investigations, and hiring convicted felons to harass CEOs. (And that’s not all; see “The Story of Deep Capture” for the gory details.)

It is also worth noting that in almost all of the companies targeted by these people, somebody has sold massive amounts of phantom stock to further drive down prices. Two companies targeted by these people are Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. Both have been victimized by phantom stock sellers.

We’d say somebody should investigate this. But that would be crazy.

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Did a CNBC Reporter Help Destroy Bear Stearns?

Let’s pick up “The Story of Deep Capture where it left off – with the demise of Bear Stearns and the near collapse of the American financial system.

It’s April 2, 2008, and CNBC reporter Charlie Gasparino has just reported that Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld claims to have evidence that short-sellers, who profit from falling stock prices, actively colluded to bring down Bear Stearns.

Indeed, the SEC is already investigating precisely this possibility. The regulator has said that it would like to know whether short-sellers circulated false rumors about Bear Stearns’ liquidity and credit risk in order to spark a run on the bank. And it has announced that it is investigating allegations that hedge funds engaged in “naked short selling” to drive down Bear Stearns’ stock. This isn’t surprising considering that SEC numbers show, for example, that in the week of Bear Stearns’ destruction, up to 13 million of its shares were shorted naked – ie. sold and not yet delivered. That’s 13 million shares of phantom stock — and most experts assume there was much more of it, perhaps 100 millions fake shares, in parts of the system that the SEC doesn’t monitor.

Live on CNBC with Gasparino is reporter Herb Greenberg. Herb is a dishonest journalist. He has quite literally made a career out of taking dictation from a small group of closely affiliated short-selling hedge funds. Virtually every story he has ever written or broadcast has come from these people. He protects his hedge fund friends by repeatedly denying that phantom stock is a problem. And a former employee of a financial research shop called Gradient Analytics claims to have witnessed Herb conspiring with at least one short-seller, David Rocker, to hold his negative stories until Rocker could establish short positions. This is called front-running a jailable offense.

CNBC is not concerned about this. Nor is it concerned that, in addition to his duties as a “journalist,” Herb is now also running his own financial research shop that caters to short-sellers. Yes, after years of denying that he has too-cozy relationships with short-sellers, Herb is now seeking to profit from those very relationships. His new company’s slogan is “bridging financial journalism and forensic analysis.” Anybody who believes that media and money don’t mix should be appalled.

Anyway, it is unsurprising that Herb is live on CNBC reporting that short-sellers had nothing to do with the demise of Bear Stearns. Instead, Herb says, Bear Stearns was taken down by a “crisis of confidence.” Could short-sellers have caused the “crisis of confidence?” Herb thinks not.

Herb says, “….if you take a look at [fellow CNBC reporter] David Faber’s reporting which was very interesting…”

* * * * * * * *

Good idea, Herb. Let us take a look at David Faber’s reporting. It was not just interesting. It was jaw-dropping – an utterly grotesque display of journalistic malfeasance.

Indeed, Faber’s reporting probably contributed a great deal to the precipitous collapse of Bear Stearns – an event so potentially calamitous that the Federal Reserve had to meddle in the investment banking sector for the first time since the great stock market crash of 1929.

On Tuesday, March 11, rumors were circulating around Wall Street that Bear Stearns was out of cash and that other banks were no longer accepting its credit risk. If anybody were to think these rumors were true, there would be panic – a run on the bank. If the rumors were false, as they quite demonstrably were, it was the job of the media to quash them.

CNBC’s Charlie Gasparino did his job. On that afternoon, he noted that there were “serious doubts” about Bear Stearns business model. He said that Bear Stearns was a “mediocre bank.” But he also noted that the rumors on Wall Street were suggesting something far worse –imminent bankruptcy–and that there was not a scrap of evidence suggesting that these rumors were true.

Gasparino quoted Bear Stearns CFO Sam Malinaro as saying “Why is this happening? I don’t know how to characterize it. If I knew why this was happening I would do something to address it. I spent all day trying to track down the sources of the rumors, but they are false. There is no liquidity crisis, no margin calls. It’s all nonsense.”

Gasparino stressed that there was no reason to doubt Bear Stearns’ claims. “I know Sam Malinaro pretty well,” he said. “He’s one of the best straight shooters in the markets.”

If Gasparino had stayed on the case, the uncertainty surrounding Bear Stearns’ liquidity and credit risk might have subsided, and the bank might have survived. But the next day, for some reason, Gasparino was taken off the Bear Stearns story, and David Faber took over.

A few rumors – even doctored memos falsely claiming that big banks had refused to accept Bear’s credit — were still circulating around Wall Street. Early that morning — Wednesday, March 12 — Faber interviewed Bear Stearns’ CEO, Alan Schwartz.

Actually, it was more like a prison interrogation than an interview. Faber demanded that Schwartz explain the rumors. Schwartz said the rumors were not true. Quite in contrast to Gasparino, Faber made it clear from his tone that viewers shouldn’t trust Bear’s executives.

Then Faber delivered this whopper: “…I’m told by a hedge fund that I know well…I’m told that [last night] Goldman would not accept the counterparty risk of Bear Stearns.”

Bang! The beginning of the end.

Understand how important this is. Previously, most people assumed that the rumors about Bear’s access to leverage were nothing more than…rumors. No reporter had suggested otherwise.

Now, for the first time – live on CNBC, in the middle of a mission-critical interview with Bear’s CEO — a prominent journalist was reporting that the rumors were true. He stated — as if it were fact that Goldman Sachs, one of the biggest investment banks in the world, had refused to take Bear Stearns’ credit.

Faber was generous enough to note that this information came from a hedge fund “friend,” and it wouldn’t take a genius to see that this hedge fund “friend” was probably some skeezy short-seller of Bear Stearns’ stock – but still, Faber’s comment was nuclear explosive.

Soon after Faber’s comment, Schwartz is about to provide details proving that Bear Stearns is not at all illiquid – that it has ample cash (and is therefore hardly a credit risk). He says: “…none of the speculations are true, but….”

Just then, a woman’s voice interrupts: “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

What? Can this possibly be happening? The CEO of a giant investment bank is about to provide evidence that the bank is not insolvent – that the American financial system is therefore not on the brink of collapse. This is perhaps the most important financial news moment of the past ten years, and now CNBC has cut off the CEO in mid-sentence!

“I’m sorry,” the CNBC woman says. “David, I’m sorry breaking news, I just want you to know that we have New York state officials confirming that New York governor Elliot Spitzer will resign today. Formal resignation, we don’t have it, but it is now confirmed that the governor of New York will resign today.”

“Thanks for that not unexpected news,” says David Faber.

This was probably straight-forward idiocy – nothing more sinister than that. But you’d think CNBC could have waited a few minutes for this “not unexpected” news. And anybody with a healthy sense of irony might chuckle and point out that Jim Cramer, the former hedge fund manager who is now CNBC’s top-rated personality and basically runs the place, was Elliot Spitzer’s best friend and college roommate. The irony is all the richer when you consider that Elliot Spitzer’s career was built almost entirely on the funding and machinations of a small group of short selling hedge fund managers – including Dan Loeb, David Einhorn, and Jim Chanos (owner of the beach house where Spitzer’s favorite hooker lived rent free), and that these very same hedge fund managers are the ones who are quite aggressively attacking Bear Stearns.

Schwartz looked mighty pissed off. After the interruption, he tried to continue: “We put out a statement that our liquidity and balance sheet are strong. Maybe I should expand on that a little bit…”

“Well, yeah,” Faber interrupts. “Why don’t you.”

The reporter’s tone again suggests that the CEO is not to be trusted. Tone aside, Faber doesn’t let Schwartz answer. Instead, he launches into a long and completely irrelevant monologue about the markets generally being in bad shape.

“Well, the markets have certainly gotten worse,” says Schwartz, clearly baffled by all of this.

Then, finally, the CEO manages to provide the salient information – the information that Bear Stearns customers and traders around the world have been waiting to hear. He says, “Our balance sheet has not changed at all. So let me just talk about that for a second….When we finished the year we reported that we had $17 billion of cash sitting at the parent company as a liquidity cushion…Since year end, that liquidity cushion has virtually been unchanged. So we still have many many billions of excess cash…we don’t see any pressure on our liquidity let alone a liquidity crisis.”

That certainly should have calmed the waters. There was no evidence that Schwartz was being disingenuous about having that $17 billion. Bear Stearns might have been the crappiest bank on Wall Street, but as long as customers knew that Bear Stearns had that $17 billion in cash, there was unlikely to be a run on the bank.

Unless, that is, a “reputable” media source was to suggest that, say, Goldman Sachs, had cut off credit.

Astonishingly, in the ensuing 24 hours, CNBC never once repeats the news that Bear Stearns has $17 billion in cash. And though it repeatedly references the interview with Schwartz, the network does not once replay the CEO’s strongest comment: “We don’t see any pressure on our liquidity, let alone a liquidity crisis.”

But Faber does repeat the startling “news” about Goldman.

At 8:48 AM on Wednesday, he says, “There are a lot of concerns out there…about counterparty risk. Frankly, I’ve been hearing from people whom I trust that there are some firms out there unwilling to put on new – new — counterparty risk with Bear Stearns…You had it at Goldman…Goldman said no we’re not taking Bear’s counterparty risk – this was yesterday.”

The hedge fund manager whom Faber “trusts” was lying. Goldman was not turning down Bear’s credit. We know this because some minutes later in the broadcast, Faber says so. He says it very quickly, just as an aside, as if it doesn’t matter at all. He says, by the way, “I have heard that that trade did actually go through—Goldman did say alright, now we will accept Bear as a counterparty.”

So Faber has just admitted, in an off-handed kind of way, that he was lied to by the hedge fund he “trusts.” In other words, up until this point, there is no evidence at all that rumors being circulated by hedge funds have any merit whatsoever.

Despite this, Faber proceeds to unleash this gobbledygook: “At the end of the day, while they say over and over they have plenty of liquidity, and in fact they may, it all comes down to confidence. They need to have access to capital, access to leverage. Otherwise, they’re dead! And it can happen very quickly.”

With this, Faber looks at his computer, and says, “Let’s see where the stock is.” Then he declares with glee: “Oops! It’s down!”

So now Faber has just pronounced that Bear Stearns might be “dead!” Why might Bear Stearns be “dead?” Because, Faber says, Bear needs “access to capital” – this in the same sentence where he says “in fact they may” have plenty of liquidity (ie. access to capital). Perhaps by “may” he meant to suggest that Bear “may not” have access to capital. Either way, he carefully omits the fact that the bank has told him it has $17 billion in cash.

The other reason Bear is “dead” is because it needs “access to leverage.” Is there any evidence that it does not have access to leverage? So far, there is none other than the Goldman news, which Faber has just admitted to be a complete fabrication delivered to him by a hedge fund “friend” whom he “trusts.”

Meanwhile, in an effort to send Bear Stearns’ share price spiraling downward, hedge funds are selling tens of millions of dollars worth of phantom stock. SEC data shows that more than 1.2 million shares sold that Wednesday were not delivered on time.

It only gets worse. The next morning — Thursday, March 13 — there is still no evidence that anybody is turning away Bear’s credit or pulling out money. CNBC still has yet to repeat the all important $17 billion figure. And now, Faber is back on television, fanning the flames, and repeating the bogus Goldman news.

He says, “I talked [yesterday] about a particular trade I was aware of where Goldman Sachs did not want to stand up as a counterparty and face Bear on new counterparty risk.”

Yes, David, you did talk about Goldman – and you admitted that your information was false. Why are you repeating this?

In a stuttering attempt to explain himself, Faber says to his television audience, “Now ultimately that trade did take place [ie. Goldman did accept Bear’s credit] after my interview with Mr. Schwartz concluded, but the day prior, Goldman did not want to. I have incontrovertible proof of that.”

Right. Whatever. The SEC should subpoena Faber to find out which market-manipulating hedge fund fed him the false information about Goldman.

Of course, if the SEC were to do this, the Media Mob would go berserk and start waving the First Amendment right to protect hedge funds who take down public companies by feeding journalists false information. Remember that the SEC once tried to subpoena Herb Greenberg and Jim Cramer, only to back down after Cramer vandalized his government subpoena live on CNBC and a bunch of Herb and Cramer’s media pals rose up in their defense.

But enough of this, already. These journalists are not protecting whistleblowers or freedom of speech. These journalists cannot even properly be called “journalists.” They are, or at least aspire to be, market players. They are helping slippery hedge fund managers who are destroying public companies for profit, and putting the American financial system at risk. I’m all for real reporters standing up to federal agencies, but these “journalists” are special cases. The SEC should not allow itself to be intimidated by them.

Alas, it’s too late for Bear Stearns. On the morning of March 13, there was still no evidence that anybody had pulled money out of Bear Stearns or denied its credit, but after repeating the Goldman falsehood, Faber reported: “I remember when Drexel Burnham went down [the smarmy inference being that Bear Stearns is a crooked company similar to Drexel]…It happens fast, very fast. It happens because those who do business with a firm such as that [read: `a crooked firm’] lose confidence.”

“And when they lose confidence,” Faber continued, “they pull their lines, and that’s it. It’s done. Pack your bags. Go home. It can end in an hour.”

About an hour later, a hedge fund called Renaissance Technologies Corp., shifted $5 billion out of Bear Stearns. That was the first client to “pull its lines.” Many others followed suit.

With Faber blowing taps, panic ensued.

And by that evening, Bear was, indeed, “dead.”

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Deep Capture Podcast: Episode 2


This episode includes clips of Patrick Byrne’s recent interview on the Terry Gilberg radio talk show, in addition to a brief look at the role of stock message board “bashers” in the manipulation process. This, in turn, leads to an interesting look at shocking irony surrounding the recent destruction of Bear Stearns at the hands of illegal naked short selling hedge funds.

You can learn more about contract stock message board basher Yolanda Holtzee here.

Finally, rock star attorney Wes Christian comments on this week’s filing of a lawsuit by shareholders of Taser International against several broker-dealers thought to be complicit in the long-running manipulation of Taser’s stock.

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Theme music for the Deep Capture Podcast composed by Derek K. Miller.

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At the time much of the content on DeepCapture.com was written, the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 was either on the verge of happening or had just occurred. In those days, emotions among this publication’s contributors were raw and, in an effort to get their warnings noticed and appropriate blame placed, occasionally hyperbolic language and shocking imagery were employed.

Were we to write these entries today, a different tone would most certainly prevail.

Yet, being a record of a pivotal time in our global economic history, we’ve decided to leave the rawness unedited, with the proviso that readers take the context of the creation of certain posts into account, and that those easily offended re-consider the decision to read them.