Tag Archive | "Lehman Brothers"

Evidence of murder at 383 Madison Ave.

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Evidence of murder at 383 Madison Ave.


Nearly one year after its original date of publication, my video, Hedge funds and the global economic meltdown has finally received its first bit of serious criticism, and I can’t express how pleased I am about it.

So far, at least as far as bloggers and YouTube commenters are concerned, response to the video has come in five flavors:

  1. Approval
  2. Nutty approval (“This makes me so angry I want to take to the streets in bloody revolution! It’s all [insert political party or current/past president]’s fault! ”).
  3. Tentative approval (“You’ve got part of the story right, but the real problem is…”)
  4. Random and unaware (“I’ve got a puppy named Patches. He has a wet nose.”)
  5. Nutty disapproval (“[Insert anything Gary Weiss would say]”)

What’s been missing is educated criticism based on the hard facts presented in the video. And believe it or not, this has bothered me, because it suggests that not enough smart people are paying attention.

As I mentioned, that changed this week when Mike “Mish” Shedlock of SitkaPacific Capital Management analyzed the video on his blog and managed to make a compelling contrary case. Though compelling, Mike misses the mark on a few key points and his analysis requires a rebuttal, which I’ve decided to offer here as it would probably be of interest to DeepCapture.com readers.  I’ve also invited Mike to respond, and will print whatever he offers at the end of this post.

(If you’ve not seen the video yet, I encourage you to watch at least the first five minutes now, otherwise nothing that follows will make much sense.)

Shedlock frames his criticism of the video in terms of what he identifies as three assumptions (printed verbatim in black, with my response in blue italics).

1. That whoever bought way out of the money Bear Stearns PUTs “knew” something and illegally acted on it. I agree with this.

2. The same institution that bought the PUTs was illegally shorting shares. I think this is a safe assumption.

3. There is a conspiracy to protect those evil doers. I do not agree that there is a conspiracy to protect the short sellers who attacked Bear Stearns any more than there was a conspiracy to protect Bernard Madoff before his scheme blew up. What “protects” them is Wall Street culture, and it’s no conspiracy…it’s common knowledge.

Shedlock then attempts to explain how the market really works via four statements of fact which he expects will undo my arguments, but which in reality only support them.

Here again, I present Shedlock’s facts verbatim, followed by the information he apparently did not have when he originally wrote them, in blue italics.

Fact #1: When someone buys PUTs the market maker or counterparty who sold them is short those PUTs. This is a mathematical statement of fact. This is 100% truth.

Fact #2: The market maker who sold the PUTs, shorts stocks as a hedge against those short PUTs.
This is also 100% truth, and an indispensible component of illegal naked short selling, which requires the options market maker to sell the stock naked short to the fund buying the puts. This is part of the married put strategy we’ve claimed from early on facilitates illegal short selling. As far back as 2003, the SEC expressed concern about married put strategies as a means of circumventing multiple market regulations. In this 2007 paper, an economist explains how a combined strategy of married puts and reverse conversions provided the engine that powered the naked shorting epidemic that grew unabated until changes were finally made in the wake of Lehman’s demise.

Fact #3: The lower the share price, the more shares the market maker has to short to stay delta neutral. Also true.

Fact #4: Market Makers are not governed by naked shorting rules. Again, Shedlock steals my line. Prior to the repeal of the options market maker (OMM) exception of Regulation SHO, OMMs were not bound by the locate and delivery requirements of that rule. So, it’s entirely predictable that options trading would play a key role in any effort to circumvent Reg SHO.

The existence – and illegality – of these kinds of tactics are documented in this November 2009 administrative action brought by the SEC against Rhino Trading and Fat Squirrel Trading (one of only two enforcement actions specifically alleging naked short selling filed in the Commission’s history). In it, you’ll learn how reverse conversions and “resets” (the call-based alternative to the married put) were used to illegally manipulate other stocks down.

At this point, Shedlock has spelled out the entire philosophical foundation for his disagreement with me, and yet we’re apparently in the awkward position of not disagreeing about any of the parts that really matter. The actual disagreement seems to be based on our interpretations of the implications of these facts, in my case informed by a slightly more detailed (though not very broadly-applicable) knowledge of the tactics used by illegal stock manipulators. That Shedlock is not familiar with these tactics speaks very well of him as an investment manager, in my opinion.

So, while Shedlock claims, “the [options] market makers shorting Bear Stearns did so for purely mathematical reasons, to remain delta neutral” I assert that this necessity, combined with their exemption from Regulation SHO’s locate and delivery requirements in place at the time, made them the perfect counterparty to a short-selling hedge fund seeking to warp the market for Bear Stearns stock through the generation of artificial supply.

Shedlock further asserts that Bear’s demise was the inevitable product of its own greed and toxic balance sheet. I respond by agreeing that Bear probably was destined to go under, and in capitalism, that’s ok. However I further point out that Bear had $18-billion in cash on hand when the assault began, and so the process should not have taken just one week. In a civilized world, even when someone is on their deathbed, it’s not ok to hasten death through forceful application of the pillow; and particularly not when the incentive for doing so is pecuniary.

As promised, the space to follow is reserved for Mr. Shedlock to offer his rebuttal.

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The Markit Group: A Black-Box Company that Devastated Markets

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The Markit Group: A Black-Box Company that Devastated Markets


Although much attention has been directed at the contribution made by credit default swaps  to the financial crisis, most discussion has focused on the companies, such as American International Group, that posted big losses because they sold these instruments without sufficient due diligence.

Another line of inquiry has not been pursued, however, though it is of equal, and perhaps greater, significance. That line of inquiry concerns the way in which the prices of credit default swaps effect the perceived value of all forms of debt — corporate bonds, commercial mortgages, home mortgages, and collateralized debt obligations — and as a result, the ability of hedge funds manipulators to use credit default swaps to enhance their bear raids on public companies.

If short sellers can manipulate the price of credit default swaps, they can disrupt those companies whose debt is insured by the credit default swaps whose prices are manipulated.  The game plan runs as follows: find a company that relies on a layer of debt that is both permanent, and which rolls over frequently (most financial firms fit this description). Short sell that company’s stock. Then manipulate the price of the CDS upwards, preferably into a spike, as you spread the news of the skyrocketing CDS price (perhaps with the cooperation of compliant journalists at, say, CNBC).

Because the CDS is, in essence, an insurance policy on the debt of the company, the spiking CDS pricing will cause the company’s lenders to panic and cut off access to credit. As this happens, the company’s stock will nosedive, thereby cutting off access to equity capital. Thus suddenly deprived of credit and equity, the firm collapses, and the hedge fund collects on its short bets.

Moreover, credit default swap prices are the primary inputs for important indices (such as the CMBX and the ABX) measuring the movement of the overall market for commercial and home mortgages.  In the months leading up to the financial crisis of 2008, short sellers pointed to these indices in order to argue  that investment banks – most notably Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers – had overvalued the mortgage debt and property on their books. Meanwhile, several hedge funds made billions in profits betting that those indexes would drop.

It should therefore be a matter of some concern that credit default swap “prices” and the indexes derived from them are determined almost entirely by a little company with zero transparency and, it appears probable, a high exposure to influence from market manipulators. The company is called Markit Group, and there is every reason to believe that its CDS-driven indices (the CMBX, the ABX, and several others) are inaccurate, while the credit default swap “prices” that they publish  and which rock the market are in fact  nowhere close to the prices at which credit default swaps actually trade.

Last year, the media reported that New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo had sent subpoenas to Markit Group as part of an investigation into possible manipulation of credit default swap prices by short sellers. This investigation, like Mr. Cuomo’s other investigations into market manipulation, have yielded no prosecutions.

The Department of Justice is reportedly investigating Markit Group for anti-trust violations. This investigation (which is reportedly focused on how Markit Group packages and sells its information) seems to acknowledge that Market Group has near-monopolistic control of information about credit default swap prices. However, if the press reports are correct, the DOJ has not considered the possible appeal of this monopolistic control to market manipulators.

Meanwhile, Henry Hu, the director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s division of risk, has said that it has been nearly impossible for the SEC to conduct investigations into any matter concerning credit default swaps because the commission does not have access to any data on the trading of CDSs. In itself, this is a shocking admission.  It is all the more shocking when one considers that the necessary data exists and might be in the hands of the Markit Group – a black box company based in London.

A thorough investigation of Markit Group is urgently required.

Here is what we know so far:

  • Markit Group was co-founded by Rony Grushka, Lance Uggla, and Kevin Gould. Prior to founding Markit Group, Mr. Grushka’s main line of business was investing in Bulgarian property developments. He recently resigned from the board of Orchid Developments Group, an Israeli-invested company based in Sophia, Bulgaria. Messrs. Uggla and Gould formerly worked for Toronto-Dominion Bank in Canada.
  • Markit Group’s founders also include four hedge funds. However, Markit Group refuses to disclose the names of those hedge funds. In response to an inquiry, a Markit Group spokesman said it was “corporate policy” to keep the names of the hedge funds secret, but he would not say why Markit Group had such a policy. It seems worth knowing whether those hedge funds have any influence over Markit Group’s published information or indexes, and whether those hedge funds are trading on that information. It would also be worth knowing whether those hedge funds or affiliated hedge funds have engaged in short selling of public companies whose debt and stock prices were profoundly affected by the information that Markit Group published.
  • Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and several other investment banks also have ownership stakes in Markit Group. The investment banks received their stakes in exchange for providing trading data to Markit Group. It would be worth knowing whether these investment banks engaged in short selling ahead of Markit Group’s published indexes and price quotations.
  • Markit Group is secretive about how it creates its indexes. In early 2008, the Wall Street Journal noted that the CMBX simply “doesn’t make sense” and that Markit Group’s indexes “might be exaggerating the amount of distress” in the home and commercial mortgage markets. In 2008, the average prediction for defaults on commercial mortgages was 2%. The CMBX implied that the default rate could be four times that level.
  • When short seller David Einhorn initiated his famous public attack on Lehman Brothers, one of his central arguments was that the CMBX (the index that was likely “exaggerating the amount of distress”) proved that Lehman had overvalued the commercial mortgages on its books.
  • In March 2008, the Commercial Mortgage Securities Association sent a letter to Markit Group asking it disclose basic information about how the CMBX index is created and its daily trading volume. “The volatility in the CMBX index, caused by short sellers, distorts the true picture of the value of commercial-mortgage-backed securities,” the group said in a statement.
  • Markit Group is equally secretive about how it derives its “prices” for credit default swaps. A spokesman for the company spent close to one hour talking to Deep Capture. He did his job well and sounded like he was trying to be helpful. But he told us as little as possible.
  • However, in the course of this conversation, we did learn that Markit Group’s “prices” are not actual, traded prices. They are mere quotations. The Markit Group has what it calls “contributors” – hedge funds and broker-dealers that provide it with information. Markit Group has a grand total of 22 “contributors.” Deep Capture asked Markit Group’s spokesman for the names of these “contributors.” The spokesman said he would try to find out the names and call back later. He never called back.
  • The 22 “contributors” provide Markit Group with quotations, and these quotations become the Markit Group’s “price.” In other words, the “contributors” can quote any price for a CDS that they choose, regardless of whether anyone is actually willing to buy the CDS at that price. Markit Group looks at these quotations. Then it somehow decides which quotations make the most sense. Then it publishes information that purports to represent the actual market price of that CDS. This process is certainly unscientific. And it is ripe for abuse.
  • Consider, for example, the Markit Group “price” for CDSs insuring the debt of company X.  The Markit Group price strongly suggests that company X is going to default on its debt in the immediate future. Short sellers eagerly point to the Markit Group CDS “price” as evidence that company X is doomed. Panic ensues, and suddenly, company X really is doomed. But the fact is, nobody ever bought a company X CDS at the price quoted by Markit Group. Rather, that panic-inducing “price” was, in effect, pulled out of a hat. Who pulled it out of a hat? That is matter of immense importance. There are two possible scenarios:
  • The first possible scenario is that the 22 “contributors” report their quotations in good faith. They should be sending the actual traded price, not just a quotation, but assume they are just doing what was asked of them. From these quotations, Markit Group somehow decides what the “price” should be. It is possible that this decision is based on some secret formula (which would be worrisome); or it is possible that Markit Group executives sit around a table debating what the price should be and take a shot in the dark (which would be even more worrisome); or it is possible that Markit Group deliberately chooses the most horrifying price possible in order to assist the short sellers who are affiliated with its owners (which would be a matter for the authorities).
  • The second possible scenario is that Markit Group acts in good faith (if not scientifically), but one or more of the 22 “contributors” or their affiliates has an interest in seeing company X fail. If just one of those “contributors” sends in an astronomically high quotation, that could be enough. Markit Group factors the absurd quotation into its posted “price” and it suddenly becomes possible to convince the world that company X is about to default on its debt.  Panic ensues, the firm’s layer of debt dries up, the stock price plunges, and perhaps the “contributor” or its affiliate make a lot of money.
  • As Deep Capture understands it, CDS quotations suggested by the 22 “contributors” also help determine the movement of the CMBX and ABX indexes. The movement of these indexes did serious damage to the American economy in multiple ways. The  indexes prompted write downs at most of the major banks and mortgage companies. They were ammunition for short sellers, like David Einhorn, who claimed that companies had cooked their books by not writing down to the rock bottom prices suggested by the Markit Group indexes. They helped precipitate the decline in prices of mortgage securities, and contributed mightily to the panic that spread across the markets.  A lot of people made a lot of money as result of those indexes moving downward. So, it is rather important to know more about how those indexes are formulated, and if they can be driven by the same people who are making directional bets on their movements.

Conclusion: Ten years ago, there was no such thing as a credit default swap. Six years ago, a very small number of investors traded credit default swaps as hedges against the long-shot possibility of corporate defaults. Nobody looked to credit default swaps as reliable indicators of corporate well-being.

Then, suddenly, there were over $60 trillion in credit default swaps outstanding. That is, over the course of a few years, somebody had made over $60 trillion (many times the gross domestic product) in long shot bets that borrowers would default on their debt. As this derivative risk marbled through the system, the trading in credit default swaps was completely opaque. Nobody knew who bought them, who sold them, or at what price.

But starting in 2001, we knew the “prices” of CDSs. We knew the “prices” because two Canadians, a developer of Bulgarian real estate, and four mysterious hedge funds had founded a small, black-box company in London. That company, the Markit Group, achieved near-monopolistic power to publicize the “prices” through its magic process of aggregating quotation information provided by 22 hedge funds and broker-dealers who could well have been betting on the downstream effects of sudden price changes.

These “prices” were not prices in any meaningful sense of the term.  But, suddenly, these “prices” became perhaps the single most important indicator of corporate well-being. Assuming that those four hedge funds and the 22 “contributors” (or hedge funds affiliated with them) bet against public companies, it seems more than possible that short-sellers got to run the craps table, call the dice, and place bets, all at the same time.

So perhaps it is not surprising that a lot of long-shot rolls paid off quite nicely.

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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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Hedge funds and the global economic meltdown

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Hedge funds and the global economic meltdown


I originally published this video on the first anniversary of the destruction of Bear Stearns, though its lessons seem even more timely today, the first anniversary of the destruction of Lehman Brothers.

And so, as you bump into some of the many discussions currently underway touching upon the cause of Lehman’s demise and the global financial meltdown that followed, kindly refer folks to this video. When the shorts protest that it’s a “conspiracy theory,” you might agree that it is indeed a conspiracy, but a conspiracy fact, not theory.

When they continue to protest, ask them to get specific.

And then sit back and enjoy the silence.

Hedge Funds and the Global Economic Meltdown

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Goldman pillages, Goldman steals, Goldman Sachs

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Goldman pillages, Goldman steals, Goldman Sachs


(As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m looking for extra feedback on the ideas presented here, as they are currently under development and able to benefit greatly from your insights.)

I think we can all agree that the middle of last September was as strange a time as our financial markets have ever experienced.

In case you’ve forgotten, let me remind you with a simple timeline. As you read it, keep in mind that following the demise of Bear Stearns, the strictest interpretation of the so-called investment bank “Bulge Bracket” included just four entities: Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley.

  • September 9: The short attack on Lehman Brothers begins in earnest.
  • September 14: The New York Times reports Lehman will file bankruptcy.
  • September 15: Goldman Sachs share price begins to wilt. Merrill Lynch announces it will be sold to Bank of America.
  • September 17: Goldman Sachs’ share price continues to plummet. The SEC announces “new rules to protect investors against naked short selling abuses”.
  • September 18: Goldman Sachs’ share price continues to plummet.
  • September 19: The SEC “halts short selling of financial stocks to protect investors and markets”.  Goldman Sachs’ share price posts a strong gain.
  • September 22: Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the two remaining members of the “Bulge Bracket” announce their intentions to transition to bank holding companies, giving them access to lending facilities of the US Federal Reserve (an organization with which Goldman has an uncommonly tight relationship).

As I see it, the most interesting event to come of that most eventful period was the SEC’s September 19 ban on legitimate short selling. What makes it so enigmatic is the fact that not even the most vocal opponents of illegal naked short selling have ever even hinted at the need to restrict legitimate shorting. In fact, Patrick Byrne himself compared the ban to limiting motorists to making only right-hand turns.

However, I have a theory that might explain what was going on.

An examination of the volume of both naked and legitimate shorting of Goldman Sachs in September of 2008 reveals something very interesting: while there was an enormous amount of short selling taking place, there was essentially no naked shorting of Goldman shares. Indeed, short selling accounted for a third of total volume on September 15 and 16, while failed trades accounted for less than 0.07%, suggesting shortable Goldman shares were in abundant supply.

This conclusion is supported by an analysis of the stock loan rebate rate that prevailed for Goldman shares during the period in question: a very reliable indicator of the scarcity of shares available for short sellers to borrow, where a lower rebate rate indicates a more limited supply.

In the case of Goldman, from May through August 29 of 2008, the rebate rate averaged 1.80%. And, between September 1st and the September 19th short selling ban, Goldman’s average rebate rate remained exactly the same: 1.80%.

By way of comparison, the average rebate rates for Lehman Brothers shares over the same periods were 1.18% and 0.16% (bottoming out at -0.25% during Lehman’s last week), respectively.

By contrast, Goldman shares appear to have been easy to borrow right up to and in the midst of its stock price free-fall.

This scenario is consistent with the levels of naked short selling of Lehman and Goldman during the same period: extremely high in the case of Lehman, and almost non-existent in the case of Goldman; furthermore, this suggests that, given abusive naked shorting does not tend to occur until after short sellers have exhausted the supply of borrowable shares, it was legitimate shorting that pushed Goldman’s share price over the edge.

With that in mind, let’s revisit the above timeline, focusing on Goldman, with my interpretation appended.

  • September 15: Lehman declares bankruptcy. Goldman Sachs share price begins to fall. Following the destruction of Lehman Brothers at the hands of short selling hedge funds, the financial world is keenly aware of the capacity of naked shorting to decimate the share prices of financial firms. Furthermore, given the role Goldman undoubtedly played as broker in the criminal short selling hedge funds’ attack Lehman, the firm is justifiably concerned that the karma train is heading its way.
  • September 16: Goldman lobbies its extremely well-placed (and well-documented) federal government contacts for a temporary ban on naked short selling.
  • September 17: The SEC temporarily bans naked short selling.
  • September 18: Despite the ban on naked shorting, Goldman Sachs’ share price continues to fall, suggesting legitimate short selling, not illegal naked short selling, is the cause of Goldman’s problems. Goldman lobbies for the SEC to temporarily ban legitimate shorting.
  • September 19: The SEC temporarily bans legitimate shorting of all financial stocks. Goldman’s share price rises.

Might the SEC have been acting in the best interest of the market when it issued both emergency orders? I suppose that’s possible. But given the utter disinterest – even contempt – that organization has demonstrated toward investors and small public companies that have complained about the issue, I find it very difficult to believe.

Meanwhile, the SEC stood by and watched as naked short selling destroyed Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. Merrill Lynch then took itself out of the game, leaving a Bulge Bracket consisting of only Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

Of those two, which has uncommon influence over the federal government?

Goldman Sachs, of course.

And if this is true, does it leave any doubt as to the lengths the SEC might have gone to preserve a corrupt system when it benefited the company?

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Our Watchdogs and the Financial Scandal of the Century


“Accountability – Integrity – Reliability”

That’s the motto of the Government Accountability Office, and it almost makes you believe that there really is a functioning watchdog – somebody, aside from us Internet loons, to investigate and report on the incompetence and malfeasance that pervade our public institutions.

Certainly, there were high hopes when the GAO began investigating the Securities and Exchange Commission’s oversight of the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation (DTCC), a black box Wall Street outfit that is at the center of one of the great financial scandals of our era.

Alas, the GAO has completed its “investigation” and issued a report on its findings. After reading this report, and considering once again that the GAO (“Accountability – Integrity – Reliability”) is the last line of defense against government miscreancy, I have concluded, and am obliged to inform you, that we are, without a shadow of a doubt, totally screwed.

The report begins with an explanation: “An effective clearance and settlement process is vital to the functioning of equities markets. When investors agree to trade an equity security, the purchaser promises to deliver cash to the seller and the seller promises to deliver the security to the purchaser. The process by which the seller receives payment and the buyer, the securities, is known as clearance and settlement.”

In other words, people who sell stock need to deliver real stock. That’s kind of important to the“functioning of equities markets.” If you think it is strange that the GAO ( “Accountability – Integrity – Reliability”) needs to clarify this point, you can begin to understand the scope of a scandal that has helped bring us to the brink of a second Great Depression.

The problem is that many hedge funds and brokers engage in illegal naked short selling – selling stock and other securities that they have not yet borrowed or purchased, and failing to deliver stock within the allotted 3 days. They do this to drive down stock prices and destroy public companies for profit.

Emmy Award-winning journalist Gary Matsumoto reported on the Bloomberg newswire last week that naked short selling is one of Wall Street’s “darkest arts” and contributed to the demise of both Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. SEC data shows that an astounding 32.8 million shares of Lehman were sold and not delivered to buyers as of last September 11, days before the company declared bankruptcy.

The collapse of Lehman, of course, triggered the near-total implosion of our financial system.

How could this have been allowed to happen?

One answer lies within that black box – the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation. The DTCC is a quasi-private, Wall Street owned and operated organization that is charged by Congress and the SEC with ensuring that securities trades are cleared and settled. As is evident from the cases of Lehman, Bear, and hundreds of other companies, however, the DTCC often fails to do its job.

In fact, it enables naked short selling to go unpunished. Rather than track individual trades to ensure that delivery occurs, the DTCC merely calculates a net total of sales and purchases at the end of each day. So we know how many shares of a given company fail to deliver each day, but the DTCC won’t tell us which hedge funds or brokers are responsible.

Meanwhile, the DTCC maintains something called the “Stock Borrow Program,” whereby it purportedly borrows a bundle of shares from cooperating brokers and uses the shares to settle failed trades. These shares are not on deposit with the DTCC, and the DTCC records a trade as “settled” with a mere electronic entry — i.e. by pushing a button on a computer rather than exchanging an actual certificate. So it is unclear that the Stock Borrow Program is actually delivering stock. Moreover, trade volume data suggests that the Stock Borrow Program might be using its bundle over and over again, settling multiple trades with the same “shares,” and generating what is, in effect, massive amounts of counterfeit, or “phantom” stock.

While enabling hedge funds and brokers to engage in their dark art, the DTCC also goes to lengths to deny that illegal naked short selling occurs and to smear the reputations of people who say otherwise. It has orchestrated this vicious public relations campaign in cahoots with a crooked Portfolio magazine reporter named Gary Weiss, who has worked closely with a motley cast of Mafia-connected hedge fund managers and convicted criminals.

There is indisputable evidence showing that Weiss, while posing as a journalist, not only worked inside the DTCC’s offices, but also went so far as to seize total control of the Wikipedia entries on “naked short selling” and “Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation.” Yet, to this day, Weiss flat-out denies that he has ever worked with the DTCC and insists that he has never edited any Wikipedia page, much less the fabulously distorted entries dealing with naked short selling.

That the DTCC facilitates and seeks to cover up naked short selling is not surprising given that it is owned by the very brokerages who profit from catering to hedge funds who commit  the crime. The DTCC’s board of directors has included several market makers – including Peter Madoff, brother of Bernard Madoff, the $50 billion Ponzi schemer with ties to the Mafia — who made a tidy profit from naked short selling.

At any rate, the SEC is responsible for overseeing the DTCC and ensuring that it is doing all it can to enforce delivery of shares and other securities. But the SEC conducts examinations of the DTCC only once every two years, and former SEC officials have admitted to Deep Capture that these visits entail nothing more than “investigators” asking a few courteous questions. Indeed, a number of former SEC officials have told us that the nation’s securities regulator doesn’t even understand what the DTCC does.

Enter the GAO (“Accountability – Integrity – Reliability”). Ostensibly, the GAO was going to determine whether the SEC was properly monitoring the DTCC. However, the GAO’s “investigation” entailed nothing more than visiting the SEC and asking a few courteous questions. In response, the SEC told the GAO that there is nothing to worry about, and the GAO duly issued a report that concluded that the SEC had told the GAO there is nothing to worry about.

Really, that, in essence, is what the report says.

It notes, for example, that the SEC examines the DTCC only once every two years, but offers no opinion as to whether this is sufficient oversight of an organization that processes securities transactions worth $1.4 quadrillion – or 30 times the gross product of the entire planet – every year.

And here’s what the report has to say about the DTCC’s Stock Borrow Program:

“…in response to media criticism and allegations made by certain issuers and     shareholders that NSCC and DTC [units of the DTCC] were facilitating naked short selling through the operation of the Stock Borrow Program, OCIE [a unit of the SEC] also incorporated a review of this program into the scope of its 2005 examination. These critics argued that the Stock Borrow Program exacerbated naked short selling by creating and lending shares that are not actually deposited at the DTC, thereby, flooding the market with shares that do not exist. As part of their review, OCIE examiners tested transactions in securities that were the subject of the above referenced allegations or had high levels of prolonged FTD. The examination did not find any instances where critics’ claims were validated. However, we did not validate OCIE’s findings.” [Emphasis mine]

In other words, the SEC claims to have examined the Stock Borrow Program once – in 2005 — but the GAO (“Accountability – Integrity – Reliability”) has no idea what that examination entailed. The SEC claims to have “tested transactions” in securities that had “high levels of prolonged” failures to deliver, but offered the GAO no credible explanation as to why so many companies have seen millions of their shares go undelivered nearly every day since 2005.

The SEC says it looked into the “critics’ claims” and found them to be without merit. The GAO duly notes this as if what the SEC has to say were the final say in the matter. As to whether the SEC’s own claims might have been without merit, the GAO says only that it “did not validate” the SEC’s findings.

Isn’t the job of the GAO (“Accountability – Integrity – Reliability”) to “validate” – or, as it were, invalidate – the SEC’s findings? It is not exactly an “investigation” to merely ask the SEC what it has to say and then publish a report confirming that that is, in fact, what the SEC had to say.

Last year, more than 70% of all failures to deliver were concentrated on a select 100 companies that short sellers had also targeted in other ways (planting false media stories, issuing false financial research, filing bogus class action lawsuits, harassing and threatening executives, engaging in corporate espionage, circulating false rumors, pulling strings to get dead-end federal investigations launched, etc.), but the SEC told the GAO that the failures to deliver could be mostly the result of “processing delays” or “mechanical errors.”

Billions of undelivered shares – most of them concentrated on 100 known targets of specific short sellers. Many of those shares left undelivered for months at a time. The SEC tells the GAO that this might be due to “mechanical errors.” And what does the GAO (“Accountability – Integrity – Reliability”) do? It transcribes the SEC’s claims, offers no opinion as to whether the SEC might be full of it, and then acknowledges that it is in no position to have such opinions because it “did not validate” anything.

In a written response to the GAO, the SEC noted happily that the GAO (“Accountability – Integrity – Reliability”) “made no recommendations” in its report.

“We appreciate the courtesy you and your staff extended to us during this review,” the SEC told the GAO.

* * * * * * * *

Far better is a report issued last week by the Office of the Inspector General at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Inspector General David Kotz, charged with conducting independent oversight of the SEC, is a heroic figure – an honest man in government. He has consistently lambasted the SEC for corruption and incompetence, and now he has investigated the SEC’s regulation of naked short selling. He found the regulation to be fairly abysmal and offered concrete recommendations for how the commission could reform itself.

The report concludes:

“The OIG received numerous complaints alleging that [SEC] Enforcement failed to take sufficient action regarding naked short selling. Many of these complaints asserted that investors and companies lost billions of dollars because Enforcement has not taken sufficient action against naked short selling practices.”

“Our audit disclosed that despite the tremendous amount of attention the practice of naked short selling has generated in recent years, Enforcement has brought very few enforcement actions based on conduct involving abusive or manipulative naked short selling…during the period of our review we found that few naked short selling complaints were forwarded to Headquarters or Regional Office Enforcement staff for further investigation…”

“Given the heightened public and Commission focus on naked short selling and guidance provided to the public leading them to believe these complaints will be taken seriously and appropriately evaluated, we believe the ECC’s current policies and procedures should be improved to ensure that naked short selling complaints are addressed appropriately.”

As for the SEC’s claims that naked short selling isn’t really a problem, or that failures to deliver could be the result of “mechanical error,” the OIG nicely contrasts this blather with the SEC’s own decision last fall to take “emergency” action against naked short selling (because naked short sellers were contributing to the toppling of the American financial system) and the SEC’s statement that “we have been concerned about ‘naked’ short selling and, in particular, abusive ‘naked’ short selling, for some time.”

In response to the OIG’s rightfully scathing report, the SEC wrote a letter in which it flatly refused to abide by most of the OIG’s recommendations.

The SEC did not thank the OIG for its “courtesy.”

* * * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, that other watchdog – the media – continues to ignore the problem of naked short selling. After Gary Matsumoto’s rather earth-rattling Bloomberg report that naked short selling destroyed Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers – and, by extension, destabilized the entire financial system – there were a total of two mainstream media stories on the subject.

The first was in Portfolio magazine. Actually, this wasn’t really a story. It was one of those question and answer things. And the Q&A was not with some credible expert. Instead, a Portfolio magazine reporter interviewed another Portfolio magazine reporter about the Bloomberg reporter’s story. Even more shocking to those who believe there is hope for balanced media coverage of this issue, the interviewee was none other than… Gary Weiss, the crooked reporter who sidelines as a flak for the DTCC.

Weiss, of course, smeared the messenger, suggesting that Matsumoto was a “conspiracy theorist.” He cited no data or evidence, but repeated the SEC and DTCC nonsense that failures to deliver might be caused by mechanical errors (which just happen to show up overwhelmingly concentrated in those firms targeted by the hedge funds who serve as Gary Weiss’s sources). And he asserted that naked short selling isn’t a problem because the SEC says that naked short selling isn’t a problem (except when the SEC says that naked short selling is an “emergency”).

Read the full interview here. You’ll get a sense of the way Weiss deliberately employs straw man arguments to distort the truth, though as an example of Weiss’s dishonesty, this is rather mild.

* * * * * * * *

The other magazine to report on the Bloomberg bombshell was the Columbia Journalism Review, which is the most prominent watchdog of the watchdogs – an outlet for serious media criticism. As Deep Capture‘s regular readers know, I used to work as an editor for the Columbia Journalism Review. I spent ten months preparing a story for that publication about dishonest journalists (including Gary Weiss) who were deliberately covering up the naked short selling scandal.

In the course of working on this story, I was threatened and, on one occasion, punched in the face. Then, in November 2006, shortly before the story was to be published, a short selling hedge fund that I was investigating announced that it would henceforth be providing the Columbia Journalism Review with the funding that would be used specifically to pay my salary.

The hedge fund that bribed the Columbia Journalism Review is called Kingsford Capital. It has worked closely with criminals, including a thug named Spyro Contogouris. In November 2006, a couple weeks after Kingsford bribed the Columbia Journalism Review, an FBI agent arrested Spyro. This was the same FBI agent who was investigating a cabal of short sellers – SAC Capital, Kynikos Associates, the former Rocker Partners, Third Point Capital, Exis Capital — who were then working with Spyro to attack a company called Fairfax Financial.

Spyro had harassed and threatened Fairfax executives, so he was going to feature prominently in my story. The centerpiece of my story, however, was to be that cabal of short sellers, not only because the Fairfax case was quite shocking, but also because these short sellers and a few others were the primary sources to dishonest journalists (especially MarketWatch reporter Herb Greenberg and CNBC personality Jim Cramer) who were then whitewashing the naked short selling scandal. Moreover, nearly every company known to have been targeted by these short sellers had been victimized by naked short selling, with millions of shares going undelivered, often for months at a time.

Emails in my possession show that Kingsford Capital is closely connected to that cabal of short sellers. Moreover, one of Kingsford’s managers at the time, Cory Johnson, was, along with Herb Greenberg and Jim Cramer (the journalists who were going to feature most prominently in my story) a founding editor of TheStreet.com. (Johnson removed Kingsford from his online resume after I revealed the relationship in “The Story of Deep Capture.”).

For a number of years, Kingsford Capital was partnered with Manuel Asensio, who was one of the most notorious naked short sellers on the Street. Prior to his work with Kingsford, Asensio worked for First Hanover, a Mafia-affiliated brokerage whose owner later became a homeless crack addict.

I was investigating Kingsford and Asensio primarily because they appeared to be among the favorite sources of Gary Weiss, the crooked journalist who was then secretly doubling as a flak for the black box DTCC. Asensio, for example, helped Weiss write “The Mob on Wall Street,” a 1995 BusinessWeek story that was all about the Mafia’s infiltration of Wall Street stock brokerages, but which deliberately omitted reference to Mafia-connected naked short sellers, even though the brokerage that featured most prominently in the story, Hanover Sterling, was at the center of one of the biggest naked short selling fiascos in Wall Street history.

According to someone who knows Weiss well, Asensio was also a source for a Weiss story about the gangland-style murder of two stock brokers, Al Chalem and Meier Lehmann. Chalem was tied to the Mafia and specialized in naked short selling. Multiple sources say that Russian mobsters killed Chalem in a dispute over the naked short selling of stocks that were manipulated by brokerages connected to the Russians and the Genovese organized crime family.

One of these sources – a man who worked closely with Chalem – says that he tried to tell Weiss the true story, but Weiss refused to listen to anybody who would pin the murders on the Russian Mob or accuse Chalem of naked short selling. Instead, Weiss wrote a false story describing Chalem as a “stock promoter” and suggesting that he had been killed by people tied to the Gambino crime family, which was then a fierce rival of the Genovese and the Russians.

On another occasion, the current principals of Kingsford Capital sent Weiss a fax containing false negative information about a company called Hemispherx Biopharma. Another source, who was sitting in Weiss’s office at the time, says that he tried to tell the reporter that Kingsford was working with Asensio, that Asensio might have ties to the Mob, and that Asensio was naked short selling Hemispherx stock. Weiss ignored this information and wrote a negative story about Hemispherx. Hemispherx’s stock promptly plummeted by more than 50%.

Remember, Gary Weiss is the Portfolio magazine reporter who just who just told Portfolio magazine that only “conspiracy theorists” believe that abusive short selling is a problem.

* * * * * * * *

It is too much for me to believe that Kingsford Capital’s managers (along with Gary Weiss and Asensio?) could be influencing the Columbia Journalism Review’s stories, but I do know that the magazine is now an ardent defender of short sellers and has written favorably about several of the dishonest journalists – including Gary Weiss –who were to appear in my story.

And, in its recent piece about Matsumoto’s Bloomberg bombshell, the Columbia Journalism Review cast doubt on the theory that naked short selling wiped out Lehman – never mind those 30 million shares that didn’t get delivered.

The Columbia Journalism Review reporter, who receives a salary thanks to the beneficence of Kingsford Capital, wrote this:

“Now, I don’t have a dog in the naked-shorts fight. I can’t tell you if this is being done illegally on a large-scale and having a real impact on companies. I just don’t know.”

“But one of the first things that comes to mind here is—wouldn’t you expect fails-to-deliver to soar for a company teetering on the brink of bankruptcy under an avalanche of bad news? I’d expect there would be a rush to short a stock like Lehman, which was about to collapse anyway. So, people who usually could expect to borrow shares to short might have found that they couldn’t because everybody else was doing the same thing.”

In other words, people who “could expect to borrow shares,” but “found that they couldn’t” went ahead anyway and sold 30 million shares that did not exist. This was a gross violation of securities regulations that require traders to have “affirmative determination” that a stock can, in fact, be borrowed. Assuming the intent was to manipulate the stock, it is a jailable offense.

It is true that by mid-September of last year, Lehman was on the brink of bankruptcy. Partners backed out of deals and there was a run on the bank. But people got nervous and pulled their money only because hedge funds bombarded Lehman with rumors (which are currently the subjects of a federal investigation) while simultaneously naked shorting the stock to single digits.

In July of 2008, the SEC issued an emergency order designed to prevent just this eventuality. For a few weeks, the order stopped naked short selling of Lehman Brothers and 18 other big financial companies. At this time, Lehman was not on the brink of bankruptcy.

But in early August, the SEC lifted its order and Lehman immediately came under a massive naked short selling attack. On the day the SEC lifted the order, Lehman’s stock was trading at around $20. A few weeks later, the stock was worth around $3 – a fall of 85%.

Only after this precipitous fall did Lehman’s partners begin pulling their money, making bankruptcy inevitable.

But, apparently the Columbia Journalism Review believes that it is perfectly natural for a stock to fall 85%, even though no new information (aside from unsubstantiated rumors) had entered the marketplace. According to the Columbia Journalism Review (which has, no doubt, plowed Kingsford Capital’s money into a thorough investigation of this issue), it is perfectly natural that people who “found they couldn’t” borrow stock nonetheless proceeded to flood the market with 30 million phantom shares.

The truth is, that 30 million share “mechanical error” helped bring this nation to its knees.

That’s one reason why I do have a dog in this fight.

* * * * * * * *

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The short heard ’round the world



This is the first anniversary of the destruction of Bear Stearns.

For a while there, just after it happened, everybody was talking about the role of short selling, both legal and illegal, in Bear’s rather violent passing.

Since then, the big question has gone from “who the hell set this fire?” to “how did this place devolve into such a firetrap, anyway?” and “how the hell do we get out of this burning building?”

Finding answers to all three questions is vitally important. Yet, I’m a little bothered by the fact that these days, so little attention is being focused on the first.

And so, exactly one year after criminal arsonists set a match to the over-leveraged heap of oily rags that was Bear Stearns, I offer up this video examination of that event, and those that would follow.

While I hope you will all enjoy and help circulate it, I should point out that this video was not primarily made for the frequent readers of DeepCapture.com (as everything in it has already been examined in these pages). Instead, it’s for those who’ve yet to understand why they should be outraged at what’s going on.

In other words, it’s primarily for future readers of DeepCapture.com.

Yet, I need you regulars to take a look, and then help get this out there. Plus, the music is pretty cool, so it’ll be worth your time to watch anyway.

Download:
Windows Media (85 mb).
Ipod compliant .mv4

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The short heard 'round the world



This is the first anniversary of the destruction of Bear Stearns.

For a while there, just after it happened, everybody was talking about the role of short selling, both legal and illegal, in Bear’s rather violent passing.

Since then, the big question has gone from “who the hell set this fire?” to “how did this place devolve into such a firetrap, anyway?” and “how the hell do we get out of this burning building?”

Finding answers to all three questions is vitally important. Yet, I’m a little bothered by the fact that these days, so little attention is being focused on the first.

And so, exactly one year after criminal arsonists set a match to the over-leveraged heap of oily rags that was Bear Stearns, I offer up this video examination of that event, and those that would follow.

While I hope you will all enjoy and help circulate it, I should point out that this video was not primarily made for the frequent readers of DeepCapture.com (as everything in it has already been examined in these pages). Instead, it’s for those who’ve yet to understand why they should be outraged at what’s going on.

In other words, it’s primarily for future readers of DeepCapture.com.

Yet, I need you regulars to take a look, and then help get this out there. Plus, the music is pretty cool, so it’ll be worth your time to watch anyway.

Download:
Windows Media (85 mb).
Ipod compliant .mv4

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Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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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