Deciphering Joe Cassno’s Lies Before The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission
Joe Cassano is a very good liar, which is why it would be so hard to prosecute him for perjury. When testifying before The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, the former head of AIG Financial Products kept blending in half-truths with his audaciously dishonest claims, so that the overall effect was nonsensical. For instance, to justify his outrageous claim that, "the books were generally considered fully hedged," he explained that "we were using it basically in actuarial basis …[so] it’s not hedged in the conventional sense." (Translation: The book was never hedged in any sense. Nor was there any actuarial analysis, only a reliance on triple-A credit ratings.) These rhetorical tricks were designed to throw sand in everyone’s face. But his tactics seem to have worked. The staunchly unregenerate Cassano framed a media narrative that deflected away from his dishonesty and gross incompetence.
Here’s a reality check on some of his more ridiculous claims, in order of appearance:
1. Cassanos’s Claim: AIGFP never compromised its high underwriting standards.
The Truth: AIGFP had no underwriting standards pertaining to the most important risk, which affected AIG’s liquidity.
Commission Chairman Phil Angelides asked Cassano if he understood the subprime risks he insured. Cassano stonewalled with a lot of doubletalk:
Angelides: I want to talk to you about this, that these were represented as multisector CDOs. But if you look at — we did a sample of some of these in 2004, 2005, 2006, they were almost overwhelmingly residential-backed and very substantially subprime. For example, in the survey we did of some of these CDOs that you issued protection on, 84 percent were backed by RMBS residential mortgages in ’05, 89 percent in ’06. And just as an example, while you indicated you decided to stop writing on subprime instruments in January of ’06, for example, you backed an instrument called RFC III where that CDO was 93 percent subprime and seven percent HELOC home equity loans.
My question for you, Mr. Cassano, is was there — you said you did thorough due diligence. Were you aware of the quality of the mortgages? Do you do direct analysis of the loan data? Were you confident that you had a full understanding of the nature of what you were backing?
Today, during the FCIC’s second day of hearings, Goldman CFO David Viniar was forced to provide additional data about the firm’s AIG CDS trades. Luckily the firm kept a record of all entry and exit points, and thus will be able to confirm just what the P&L of the associated trades is (and if not, we are happy to teach Goldman’s risk department how to use the Bloomberg CDSD function in conjunction with RMGR run scraping to build a real time CDS portfolio tracker)… Which is ironic, because when asked by Brooksley Born why the firm has not yet provided a break down of its derivative revenue Mr. Viniar by all accounts perjured himself. As Bloomberg reported: “We don’t have a separate derivatives business,” Viniar told the panel. “It’s integrated into the rest of our business.”
Every evening, a firm’s back office (and that most certainly includes Goldman) takes the EOD CDS and cash marks from every single prop trader, be they equity, fixed income, mortgage, FX, etc. and using its own integrated pricing system or an outsourced one, compiles a daily P&L which is immediately sent to the head of the risk division, the head of trading, and other various listserv participants. And most certainly the traders, who have every interest of knowing just how they did in any given day as they prepare their bonus speech at the end of the fiscal year. Traders, who combine cash and CDS trading simply look at a consolidated P&L on the basis of DV01 exposure, which makes the form of product used completely irrelevant, and is a process whereby every change in 1 basis point in interest rates is equivalent to a profit or loss. Every single derivative is presented in Goldman’s daily risk summary on a DV01 basis to show not only maximum possible loss, but what the daily profit or loss may have been. This makes the tracing of both revenue from derivatives and cash products seamless.
Obviously even the FCIC panel was fully aware of this:
“When you tell us that you don’t know how much you make in your derivatives business, nobody here really believes it,” [Commissioner Byron] Georgiou told Viniar. “Nobody here believes that you don’t know how much money you’re
Think Blanche Lincoln’s attempts to tame derivative trading are new? Think again. During the 1990′s, its was the CFTC’s Brooksley Born who was the original crusader, attempting to warn about the dangers posed by an unregulated and out of control explosion in synthetic exposure. And just like Lincoln’s current role reprisal will likely end up being neutered by the Dodd-Frank tag team, so Born’s warnings continuously fell on deaf and conflicted ears. To see how 12 years ago one person was predicting precisely what may happen if JPM got its way to drown the world in $1.2 quadrillion of derivatives, watch this Frontline video "The Warning" from late last year: a fascinating hour-long adventure into the shadowy Over The Counter world which everyone has an opinion on, yet so few understand.
Last night PBS’s Frontline aired a new documentary called The Warning. If you missed it, you are in luck. We’ve got it right here.
Here’s how Frontline describes the documentary.
"We didn’t truly know the dangers of the market, because it was a dark market," says Brooksley Born, the head of an obscure federal regulatory agency — the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) — who not only warned of the potential for economic meltdown in the late 1990s, but also tried to convince the country’s key economic powerbrokers to take actions that could have helped avert the crisis. "They were totally opposed to it," Born says. "That puzzled me. What was it that was in this market that had to be hidden?"
In The Warning, airing Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings), veteran FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk (Inside the Meltdown, Breaking the Bank) unearths the hidden history of the nation’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. At the center of it all he finds Brooksley Born, who speaks for the first time on television about her failed campaign to regulate the secretive, multitrillion-dollar derivatives market whose crash helped trigger the financial collapse in the fall of 2008.
"I didn’t know Brooksley Born," says former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt, a member of President Clinton’s powerful Working Group on Financial Markets. "I was told that she was irascible, difficult, stubborn, unreasonable." Levitt explains how the other principals of the Working Group — former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin — convinced him that Born’s attempt to regulate the risky derivatives market could lead to financial turmoil, a conclusion he now believes was "clearly a mistake."
Born’s battle behind closed doors was epic, Kirk finds. The members of the President’s Working Group vehemently opposed regulation — especially when proposed by a Washington outsider like Born.
"I walk into Brooksley’s office one day; the blood has drained from her face," says Michael Greenberger, a former top official at the CFTC who worked closely with Born. "She’s hanging up the…
This is a non-trading topic, but I wanted to post it during trading hours so as many eyes can see it as possible. Feel free to contact me directly at email@example.com with any questions.
Last fall there was some discussion on the PSW board regarding setting up a YouCaring donation page for a PSW member, Shadowfax. Since then, we have been looking into ways to help get him additional medical services and to pay down his medical debts. After following those leads, we are ready to move ahead with the YouCaring site. (Link is posted below.) Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated; not only to help aid in his medical bill debt, but to also show what a great community this group is.
Europe was in rally mode when the US markets opened, and the EURO STOXX 50 would subsequently close with a 2.19% gain. The S&P 500 opened at its intraday low, up 0.28%, and headed higher through the day to its 2.02% high in the final hour. Its closing gain of 1.96% was its best one-day performance since its 2.18% surge on October 10th of last year. The popular financial press attibutes today's gain to speculation more ECB stimulus and the strong Apple-earnings effect.
The yield on the 10-year Note closed at 2.23%, up 3 bps from yesterday's close.
Here is a 15-minute chart of the past five sessions.
Here is a daily chart of the index. In yesterday's update I pointed out the proximity of the close to the 200-day price moving average. It certainly offered no resistance today, and volume was 23% above its 50...
Here's an interesting video from the recent James Grant Conference. The title of this year's conference is Investing Opportunistically, Separating the Beta from the Alpha.
The first five minutes are introductions and attendee notes you may wish to skip over. The opening speech was by Marc Seidner, CFA at GMO, on inflation expectations.
Note: you may have to click on the play arrow twice to start the video.
Last year at this time a majority thought tightening was inevitable and bonds were attractively priced for those who thought otherwise now, tightening in Europe and Japan is totally priced out and even in the US, inflation expectations are down as noted by forward yield curves.
Seidner commented that 100% of strategists were negative on bonds heading into 2014 but I can name a couple exceptions, not...
Last week brought even more stock market weakness and volatility as the selloff became self-perpetuating, with nobody mid-day on Wednesday wanting to be the last guy left holding equities. Hedge funds and other weak holders exacerbated the situation. But the extreme volatility and panic selling finally led some bulls (along with many corporate insiders) to summon a little backbone and buy into weakness, and the market finished the week on a high note, with continued momentum likely into the first part of this week.
Despite concerns about global economic growth and a persistent lack of inflation, especially given all the global quantitative easing, fundamentals for U.S. stocks still look good, and I believe this overdue correction ultimately will shape up to be a great buying opportunity -- i.e., th...
Now that bitcoin has subsided from speculative bubble to functioning currency (see the price chart below), it’s safe for non-speculators to explore the whole “cryptocurrency” thing. So…is bitcoin or one of its growing list of competitors a useful addition to the average person’s array of bank accounts and credit cards — or is it a replacement for most of those things? And how does one make this transition?
With his usual excellent timing, London-based financial writer/actor/stand-up comic Dominic Frisby has just released Bitcoin: The Future of Money? in which he explains all this in terms most readers will have no tr...
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What do falling energy prices mean for the US consumer? Sober Look writes a brief yet thorough overview of the consequences of the correction in the price of crude oil. There are good aspects, particularly for the consumer, bad aspects, and out-right ugly possibilities. For more on this subject, read James Hamilton's How will Saudi Arabia respond to lower oil prices? In previous eras, Saudi Arabia would tighten the supply to help increase prices, but in this "game of chicken," the rules m...
Shares in Apple (Ticker: AAPL) are near their highs of the session in the final hour of trading on Wednesday, adding to the muted gains seen earlier in the day, following the release of the September FOMC meeting minutes and after activist investor and Apple shareholder Carl Icahn tweeted, “Tmrw we’ll be sending an open letter to @tim_cook. Believe it will be interesting.” Icahn’s tweet hit the ether at 2:33 pm ET and was met with a spike in volume in Apple shares. The stock is currently up 2.0% on the day at $100.75 as of 3:15 pm ET.
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Well PSW Subscribers....I am still here, barely. From my last post a few months ago to now, nothing has changed much, but there are a few bargins out there that as investors, should be put on the watch list (again) and if so desired....buy a small amount.
First, the media is on a tear against biotechs/pharma, ripping companies for their drug prices. Gilead's HepC drug, Sovaldi, is priced at $84K for the 12-week treatment. Pundits were screaming bloody murder that it was a total rip off, but when one investigates the other drugs out there, and the consequences of not taking Sovaldi vs. another drug combinations, then things become clearer. For instance, Olysio (JNJ) is about $66,000 for a 12-week treatment, but is approved for fewer types of patients AND...
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