They weren’t murderers or anything; they had merely stolen more money than most people can rationally conceive of, from their own customers, in a few blinks of an eye. But then they went one step further. They came to Washington, took an oath before Congress, and lied about it.
Thanks to an extraordinary investigative effort by a Senate subcommittee that unilaterally decided to take up the burden the criminal justice system has repeatedly refused to shoulder, we now know exactly what Goldman Sachs executives like Lloyd Blankfein and Daniel Sparks lied about. We know exactly how they and other top Goldman executives, including David Viniar and Thomas Montag, defrauded their clients. America has been waiting for a case to bring against Wall Street. Here it is, and the evidence has been gift-wrapped and left at the doorstep of federal prosecutors, evidence that doesn’t leave much doubt: Goldman Sachs should stand trial.
The great and powerful Oz of Wall Street was not the only target of Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: Anatomy of a Financial Collapse, the 650-page report just released by the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan, alongside Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Their unusually scathing bipartisan report also includes case studies of Washington Mutual and Deutsche Bank, providing a panoramic portrait of a bubble era that produced the most destructive crime spree in our history — "a million fraud cases a year" is how one former regulator puts it. But the mountain of evidence collected against Goldman by Levin’s small, 15-desk office of investigators — details of gross, baldfaced fraud delivered up in such quantities as to almost serve as a kind of sarcastic challenge to the curiously impassive Justice Department — stands as the most important symbol of Wall Street’s aristocratic impunity and prosecutorial immunity produced since the crash of 2008.
To date, there has been only one successful prosecution of a financial big fish from the mortgage bubble, and that was Lee Farkas, a Florida lender who was just convicted on a smorgasbord of fraud charges and now faces life in prison. But Farkas, sadly, is just an exception proving the rule: Like Bernie Madoff, his comically excessive crime spree (which involved such lunacies as kiting checks to his own bank…
Investing is, up to a point, gambling. Most of us don’t think of it in that way but if we conceive of the universe of stocks as a gas of randomly moving particles buffeted this way and that by forces largely beyond their – and certainly beyond our – control then there’s no other conclusion that can be drawn.
However, we don’t really believe this. What we generally believe is that although randomness is pervasive in stocks there’s a pattern that lies beneath the surface which we, in spite all evidence to the contrary, can pick out. For the idea that there are repeatable patterns hidden within apparently random games of chance we can thank one of our more unlikely heroes. Meet Girolamo Cardano, medieval physician, professional gambler and mathematician extraordinaire.
For a very long time in human history there was no appreciation or investigation of probability, the mathematics that lies behind assessments of risk. For the most part people didn’t believe in chance: stuff happened and that was God’s will. The idea that there was some order in the chaos either seems not to have occurred or to have been literally unthinkable.
Gamblers, however, did have some vague understanding that there were patterns in the randomness and quite a lot of self-interest in figuring these out. It’s no surprise that gambling figures quite large in early accounts of advances in probability theory. In Cardano, who seems to have been addicted to gambling, the will to understand and the ability to do so came together.
In many ways what Cardano figured out is today regarded as almost trivial, but at the time it was revolutionary and it allowed him an insight into why and when he should take a risk and when he shouldn’t. Perhaps the simplest example is to do with dice. At the time it was regarded as a bit of a mystery why, when three dice were rolled, the sum of face-up numbers came to ten more often than nine, despite the fact that there were six ways of summing possible numbers to both.
The answer to this conundrum is almost childishly simple to our eyes. There are twenty seven ways of combining the possible sums to ten while there are only…
In New Jersey, taxes are high, the budget’s a mess, government is inefficiently organized, and the public pension fund is blown to kingdom come. Which makes New Jersey a lot like most other states in 2010. What makes the state unusual is its rookie governor, a human bulldozer named Chris Christie, who vowed to lead like a one-termer and is keeping his promise with brio. He has proposed chopping $11 billion from the state’s budget — more than a quarter of the total — for fiscal year 2011 (which starts July 1). He’s backing a constitutional cap on property taxes in hopes of pushing the state’s myriad villages and townships to merge into more efficient units. He’s locked in an ultimate cage match with the New Jersey teachers’ union. It may be the bitterest political fight in the country — and that’s saying something this year. A union official recently circulated a humorous prayer with a punch line asking God to kill Christie. You know, New Jersey humor. And in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Christie didn’t talk about the possibility that his fiscal initiatives might be compromised or defeated; he pictured himself "lying dead on State Street in Trenton," the state capital. Presumably that was a figure of speech.
The tone of the New Jersey budget battle may be distinctive, but many of the same notes can be heard in state capitals across the country. From Hartford to Honolulu, once sturdy state governments are approaching the brink of fiscal calamity, as the crash of 2008 and its persistent aftermath have led to the reckoning of 2010. Squeezed by the end of federal stimulus money on one hand and desperate local governments on the other, states are facing the third straight year of staggering budget deficits, and the necessary cuts will cost jobs, limit services and touch the lives of millions of Americans. Government workers have been laid off in half the states plus Puerto Rico. Twenty-two states have instituted unpaid furloughs. At least 28 states have ordered across-the-board budget cuts,…
It’s Time for Reform We Can Believe In
The Fed Must Be Independent
Credit Default Swaps Threaten the System
Too Big To Fail Must Go
And This Thing About Leverage
What Happens If We Do Nothing?
New York, Media, and La Jolla
Casey Stengel, manager of the hapless 1962 New York Mets, once famously asked, after an especially dismal outing, "Can’t anybody here play this game?" This week I ask, after months of worse than no progress, "Can’t anybody here even spell financial reform, let alone get it done?" We are in danger of experiencing another credit crisis, but one that could be even worse, as the tools to fight it may be lacking when we need them. With attacks on the independence of the Fed, no regulation of derivatives, and allowing banks to be too big to fail, we risk a repeat of the credit crisis. The bank lobbyists are winning and it’s time for those of us in the cheap seats to get outraged. (And while this letter focuses on the US and financial reform, the principles are the same in Europe and elsewhere, as I will note at the end. We are risking way too much in the name of allowing large private profits.) And with no "but first," let’s jump right in.
Last Monday I had lunch with Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Mr. Fisher is a remarkably nice guy and is very clear about where he stands on the issues. My pressing question was whether the Fed would actually accommodate the federal government if it continued to run massive deficits and turn on the printing press. Fisher was clear that such a move would be a mistake, and he thought there would be little sentiment among the various branch presidents to become the enabler of a dysfunctional Congress.
But that brought up a topic that he was quite passionate about, and that is what he sees as an attack on the independence of the Fed. There are bills in Congress that would take away or threaten the current independence of the Fed.
I recognize that the Fed is not completely independent. Even Greenspan said so this past week: "There’s a presumption that …
"If you wanted (as Paul Krugman and some of the questioners at the FCIC hearings did) to know just why things went awry, you’re wasting your time, says the Epicurean Dealmaker: Top bankers are "smart, scary smart," but they have little interest in why things are – and rather plenty of interest in how they can take advantage of the way things are." Phil
A study of recent—and not so recent—financial reform and regulation yields two rules. Rule No. 1: The banks have no idea what kind of regulation is good for them. Rule No. 2: If you ever think the banks have a point, remember Rule No. 1…
So there you have it from one of their own. They just didn’t have time to think about how paying exorbitant amounts of money to themselves that they earned from a game the government rigged for them, after the government bailed them out would play out. They weren’t stupid or foolish, just preoccupied with making money. As TED says, that is what they’re all about.
"Aesthetics is for artists what ornithology is for birds."
— Barnett Newman
Good morning, class.
Our quote for the day comes from Barnett Newman, painter, artist, and member of the loosely affiliated post-war group of US artists known as the Abstract Expressionists. Mr. Newman was widely regarded by many—none more so than himself—to be one of the smartest and most intellectual of this group, which contained other, less articulate1 but arguably more talented artists such as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko. Mr. Newman is credited with unleashing this bon mot upon an unexpecting world in the course of discussing art critics, art criticism, and aesthetics—the philosophy of art and beauty.
* * *
I recalled this quote to mind today when I read Paul Krugman’s latest broadside against all things—and people—financial in The New York Times. In his jeremiad, "Bankers Without a Clue," Mr. Krugman picks apart the recent testimony by four Wall Street CEOs at the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and asks the rhetorical question
Let’s take a look at a few graphs of the dollar, from Feb 1, 2013 through Friday May 17, 2013. Yes, I said graphs of the dollar. I’ve priced the dollar in gold first (of course), then silver, the euro, and even the yen. The pattern is obvious. The dollar is going up.
I did not show copper, lumber, or wheat though they show the same trend. These commodities are not money, of course.
My point is simple. It’s not gold that is going anywhere. In past articles, I’ve used the analogy of measuring a steel ruler using rubber bands. Using the dollar to measure gold is like that. In this article I show that it’s not just gold, but silver, other currencies, and commodities. The dollar is r...
UK prime minister, David Cameron, promised to hold a referendum on whether Great Britain should remain in the EU, but only on two conditions. The first condition, that Cameron be re-elected as prime minister is iffy enough.
The second condition, that Cameron renegotiate the Lisbon Treaty, I said would never happen. And it won't.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel sealed the fate on that score as Berlin plans to streamline EU but avoid wholesale treaty change. Berlin is drawing up plans for treaty changes to streamline decision-making in the eurozone, while stopping short of any wholesale renegotiation that would allow the UK to repatriate powers from Brussels.
Although Angela Merkel, German chancellor, has expr...
U.S. equity futures traded lower in early pre-market trade following a weaker than expected GDP report from the eurozone for the first quarter. GDP growth rose to -0.2 percent on a quarterly basis from -0.6 percent but missed forecasts of a 0.1 percent contraction. Weakness was notably seen in Germany, France, and Italy in the report, with the annualized rate of growth for Germany dropping to -1.4 percent vs. 0.2 percent growth forecast.
In other news around the markets:
The U.K. had fewer people claim unemployment benefits in April than expected, a positive sign for the labor market as the ...
So, what did the market want today? Nothing it appears. It traded on weak volume and had very little movement. This morning the market hated commodities especially silver, but by days end, the market liked silver, gold and even oil but not the dollar. Why?
Last week the economic reports were tough, with bad misses on more than one occasion. But the market tended to ignore the bad news, probably because money continues to pour into equities from money market funds, long term fixed income, and many struggling foreign economies. On Thursday, investors finally caved to even more bad news from Initial Jobless Claims and weak Housing Starts. Then on Friday, when Michigan Sentiment and Leading Indicators posted large positive surprises, the money came pouring back to generate qui...
It's time again for my weekly gasoline update based on data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Rounded to the penny, the average for Regular increased seven cents and Premium four cents. This is the third week of price gains after nine weeks of declines, which followed eleven weeks of price rises. Since their interim high in late February, Regular is down 11 cents and Premium 16 cents.
According to GasBuddy.com, eight states are averaging above $4.00 per gallon, up from four last week. Six states are in the 3.90-4.00 range, up from two last week.
VOYA - ING US, Inc. – Shares in ING Group’s U.S. retirement, investment and insurance business are up as much as 8.0% today to $26.98, the highest level since the company’s May 2nd IPO. ING US was rated new ‘buy’ at BTIG LLC with a 12-month target share price of $31.00 today. The stock has rallied nearly 40% over the IPO price of $19.50, and some options traders are positioning for the price of the underlying to extend gains during the second half of the year. November expiry options are the most ac...
Again, not much to add to this market in terms of analysis – nothing matters other than central banks. Last Wednesday/Thursday there were some 9 economic reports, 7 of which were disappointing or could be considered as such and all it got was one rare day down, and then new highs Friday. Markets are up 10 of the past 12 sessions and 17 of 21. Friday's move to 1666 was an exact 1000 point rally from March 2009's 666 bottom. Since this most recent leg of the move has been medium fast rather than a huge spike ala 1999, things are not necessarily overbought on the daily chart but we are seeing extremely rare action on the ...
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This post is for all our live virtual trade ideas and daily comments. Please click on "comments" below to follow our live discussion. All of our current trades are listed in the spreadsheet below, with entry price (1/2 in and All in), and exit prices (1/3 out, 2/3 out, and All out).
We also indicate our stop, which is most of the time the "5 day moving average". All trades, unless indicated, are front-month ATM options.
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Reminder: Craigzooka is available to chat with Members regarding his virtual portfolio performance, comments are found below each post.
I am going to share with you how I manage my IRA and the power of reducing your cost basis. My goal each year is a 20% return in my IRA. Sometimes I make it and sometimes I don't, but I believe that all of my success is due to reducing my cost basis. To illustrate the power of reducing your cost basis here are some trades we did last year. These trades are taken from an educational portfolio we ran in a paper-trading account for a little more than a year.
We bought RIG on 5/15/2012 for $44.13, sold it on 1/18/2013 for $46 but booked a profit of $1,154.
We bought MT on 1/4/2012 for $19.24, sold it on 12/21/2012 for $15 but booked a profit of $454.
We bought CHK on 1/27/2012 for $21.93, sold it on 10/19/2012 for $18 b...
Stock market posts another record setting week, but the big news came after Friday’s close.
Courtesy of NASA
The stock market put on another record setting show with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (NYSEARCA:DIA) closing at a record high 15,118 and the S&P 500 (NYSEARCA:SPY) closing at 1633.70, another all time closing high.
For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (NYSEARCA:DIA) gained 1%, the S&P 500 (NYSEARCA:SPY) climbed 1.2%, the Nasdaq Composite (NYSEARCA:...
Reminder: Pharmboy is available to chat with Members, comments are found below each post.
Well, well, well....it is good to know that there are others in the scientific arena who believed that YMI Bioscience's data (cough - Gilead) is a better drug than Incyte's Jakafi. Now, the definitive data are still unknown, but there was enough evidence from a Phase 2 trial to take a small risk for a huge reward. So, let's forget about Apple (AAPL), and do nothing but biotechs from now until Congress passes universal health care coverage for prescriptions....and drive the prices down so that research and development is no longer feasible to conduct in the US. Even Seattle Genetics (SGEN) has been on a tear as of late...
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