by ilene - December 6th, 2010 2:14 am
Here’s the hypocrisy of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority* (FINRA); it dumped a portfolio of Auction Rate Securities* (ARS) before the ARS market froze up in early 2008. People are asking legitimate questions and FINRA is refusing to answer. When FINRA wants its questions answered, it knows how to get the answers through its subpoena power. Why won’t FINRA fess up and be transparent about its dealings in the ARS market?
I recently caught up with my friend Larry Doyle and asked him whether there had been any progress in uncovering the events behind FINRA’s timely liquidation of its ARSs in 2007 since our last conversation. Here’s a transcript of our conversation about FINRA and FINRA’s ARS sales. Larry touches on a number of important topics including transparency, the incestuous relationship between Wall Street and Washington, the absurdity of self-regulation and twisted logic of granting a quasi-government entity government-style immunity, while allowing it to be free from the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.
FINRA’s Timely Auction-Rate Securites (ARS) Sales
Before we continue, please read my previous interview with Larry Doyle here. Excerpt:
"The ARS market operated smoothly until the credit markets seized up. First signs of trouble emerged in 2007 when the spreads started to blow out (widen significantly). Spreads widened because dealers realized the true nature of the risks and backed away from supporting the market. Selling intensified as investors were trying to get out in the late spring and summer of 2007. Investors stopped buying, though the dealers maintained an intermediary market for a while. Finally, sellers so overwhelmed buyers that Wall Street had to stop serving as an intermediary. This developed over a period of months, but was not shared with the clients. Wall Street was trying to lay these ARSs out on investors. When the market collapsed in February 2008, the “cash equivalency” disappeared."
Going into 2007, FINRA had $647 million dollars of ARSs. It was holding ARSs as the credit markets started to freeze in mid 2007. FINRA says it did nothing nefarious when it sold its ARSs. But that fails the smell test. It sold its ARS holdings before the markets collapsed. Meanwhile, investors got stuck with approximately $150 billion of ARSs.
One would have to be exceptionally naïve to think FINRA officials did not have material,
by ilene - September 17th, 2010 4:11 pm
Courtesy of Larry Doyle at Sense on Cents
I truly believe this could be the single most important and enlightening commentary ever put forth at Sense on Cents. Although it is a little lengthy and has some legalese, if you care about truth, transparency, and integrity in our nation, take the time to read and review. You will be better for it. I encourage you to share it with friends and colleagues.
Washington still does not get it.
I strongly believe the deeply embedded Wall Street-Washington incestuous relationship was central to the erosion of our economic foundation. While that incest must be extirpated if we are to regain our economic standing, we continue to suffer through “show trials” dealing with the critically important topic of pursuing transparency across our political and financial landscape. Regrettably, the media in general provides limited coverage to this ongoing pursuit. To that end, I welcome banging this drum and engaging those in our nation who will ask the hard questions and put forth aggressive propositions so real transparency can be achieved. Even if the pursuit comes up short, the effort and goals are beyond worthy. Let’s navigate.
Yesterday, the House Financial Services Committee chaired by Barney Frank held a hearing to address the SEC’s exemptions from Freedom of Information requests embedded in the Financial Regulatory Reform legislation. Congressman Frank rolled out the red carpet to SEC Chair Mary Schapiro. From the testimony, Frank offers:
Chairman Schapiro, let me say I appreciate your coming and I just want
to say at the outset no one, I think, does or should consider
this in any way any kind of criticism or indictment. And I
understand you — my own view is that you have significantly
improved the enforcement mechanism. I know Mr. Grisami (ph)
(Khuzami) couldn’t be in today because of impossible conflicts. But I
welcome him and what he’s been doing. So I — I want to make
very clear, I think everybody’s made it clear, we’re here in
a spirit of cooperation. We have a common enterprise (ph). We
have conflicting goals to some extent, which is tough
enforcement, but also complete openness.
by ilene - July 21st, 2010 12:33 am
Courtesy of Larry Doyle at Sense on Cents
“If my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle!!”
I love that line. I first heard it on the trading desk at Bear Stearns in the early ’90s. For the last twenty years, I have used the line often to counter those who would bemoan an outcome with the standard, “If only . . .” My response typically generates a healthy chuckle and we then move on.
At this point, I feel comfortable amending the line from above to “If my aunt had balls, she’d be Mary Schapiro.” Too harsh, you say? I think not. How so?
Let’s review a recent Wall Street Journal article, Madoff’s Ghost Still Haunts SEC:
Financial executives aren’t the only folks lawmakers are pursuing. They also want to see more heads roll at the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Nearly 18 months after Bernie Madoff’s multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme was exposed and almost a year after the SEC’s inspector general issued a blistering report, lawmakers are still questioning how the SEC staffers who reviewed the Madoff firm and investigated fraud allegations were being punished.
SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro told Congress during an oversight hearing that 15 of 20 enforcement attorneys and 19 of 36 examination staffers that dealt with the Madoff matter had left the agency. The SEC was still conducting a disciplinary process, she said, but it should be concluded soon.
Republican Rep. Bill Posey of Florida –- home to many Madoff victims -– said he wants to know if those SEC employees ended up at other regulatory agencies, working for companies they were supposed to regulate, or retired with government pensions.
“There’s a necessity to know where they went,” said Posey. “It’s like letting a pedophile slink out the door or change neighborhoods. We’re dealing with the same type of problem here.”
Wow!! Representative Posey is being aggressive here, but I commend him because the nation still deserves answers to so many Madoff questions that have been swept under the SEC’s and FINRA’s rugs. The WSJ continues:
Schapiro strongly disagreed. “These aren’t bad people. In some cases they were people who were very junior and not adequately trained or supervised.” In other cases, she said, they were pulled from one project to another.
How HFT Quote Stuffing Caused The Market Crash Of May 6, And Threatens To Destroy The Entire Market At Any Moment
by ilene - June 23rd, 2010 7:35 pm
How HFT Quote Stuffing Caused The Market Crash Of May 6, And Threatens To Destroy The Entire Market At Any Moment
Courtesy of Tyler Durden at Zero Hedge
Even as the idiots at the SEC mope about cluelessly, confirming they deserve not one cent of taxpayer money to fund their massively overbloated budget, and should all be summarily fired to collect tarballs in the Gulf of Mexico (and soon Maine), our friends at Nanex have conducted an exhaustive analysis (must read for everybody concerned about market structure), in which they identify the various parties responsible for the market crash, and, drumroll please, High Frequency Trading stands at the pinnacle of culprits for the 1,000 point Dow drop. From their findings: "While analyzing HFT (High Frequency Trading) quote counts, we were shocked to find cases where one exchange was sending an extremely high number of quotes for one stock in a single second: as high as 5,000 quotes in 1 second! During May 6, there were hundreds of times that a single stock had over 1,000 quotes from one exchange in a single second. Even more disturbing, there doesn’t seem to be any economic justification for this. In many of the cases, the bid/offer is well outside the National Best Bid/Offer (NBBO). We decided to analyze a handful of these cases in detail and graphed the sequential bid/offers to better understand them. What we discovered was a manipulative device with destabilizing effect."
In other words: enough with all the bullshit about HFT as a liquidity provider mechanism: in reality this is just a facade for the most insidious, computerized market manipulative device ever created. Nanex’ conclusion: "What benefit could there be to whomever is generating these extremely high quote rates? After thoughtful analysis, we can only think of one. Competition between HFT systems today has reached the point where microseconds matter. Any edge one has to process information faster than a competitor makes all the difference in this game. If you could generate a large number of quotes that your competitors have to process, but you can ignore since you generated them, you gain valuable processing time. This is an extremely disturbing development, because as more HFT systems start doing this, it is only a matter of time before quote-stuffing shuts down the entire market from congestion. We think it played an active role in the final drop on 5/6/2010, and urge everyone involved to take…
by ilene - April 20th, 2010 10:34 pm
The FINRA Fiasco
FINRA may have potential massive conflicts of interests in its dealing with its internal investment portfolio. A clear example is FINRA’s behavior with its Auction Rate Securities. Evidence suggests FINRA sold its Auction Rate Securities months before the market collapsed. Insider information or really good luck?
Interview with Larry Doyle at Sense on Cents
Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc., or FINRA is a private corporation which functions as a self-regulatory organization (SRO, an organization that exercises regulatory authority over an industry or profession). It is not a government agency. FINRA was formed by the merger of the enforcement arm of the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE Regulation, Inc., and the National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc. (NASD). The merger was approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in July, 2007.
FINRA performs market regulation under contract with brokerage firms and trading markets. It focuses on regulatory oversight of all securities firms that do business with the public. FINRA regulates by adopting and enforcing rules and regulations governing its members’ business activities. It often provides advice to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. (See FINRA’s website is at http://www.finra.org/. Also FINRA, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FINRA).
Auction Rate Securities (ARS)
An auction rate security (ARS) refers to a debt instrument (corporate or municipal bonds) with a long-term nominal maturity for which the interest rate is regularly reset through a dutch auction. (Auction rate preferreds are similar in nature but are shares in a fund and as such are not tied to an underlying longer term maturity loan.)
The auction failures in February 2008 led to widespread freezing of the ARS assets in clients’ accounts. Currently, the instruments trade in a secondary market but at a significant discount to par. A renewed investigation of the ARS industry was led by Andrew Cuomo, the Attorney General of New York, and William Galvin, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. These investigations found industry-wide violations of law. Investors in ARSs maintain these instruments were misrepresented as liquid cash alternatives and allege that broker dealers failed to disclose the liquidity and credit risks involved. (See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auction_rate_security.)
Ilene: Larry, I read your recent article, “FINRA Fraud Team Must Look in the Mirror” (April 16, 2010), in which you discuss FINRA’s “new initiative to target…
Did Goldman And Tourre Break FINRA Regulations By Not Reporting “Fab Fabrice’s” Wells Notice Receipt?
by ilene - April 17th, 2010 12:09 pm
Did Goldman And Tourre Break FINRA Regulations By Not Reporting "Fab Fabrice’s" Wells Notice Receipt?
Yesterday we praised two NYT reporters for having uncovered the mess of the Goldman CDO scandal first, and we concluded, erroneously now it seems, that the SEC merely piggybacked on their disclosure to file charges against Goldman. However, as Reuters’ Matt Goldstein reports, Goldman had received a Wells Notice from the SEC as far back as "six months ago", which predates the Morgenson and Story December 24 story. And as the SEC case would likely have taken at least one year to build up, we are confident that the SEC began their investigation into Goldman and Paulson well prior, likely in 2008 if not earlier. For those unfamiliar, a Wells is basically an advance warning that the recipient will be a target of an SEC investigation. We do not anticipate that anyone aside from Tourre (who, being just 27 at the time of the alleged transactions, in no imaginable way acted alone) and Goldman’s legal counsel was aware of this development, although with allegations that Goldman was dumping various security holdings in advance of the announcement one can never be certain. One key line of questioning has emerged as a result of this disclosure: why was there no official notice anywhere in the public record of this Wells Notice receipt? The precedent is murky when it comes to corporations responsibility to report Wells Notice receipts: certainly, Goldman had no mention of this even in its March 1 10-K.
What is however without question, is that Fabrice Tourre, who as we reported yesterday, is a registered broker dealer, has a responsibilty to modify his/her U-4 within 30 days of the Wells Notice receipt, yet as of yesterday there was still "no disclosure of any event about this broker." Assuming Goldman received the Wells 31 days ago or more, it begs the question did the firm, by allowing Tourre not to report the Wells Notice, break Finra regulations, and just why it believes it has the facility to do this?
Below is Tourre’s still unupdated CRD form with Finra, which still show neither a pending civil case, nor any report of a Wells Notice receipt.
by ilene - April 16th, 2010 12:33 pm
Courtesy of Zero Hedge
Washington, D.C., April 16, 2010 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Goldman, Sachs & Co. and one of its vice presidents for defrauding investors by misstating and omitting key facts about a financial product tied to subprime mortgages as the U.S. housing market was beginning to falter.
The SEC alleges that Goldman Sachs structured and marketed a synthetic collateralized debt obligation (CDO) that hinged on the performance of subprime residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS). Goldman Sachs failed to disclose to investors vital information about the CDO, in particular the role that a major hedge fund played in the portfolio selection process and the fact that the hedge fund had taken a short position against the CDO.
"The product was new and complex but the deception and conflicts are old and simple," said Robert Khuzami, Director of the Division of Enforcement. "Goldman wrongly permitted a client that was betting against the mortgage market to heavily influence which mortgage securities to include in an investment portfolio, while telling other investors that the securities were selected by an independent, objective third party."
Kenneth Lench, Chief of the SEC’s Structured and New Products Unit, added, "The SEC continues to investigate the practices of investment banks and others involved in the securitization of complex financial products tied to the U.S. housing market as it was beginning to show signs of distress."
The SEC alleges that one of the world’s largest hedge funds, Paulson & Co., paid Goldman Sachs to structure a transaction in which Paulson & Co. could take short positions against mortgage securities chosen by Paulson & Co. based on a belief that the securities would experience credit events.
According to the SEC’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the marketing materials for the CDO known as ABACUS 2007-AC1 (ABACUS) all represented that the RMBS portfolio underlying the CDO was selected by ACA Management LLC (ACA), a third party with expertise in analyzing credit risk in RMBS. The SEC alleges that undisclosed in the marketing materials and unbeknownst to investors, the Paulson & Co. hedge fund, which was poised to benefit if the RMBS defaulted, played a significant role in selecting which RMBS should make up the portfolio.
by ilene - April 7th, 2010 11:40 am
Courtesy of Larry Doyle at Sense on Cents
Imagine being in a situation in which you knew you had to be quiet in order to advance your own personal career, rather than speaking up and blowing the whistle on irregularities and improprieties within your firm. This message is consistently relayed by many a whistleblower who has suffered from having tried to do the right thing. What is the result? Firms tout their virtuous values of integrity, respect, and excellence while effectively muzzling those who would blow the whistle on crimes and illegal practices.
I believe this reality is all too present in many, if not most, industries in our society today. There is absolutely no doubt it is present on Wall Street. Why do I write this? A recently released report from the SEC’s Office of Inspector General David Kotz highlights the fact that the ‘whistles on Wall Street’ have been largely silent for a long time.
The Project on Government Oversight highlights this report in a recent commentary, Not Much Bounty for SEC Whistleblower Program:
For more than 20 years, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has had a program in place to reward whistleblowers who provide the agency with information about insider trading. But a new audit by the SEC Office of Inspector General (OIG) reveals that the program has almost never been used, is barely recognized inside or outside the SEC, and has fundamental design flaws.
It turns out the SEC has received very few applications in the past two decades for bounties under the program — and only five people have actually received payments since the program first began:
Design Flaws in the Bounty Program
The OIG also found that the program suffers from the following deficiencies: it’s poorly recognized by the public and even within the SEC; the criteria for judging bounty applications is overly vague; the SEC does not have good internal policies to guide staff in reviewing bounty applications; the SEC rarely provides whistleblowers with status reports on their applications (a problem we’ve also heard about at other IG offices); once the applications are passed on, there are no systems in place to ensure that they
by ilene - March 24th, 2010 10:05 pm
Courtesy of Larry Doyle at Sense on Cents
I wrote extensively in 2009 as to How Wall Street Bought Washington. Well, it would appear that the purchase and sales agreement between these two entities remains in place.
A recent press release highlights developments on Senator Chris Dodd’s proposed Financial Regulatory Reform along with a recent assessment by Washington insider and Illinois Senator Richard Durbin.
DEMOCRATIC FINANCIAL REFORM BILL EXITED SENATE BANKING COMMITTEE WITHOUT RESTORING KEY INVESTOR LEGAL RIGHT TO HOLD KNOWING AIDERS AND ABETTORS OF FRAUD ACCOUNTABLE
Senator Durbin Says: “Frankly, the banks own Congress,” as Investigation of Lehman Brothers Found Its’ Accountants and Lawyers Helped “Cook the Books”
March 24, 2010: The Senate Banking Committee financial reform bill was voted out of committee on Monday afternoon. On the previous Friday Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) offered an amendment to include the restoration of the legal rights of investors to hold accountable those who knowingly aid and abet fraud, a critical component of financial reform. The first draft of Senator Dodd’s bill, which was on the Committee Web site for months, contained this provision.
Chairman Dodd apparently dropped that important investor protection measure in a failed attempt to gain Republican and Wall Street support and the Democratic bill exited his Committee without it. As a result, Senator Merkley’s amendment was never even considered. Therefore as it now stands the legislation heading to the floor of the Senate does not restore the lost right of investors to hold knowing aiders and abettors accountable to the investors they help rob.
As Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said (prior to Chairman Dodd’s mark-up): “Hard to believe in a time when we are facing a banking crisis, that many of the banks created, that the banks are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. They frankly own the place.“ Senator Durbin said this in a radio interview on Monday, March 15 (WJJG-AM: “Mornings with Ray Hanania,” a big Chicago area political call in show).
Separately, also on March 15, in a Senate speech, Senator Ted Kaufman (D-Del) said: “Lehman Brothers was cooking the books. Fraud and potential criminal conduct were at the heart of the financial crisis.”
Senator Kaufman was referring to the 2,200 page report issued last week on the investigation into Lehman Brother’s spectacular failure. It documents in-detail how Lehman’s banking counterparties, lawyers and accountants knowingly structured faux
by ilene - March 17th, 2010 9:12 pm
Larry Doyle’s been reporting on the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for over a year. His efforts are beginning to pay off. Recently, investigators from the government watchdog unit, the Project on Government Oversight, referenced Larry’s work in a letter sent to banking, finance, and oversight sub-committees up on the Hill regarding FINRA. Here’s three important posts by Larry that help tell the FINRA story. – Ilene
Courtesy of Larry Doyle at Sense on Cents, posted on March 6, 2010
The stench surrounding FINRA is attracting real attention.
The executives of Wall Street’s self-regulatory organization FINRA should not think that the recent dismissal of one legal complaint is reason for celebration. Why? Those who care for transparency measure success not in terms of judicial victories but to a much greater extent by public pressure and awareness. On that note, at long last real progress in creating transparency into FINRA is occurring.
From the highly regarded government watchdog Project on Government Oversight to now the leading weekend business periodical Barron’s, FINRA’s stench is attracting attention from more than the blogosphere and a few selected journalists (Bloomberg’s Susan Antilla, The Washington Examiner’s and Baltimore Sun’sMarta Mossburg, and also Barron’s Jim McTague).
The news in an article this weekend by Barron’s is not news to regular readers of Sense on Cents, but to most of America FINRA remains a foreign entity. Those days are changing.
Barron’s excoriates Wall Street’s self-regulator today in writing, FINRA, First Heal Thyself:
IN 2007-08, regulators at FINRA were so distracted with empire-building and lining their pockets, they overlooked the world’s two largest Ponzi schemers: Bernie Madoff and, allegedly, R. Allen Stanford. So what’s the deeply flawed Financial Industry Regulatory Authority up to now? Building itself an even bigger empire.
The quasigovernmental body, which advertises itself as the white knight of 90 million investors, is lobbying Congress for the power to regulate 11,000 investment advisors who now fall under the jurisdiction of the Securities and Exchange Commission and state securities regulators. The states regulate those with less than $25 million in assets, but want Congress to bump that to $100 million. Why? The SEC does such a poor job, it visits an average of one advisor every nine to 11 years!
Finra currently regulates Nasdaq and New York Stock Exchange brokers and securities dealers, and pays its executive staff high-on-the-hog salaries, despite abysmal performances. This is the same behavior that contributed to the failure