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Posts Tagged ‘regulation’

Erik Sirri and the Costs of a Politicized SEC

Posted by Larry Doyle on March 31st, 2010 6:27 AM |

When the exchange of financial ideas and, more importantly, capital becomes excessively politicized there are very real costs. Although those involved in the politicization process of these markets and exchanges may define the increased intervention of political influences as “in the best interests” of all involved, the supposed near term benefits come with long term costs.

Why do I broach this topic? A former SEC official decided he wanted to talk about the political overtones involved in the SEC’s decision to restrict short-selling in the equity markets in 2008. Bloomberg reports on this bombshell in writing, SEC Lets Politics Spur Short-Sale Decision, Sirri Says:

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s decision to restrict short selling was a political decision rather than one based on evidence, according to a former agency official who says it may set a precedent for future decisions. (more…)

Goldman’s Prop Trading and Reputational Risk

Posted by Larry Doyle on March 12th, 2010 2:52 PM |

On Wall Street, information is everything.

Timely access to information as to who is buying/selling what, how much they are buying/selling, and why they are buying/selling is absolutely invaluable. The Wall Street banks fight tooth and nail to protect their information franchises.

That said, there are supposed to be rules as to how information is handled and processed so that trading complies with the rules of the road. Banks are not supposed to front run clients. Banks are not supposed to give up client names. Do the banks practice what the regulators preach?   (more…)

WSJ Hits Mary Schapiro Hard on ‘Say on Pay’ but That’s Only Tip of the Iceberg

Posted by Larry Doyle on February 20th, 2010 11:58 AM |

The target on SEC Chair Mary Schapiro’s back is getting larger and gaining more focus. How so?

The lead editorial in this weekend’s edition of The Wall Street Journal goes after Schapiro hard in writing, Mary Schapiro’s Say on Pay. While the editorial leads with the ongoing battle Schapiro and the SEC are having with Bank of America’s lack of disclosure during its merger with Merrill Lynch, the Journal quickly turns the tables on Ms. Schapiro and addresses the lack of disclosure at Ms. Schapiro’s former haunt, FINRA.

Come to papa.

Regular readers of Sense on Cents are well aware of how consistently and steadily I have been banging this FINRA drum. It is long past due that America is truly introduced to Wall Street’s self-regulatory organization, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). (more…)

Barrons, New York Times, and Sense on Cents All Request Transparency From FINRA

Posted by Larry Doyle on October 23rd, 2009 1:19 PM |

The drive for transparency in our financial regulatory system is gaining momentum. How so?

The complaint brought on behalf of Standard Investment Chartered v FINRA, NYSE Group, Mary Schapiro et al is receiving increased interest. As well it should. Why? As I have always maintained, for confidence to return to our markets and economy, it is imperative that we have transparency in our financial regulators and regulation.

In regard to this case, I wrote a Letter to Judge Jed Rakoff in re: Benchmark and Standard Investment Chartered v. FINRA on Thursday October 15th. I wrote:

. . . having attended the hearing in your chambers on October 6th on the above referenced case (I was the only member of the public or the press in attendance), I would request that you release unredacted documents pertaining to these complaints. The release of those unredacted documents would be of real public service. That service entails the ongoing public cry for real transparency in our financial industry at this time. That cry for so many of our citizens seems to go unheeded all too often. I could share dozens of comments left at my site echoing that cry.

I truly believe if a real measure of confidence in our markets and our economy is to return, it must be based on true transparency and integrity. While I have written extensively on the lack of transparency and integrity in our country, I don’t pretend to think that my site will change the landscape on this front immediately. That said, I am never discouraged to continue digging deeper, writing more, and asking the hard questions. On this front, I sincerely hope the adjudication of this case will highlight these qualities for all to see.

Barrons actually beat me to the punch and had requested a release of the same unredacted documents in a communication sent to Judge Rakoff on October 5th. Those interested in Barron’s request written by Jim McTague, the Washington D.C. editor, can access it here.

Today I learn that The New York Times is making the same request of FINRA. Stephen Labaton, senior writer for The New York Times in Washington D. C., made his request of Judge Rakoff this past Wednesday, October 21st. Those interested in the NYT request can access it here.

The drive for transparency in our financial regulatory system continues. With Barrons and The New York Times on board, that drive is gaining steam.

The American public deserves nothing less than total transparency and integrity in its markets, regulations, and regulators.


Related Sense on Cents Commentary:

Nasdaq Sale: Why Would Schapiro and FINRA Execs Lie? (October 22, 2009)
Attorney Richard Greenfield Brands Mary Schapiro and FINRA Execs as “Liars”
(October 19, 2009)

NASDAQ Sale: Why Would Schapiro and FINRA Execs Lie?

Posted by Larry Doyle on October 22nd, 2009 10:50 AM |

Writing about the integrity, or lack thereof, of a senior governmental official and other high ranking financial regulators is a serious topic. Given the seriousness of this topic, I do not treat it lightly. For newer readers here at Sense on Cents, I am referring to the commentary I wrote this past Monday entitled, Attorney Richard Greenfield Brands Mary Schapiro and FINRA Execs As “Liars.”

If in fact Ms. Schapiro and her FINRA colleagues lied, what was their motivation? We learn more about this amazing financial intrigue as on Tuesday a redacted version of a Second Amended Complaint brought on behalf of Standard Investment Chartered and all others similary situated  v FINRA, NYSE Group, Mary L. Schapiro, Richard F. Brueckner, T. Grant Callery, Todd Diganci, and Howard M. Schloss was made public.

Recall that the core of this complaint is a charge made by plaintiffs against defendants regarding the inappropriate allocation of proceeds generated from the sale of the Nasdaq Stock Exchange. That sale generated approximately $1.5 billion. FINRA paid out $35k per firm to approximately 5100 member firms for a total of approximately $175 million.

Why would the defendants be motivated to withhold the balance or a large percentage of the balance of those funds from the member firms? (more…)

David Einhorn Provides Sense on Cents

Posted by Larry Doyle on October 21st, 2009 11:52 AM |

David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital

David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital

In the midst of my ‘navigating the economic landscape,’ I thoroughly enjoy reading the work of intelligent people.  While I certainly never agree with all that I read, intelligent people force me to think and review my own opinions and beliefs. That process is always healthy. I also enjoy sharing the insights and perspectives of these people with those who read Sense on Cents. High five to KD of 12th Street Capital for bringing just such an individual to my attention.

David Einhorn runs Greenlight Capital, an investment management firm. He recently delivered an address entitled “Liquor Before Beer…In the Clear.” For those interested in an overview of David’s thoughts, I will clip those points I found most informative. For those with a keen interest in the economy and markets, the linked nine page document is a ‘must read.’  I agree with David’s views and welcome highlighting some of his points. Here are excerpts from David Einhorn’s speech:

1. The lesson that I have learned is that it isn’t reasonable to be agnostic about the big picture. For years I had believed that I didn’t need to take a view on the market or the economy because I considered myself to be a “bottom up” investor. Having my eyes open to the big picture doesn’t mean abandoning stock picking, but it does mean managing the long-short exposure ratio more actively, worrying about what may be brewing in certain industries, and when appropriate, buying some just-in-case insurance for foreseeable macro risks even if they are hard to time.

2. As I see it, there are two basic problems in how we have designed our government. The first is that officials favor policies with short-term impact over those in our long-term interest because they need to be popular while they are in office and they want to be reelected. In recent times, opinion tracking polls, the immediate reactions of focus groups, the 24/7 news cycle, the constant campaign, and the moment-to-moment obsession with the Dow Jones Industrial Average have magnified the political pressures to favor short-term solutions.

3. The second weakness in our government is “concentrated benefit versus diffuse harm” also known as the problem of special interests. Decision makers help small groups who care about narrow issues and whose “special interests” invest substantial resources to be better heard through lobbying, public relations and campaign support. The special interests benefit while the associated costs and consequences are spread broadly through the rest of the population.

4. Americans understand that the Washington-Wall Street relationship has rewarded the least deserving people and institutions at the expense of the prudent.

5. The proper way to deal with too-big-to-fail, or too inter-connected to fail, is to make sure that no institution is too big or inter-connected to fail. The test ought to be that no institution should ever be of individual importance such that if we were faced with its demise the government would be forced to intervene. The real solution is to break up anything that fails that test. (more…)

My Letter to Judge Jed Rakoff in re: Benchmark and Standard Investment Chartered v. FINRA

Posted by Larry Doyle on October 15th, 2009 8:38 AM |

On October 6th, I attended a public hearing relating to complaints filed by Benchmark Financial and Standard Investment Chartered v FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority). This hearing was held in the United States Courthouse in New York City. The core of these complaints is the distribution that FINRA (NASD) made to its member firms from proceeds generated from the IPO (initial public offerring) of the Nasdaq Stock Exchange.

A major topic at hand in this case is the release of unredacted documents from FINRA. What are unredacted documents? Documents in which certain key segments are not edited or withheld.

These complaints were recently reassigned to Judge Jed Rakoff. He has received significant attention given his ruling in a case involving the SEC and Bank of America. Judge Rakoff commented that the business periodical Barrons had expressed an interest in the Benchmark and Standard Investment Chartered case versus FINRA. The point being that Barrons represents a public interest.

I sent a letter to Judge Rakoff yesterday requesting the release of unredacted documents from FINRA. I share my letter with you, the readers of Sense on Cents, in the spirit of full disclosure and because I believe strongly that our financial regulators must provide full transparency. I view that issue to be the core of this case and thus of significant public interest.


October 14, 2009

Honorable Jed S. Rakoff
United States Courthouse
500 Pearl Street
New York, NY, 10007

Re: Benchmark and Standard Investment Chartered v. FINRA

Dear Judge Rakoff,

Please allow me to introduce myself. I am currently a financial commentator. I operate my own website, Sense on Cents. The mission of my work and site is to help people ‘navigate the economic landscape.’ In light of the economic crisis and turmoil in our financial markets, I launched my site earlier this year in order to share my insights and experience with the public at large. What is my experience?

I am a Wall Street veteran of 23 years. I traded and sold a wide array of mortgage-backed securities. I worked at First Boston, Bear Stearns, UBS, Bank of America, and culminated my career in 2006 as the National Sales Manager for Securitized Products at JP Morgan. Having witnessed the decay in confidence in our financial system at large and our banks, brokers, and regulators specifically, I am hugely inspired to write and help people better understand the nature of our markets and economy. I certainly have not suffered from a lack of writing material.

I do not write for my former colleagues on Wall Street. My targeted audience is that cross–section of our country who wants to receive an unbiased and honest view of the markets and economy. My work has been extremely well received. In a relatively short time frame, I have thousands of people accessing my site. I take real pride in my work.

I am writing to you currently given my interest and that of many of my readers in the transparency or lack thereof in the financial industry overall. A keen area of interest for me and many readers is the lack of transparency specifically in the regulatory oversight of Wall Street. While working on Wall Street, I did not fully appreciate this lack of transparency. For the last eight months I have gained a real appreciation for it.

I have extensively studied the annual reports of FINRA and its parent organization, the NASD. I was flabbergasted to learn that this self-regulator is truly a large financial entity unto itself. In reviewing its finances, I have raised serious questions about potential conflicts of interests and questionable investment activities. At almost every turn, FINRA has largely rebuffed calls for real transparency. The public deserves to have a fully transparent regulator overseeing Wall Street.

Against this backdrop and having attended the hearing in your chambers on October 6th on the above referenced case (I was the only member of the public or the press in attendance), I would request that you release unredacted documents pertaining to these complaints. The release of those unredacted documents would be of real public service. That service entails the ongoing public cry for real transparency in our financial industry at this time. That cry for so many of our citizens seems to go unheeded all too often. I could share dozens of comments left at my site echoing that cry.

I truly believe if a real measure of confidence in our markets and our economy is to return, it must be based on true transparency and integrity. While I have written extensively on the lack of transparency and integrity in our country, I don’t pretend to think that my site will change the landscape on this front immediately. That said, I am never discouraged to continue digging deeper, writing more, and asking the hard questions. On this front, I sincerely hope the adjudication of this case will highlight these qualities for all to see.

I thank you for allowing me to share my feelings. I recall your having referenced Barrons back on the 6th. Sense on Cents is not Barrons, but for the thousands who have shared their passionate feelings with me on this topic, I am obliged to serve their interest as well as those who have yet to find my site.

With all due respect.

Larry Doyle
Sense on Cents

P.S. If you care to sample some of my recent work, I respectfully submit:
>> Is Wall Street On the Up and Up? (October 3, 2009)
>> Is the Wall Street Cop, FINRA, Ready To Talk? (September 22, 2009)

Mary Schapiro Has Some ‘Splainin To Do…

Posted by Larry Doyle on October 8th, 2009 4:03 PM |

Mary Schapiro

Big money makes for a very strange bedfellow. Is FINRA sleeping well these days? A pending lawsuit against FINRA would like to pull back the covers and check to see if the money in the FINRA mattress was allocated appropriately. Let’s enter the sitting room and take a peek into this corner of the FINRA household.

In the process of consolidating the NASD with NYSE Regulation to form FINRA, the NASD allocated capital proceeds to its member firms. This capital was generated via the initial public offering of the Nasdaq. Did the NASD, now known as FINRA, significantly underallocate capital proceeds to its member firms? This alleged underallocation, known as being ‘picked off’ on Wall Street, is the basis for a lawsuit brought by two FINRA member firms, Benchmark and Standard Investment Chartered.

Why am I concerned about the arcane inner workings and legal issues of a Wall Street self-regulatory organization? For the very same reason that I’m concerned about that regulator’s internal investment portfolio activities. Transparency or the lack thereof and the resulting confidence or lack thereof that the American public has in our entire financial regulatory system. Those goals strike me as worthy especially in light of the systemic risks embedded in an array of organizations which this regulator was charged to oversee. Yes, a large amount of exposure and transparency is badly needed at this point in our economic history. Against this backdrop, let’s navigate and see what we can learn about this lawsuit.

The law firms of Cuneo, Gilbert & LaDuca along with Greenfield and Goodman are representing the plaintiffs. From the former’s website we learn:

Along with our co-counsel Greenfield & Goodman, LLC, we currently represent members of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) (formerly known as the National Association of Securities Dealers or “NASD”) in United States District Court and Court of Appeals litigation.  The complaints, which are based on state law, allege that defendants, among other things, obtained the NASD members’ vote in support of the consolidation of NASD and NYSE Regulation through an inaccurate and deceptive proxy statement and solicitation process. (LD’s highlight) At issue in the suit is whether NASD could have distributed to its members a larger share of the approximately $1.5 billion of NASD members’ equity.  As members will recall, NASD repeatedly asserted that the IRS imposed a $35,000 “hard cap” on what the NASD could pay its members.

Wow. With a $1.5 billion pie, we are talking big money. In light of that, a charge labeled as ‘inaccurate and deceptive proxy statement and solicitation process’ is aggressive especially for an industry’s regulatory organization. Whatever happened to embracing accuracy and clarity? Let’s continue.

Some documents from the litigation that shed light on the truth of these statements are now public.  However, FINRA has insisted that the key fact – the amount the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) told NASD it could distribute – remain secret, that is, under seal.

Secret? Under seal? Those terms aren’t synonymous with transparent. I thought under the ‘change’ being promoted by the Obama administration transparency would be embraced. What this looks like is more ‘business as usual’ on Wall Street. Navigating further we learn,

>The IRS did not limit the payment to member firms to $35,000 as NASD and its officials insisted.

>The IRS did not issue a formal ruling on the payment to members until March 13, 2007 – approximately two months after the member vote on the bylaws occurred.November 21, 2006.

>NASD Board Minutes demonstrate that the NASD Board discussed the $35,000 limit stating, “regardless of the amount agreed upon, it was paramount that the figure not be subject to negotiation.”

At this juncture, if I could be so bold as to steal a line from Ricky Ricardo in engaging Lucy, I would say to Mary Schapiro who headed FINRA, “you got some ‘splainin to do.”

For any legal beagles and overachievers in the audience, I am happy to submit the following legal documents pertaining to this case:

Communications between NASD and the IRS

NASD Board Materials

Proxy Materials

Internal NASD Emails

Internal NASD Memoranda

Communications Between NASD and NYSE

Rest assured, I will be monitoring developments in this case closely.


Real-Time Information Is “Everything” on Wall Street

Posted by Larry Doyle on October 7th, 2009 3:45 PM |

One of the overriding reasons why I left First Boston in 1990 to join Bear Stearns was Bear’s advanced real-time risk management system. This system allowed me the ability to more proactively manage my trading risk. In the process, I was able to take more risk in the pursuit of greater profit. I became familiar with Bear’s system during the recruiting and interviewing process and was flabbergasted to realize how far behind First Boston was in its capabilities.

Real-time risk management and real-time data processing are critically important for thorough and proper oversight of any financial enterprise. A regulator will be lost in an attempt to maintain market oversight without the proper systems and access to real-time data.

Having heard and read of the systems deficiencies at both the SEC and FINRA, I am concerned at how far behind the curve these regulators are right now and how long it will take for them to recover.

While pondering this topic, I read in Securities Industry News that the SEC is looking to capture real-time data on derivatives transactions. This commentary, SEC Wants to Gather Real-Time Data on Swaps, addresses the exact topic I broached on July 17th in writing, “Can We ‘TRACE’ JP Morgan’s Business?” I wrote:

There is little to no transparency in the world of customized derivatives and as a result the bid-ask spreads are very wide. Cha-ching, cha-ching. Jamie (Dimon) and his friends on Wall Street are working extremely hard to keep it this way.

In their defense, it is likely not functionally feasible to move many customized derivatives to an exchange. What should regulators compel them to do? JP Morgan and every other financial firm on Wall Street should have to report every derivatives transaction to a system known as TRACE, which stands for Trade Reporting and Compliance Engine.  This system currently only covers transactions within the cash markets and not derivatives.  What does that mean for investors? No transparency and price discovery for investors in the customized derivatives space. As such, Jamie and friends can keep those bid-ask spreads nice and wide and ring up huge profits in the process.

Securities Industry News writes:

The Securities and Exchange Commission told Congress today to grant regulators “direct access to real-time data” on credit default swaps (CDS) and other derivatives.

The request comes, the agency said, because the lack of such information hampered its efforts to investigate potential fraud and market manipulation in the over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives markets during last fall’s financial crisis.

The SEC’s enforcement actions in investigating market manipulation in OTC derivatives “were seriously complicated by the lack of a mechanism for promptly obtaining critical information – who traded, how much, and when – that is complete and accurate,” said Henry Hu, the director of the SEC’s new division of risk, strategy and financial innovation, in written testimony to the House Financial Services Committee.

Hu testified that “data on securities-related OTC derivative transactions were not readily available, and needed to be reconstructed manually.” He asked Congress to expand the SEC’s inspection authority over trade data repositories and clearinghouses for derivatives.

The comments represented a rebuke to industry efforts aimed thus far at making more information on CDS and other OTC derivatives data more readily available.

What do we learn here? Information is EVERYTHING!! Wall Street is fighting tooth and nail to protect its golden goose within the derivatives space by hoarding this information.

Why is the SEC even asking for the information? If anybody in Washington truly had a set of cojones, they would merely TELL Wall Street how it is going to work going forward . . . take the information, and fulfill their responsibility to protect the public interest.


Did Uncle Sam Intentionally Mislead the American Public?

Posted by Larry Doyle on October 5th, 2009 12:40 PM |

“You can’t handle the truth!!”

While the above line by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men may have made for good theatre, it makes for lousy public policy. Regrettably, Uncle Sam has utilized that approach in its initial disbursement of funds via the TARP (Troubled Asset Recovery Program).  That opinion is not strictly mine (although I do agree with it), but rather that of Neil Barofsky, the inspector general charged with overseeing the bank bailouts.

The New York Times sheds light on Barofsky’s feelings this morning in writing, Inspector’s Report on Bailouts Says Treasury Misled Public:

The inspector general who oversees the government’s bailout of the banking system is criticizing the Treasury Department for some misleading public statements last fall and raising the possibility that it had unfairly disbursed money to the biggest banks.

A Treasury official made incorrect statements about the health of the nation’s biggest banks even as the government was doling out billions of dollars in aid, according to a report on the Troubled Asset Relief Program to be released on Monday by the special inspector general, Neil M. Barofsky.

There is NO doubt that Uncle Sam, in the persons of Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner, Larry Summers et al, has little confidence that the American public can handle the truth about the overall health of our banking industry.

That said, the lack of transparency and integrity as highlighted by Mr. Barofsky does not come without a cost. What is that cost? Lessened confidence in our regulators and our markets going forward.

I addressed these very topics of financial regulatory transparency and integrity on my radio show last evening. In the process of interviewing former SEC attorney Genevievette Walker-Lightfoot, I made the following comment in regard to the statement put forth a month ago by SEC Inspector General David Kotz dealing with the SEC’s failures on the Madoff investigation. I said:

If that is the kind of face saving self-serving approach, people are going to call foul on it. The real cost is, and I think we are bearing this cost right now whether with the SEC or with FINRA, if you’re not going to be honest with us how can we fully trust that you’ll be honest on a going forward basis?

Now I’ll grant you I guess we don’t have much choice. What are we going to scrap the entire SEC or scrap the entire FINRA and start from scratch? Some people may say that’s what we want to do, but that’s obviously not going to happen.

It does get to the point where there’s got to be total transparency. There’s got to be total integrity. There’s got to be total accountability and if people haven’t done the job or are incapable of doing the job then you know what, for the long haul – and I’m not talking about the next six months but rather the next ten, fifteen, twenty years – people got to go and other people got to come!!

Genevievette Walker-Lightfoot responded:

“I agree. That’s true.”

How about you, what do you think? Can you handle the truth? Wouldn’t you like to be given the opportunity?


Note: the views expressed by Genevievette Walker-Lightfoot during last night’s show are her own personal views and do not in any way reflect her position as an employee of the Federal Reserve Board.

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