This time, it’s a $4.2 billion fine. That’s how much UBS, HSBC, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and the Royal Bank of Scotland are collectively paying to U.S., U.K., and Swiss regulators for rigging the foreign-exchange, or FX, market.
Just another day on Wall Street.
This latest malfeasance was something regulators hadn’t worried about before, because they didn’t think it was possible. The $5.3 trillion FX market, you see, should be far, far too big for any one bank to profitably manipulate it or front-run their clients. And it is. The problem, though, is that big banks have just colluded instead for the past decade. Traders at supposedly competing firms worked together to rig the benchmark FX rates in their favor. They deliberately triggered clients’ stop-loss orders—the price they’d automatically sell at to limit losses—to boost their own profits. Along with revealing what trades their customers were about to make, which would let them all make it first.
And, of course, the bankers set up chatrooms charmingly named things like “the 3 musketeers” where they planned all this out in semi-grammatical English. “I’d prefer we join forces” to try to push the price of the euro up, one trader said. “Perfick,” the other replied. “Let’s double team them.”
The lesson is that, with so much money at stake, you should never underestimate how far bankers will go to game the system.
(Reuters) – The euro fell sharply against the dollar on Tuesday after Reuters reported the European Central Bank was looking at buying corporate bonds as soon as December in its efforts to revive the stagnating euro zone economy.
The move, if realized, would expand the private-sector asset-buying program the ECB began on Monday, adding to the number of new euros the bank can put into circulation without politically controversial purchases of government bonds.
“Headlines on the market today about the ECB potentially buying corporate bonds has reinvigorated attention on the downside for the euro,” said Richard Cochinos, head of Americas G10 FX strategy at Citi in New York.
“What the headlines have done is remind the market that essentially policy is dynamic and alternative options could potentially be considered,” he said.
One might call it “chutzpah,” as several irate lawmakers did, or “rubbing salt in the wounds” of the American taxpayer. But to a few Wall Street financiers, a lawsuit that accuses the government of shortchanging the American International Group in its 2008 bailout is something else: a promising investment in a cause they support.
Maurice R. Greenberg, 89, the former A.I.G. chief executive who still holds a large stake in the insurance company, filed the lawsuit on behalf of fellow shareholders. He has now raised several million dollars from three Wall Street companions to help cover the cost of the case. The investors, who are entitled to a cut of any damages Mr. Greenberg collects from the government, contributed about 15 percent of the tens of millions of dollars in legal costs, according to people with knowledge of the arrangement.
The lawsuit, which seeks more than $40 billion from the government, does not dispute that A.I.G. needed a $182 billion lifeline to survive the financial crisis. It instead challenges the onerous nature of the rescue. The government took what became a 92 percent stake in the company — a step it did not pursue with other bailed-out Wall Street giants — imposed a steep interest rate and steered billions of dollars to the insurer’s trading partners. Those decisions, the suit says, cheated A.I.G. shareholders and violated the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the taking of private property for “public use, without just compensation.”
Well, let’s get established that a “just compensation” for those who caused the crisis in 2008 is a bullet in the head. That should end the lawsuit pretty damn quick.
Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), who resigned last month after losing renomination to an underfunded college professor, spent much of his 13-plus years in the U.S. Congress advancing the agenda of Wall Street investment firms. This week, he announced that he will be joining a Wall Street investment bank as its new vice chairman.
Cantor will be joining Moelis & Co., the investment bank said, to “provide strategic counsel to the Firm’s corporate and institutional clients on key issues,” to “play a leading role in client development,” and to “advise clients on strategic matters.” The announcement press release praised Cantor as a “leading voice on the economy and job creation,” who worked in Congress “to lower taxes, eliminate excessive regulation, strengthen small businesses, and encourage entrepreneurship.” The deal reportedly includes a $1.4 million signing bonus and at least a $2 million annual compensation package.
As Burger King heads north for Canada’s lower corporate tax rate, we speak to Rolling Stone contributing editor Tim Dickinson about his new article, “The Biggest Tax Scam Ever.” Dickinson reports on how top U.S. companies are avoiding hundreds of billions of dollars by parking their profits abroad — and still receiving more congressionally approved incentives. Dickinson writes: “Top offenders include giants from high-tech (Microsoft, $76 billion); Big Pharma (Pfizer, $69 billion); Big Oil (ExxonMobil, $47 billion); investment banks (Goldman Sachs, $22 billion); Big Tobacco (Philip Morris, $20 billion); discount retailers (Wal-Mart, $19 billion); fast-food chains (McDonald’s, $16 billion) – even heavy machinery (Caterpillar, $17 billion). General Electric has $110 billion stashed offshore, and enjoys an effective tax rate of 4 percent – 31 points lower than its statutory obligation to the IRS.”
And small business is not benefiting from all these tax games that multinationals are able to play, and they’re having to compete with these companies here.
So, Apple has this amazing deal, where they’ve got essentially a shadow company in Ireland. And it’s incorporated in Ireland, but for Irish purposes, it’s an American company, and for American purposes, it’s an Irish company. And so you end up with this black hole of taxation where in fact this Apple subsidiary files a tax return to no government in the world. And so, it can use all kinds of accounting tricks to funnel money to this company, and they sit there essentially absolutely untaxed. Just there’s no tax return. And so you have billions of dollars sitting there. And again, when Apple needs billions of dollars to fund its American operations, it has bond offerings, and its cost of borrowing here in the United States is incredibly low. Just investors are virtually paying Apple to raise this money, because it’s secured by these massive piles of cash, technically abroad, although they’re actually banked reportedly in Manhattan.
And any international company NOT doing this would be facing shareholder lawsuits over it.
BOA Logo (2014)Bank of America will pay roughly $4 billion less to the government after-tax than the $16.65 billion it agreed to in a settlement over soured mortgage securities, because parts of the settlement will be tax deductible, the bank said Thursday.
The bank has already taken some of the savings from the settlement’s tax deductions in previous quarters, so the savings won’t all come in the current third quarter. But tallying the total tax savings to roughly $4 billion “would be fair,” a bank spokesman said.
Federal law allows companies to deduct large portions of the costs of settling with federal agencies on their tax returns. But that effectively shifts part of the settlement’s burden to taxpayers, and some lawmakers and consumer advocates have expressed concerns that the public can be misled when regulators tout giant settlement amounts that companies aren’t fully paying. …
Fines and penalties imposed as part of a settlement can’t be deducted, so that knocks out the $5.02 billion in fines Bank of America agreed to pay. But other amounts paid can be deducted as ordinary business expenses—including the $4.63 billion in compensatory payments that Bank of America agreed to pay, and the costs it incurs in providing $7 billion in mortgage modifications for struggling homeowners and other consumer relief.
So there you go – fines are just a business expense.
We received trade execution reports from an active trader who wanted to know why his larger orders almost never completely filled, even when the amount of stock advertised exceeded the number of shares wanted. For example, if 25,000 shares were at the best offer, and he sent in a limit order at the best offer price for 20,000 shares, the trade would, more likely than not, come back partially filled. In some cases, more than half of the amount of stock advertised (quoted) would disappear immediately before his order arrived at the exchange. This was the case, even in deeply liquid stocks such as Ford Motor Co (symbol F, market cap: $70 Billion). The trader sent us his trade execution reports, and we matched up his trades with our detailed consolidated quote and trade data to discover that the mechanism described in Michael Lewis’s “Flash Boys” was alive and well on Wall Street.
The main waiver at issue involves “well-known seasoned issuer,” or WKSI, waivers to companies.
A WKSI waiver is a coveted tag that lets companies raise money immediately through securities offerings without waiting for SEC approval.
Companies convicted of crimes or found liable for fraud can lose the status, but the SEC can agree to provide the company a waiver so they retain the WKSI tag.
In April, two SEC commissioners dissented over a waiver granted to the Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc after one of its units struck a criminal plea deal over manipulation of the Libor benchmark interest rate.
A ‘flash crash’ can knock a trillion dollars off the stock market in minutes as elite traders fleece the little guys. So why aren’t the regulators stepping in? We talk to the legendary lawyer preparing for an epic showdown
A billionaire businessman at the heart of a $2.6 billion state bank scam, the largest fraud case since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, was executed Saturday, state television reported.Authorities put Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, also known as Amir Mansour Aria, to death at Evin prison, just north of the capital, Tehran, the station reported. The report said the execution came after Iran’s Supreme Court upheld his death sentence.
The fraud involved using forged documents to get credit at one of Iran’s top financial institutions, Bank Saderat, to purchase assets including state-owned companies like major steel producer Khuzestan Steel Co.
Khosravi’s business empire included more than 35 companies from mineral water production to a football club and meat imports from Brazil. According to Iranian media reports, the bank fraud began in 2007.
A total of 39 defendants were convicted in the case. Four received death sentences, two got life sentences and the rest received sentences of up to 25 years in prison.
THE number of billionaires in the UK has exceeded 100 for the first time and London has become home to the highest number of super-rich of any city in the world.
The Sunday Times Super-Rich List, published today, reveals that London has 72 residents whose fortune is more than £1bn, more than Moscow (48) or New York (43). In total the UK boasts 104 billionaires, worth a total of £301bn.
Wow, with so many job creators there, I’m sure there’s total employment!
Every day brings multiple new scandals. At least they used to be scandals. Now they’re simply news items strained of ethical content by business journalists who see no evil, hear no evil, and speak not about evil. The Wall Street Journal, our principal U.S. financial journal ran two such stories today. The first story deals with tax evasion, and begins with this cheery (and tellingly inaccurate) headline: “U.S. Banks to Help Authorities With Tax Evasion Probe.” Here’s an alternative headline, drawn from the facts of the article: “Senior Officers of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley Aided and Abetted Tax Fraud by Wealthiest Americans, Failed to Make Required Criminal Referrals, and Demanded Immunity from Prosecution for Themselves and the Banks before Complying with the U.S. Subpoenas: U.S. Department of Justice Caves in to Banker’s Demands Continuing its Practice of Effectively Immunizing Fraud by Most Financial Elites.”
Oh, and the feckless DOJ (again) did not require any officer who committed the felony of aiding and abetting tax fraud to resign or to repay the bonuses he “earned” through his crimes. But not to worry, the banks – not the bankers – may have to pay fines as the cost of doing their felonious business. The feckless regulators did not even require Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to disclose to shareholders their participation in the program.
A former BP executive who led the company’s cleanup of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill has agreed to pay $224,000 in penalties and restitution in a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly trading on inside information on the disaster.
SEC regulators say Keith A. Seilhan, 47, a 20-year veteran of BP plc, sold his family’s $1 million portfolio of BP securities after learning that the public estimates of the extent of the Gulf of Mexico spill were grossly underestimated. The regulators say the sale of the stock and options saved Seilhan from more than $100,000 in losses.
Seilhan has agreed to pay a $105,409 civil penalty and the same amount in “ill-gotten gains,” as well as more than $13,000 in prejudgment interest, Reuters says.
“In his position as Incident Commander [in Houma, La.], Seilhan learned of nonpublic information relating to the seriousness of the disaster, including initial oil flow estimates from the sunken rig that were significantly greater than the public estimate of 5,000 barrels per day. Indeed, those private estimates were between 52,700 and 62,200 barrels per day — a 10x increase than that provided to the public.
“After he learned of this information, Seilhan [liquidated his portfolio.] … By doing so, Seilhan and his family were able to avoid over $100,000 in losses as BP’s share price eventually declined 48%. Later, after BP announced it had successfully capped the well, Seilhan repurchased shares of the BP Stock Fund (composed nearly entirely of BP shares) at a lower basis.”
Mary McNamara, an attorney for Seilhan, said her client wanted to “avoid further distraction and protracted litigation” by settling the matter, according to Reuters.
“Mr. Seilhan is widely respected for his work helping to lead the cleanup and containment efforts in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010,” McNamara added.
Four years ago Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, abruptly canceled America’s biggest and arguably most important infrastructure project, a desperately needed new rail tunnel under the Hudson River. Count me among those who blame his presidential ambitions, and believe that he was trying to curry favor with the government- and public-transit-hating Republican base.
Even as one tunnel was being canceled, however, another was nearing completion, as Spread Networks finished boring its way through the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. Spread’s tunnel was not, however, intended to carry passengers, or even freight; it was for a fiber-optic cable that would shave three milliseconds — three-thousandths of a second — off communication time between the futures markets of Chicago and the stock markets of New York. And the fact that this tunnel was built while the rail tunnel wasn’t tells you a lot about what’s wrong with America today.
Who cares about three milliseconds? The answer is, high-frequency traders, who make money by buying or selling stock a tiny fraction of a second faster than other players. Not surprisingly, Michael Lewis starts his best-selling new book “Flash Boys,” a polemic against high-frequency trading, with the story of the Spread Networks tunnel. But the real moral of the tunnel tale is independent of Mr. Lewis’s polemic.
Think about it. You may or may not buy Mr. Lewis’s depiction of the high-frequency types as villains and those trying to thwart them as heroes. (If you ask me, there are no good guys in this story.) But either way, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to save three milliseconds looks like a huge waste. And that’s part of a much broader picture, in which society is devoting an ever-growing share of its resources to financial wheeling and dealing, while getting little or nothing in return.
Not only have the nation’s banks fully recovered from the financial crisis, their bottom lines are now healthier than ever.
On Wednesday, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said profits at U.S. lenders hit an all-time high in 2013. For the year, the nation’s banks made a collective $155 billion. That’s up 10% from a year ago, and it was more than the $148 billion the banks made back in 2006, the last time profits peaked.
For the last three months of 2013, banks made $40.3 billion. That was also an all-time high, and a rebound. Bank profits were down in the second and third quarters of the year.
The FDIC noted a large portion of the bottom line boost, though, came from an accounting maneuver that other regulators have cautioned about.
But banks aren’t just buying stuff, they’re buying whole industrial processes. They’re buying oil that’s still in the ground, the tankers that move it across the sea, the refineries that turn it into fuel, and the pipelines that bring it to your home. Then, just for kicks, they’re also betting on the timing and efficiency of these same industrial processes in the financial markets – buying and selling oil stocks on the stock exchange, oil futures on the futures market, swaps on the swaps market, etc.
Allowing one company to control the supply of crucial physical commodities, and also trade in the financial products that might be related to those markets, is an open invitation to commit mass manipulation. It’s something akin to letting casino owners who take book on NFL games during the week also coach all the teams on Sundays.
The situation has opened a Pandora’s box of horrifying new corruption possibilities, but it’s been hard for the public to notice, since regulators have struggled to put even the slightest dent in Wall Street’s older, more familiar scams. In just the past few years we’ve seen an explosion of scandals – from the multitrillion-dollar Libor saga (major international banks gaming world interest rates), to the more recent foreign-currency-exchange fiasco (many of the same banks suspected of rigging prices in the $5.3-trillion-a-day currency markets), to lesser scandals involving manipulation of interest-rate swaps, and gold and silver prices.
But those are purely financial schemes. In these new, even scarier kinds of manipulations, banks that own whole chains of physical business interests have been caught rigging prices in those industries. For instance, in just the past two years, fines in excess of $400 million have been levied against both JPMorgan Chase and Barclays for allegedly manipulating the delivery of electricity in several states, including California. In the case of Barclays, which is contesting the fine, regulators claim prices were manipulated to help the bank win financial bets it had made on those same energy markets.
And last summer, The New York Times described how Goldman Sachs was caught systematically delaying the delivery of metals out of a network of warehouses it owned in order to jack up rents and artificially boost prices.
The top Obama administration officials working on the Trans-Pacific Partnership came to government from investment banks who will benefit immensely from its provisions, which severely curtail countries’ ability to pass laws regulating banks and other corporations. These top advisors, who came from Bank of America and Citigroup, were given multimillion-dollar exit bonuses when they left their employers for government. For example, the US Trade Representative, Michael Froman, was handed $4M from Citigroup as a goodbye gift on his way into his new job.
A third of the mansions on the most expensive stretch of London’s “Billionaires Row” are standing empty, including several huge houses that have fallen into ruin after standing almost completely vacant for a quarter of a century.
A Guardian investigation has revealed there are an estimated £350m worth of vacant properties on the most prestigious stretch of The Bishops Avenue in north London, which last year was ranked as the second most expensive street in Britain.
But he argued against increasing taxes on unoccupied homes, which he said would be an “annoyance” that would make buyers choose Monte Carlo or Milan instead of London.
So there’s a housing shortage in London, and “people with no economic or cultural ties to the city will move out” is supposed to be a threat?
The rich buying enormous houses so they can sit and rot then complaining people might actually want to tax them for it and threatening to take their “buying an enormous house to sit and rot” business elsewhere is such a breathtakingly good metaphor for the state of the world.
An estimated 2,500 demonstrators braved the cold and snow this evening to protest against the pending partial sale of state-owned energy provider DONG to US investment firm Goldman Sachs.
Parliament’s Finance Committee is set to vote on the controversial deal tomorrow. If it pass, Goldman Sachs take a 19 percent stake in DONG at a cost of eight billion kroner.
The partial sale of DONG Energy to Goldman Sachs took a shocking turn this morning after Annette Vilhelmsen, the head of government coalition party Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF), announced that she would step down as head of the party and the party would leave the government coalition.
Vilhelmsen called a meeting this morning after she was unable to obtain a consensus in her party on agreeing to the government’s pending DONG/ Goldman Sachs agreement, which is set to be decided on in parliament later today.
“It’s been a dramatic 24 hours. I must admit that there has been disagreement in the party, at a national level and in the parliament group,” Vilhelmsen said at the press conference at Christiansborg. “I couldn’t gather the party.”
Not only is this Goldman Sachs, the 19 percent they are buying are being sold at almost half of it proper evaluation, there where pension funds that where willing to pay more and Goldman Sachs would have veto right despite only owning 19 percent.
It makes you wonder which politicians they paid.
Global inequality has increased to the extent that the £1 trillion combined wealth of the 85 richest people is equal to that of the poorest 3.5 billion – half of the world’s population – according to a new report from development charity Oxfam.
Boris Johnson has launched a bold bid to claim the mantle of Margaret Thatcher by declaring that inequality is essential to fostering “the spirit of envy” and hailed greed as a “valuable spur to economic activity”. In an attempt to shore up his support on the Tory right, as he positions himself as the natural successor to David Cameron, the London mayor called for the “Gordon Gekkos of London” to display their greed to promote economic growth…
In highly provocative remarks, Johnson mocked the 16% “of our species” with an IQ below 85 as he called for more to be done to help the 2% of the population who have an IQ above 130.
The lovely Boris, 49, in the most difficult decision of his life, decides he’ll say nice things to rich people.
A lot of people all over the world are having opinions now about the ostensibly gigantic $13 billion settlement Jamie Dimon and JP Morgan Chase have entered into with the government.
The general consensus from most observers in the finance sector is that this superficially high-dollar settlement – worth about half a year’s profits for Chase – is an unconscionable Marxist appropriation. It’s been called a “robbery” and a “shakedown,” in which red Obama and his evil henchman Eric Holder confiscated cash from a successful bank, as The Wall Street Journal wrote, “for no other reason than because they can and because they want to appease their left-wing populist allies.”
This is Madoff all over again, only on a much huger scale. Ten years from now, bet on it, the Wall Street Journal will be denouncing everyone from Eric Holder to Lanny Breuer to the SEC and DOJ officials in the Bush administration for failing to protect investors from predatory companies like Bear Stearns, Washington Mutual and their parent, JP Morgan Chase.
Right now, however, these papers are still stuck in the denial phase, which is to be expected, I suppose. But it doesn’t mean we have to take these ridiculous editorials about Chase’s victimhood seriously.
A few more notes on the deal. This latest settlement reportedly came about when CEO Jamie Dimon picked up the phone and called a high-ranking lieutenant of Attorney General Holder, who was about to hold a press conference announcing civil charges against the bank. The Justice Department meekly took the call, canceled the presser, and worked out this hideous deal, instead of doing the right thing and blowing off the self-important Wall Street hotshot long used to resolving meddlesome issues with the gift of his personal attention.
Only on Wall Street does the target of a massive federal investigation pick up the telephone and call up the prosecutor expecting to make the thing go away – and only in recent American history would such a tactic actually work.
Considering the scale of the offenses involved (one could make the argument that Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual by themselves did enough damage and cranked out enough toxic loans to cause the 2008 crash) the state could have taken the hardest of hard lines. Instead, they once again took a big fat check to walk away.
A 41-YEAR-OLD native of Monaco increasingly looks to be to banking what Edward Snowden is to American surveillance. In 2008 Hervé Falciani walked out of the Geneva branch of HSBC where he’d worked for three years, clutching five CD-Roms containing data on tens of thousands of account holders. The theft has lobbed a bomb into Europe’s private-banking market, spawning raids and tax-evasion investigations across the continent. In the latest, 90 Belgian agents swooped on the homes of two dozen HSBC clients this week, including several diamond dealers in Antwerp.Mr Falciani went on the run when the Swiss charged him with data theft. After moving to Spain he was jailed, but freed after a judge denied a Swiss extradition request. At one point, he claims, he was kidnapped by Mossad agents who wanted a peek at the client names. He has now taken refuge in France, where the government has offered him protection in return for assisting in its hunt for tax dodgers.
JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) has reached a tentative $4 billion deal with the U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency to settle claims that the bank misled government-sponsored mortgage agencies about the quality of mortgages it sold them during the housing boom, the Wall Street Journal reported on its website on Friday.
The deal is for less than the $6 billion the agency initially sought, the Journal said, citing people close to the discussions.
Even the full $6b would not have been much of an incentive never to do this again.
JP Morgan devoted $9.3 billion to legal expenses last quarter, driving its net loss of $380 million. Its legal troubles took up 39% of its total revenue in the same period, by far the company’s largest single expense.
That’s right: The largest bank in the United States spends more money fighting and paying off legal and regulatory challenges than it does paying its staff, buying securities or paying rent on its 5,600 Chase retail bank branches.
What does your largest expense say about your business? Ideally, the biggest cost should get at the heart of what the firm does. Goldman Sachs’ largest expense was compensation and benefits for its (in)famous talent. Apple’s largest expense in its most recent quarterly report was on sales, largely new stores and employees. General Motors’ largest expense is building cars.
For the first time, the bank revealed its total expenditures on legal costs. Since 2010, JP Morgan has devoted $31 billion to legal problems, spending $8 billion on settlements and reserving $23 billion for future costs. That’s almost half of its net earnings ($57.5 billion) in the same period, keeping in mind some of those reserves can be returned to stockholders if settlements and legal fees turn out to be less than expected
Markets swung rapidly on the 2 p.m. announcement last Wednesday, with stocks, bonds, and the price of gold all skyrocketing. Somebody placed massive orders for gold futures contracts betting on exactly that outcome within a millisecond or two of 2 p.m. that day — before the seven milliseconds had passed that would allow the transmission of the information from the Fed’s “lock-up” of media organizations who get an early look at the data and the arrival of that information at Chicago’s futures markets (that’s the time it takes the data to travel at the speed of light. A millisecond is a thousandth of a second). CNBC’s Eamon Javers, citing market analysis firm Nanex, estimates that $600 million in assets could have changed hands in that fleeting moment.
There would seem to be three possibilities: 1) Some trader was extraordinarily lucky, placing a massive bet just before a major announcement that would make that bet highly profitable. 2) There was a leak, either by a media organization with early access to the data or even someone at the Fed. Or 3) The laws of physics have been violated as the information traveled from Washington to Chicago faster than the speed of light.
You can see why Option 2 looks the most plausible.
Presumably there will be a hard look into what exactly happened, and in particular whether some technical glitch allowed some high frequency trading firm to get the data a few milliseconds early, or some unethical behavior. But in the meantime, there’s another useful lesson out of the whole episode.
It is the reality of how much trading activity, particularly of the ultra-high-frequency variety is really a dead weight loss for society.
Nokia’s board of directors seems caught in a tragicomedy of epic proportions. The latest twist is Finland’s largest newspaper claiming that Nokia made a false statement about CEO’s bonus package last Friday. Pressed by Finnish and international media last week, chairman Siilasmaa had claimed then that the bonus structure of Stephen Elop’s contract in 2010 was “essentially the same” as the one the previous CEO had received. But the largest daily of the country, “Helsingin Sanomat”, decided to dig into SEC filings to investigate the matter. By early Tuesday morning, the newspaper had uncovered evidence that Nokia’s board had made fundamental changes in Elop’s contract compared to his predecessors.
According to changes implemented in 2010, Elop was entitled to immediate share price performance bonus in case of a “change of control” situation… such as selling of Nokia’s handset division. Curiously, his predecessor Kallasvuo had no such clause in his contract. This adjustment meant that unlike previous CEOs, Elop was facing an instant, massive windfall should the following sequence happen to take place:
- Nokia’s share price drops steeply as the company drifts close to cash flow crisis under Elop.
- Elop sells the company’s handset unit to Microsoft under pressure to raise cash
- The share price rebounds sharply, though remains far below where it was when Elop joined the company.
Should this unlikely chain of events ever occur, Elop would be entitled to an accelerated, $25M payoff.
Many years ago MIT’s Andy Lo made a simple point (weirdly, I haven’t been able to track down the paper) about the distortion of incentives inherent in financial-industry compensation. Suppose you’re a hedge fund manager, getting 2 and 20 — fees of 2 percent of investors’ money, plus 20 percent of profits. What you want to do is load up on as much leverage as possible, and make high-risk, high return investments. This more or less guarantees that your fund will eventually go bust — but in the meantime you’ll have raked in huge personal earnings, and can walk away filthy rich from the wreckage.
But surely, you say, investors will see through this strategy. They can’t consistently be that stupid or naive, can they?
Rolling Stone has since learned that a whistleblower complaint has been filed to the SEC identifying 16 of the world’s biggest banks and hedge funds as the allegedly even-earlier recipients of this key economic data. The complaint alleges that this select group of customers received the data anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour ahead of the rest of the markets.
The identity of these 16 firms has not been made public yet, but sources describe the firms as major financial institutions, many of them well-known to the general public. Their inclusion in this case would significantly expand the scope of the scandal.
Contacted by Rolling Stone today, the SEC declined to comment on the status of the case.