Audit Notes: Countrywide, WSJ Stays Ahead on Probe, Blodget

All the biz/econobloggers are going gaga over a nugget of information buried deep in Gretchen Morgenson’s column yesterday.

Consider a lawsuit in the United States Bankruptcy Court in Camden, N.J. It involves a Countrywide loan and a note that was supposed to have been deposited in a mortgage pool issued by the lender in 2006.

In an opinion published last Tuesday, the chief judge, Judith H. Wizmur, cited testimony from an executive at Bank of America, which bought Countrywide. The lender’s practice, the executive said, was “to maintain possession of the original note and related loan documents.” Countrywide did this even though the pooling and servicing agreement governing the mortgage pool that supposedly held the note required that it be delivered to the trustee, the court document shows.

What does this mean? It’s more evidence that the whole securitization process is FUBAR. Read Adam Levitin at Credit Slips on that. And here he is on the potential ramifications:

The banks are in serious trouble if there are widespread securitization fails. If the loans weren’t transferred to the securitization trusts, then they are on bank balance sheets, which means that (1) the losses on the loans are the banks (to be sorted out with the investors), and (2) the banks need to be holding capital against the loans that haven’t gone into foreclosure. Depending on the scale of the problem, the banks might not have enough capital to cover the securitization fails, which means we’re in Dodd-Frank resolution territory.

If the notes weren’t properly transferred to the trusts, then investors have the mother of all putback claims. Investors probably also have claims against securitization trustees and against the law firms that did diligence on the securitization deals.

What can we conclude from this flurry over info in the 18th paragraph of Morgenson’s column? Well, for one, that she’s got so much string she can afford to toss a bomb like this into one of her regular columns. The other is, that she buried the lede.

I’ll say it’s both.

— You don’t have to read between the lines of The Wall Street Journal’s reports on the big insider-trading investigation to figure out that the feds think they may have a whale, and it’s Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital.

Susan Pulliam turned around a nice profile over the weekend of one analyst targeted for a “flip” by the FBI:

The client that the FBI agents wanted Mr. Kinnucan to tape his calls with is hedge-fund giant SAC Capital Advisors, headed by Steve Cohen, according to one person close to the situation. Their request suggests that the government is heightening an ongoing examination of activities at SAC. Last year, a cooperating witness in a separate insider-trading case against Raj Rajaratnam, founder of hedge fund Galleon Group, and 22 others agreed to provide information about SAC. SAC declined to comment.

This afternoon she and the Journal reported that the FBI raided the offices of three hedge funds, and emphasized that two of them are run by SAC alumni.

Here’s what this particular analyst specialized in:

Broadband Research is one of many boutique research firms that make a business out of talking to manufacturers’ representatives for companies like Broadcom Corp., Marvell Technology Group and Microsoft Corp., Mr. Kinnucan says. (Those companies didn’t respond to requests for comment.) The contacts provide him a view into the strength of such tech companies through what are known as “channel checks.”

Channel checks are a view into whether companies are ramping up or slowing down production, or whether they are winning or losing customers for components and parts they supply to other companies.

Channel checks are awfully common in the investing industry, but it’s unclear if the feds are going after that as a concept or some aggressive version on it. Meantime, the aggressive effort to flip this analyst appears to have ruined his business. That’s a real shame if he’s innocent, and there’s no indication yet that he’s involved.

You have to wonder where this G-Man movie stuff has been with, say, Lehman’s Repo 105 or Goldman’s Abacus or any number of major bank scandals.

— Meantime, Business Insider’s Henry Blodget has some wise words for regular investors out there:

In our experience, most investors have no appreciation for how intense their competition is. They think, “Wow—look at all this information I have. Look at all my trading screens. Look at all my SEC filings. Look at my charts and graphs. Look at the smart fellow on TV telling me what to buy.* Look at how many of my trades have made money!”

What they miss is that their competition has all this information, too—so it doesn’t give anyone an edge. They also don’t understand that, in addition to all this information, the folks they are competing with have millions and millions of dollars to spend gathering information that will never be published anywhere or appear on a screen or in a chart or graph.

That’s where the expert networks come in. That’s where contact networks in general come in. That’s where one-on-one meetings with managements and suppliers come in. That’s where having dozens of smart research analysts on your team comes in.

One glance from a CEO in response to a pointed question can contain more information than 500 pages of SEC filings. One nugget of scuttlebutt about the status of an important contract can make you more money than 500 hours of studying charts and graphs. Most small investors don’t understand that their competition gets this sort of information all day long.

The only way to try to get around this, as Blodget says (if you still want to be involved in the stocks game at all, that is) is to forget about individual stocks or anything short-term and just put money in index funds and let it ride.

Alas, there’s a whole multi-billion-dollar business-media industry trying to convince you otherwise—one in which Blodget participates, naturally. Here are a few Blodget headlines:

CONGRATULATIONS BEN BERNANKE! Stocks Are Now ~35% Overvalued


Time To Sell Apple’s Stock?

Finally, my favorite and yours:

OMG Is Google Stock A Buy! — Citi’s Mahaney

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,