Audit Notes: Hamster Madness, Times’s Tough Reporting, Fumes

A wag sends this along with the note: “Newest use of WSJ reporting firepower.”

It’s The Wall Street Journal liveblogging recapping 24 hours of corporate cousin Fox TV during the Cablevision/News Corp. dispute. I am not kidding.

Here’s a snippet:

10:00 a.m. The Wendy Williams Show

How you doin’? Oooh! Oooh!

Ms. Williams’ parents are in the audience, but thankfully she was still able to keep it juicy. She speaks with guest Daisy Fuentes about the sex lives of dolphins, Tyra Banks’ naked body with photographer Nigel Barker and “hot sex” with matchmaker Patti Stanger.

Just… why?

— I missed this earlier this week (nasty cold!), but want to make sure you didn’t: The New York Times’s good story on yet another way the banks have set up a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose system.

This one’s in securities lending, and here’s the nut graph:

How JPMorgan won while its customers lost provides a glimpse into the ways Wall Street banks can, and often do, gain advantages over their customers. Today’s giant banks not only create and sell investment products, but also bet on those products, and sometimes against them, putting the banks’ interests at odds with those of their customers. The banks and their lobbyists also help fashion financial rules and regulations. And banks’ traders know what their customers are buying and selling, giving them a valuable edge.

Here’s one way they get people to give them this deal:

Banks often pressure pension funds to participate in securities lending, pension consultants say. If funds refuse, banks raise so-called custodial fees, the charge for holding a fund’s securities.

“Whenever we say ‘no securities lending,’ then they say, ‘well, we need to talk about your custodial fees,’ ” said Jay Love, a pension consultant with Mercer.

The inevitable result:

JPMorgan had inside knowledge of Sigma, because the bank had helped finance it. But Sigma collapsed after JPMorgan pulled out to protect itself.

“They sensed there were problems with these investments, but they didn’t tell the clients,” said one of the former employees. “They knew all along: we’ve got the out — the losses are yours.”

This is good, tough Wall Street reporting.

— Check this out. Kevin Drum finds a smart Columbia study that tried to quantify how much car pollution affects our health.

How do you get at something like that? You calculate birth weights of babies born to women living near toll booths before and after the advent of the E-ZPass. Drum:

Their idea was that E-ZPass reduced congestion, and therefore mothers living near toll plazas ought to benefit from it.

The researchers found that post E-ZPass, prematurity declined and birth weights increased for those close to the toll booths and remained about the same for those further away.

That’s pretty ingenious.

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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.