Audit Notes: Lehman Inquiries Spike, Salmon on Blogging, Derivatives

Charlie Gasparino of Fox Business News reports that investigators are now zooming in on three areas of Lehman’s accounting, including Repo 105:

In addition to the firm’s use or possible misuse of Repo 105, investigators are examining whether top officials properly marked to market the declining value of investments , such as the Archstone-Smith Trust, a massive real estate venture of apartment complexes that the firm bought at the top of the market in 2007, and whether the firm properly booked losses stemming from an alleged stock fraud scheme involving Japanese trading house Marubeni, these people say.

More on Repo 105:

But what might fall afoul of the securities laws, according to people close to the inquiry, is if Lehman turned to the gimmick in a concerted effort to hide its risk level. One person with knowledge of the inquiry say investigators are looking at “the pattern” of Repo 105 usage, and if that pattern represents intent to deceive investors about the true nature of the firm’s finances.

What have these investigators, who Gasparino says now include the SEC, FBI, U.S. Attorney, and New Jersey Bureau of Securities, been doing the last year and a half? They can add a fourth area for scrutiny: the Hudson Castle transactions reported by The New York Times this morning.

Felix Salmon answers some questions on business blogging. And he oughta know:

All too often, I fear, a “formal training in journalism” just means that journalists self-censor the good and funny bits of stories that bloggers naturally latch on to. What’s more, bloggers have a much more natural voice and personality than journalists do. So it’s only natural that bloggers will get more of a “following” than some guy who writes straight-down-the-line stories for the local newspaper.

Then, of course, there’s the very germane fact that many highly successful bloggers didn’t get a formal training in journalism because they were too busy getting a formal training in the thing they’re writing about — business, finance, economics. The likes of Yves Smith or Brad DeLong or Simon Johnson or John Hempton are popular partly because these people know what they’re talking about and actually do it; it’s surely an advantage to be able to use first-hand rather than second-hand knowledge when you’re writing about something.

— The FT’s Alphaville points to an op-ed by Republican Senator Judd Gregg essentially defending the status quo on derivatives, and says:

Why, the jargon couldn’t have been more pitch-perfect if derivatives traders had written Senator Gregg’s piece themselves.

Derivatives lobbyists, more like.

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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.