Audit Notes: Wall Street’s Predators, Tate on Apple, Dow “10,000”

Speaking of the poverty business, journalist Gary Rivlin has a good piece at The Huffington Post listing all the Wall Street money behind the once-untouchable business.

To start with the payday loan industry: The business barely existed twenty years ago but today it’s a massive, $40-billion-a-year beast making short-term loans at rates so shockingly high that Florida is considered a low-cost payday state because, by law, lenders operating there can “only” charge fees that work out to an interest rate of 250 percent. More typically, payday lenders are collecting 400 percent or more on the money they have out on the street.

How did the payday industry get so big so fast? Start ticking off the names of some of the country’s better-known banks and you’ll no doubt hit on a few that provided critical funding to those seeking to make it rich in the strange business of loaning the working poor emergency cash against their next paycheck.

Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and many more, helped bankroll the payday-loan industry, for instance.

This is the money quote from a payday lender, which comes from Rivlin’s new book and an excerpt in Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

“Them numbers are all they ever noticed,” said Allan Jones about all the investment bankers who flew to Cleveland, Tenn. to try and talk him into taking his company public.

— Gawker’s Ryan Tate, fresh off exposing the iPad security breach, continues to make life difficult for Apple Incorporated, here with a roundup of its iPad censorship.

Tate points out that Apple still won’t approve Pulitzer-winning political cartoonist Mark Fiore’s Tiger Woods app:

But that doesn’t appear to be true: MSNBC cartoonist Mark Fiore’s app of Tiger Woods cartoons is still banned after being rejected in late April, after Fiore’s app was reinstated and after Apple supposedly changed the ridicule policy, which was cited by Apple in its rejection letter to Fiore.

Here’s the broader point:

No, Jobs’ issue seems to be thinking Apple can and should write the moral code for the tens of millions of global iPhone and iPad customers, who hail from a hugely diverse array of backgrounds. To the extent those customers do share values, it’s that they tend to pride themselves on their tolerance for how other people express themselves, and on how eclectic and unpredictable their own tastes are. Shackling them to a sadly homogenized digital marketplace built around Jobs’ personal tastes — grossly violent movies are OK, line-drawings of breasts in the 17-years-and-older section are verboten — seems to fly in the face of the CEO’s professional responsibilities. Both commercial and, yes, moral.

Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Zweig writes about Dow 10,000, which is something of an evergreen financial-press story:

Last week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose above 10000—again. Since March 16, 1999, when it first touched 10000 in intraday trading, the Dow has bounced over that threshold and back 63 times. This Friday, the index closed 219.6 points below where it stood exactly 11 years ago.

But not really. Dow “10,000” today is more like Dow 7,641, when you take inflation into account. As Zweig’s colleague E.S. Browning wrote earlier this year:

Controlling for inflation takes extra work and makes stock gains look punier, so it is easy to see why stock analysts almost never do it. The media almost never do it either.

Ain’t that the truth. Weirdly, Zweig brings up inflation to talk about an old bear market:

Of course, financial history doesn’t repeat itself—and even when it rhymes, the sounds can be almost unrecognizable. Inflation, at roughly 7% annually, was much higher from 1966 to 1982 than it is today, devouring all the return on stocks.

But he doesn’t note inflation’s effect on Dow 10,000 itself.

For more on this, see The Real Dow, The Really Real S&P 500, and The Press Misleads on a Gold “Record.”

— Here’s an interesting datapoint from Zweig’s column:

And during the 1970s, according to an analysis for The Wall Street Journal by Wharton Research Data Services at the University of Pennsylvania, the Dow captured only about 15% of the total value of U.S. stocks, versus 30% today.

In other words, the biggest thirty or so corporations in America are capturing twice as much of the value in equity markets as they were four decades ago.

It’s not just the banks, of course, that have gotten a bad case of gigantism. Not surprisingly, that coincides with outsized gains in corporate power, in income concentrations at the top, and in the power of capital relative to labor.

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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.