Audit Notes: WaPo on a Whistleblower, Analysts, Reshuffled Toxic Assets Still Toxic

— The Washington Post ran a terrific piece yesterday on UBS whistleblower Bradley Birkenfeld yesterday, a flawed hero (aren’t they all) of the crisis.

There are spy-novel elements here: Code names for UBS (“The Vault”), a suspicious Middle East oil trader (“Slick”) that spice things up. It’s a good yarn.

But what this story boils down to is the injustice of prosecuting a whistleblower for blowing the whistle. So here’s how your government treats the guy who walked through the door and put one of the biggest fraud cases ever in their hands (emphasis mine):

In a news release last year announcing Birkenfeld’s sentencing, the Justice Department accused him of a litany of wrongdoing and said he was “paying the price.” The Justice announcement did not mention that he stepped forward voluntarily to blow the whistle on UBS.

The head of the IRS Whistleblower Office, Stephen A. Whitlock, declined to discuss the Birkenfeld matter, citing confidentiality law. Speaking generally, he said that the whistleblower program “is not an immunity program.”

“And if the person who is bringing us the information has some criminal exposure themselves,” Whitlock said, “then they need to think about that.”

You can bet they will. Great work by the Post’s David S. Hilzenrath.

— We’ve known that Wall Street analysts are wildly overoptimistic for a long time. “Buys” and “holds” wildly outnumber “sells.”

But this McKinsey stat is still stunning:

For the past quarter century, equity analysts’ earnings-growth estimates have been almost 100% too high. Their overoptimistic projections have generally ranged from 10% to 12% annually, compared with actual growth of 6% (excluding the spike in growth from 1998–2001), according to McKinsey research. Only in strong-growth years such as 2003 to 2006 did forecasts hit the mark.

Why does this matter for regular business-press readers who don’t subscribe to such expensive research? Analysts are one of the key source groups for business journalists.

(h/t Felix Salmon and Paul Kedrosky)

Remember re-remics?

Those are the products Wall Street created by resecuritizing toxic mortgage securities. Really.

The Bloomberg headline says it all:

S&P Cuts to Junk Mortgage Bonds It Rated AAA in 2009

And around we go…

(h/t Alphaville)

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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.