The WSJ continues its good page-one “Fall of Bear Stearns” series with part two, in which chairman Jimmy Cayne continues to play bridge while the company spiraled down the toilet. Did this guy ever do anything besides play cards (golf doesn’t count)? The Journal gets the Quote of the Day in recounting just how quickly the panic overtook the investment bank and its CEO Alan Schwartz, who told incredulous execs the day before he had to seek the bailout by JPMorgan Chase and the Federal Reserve:
“This,” he said, “is a whole lot of noise.”
It also reports on A1 that Bear is turning over documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission that show who was bailing out of their trades with the company in the weeks before the bailout. The three biggies were Goldman Sachs, Citadel Investment Group, and Paulson & Company, who all either had insider information or were simply smart enough to get the heck out of Dodge.
Supremes issue labor-friendly ruling
The Supreme Court ruled in two cases that federal civil-rights laws protect whistleblowers from retaliation in the workplace, a shift from recent business-friendly decisions. The Journal on A3 says the ruling frustrated business, which was “hoping for a more sympathetic hearing from a court now bolstered by two Bush appointees” and The Washington Post reports that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was “surprised by the margin.”
The Times on A1 says:
The decisions are significant both as a practical matter and as evidence of a new tone and direction from the court this year, following a term in which there were sharp divisions and an abrupt conservative turn.
The Los Angeles Times writes that the support for workers’ rights contrasts with “a series of pro-business rulings by the high court last year that limited the rights of workers,” but also says it’s not a big change in the law.
Russians get pinched
Bloomberg reports that hedge funds “and other investors” are raising the cost of debt for Russian companies, “threatening the country’s economic resurgence by forcing more than 200 companies to increase the interest they pay to as much as 16 percent.”
It’s a holdover from the country’s 1998 financial crisis, which threatened the global financial system and brought hedge fund Long Term Capital Management down. Investors are demanding that Russian companies pay off their bonds that are coming due or pay much higher interest rates.
The financial saber-rattling from the Kremlin will commence in 3…2…
UB persona non grata
The Financial Times reports on its front page that Swiss banking giant UBS, under investigation for helping clients evade taxes, is telling its former U.S. team of private bankers not to go to the U.S. after a former exec was arrested and charged earlier this month.
The FT says the move signals that UBS thinks the investigation “may widen,” which seems like a euphemism for “UBS thinks it’s in deep doo-doo.” It says many of the bankers have already left UBS because of the investigation “and fears that the bank might not support them if arrested,” though UBS has provided lawyers to more than fifty of them.
In other corporate-investigation news, the WSJ reports on C1 that the Securities and Exchange Commission is widening its probe of the credit-ratings firms and that Moody’s is taking a harsher tone toward itself in its investigation of ratings errors it appears to have covered up.
In an interview, one person familiar with Moody’s structured-finance ratings said data errors had occurred in numerous deals over the past 10 years. In some cases, the error was corrected by taking the problem to the issuers so that the deals could be restructured, but in the case of some lower-rated issues, the error went uncorrected, this person said.
Regulators, mount up
The FT on page one says investment banks are “split” on whether they should continue to take Fed cash and risk new regulation or whether it’s not worth it. Not surprisingly, those more in need of the cash are more inclined to take it. The paper also reports that the Fed is going to limit how much they can borrow from it by September, though it says that’s expected to be pushed back.
The Fed initiative, spurred by the collapse of Bear Stearns, allows investment banks to pledge investment-grade securities, including mortgage-backed securities, in return for low-interest cash loans. The rationale for the facility was to ensure that none of the other banks would suffer the same kind of evaporation of short-term liquidity that sank Bear Stearns…
Such direct borrowing from the Fed has typically been reserved for commercial banks. The trade-off has been that those banks must operate with stricter risk controls.