Not everybody’s losing money these days. The New York Times has on A1 a story based on a hedge-fund industry trade mag’s list of top earners last year. John Paulson took in $3.7 billion with huge anti-housing bets, while two others, James H. Simons and George Soros, pulled in about $3 billion each.
Fire up the income-inequality lasers:
Their unprecedented and growing affluence underscores the gaping inequality between the millions of Americans facing stagnating wages and rising home foreclosures and an agile financial elite that seems to thrive in good times and bad. Such profits may also prompt more calls for regulation of the industry.
Even on Wall Street, where money is the ultimate measure of success, the size of the winnings makes some uneasy. “There is nothing wrong with it—it’s not illegal,” said William H. Gross, the chief investment officer of the bond fund Pimco. “But it’s ugly”…
“Like at the end of the Gilded Age and the Roaring Twenties, we are going the other way,” Mr. Gross said. “We are clearly in a period of excess, and we have to swing back to the middle or the center cannot hold.”
That’s our Quote of the Day.
The NYT quotes a think-tank type saying last year had the most unequal distribution of wealth since 1928, but doesn’t give us any numbers to back that up. Bloomberg reports that average pay for the top twenty-five was $892 million.
The paper also notes the pile of money made by Philip Falcone, the Harbinger Partners founder who just wrangled two seats on the NYT board. He earned $1.7 billion in 2007, about two-thirds of the entire Times Company’s value.
Of course, it ain’t too hard to make money when you’re guaranteed a 2 percent annual fee of every dollar you manage and get to keep 20 percent of any profits you happen to make.
Are banks lying about Libor?
The Journal on page one reports that questions are being raised about Libor, the key interest rate that measures how much banks are charging to lend to one another. The concern: that banks are outright lying about how much they’re paying for short-term loans in order to hide the extent of their woes from consumers and investors. Uh-oh.
No specific evidence has emerged that banks have provided false information about borrowing rates, and it’s possible that declines in lending volumes are making some Libor averages less reliable. But bankers and other market participants have quietly expressed concerns to the British Bankers’ Association, which oversees Libor, about whether banks are reporting rates that reflect their true borrowing costs, according to a person familiar with the matter and to government documents. The BBA is now investigating to identify potential problems, the person says.
Libor is critical because trillions of dollars of loan interest rates are pegged to it. Keeping it artificially low would actually help borrowers by keeping their interest rates down. The Wall Street Journal reports that Libor may be 0.3 percentage points lower than it should be.
This is a story to watch.
Worse living through chemistry
The papers report on a National Institutes of Health study that found a common chemical in plastic hurt animals at the levels that are found typically in humans.
The NYT leads its story with news that Canada will declare the chemical, called bisphenol A (BPA), toxic as early as today.
B.P.A. is widely used to make polycarbonate plastics, which are rigid and transparent like glass but very unlikely to shatter. Polycarbonates have many uses that pose no risk, like the cases of some iPod models. Because animal tests have shown that even small amounts of the chemical may cause changes in the body, however, researchers have focused on food- and drink-related applications of B.P.A., like the popular Nalgene brand beverage bottles.
“If the government issues a finding of toxic, no parent in their right mind will be using products made with this chemical,” said Rick Smith, the executive director of Environmental Defence, a Canadian group that has been campaigning against B.P.A. “We will be arguing strongly for a ban on the use of this chemical in food and beverage containers.”
The Los Angeles Times, which broke a story last year that the government was using a conflict-ridden company as the basis for its approval of the chemical, says the NIH study reversed course and found “some concern” that kids and unborn babies could be hurt.
Good money after bad