♦ Attorney General Andrew Cuomo says Citigroup should follow Goldman's lead and forgo bonuses for senior execs. [NYP]
♦ Embattled Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang has announced he will step down as soon as the board finds a replacement. [NYT, WSJ]
♦ Mark Cuban's attorney on the insider trading charges leveled against his client: "The case has no merit, and is a product of gross abuse of prosecutorial discretion." [WSJ]
♦ Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson is unlikely to use the rest of the $700 billion bailout fund on any new initiatives, preferring to hand over the remaining pennies—and very big problems—to his successor in the Obama administration. [WSJ]
♦ Andrew Ross Sorkin on extending the bailout to GM: "Taxpayers shouldn't fork over a cent, at least until shareholders are wiped out, management is tossed out and the industry is completely reorganized." [NYT]
♦ Attorney General Andrew Cuomo says Citigroup should follow Goldman's lead and forgo bonuses for senior execs. [NYP]
♦ Dick Parsons is the frontrunner to replace Sir Win Bischoff as chairman of Citigroup. [Reuters]
♦ Steve Rattner is shutting down the Quadrangle Group's hedge fund amid weak performance and investor redemptions. [WSJ]
♦ Phil Falcone, Ken Griffin, John Paulson, Jim Simons and George Soros will appear in front of a House panel today. [DB]
♦ Hank Paulson is taking a beating following the news that the Treasury will now focus on struggling consumers, instead of financial institutions. Paulson has become "a reduced figure, damaged by the financial-market meltdown that happened on his watch and by the government's struggles to respond to it." [WSJ, DB, Bloomberg]
The national debt now stands at $10.6 trillion and the federal government needs to borrow at least $1 trillion a year to keep the country in business. What's the Treasury Department going to come up with that kind of cash? Maybe Hank Paulson was on to something when he delivered a press conference this morning and positioned himself next to a gleaming bottle of refreshing Dasani water. Now Barack Obama just needs to tap a marketing guru and cut a few high-profile endorsement deals. The giant image if the Geico gekko on the side of the White House won't be pretty, but at least you'll have a job to go to tomorrow!
♦ How did Hank Paulson's negotiations with the CEOs of the nation's largest banks go down on Monday? There were no negotiations, actually. He handed them a term sheet and told them to sign it on the spot if they knew what was good for them. [WSJ, NYT]
♦ Whether or not the federal government make actually make money taking a take in all these banks is still up in the air. [NYT]
♦ Will the bailout really change the way Wall Street CEOs are paid? Nah. They "will find other creative ways of paying their executives as they see fit." Which means Lloyd Blankfein will still take home tens of millions. [NYT, Bloomberg]
♦ The credit markets thawed ever so slightly yesterday following the news the U.S. government would take a stake in major banks. It could take weeks or months for things to really improve, though. [WSJ]
♦ In a extraordinarily bold move, the U.S. will use $250 billion to take equity stakes in major financial institutions like Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase as part of an effort to restore confidence in the system, unlock the credit markets and "avoid financial collapse." [WSJ, NYT]
♦ The government's move isn't unprecedented, although not everyone is very happy with the "partial nationalization" approach. [NYT, WaPo]
♦ Global markets continued to rise overnight as investors responded to news of the government's plan. [Bloomberg]
♦ Notwithstanding the bailout, some hedge fund titans like Steve Cohen, John Paulson, and Israel Englander are staying on the sidelines and keeping their billions in cash. [WSJ]
Okay, so we don't really know that the worst is over. But judging by Hank Paulson's face, the economy may now be ready to rebound. The Treasury Secretary looked a bit less stressed at his press conference yesterday: Color seems to have returned to his face, and he may have even put on a pound or two since those especially scary days of a couple of weeks ago. Click here for a larger image so you can compare for yourself! [Previously]
♦ The Federal Reserve said on Wednesday that it would provide up to $37.8 billion to AIG. That's on top of the $85 billion lifetime the insurance giant got a few weeks ago. [NYT]
♦ Hank Paulson suggested yesterday the government may invest in banks as part of the next step in trying to resolve the credit crisis. [Bloomberg, NYT]
♦ Talks continue between Wells Fargo and Citigroup, who are both vying for control of Wachovia, although they appear close to a settlement. [WSJ, DB]
♦ The legal battle between Citigroup and Wells Fargo raged over the weekend as both banks sought the upper hand in their bid for Wachovia. A Fed-led settlement which would divide Wachovia's assets may put an end to the dispute. [NYT, WSJ]
♦ Bank of America has agreed to settle government claims related to Countrywide Financial. The total price tag could exceed $8.6 billion. [WSJ]
♦ Dick Fuld will make his first appearance in weeks when he speaks before a House committee today. [NYP]
♦ Eli Lilly has agreed to acquire ImClone Systems for $6.5 billion. [Reuters]
Today this guy I know ruminated about why white bloggers employ so many goddarn exclamation points. I didn't really read it because I have ADD and assume everyone else does too so when I do actually bother employing punctuation at all it is usually for the purpose of impressing upon everyone the total urgency of whatever it was I just wrote and what better way to achieve that than an exclamation point!? (Or four!!!!!!) But hey wait, I actually know where I picked up this silly habit — another white blogger! Back from before they called them blogs, tho. There was this ZOMG-tacular writer Andy Serwer who wrote a daily stock market column on the Fortune website called "Street Life." It made no sense!!!! Except to me. (The synthetic constant proportion portfolio insurance of online commentary!) So you can blame that guy for everything, including the credit crisis! Anyway it's in Andy's honor (he still writes a blog, but it's no longer crazy because he is on teevee now) that I wrote the evening's Panic Roundup in the Steez De Serwer. (Shall I call it "Manic Panic"?)Okay, so, today's Times byline orgy re-enactment of that coupla days a coupla weeks ago where suddenly every banker was like "OHSHTWRSCRWD" achieved two important things: 1. Reminded "Main Street" (Aside: irk you as much as it does yours true that the pols keep calling it "Main Street" when the whole reason this started is because there's NO SUCH THING anymore in this country?? Because everyone had to have his own house, recall?? Anyhoo) that, you know, every business in this freakin country operates on debt, not because they're spoiled delusional children like every last CEO on the Street except John Thain (which reminds me, Johnny Boy is staying on with the new Bank of AMerillca! See, you KNEW he wasn't in it for the nine figure pay package, aw…) but because DUH, because that's like the basis of all civilization or something!! And 2. Reminded Wall Street Just How Crazy it is with a creepy/inspiring (which? both?) anecdote about Black Thursday over at Goldisachs. Lloyd was freaking out, Goldman stock in freefall, etc. etc.…and then one o'clock rolls around and someone they identify as a "prankster" starts playing the "Star-Spangled Banner" over the loudspeaker. All the bankers are like, what?! Some even put their hands over their hearts. And at THAT VERY MOMENT, the stock stopped falling. Turned up a little even! Guess what had happened? That's right, a short-selling ban had just been announced!! Capitalism itself had been suspended! Think that means there's something Goldman guys find inspiring about this country… other than its free market?? Yeah probably not, but I thought about shedding a tear! Okay so moving on, the big story is…well shucks, got a few hours? No of course not! We're all about to hit me baby one more time with another public appearance by everyone's fave fakenbaked ratings black gold governess!!! (Broad is like Merrill with the CDOs after even AIG stopped insuring them, we know she's bad for us, but we just can't stop.) So I'll make it quick: everyone, except maybe Buffett and John not to be confused with Hank Paulson, is screwed: every other hedge fund is screwed, Veronica Peterson of Columbia, Maryland, who is trying to pay a $4,450-a-month mortgage on fifty grand a year — hey, why not have a go at that, quant jocks? — is screweder, the market that is being artificially propped up by the continued short sale ban managed to fall 350 points today anyway, not that anyone is paying attention to the market because the entire private sector is too busy wondering where the heck they're supposed to find a line of credit when the entire financial system won't trust anyone but the guv-mint with its money anymore. Yikes! Oh, though if Veronica Peterson's story shook your faith in private enterprise, here's a doozy from the public sector: there's a special provision in the new bailout bill offering (SORELY-needed) tax relief to the makers of wooden arrows used in bow-n-arrow sets for children. Think you could poke someone's life out with one of them things? Anyway, if I were really Serwer this is where I would actually round up a few MORE asides and tangents here and call them "Loose Change," but in the Web 2.0 era that gets to be your job! Although if Dismal Science wants offer himself for the position of Serwer's old standby source "Deep Blue" (sug. nickname change: "Deep Shit") he knows who to G-chat!
Remember the terrible story about the naked mentally ill guy whom the NYPD tasered, causing his death? Yes, well, if you thought that story could not get more awful, you were wrong. The cop who ordered the fatal tasering killed himself this morning. Also, the Times illustrated this story with a photo of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and every joke we could make about that fact is probably in terrible taste. [NYT]
Why did the bailout fail to win approval in the House earlier this week? It wasn't marketing properly, naturally. "'Bailout' connotes failure, and Americans hate failure," one veteran publicist tells AdAge. "There is nothing redemptive about a bailout. What if this had been called a 'rescue' from the beginning? Or the 'Save Our Homes Act'?" Oh, also: the administration probably should have recruited a celebrity to pitch it instead of sending George Bush or a haggard Hank Paulson to the podium. Says one strategist: "The first rule of any PR campaign is to find the most credible voices you can to be your message deliverers." Anyone know what Oprah's up to this week?
♦ The Senate is expected to vote this evening on a revised version of the bailout bill. [NYT, WSJ, Bloomberg]
♦ Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has spent the past day and a half working over lawmakers and lobbyists, trying to change minds. [Bloomberg]
♦ President Bush has signed into law a low-interest loan package for American automakers. [WSJ]
♦ UBS plans to cut 1,900 investment banking jobs. [Bloomberg]
♦ Wells Fargo chair Richard Kovacevich says "he feels like a kid in a candy store." At least someone is feeling good. [DB]
Everyone wants to figure out what happened to the market last fortnight! Which is why the week of September 14 marked the highest ratings in CNBC's nineteen year history, the New York Times reported today in a story about how people keep tuning in to the business news network looking for answers on What It All Means only to get hooked because CNBC anchors have no idea What It All Means. It is all just moving so goddamn fast! (Like um, while I was getting a picture for this post, the House voted down the bailout package, what do you know…) Between the squawking and spinning and bank failing, no one had a chance to acknowledge the real ideological shift underway among just about everyone who bothers thinking about that sort of crap. Listicle time again! I read all the deep, probing stories over the weekend about What Actually Happened And Who Profited Off That so you wouldn't have to.1. "Profit" is kind of a scam. Profit, as they say in the business, is the "bottom line."* But when every financial institution in America can follow a decade of unprecedented "profits" with the threat of Universal Abject Ruin, you have to conclude the whole damn "bottom line" is bullshit. Yesterday the NYT ran a story about an obscure unit of the insurance company AIG that generated shitloads of profits in the boom years. It generated shitloads of profits because it sold "credit default swaps." Credit-default swaps protect the principal paid on a bond in the case of a default. AIG made shitloads selling them in the boom years because a lot of other guys on Wall Street were making shitloads of money rolling up mortgages into bonds, and a guy from Morgan Stanley called up a guy at AIG named Joseph Cassano, told him about these rolled-up mortgage security deals, and asked if AIG would be interested in getting into the business of insuring these mortgages in much the same way AIG insured the houses said mortgages had been taken out to buy. Because Morgan Stanley would totally buy that insurance! Goldman Sachs would also be interested. A few crafty hedge fund guys were interested too. Later that "interest" would yield a profit bonanza for the guys who were smart enough to load up on them! But first the profit bonanza's was AIG's. By 2005, this unit of AIG generated three and a quarter billion dollars revenue. And you know what the operating profit margin on that revenue was? Fucking 83%. Eighty-three percent. That is after they paid everyone's salary and Blackberry bills and sleeper-class airfares and five-star hotel rooms and for all their office supplies. AIG shared the wealth with employees more, of course. At the end of the day people who worked in that unit brought home between a third and 44% of revenue. Forty-four percent!!! That is literally unreal. Isn't the whole point of having an "insurance" company that you save money like that to have on hand for disaster? What sort of insurance company makes an record-breaking profit the same year they're on the hook over a billion dollars for a record-breaking natural disaster? (An insurance company with a freakishly profitable near-impossible-to-understand unit that does not report to any insurance regulators, for one!) Well anyway, Goldman ended up putting as much as twenty billion dollars "on the line" with AIG's CDS-es. Twenty billion dollars is just over a billion dollars less than Goldman gave out in Christmas bonuses last year because, in stark contrast to most other banks on Wall Street, Goldman had been so smart and prudent and visionary and bought CDS-es early and booked record profits. In any case, now Goldman was worried about AIG. Goldman stock could plummet if AIG went under! And Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein must have told his old boss Hank Paulson that, because Hank invited Lloyd to be the only investment banker in attendance at a special meeting two weeks ago about the fate of AIG. Hank saved the insurer, and while they were at it they made some sort of arrangement for Goldman and Morgan - the guys who hatched this whole plan in AIG's head to begin with! - to become "holding companies" that would be protected by the FDIC. This effectively eliminated investment banking, and one hopes, some of the heady profit margins with which it was once synonymous. 2. Because the system - like CNBC itself! - is rigged to reward fear of commitment. On CNBC this announcement was met with a lot of talk about how investment bank stocks would no longer "justify" their huge price-earnings ratios because, as real banks instead of specialized "investment" banks, they wouldn't be able to continue to take such big risks and generate the same grotesquely large profit margins they once did. There is something seriously warped about that mentality, though. If you watch CNBC you probably buy into the notion that profits are somehow "the bottom line," that the pursuit of profit makes everything more efficient, that profits create jobs and therefore salaries should more closely track the "bottom line," and if everything ran more "like a business" then employees would be more "accountable." Maybe you buy into this notion because it seems rational; maybe you buy into this notion because it takes so goddamn long at the DMV, but whatever the case, if you are watching CNBC now, it might dawn on you that they are too panicked trying to relay to you all this pressing urgent information to give you the real story, which is that all those assumptions about profits and the bottom line and accountability get turned completely on their heads when it you impose upon them the term limits of the fiscal year and everyone gets to cash out. Nowhere is our national fear of commitment more readily apparent than our willingness to allow Hank Paulson to pay no taxes on a half billion dollars in Goldman stock options to take a government job for three years because we are so wary of investing such faith in an entrenched bureaucrat, only to have him hit us up for a line of credit when all that fear of commitment results in a whopping expression of our collective fear of commitment. 3. "Demand" is also a construct. A corollary to the "profit" construct is the "demand" construct. A story: the other day my friend the NYSE trader was ruminating on the absurdity that the defining buzzword of the subprime mortgage crisis was "tranche." Yeah, why does everyone pronounce it funny? I wondered. Because it means 'slice' in French, he told me. When you are selling bonds assembled from the foggy promises of ignorant unskilled people to pay ever-increasing fees to ensure their continued residences in shitty overpriced tract homes in eastern San Diego for thirty fucking years - unskilled people who at best work themselves in real estate - it helps to pretty up the sales pitch with pretty French verbiage. On the front of today's Wall Street Journal "Marketplace" section are two stories on top of one another that form a neat little parable about the nature of demand. One is about how fast food chains like McDonald's and Panera Bread are worried about the credit crisis because Bank of America and other banks have suddenly tightened lending to people whose plan to make money depends on opening evermore McDonald's and Panera Bread locations. Just below this story is another story about how food makers like Campbell's, Kellogg and Kraft are excited about the credit crunch, because it enables them to make the pitch to American consumers to spend more money on "value" foodstuffs such as Frosted Flakes and condensed soup, and those kinds of foods have huge profit margins because of course they are actually a terrible value to consumers, but that doesn't matter as long as some ad agency is being paid eight figures to come up with a folksy campaign reminding Americans what great "value" they're getting. Whatever the outcome of the credit crunch, the only logical takeaway of the two stories goes, Americans will continue eating junk. Which reminds me: I could go for a tranche of pizza right now! But the point is, demand is highly manipulable, and we are the masters of manipulation. We've convinced ourselves that if a lower-profit margin-generating division of a company is sold to a Japanese company or simply discontinued it is because that division — and thus the country — is "moving up the value ladder." In the market's ceaseless quest to ascend the value ladder America has, of course, left behind such resilient, and also arguably valuable, industries as the manufacture of sophisticated computer chips and the construction of half-billion dollar oil tankers and probably soon car manufacture, for Asians to occupy themselves working on. 4. Good people will be punished. Good people are always punished. Just ask the Jews. The Asian countries, of course, are concerned about this. Just because they work six day weeks in sweltering assembly lines doesn't mean they aren't addicted to our demand. China keeps living standards artificially low to maintain high employment, and they build up excess reserves they have to invest it in our iffy financial system, and Chinese people are aware of this, which is why the government faces angry internet retaliation back home when those investments suffer, as they did when Blackstone stock started crashing a few months back. Which brings me to the Jews. As any Chinese person could tell you, the Jews have long been associated with a knack for making money. But many Jews also pursue relatively unprofitable jobs, like running for Congress. Much has been made of the need for Congress to vote on a bailout package before the Jewish holidays, because there are 43 Jews in Congress, almost all of them Democrats, and as Barney Frank so wryly noted last week "It's a well-known rule; God will only hear your prayers if you're in your congressional district." Barney can say that because he is of course himself Jewish. Anyway, this morning on CNBC Charlie Gasparino was trying desperately to hammer home to viewers that Barney Frank was largely to credit for getting the bailout package done in time to save Wall Street. (Uh, or not!?!) Other anchors kept cutting Charlie off. As Frank himself just told the Washington Post, "You don't get credit for a disaster averted." You also don't get credit for holding your nose and doing the politically unpopular thing and trying to avert disaster if you did not have the votes to avert disaster because everyone hates everyone. However, Barney Frank does get credit for being funny just now. Sigh. 5. And despite the protestations of contrarian pundits it is hard to believe some sort of disaster was/is not at hand. Because in a story on the Lehman bankruptcy today, the Wall Street Journal noted that the Tuesday morning following the announcement the London Interbank offered rate, the interest rate at which banks offer one another overnight loans, the interest rate to which some $300 trillion in contracts are anchored, rose from 3.11% the day before to 6.44% and "even at those rates, banks were balking at lending to one another." The two guys who actually calculate the Libor have not been on CNBC to my knowledge, but I bet I can tell you what they were thinking when they went through their spreadsheets that day: "Holy Fuck." (And maybe also: "Why again do we securitize mortgages? Isn't the one book read by everyone in the entire finance industry sort of about how that was a bad idea?) In any case, nothing on CNBC managed to be quite so startling as this story. Maybe because they've desensitized everyone with their incessant re-loop of Jim Cramer's prescient freakout clip.
Hank Paulson went before Congress to ask that he get a shit-ton of money to purchase mortgage-backed securities. The bipartisan Joint Economic Committee hammered out a compromise, giving Paulson some of what he wanted but with more oversight and perhaps a better deal for taxpayers. John McCain ran back to Washington to solve this himself, and as soon as his plane touched down the compromise fell apart, with conservative House Republicans balking at passing anything resembling the Paulson plan. So what happened yesterday, exactly? Who do we blame for everything? And what'll happen now? Your financial and congressional newspapers have the story. In case you're not a Roll Call or Wall Street Journal subscriber, we'll explain what they're saying about this mess. The Wall Street Journal on what happens now:
During an Advertising Week panel on Monday, a moderator asked Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg how the Wall Street meltdown will effect online spending. Sandberg delivered a carefully crafted response to an expected question touching upon her time at the Treasury during the Clinton years, the Mexican peso, the Asian crises of the 1990s, and contagion, a fancy new term the rest of us can break out at dinner parties. When she's so comfortable talking global economics, why did Sandberg ever leave Washington D.C.? Look how smoothly she endorses Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. Most obvious of all: She's clearly enjoying herself. We don't get the same vibe from Sandberg when she's talking up Facebook.
It is a stunning reversal of fortune of the sort his old investment bank just narrowly averted thanks to Warren Buffet and the government to which he to which he does not have to pay any of those "tax dollars" he is throwing around to save his old neighborhood! But yes, sources are now informing us Billionairish bald man Hank Paulson is officially hot. Just yesterday we were still thinking the Treasury Secretary and Most Important Man in America Right Now looked creepy and mechanical compared to his furry little Fed Chief partner in congressional rage collection. Then suddenly today our very own commenters are telling us that no, actually, he is hot. As with all the really significant developments in this market collapse, Daily Intel started this trend when they posted a shirtless photo of Hank circa 1973. But look, he got the job done. Unless Republicans succeed in botching the plan he will save Wall Street. Very fast. So who is this guy?Judging from the recent Fortune profile we went back and read, he is exactly the type of dude we'd never see ourselves getting involved with, which maybe gives you some insight into how he has stayed married for 39 years. A non-ideological mild-mannered Republican pragmatist who likes to work out, he's depicted as a consummate optimist. Oh yeah and he doesn't drink. "Slow to grasp the seriousness of the credit crunch." And there's this scary quote that is so scary because he sounds like he thinks he is expressing some serious conviction:
We're not even officially in a recession, and already the culture czars over at New York have dubbed the economic crisis precipitated by our financial system's collapse The Greatest Depression! Such hyperbole, I know! So what makes the tag feel so goddamn right? Other than the fact that I think it is really great I don't have to write about subprime celebrities anymore? I found five things that are basically all the same thing and formed a little listicle!1. Because money is overrated! We know this. We know it so well. And just to prove it we pay billions of dollars to science to prove it to us, year after year after year. And yet. As a society we totally live and die (no not really, we just act like we live and die!) by the tiny nuances of the trajectory of the aggregate of all the flows of all that money, as if it Really Totally Matters. We do this, obviously, because we're obsessed with making comparisons - am I at least doing as well as last year? Am I really smarter than his last girlfriend? Shouldn't I buy a house now that all my friends are doing it? - because it is just so much easier than the Is This Bringing Me Joy question that seems so totally sappy and sentimental we find it to be a hilarious joke when some little Third World country like Bhutan pragmatically invents a Gross National Happiness Index because no one actually thought of that first. But as the Times reminds us today:
Magically the Senate approves the bailout package first, according to CNN.The latest is that McCain wants to postpone the debate until October 2. If Obama doesn't agree, he can debate some panel of undecided voters or whatever, McCain won't be there. An inspiring display of diplomacy, this one. Still mad about Obama snubbing his ethics reform ideas, I guess! Oh well, I have been watching these hearings for the past two days and the rest of Congress has been doing a pretty good job questioning spooky-looking Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson without angry angry John McCain. My favorite was this guy, because of his accent obviously but also because he seemed somehow emblematic of the shifting tide of public opinon. Walter B. Jones was elected to Congress in eastern North Carolina as a Democrat in 1983 but switched to the Republican party in 1994. He gladly voted to authorize the war in 2003 but now says that was a mistake. He's a convert to Catholicism and a supporter of raising the minimum wage and most recently an endorser of Crazy Ron Paul. (Paul's debate with Bernanke over the causes of the Great Depression: also a highlight.) Anyway, Jones sounded like he was on the verge of tears the whole time! And he had harsh words for the bailout concept, but managed to seem so goddamn genteel while saying them! I felt like I was watching a movie sort of. Except I know the end will be depressing!