Wednesday, December 19, 2012
The U.S. Dept. of Treasury announced that, as part of its continuing efforts to wind down its investments in the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), it intends to fully exit its investment in General Motors (GM) within the next 12-15 months, subject to market conditions.
Treasury currently holds 500.1 million shares of GM common stock. It intends to exit that investment through the following means:
•GM will purchase 200 million shares of GM common stock from Treasury at $27.50 per share. This transaction is expected to close by the end of the year. (GM also issued a press release to this effect.)
Treasury intends to sell its other remaining 300.1 million shares through various means in an orderly fashion within the next 12-15 months, subject to market conditions. Treasury intends to begin its disposition of those 300.1 million common shares as soon as January 2013 pursuant to a pre-arranged written trading plan.
The U.S. Dept of Justice announced criminal charges against UBS Securities Japan for scheming to manipulate the LIBOR rate. The company has agreed to plead guilty, admit to criminal conduct and pay a $100 million fine. The parent company, UBS AG, agreed to pay a $400 million penalty, admit and accept responsibility for its misconduct, and continue cooperating with the DOJ. In all, UBS will pay about $1.5 billion in criminal and regulatory penalties and disgorgement. In addition, the government announced that two former UBS traders have been charged with conspiracy. As described by Assistant AG Lanny Breuer:
The bank’s conduct was simply astonishing. Hundreds of trillions of dollars in mortgages, student loans, credit card debt, financial derivatives, and other financial products worldwide are tied to LIBOR, which serves as the premier benchmark for short-term interest rates. In short, the global marketplace depends upon an accurate LIBOR. Yet UBS, like Barclays before it, sought repeatedly to fix LIBOR for its own ends – in this case, so UBS traders could maximize profit on their trading positions, and so the bank wouldn’t appear vulnerable to the public during the financial crisis.
In addition to UBS Japan’s agreement to plead guilty, two former UBS traders – Tom Alexander William Hayes and Roger Darin – have been charged, in a criminal complaint unsealed today, with conspiracy to manipulate LIBOR. Hayes has also been charged with wire fraud and an antitrust violation. There was nothing subtle about these traders’ alleged conduct. In one instance, according to the complaint, Hayes explained to a junior rate submitter that he and Darin “generally coordinate” and “skew the libors a bit.” In another instance, according to the complaint, Hayes told a trader at another bank that, “3m libor is too high cause i have kept it artificially high.”
The scope of the misconduct admitted to by UBS AG and UBS Japan is far-reaching. For years, traders at UBS sought to manipulate the bank’s LIBOR submissions for their own profit. The traders had positions in interest rate swaps that depended on UBS’s LIBOR submissions. And, on numerous occasions, they caused UBS to make LIBOR submissions that directly benefited their own trading books. UBS’s manipulation was extensive, and covered several currencies and interest rates.
Make no mistake: for UBS traders, the manipulation of LIBOR was about getting rich. As one broker told a UBS derivatives trader, according to the statement of facts appended to our agreement with the bank, “mate yur getting bloody good at this libor game . . . think of me when yur on yur yacht in monaco wont yu.”
The CFTC also issued a press release.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
The GAO released another report on Dodd-Frank rule making and cost benefit analysis, Agencies' Efforts to Analyze and Coordinate Their Rules (GAO-13-101, Dec 18, 2012). Here is a summary:
Federal agencies conducted the regulatory analyses required by various federal statutes for all 54 regulations issued pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act) that GAO reviewed. As part of their analyses, the agencies generally considered, but typically did not quantify or monetize, the benefits and costs of these rules. Most of the federal financial regulators, as independent regulatory agencies, are not subject to executive orders that require comprehensive benefit-cost analysis in accordance with guidance issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Although most financial regulators are not required to follow OMB's guidance, they told GAO that they attempt to follow it in principle or spirit. GAO's review of selected rules found that regulators did not consistently follow key elements of the OMB guidance in their regulatory analyses. For example, while some regulators identified the benefits and costs of their chosen regulatory approach in proposed rules, they did not evaluate their chosen approach compared to the benefits and costs of alternative approaches. GAO previously recommended that regulators more fully incorporate the OMB guidance into their rulemaking policies, and the Office of Comptroller of the Currency and the Securities and Exchange Commission have done so. By not more closely following OMB's guidance, other financial regulators continue to miss an opportunity to improve their analyses.
Federal financial agencies continue to coordinate on rulemakings informally in order to reduce duplication and overlap in regulations and for other purposes, but interagency coordination does not necessarily eliminate the potential for differences in related rules. Agencies coordinated on 19 of the 54 substantive regulations that GAO reviewed. For most of the 19 regulations, the Dodd-Frank Act required the agencies to coordinate, but agencies also voluntarily coordinated with other U.S. and international regulators on some of their rulemakings. According to the regulators, most interagency coordination is informal and conducted at the staff level. GAO's review of selected rules shows that differences between related rules may remain even when coordination occurs. According to regulators, such differences may result from differences in their jurisdictions or the markets. Finally, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) has not yet implemented GAO's previous recommendation to work with regulators to establish formal interagency coordination policies.
Most Dodd-Frank Act regulations have not been finalized or in place for sufficient time for their full impacts to materialize. Recognizing these and other limitations, GAO took a multipronged approach to assess the impact of some of the act's provisions and rules, with an initial focus on the act's systemic risk goals. First, GAO developed indicators to monitor changes in certain characteristics of U.S. bank holding companies subject to enhanced prudential regulation under the Dodd-Frank Act (U.S. bank SIFIs). Although the indicators do not identify causal links between their changes and the act--and many other factors can affect SIFIs--some indicators suggest that since 2010 U.S. bank SIFIs, on average, have decreased their leverage and enhanced their liquidity. Second, empirical results of GAO's regression analysis suggest that, to date, the act may have had little effect on U.S. bank SIFIs' funding costs but may have helped improve their safety and soundness. GAO plans to update its analyses in future reports, including adding indicators for other Dodd-Frank Act provisions and regulations.
The SEC charged Biremis, a Toronto-based brokerage firm, and its top two executives for failing to supervise overseas day traders who used the firm’s order management system to engage repeatedly in a manipulative trading practice known as layering. In layering, a trader places orders with no intention of having them executed but rather to trick others into buying or selling a stock at an artificial price driven by the orders, which the trader later cancels.
The SEC’s investigation found that Biremis – whose worldwide day trading business enabled up to 5,000 traders on as many 200 trading floors in 30 countries to gain access to U.S. markets – failed to address repeated instances of layering by many of the overseas day traders using its system. The firm’s co-founders Peter Beck and Charles Kim ignored repeated red flags indicating that overseas traders were engaging in layering manipulations. Biremis served as the broker-dealer for an affiliated Canadian day trading firm, Swift Trade Inc.
Biremis and the two executives agreed to a settlement in which the firm’s registration as a U.S. broker-dealer is revoked and permanent industry bars are imposed on Beck and Kim, who also will pay a combined half-million dollars to settle the SEC’s charges.
According to the SEC’s order instituting settled administrative proceedings, Biremis, Beck, and Kim exercised substantial control over the overseas day traders. They backed the traders’ trading with capital from Biremis, determined the amount of Biremis capital available to each individual trader to purchase stocks, and set and enforced daily loss limits on each trader. They also wielded authority to reprimand, restrict, suspend, or terminate traders.
The SEC’s order found that many of the Biremis-affiliated overseas day traders engaged in repeated instances of layering from January 2007 to mid-2010. Beck and Kim learned from numerous sources – including three U.S. broker-dealers and a Biremis employee – that layering was occurring, yet they failed to take any steps to prevent it.
The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged TheStreet Inc., which operates the website TheStreet.com, and three executives for their roles in an accounting fraud that artificially inflated company revenues and misstated operating income to investors.
The SEC alleges that TheStreet Inc. filed false financial reports throughout 2008 by reporting revenue from fraudulent transactions at a subsidiary it had acquired the previous year. The co-presidents of the subsidiary – Gregg Alwine and David Barnett – entered into sham transactions with friendly counterparties that had little or no economic substance. They also fabricated and backdated contracts and other documents to facilitate the fraudulent accounting. Barnett is additionally charged with misleading TheStreet’s auditor to believe that the subsidiary had performed services to earn revenue on a specific transaction when in fact it did not perform the services. The SEC also alleges that TheStreet’s former chief financial officer Eric Ashman caused the company to report revenue before it had been earned.
The three executives agreed to pay financial penalties and accept officer-and-director bars to settle the SEC’s charges.
Monday, December 17, 2012
The SEC charged Germany-based insurance and asset management company Allianz SE with violating the books and records and internal controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for improper payments to government officials in Indonesia during a seven-year period. The SEC’s investigation uncovered 295 insurance contracts on large government projects that were obtained or retained by improper payments of $650,626 by Allianz’s subsidiary in Indonesia to employees of state-owned entities. Allianz made more than $5.3 million in profits as a result of the improper payments.
According to the SEC’s order instituting settled administrative proceedings against Allianz, the misconduct occurred from 2001 to 2008 while the company’s shares and bonds were registered with the SEC and traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
The SEC’s order found that Allianz violated the books and records and internal controls provisions of the FCPA, specifically Sections 13(b)(2)(A) and 13(b)(2)(B) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Without admitting or denying the findings, Allianz agreed to cease and desist from further violations and pay disgorgement of $5,315,649, prejudgment interest of $1,765,125, and a penalty of $5,315,649 for a total of $12,396,423.
The Massachusetts Securities Division sued LPL Financial on Dec. 12, 2012, charging it with improper sales of non-traded REITs. According to its complaint, the state received complaints from Massachusetts investors who invested in non-traded REITs, and upon investigation, found numerous violations of Massachusetts securities law, including (1) slales made in violation of specific state requirements, (2) sales made in violation of prospectus requirements, and (3) sales made in violation of LPL compliance practices. The state alleges that representatives sold over 4 million dollars of non-traded REITs in violation of the law and prospectus requirements.
The SEC charged Peter J. Eichler, Jr., and his firm Aletheia Research and Management, Inc. with conducting a "cherry-picking" scheme by steering winning trades to their own trading accounts and favored clients to the detriment of certain hedge fund investors. They are also charged with failing to disclose the firm's precarious financial condition to clients in a timely manner. According to the SEC, Eichler and his firm disproportionately allocated losing trades to the accounts of two hedge funds managed by the firm, resulting in monetary losses for those funds' investors. Meanwhile, they allocated winning trades to accounts owned by Eichler and Aletheia employees as well as accounts belonging to select clients.
According to the Commission's complaint filed in federal court in Los Angeles, Aletheia had more than $1.4 billion in assets under management and managed two hedge funds. By engaging in a cherry-picking scheme, Aletheia and Eichler violated the fiduciary duties they owed to their advisory clients. Aletheia failed to implement policies, procedures, or a code of ethics that could have prevented a cherry-picking scheme from occurring.
The Commission further alleges that Aletheia also breached its fiduciary duties and federal law when it did not disclose its financial troubles to clients until immediately before a bankruptcy filing. Aletheia was in a precarious financial condition in July 2012 after the state of California had filed a tax lien for more than $2 million against the firm for unpaid taxes and penalties. On Oct. 1, 2012, California suspended Aletheia's corporate status for non-payment. The firm filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on November 11.
The Commission's complaint seeks permanent injunctions, disgorgement of the defendants' ill-gotten gains plus pre-judgment interest, and penalties.