Opinion

Ben Walsh

from Felix Salmon:

Counterparties: Bits of laundry

Ben Walsh
May 29, 2013 21:21 UTC

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Even criminals need financial intermediaries. Yesterday federal prosecutors shut down Liberty Reserve, a currency exchange and payment processor, and indicted seven people connected to the company. The indictment called the company a “financial hub of the cybercrime world... including credit card fraud, identity theft, investment fraud, computer hacking, child pornography, and narcotics trafficking”, and alleges it laundered $6 billion via 55 million illegal transactions for one million users over the last seven years.

The Tico Times has a detailed article on the history of the Costa Rica-based business, not to mention “flashy cars, lavish gifts, multiple identities and armed Russian henchmen”.

The criminal attraction to Liberty Reserve is obvious. An email address was all that was needed to to set up an account -- some accounts had oh-so subtle names like “Russian Hackers” -- and paper trails were nonexistent. The principals seemed aware of who used their services: in an IM conversation, they referred to the company as a “money laundering operation that hackers use”.

Speaking of things hackers like that can be used to launder money, what does Liberty Reserve’s indictment mean for Bitcoin? Kevin Roose says that while both Liberty Reserve and Bitcoin offer users anonymity, “in Bitcoin's case, there's nobody to arrest, no entity to prosecute for the sins of the system ”. Bitcoin is vulnerable, Roose notes, to enforcement that targets the exchanges and processors which the currency relies on to function. Timothy Lee thinks that any attempt to shut down, or even regulate, Bitcoin would only drive the currency further underground (assuming that’s possible), making it all the more attractive to criminals.

from Felix Salmon:

Counterparties: Europe’s longest recession

Ben Walsh
May 15, 2013 22:37 UTC

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Europe is in the midst of its longest recession since it began keeping records in 1995 -- even surpassing the calamity that hit the region in the financial crisis of 2008-2009. While the German economy grew 0.1% from the fourth quarter of 2012 to the first quarter of this year, just about everyone else in the eurozone is shrinking.

France’s economy shrank 0.2% quarter on quarter, and is now officially back in recession after just one quarter of positive growth. It’s not alone: Cyprus, Finland, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain are all in recession right now. And while the UK managed to just barely avoid a triple-dip recession by growing 0.3% in the first quarter, its economy is still 2.6% smaller than it was 5 years ago.

from Felix Salmon:

Counterparites: Split personalities

Ben Walsh
May 6, 2013 22:11 UTC

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Institutional Shareholder Services’ message is clear: no one man should have all that power.

More specifically, ISS has declared Jamie Dimon shouldn’t be JP Morgan’s chairman and CEO. The firm, which advises shareholders on corporate voting, is also recommending that its clients not support the reelection of three of the bank's directors. Each of those directors -- David Cote, James Crown and Ellen Futter -- sits on the bank’s risk committee. The proposal to split the roles of chairman and CEO is non-binding; the re-election of board members is binding. It’s unclear whether either measure will pass.

from Felix Salmon:

Counterparties: Masters of overcharging

Ben Walsh
May 3, 2013 21:25 UTC

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JP Morgan may be going back to banking basics. Instead of losing billions in arcane, illiquid credit instruments, the bank’s latest scandal is a classic: overcharging unwitting customers.

Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Ben Protess report that JP Morgan is in some very hot water with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). According to an agency memo, the bank turned “money-losing power plants into powerful profit centers”.

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