Opinion

Ben Walsh

from Felix Salmon:

Counterparties — Richie Havens: Here Comes the Sunlight

Ben Walsh
Apr 4, 2013 22:22 UTC

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The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has quantified the size of the offshore tax haven bubble, and is doing its darndest to burst it.

The group, led by Gerard Ryle, and working with 38 media outlets, has amassed 2.5 million documents containing details of more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts, as well as the identities of almost 130,000 individuals.

The documents implicate a wide-ranging and sleazy set of the global elite: politicians, despots, and their aides and associates; the oldest daughter of former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos; a wealthy Spanish art collector; arms dealers. Also mentioned is Denise Rich, the wife of the controversially pardoned oil-trader Marc Rich.

Der Speigel writes that the details in the documents go back nearly 30 years. The 200 gigabyte leak, the German paper writes, is 160 times larger than the cables released by Wikileaks in 2010. Gawker has a good run-down of the important details that have been released so far.

from Felix Salmon:

Counterparties: The most profitable insurer in America

Ben Walsh
Apr 2, 2013 22:41 UTC

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If you’re looking for evidence of just how far the housing market has come since its implosion triggered the financial crisis, consider Fannie Mae. The housing giant seized by US government five years ago reported a record profit of $17 billion for 2012, after a roughly equal loss in 2011. It’s Fannie’s first annual profit since 2006; as  Clea Benson notes, the profit eclipsed that of companies like Wal-Mart, GE and Berkshire Hathaway.

Drilling down into Fannie’s filing gives you a snapshot of the American housing market. The company set aside less to cover future losses on loans it guaranteed ($62 billion, compared to $76 billion in 2011); suffered lower delinquency rates; had higher loan volume and higher fees; and saw the value of its derivatives positions improve. Bill McBride at Calculated Risk pulls out another bright spot: Fannie says that there was a “4.7% increase in home prices in 2012 compared with a home price decline of 3.7% in 2011.”

from Felix Salmon:

Counterparties: Hoard of directors

Ben Walsh
Apr 1, 2013 21:32 UTC

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Of the 27 million Americans working part-time jobs, very few land positions that pay $488,709. That’s the average annual pay for a director at Goldman Sachs, Susanne Craig writes:

Some of the firm’s 13 directors make more than $500,000 because they have extra responsibilities... Goldman’s board is the best compensated of any big American bank and the fifth-highest paid of any company in the country... Some of its rivals are not that far behind. The nation’s biggest banks paid their directors over $95,000 a year more on average in 2011 than what other large corporations paid.

from Felix Salmon:

Counterparties: Why the young are falling behind

Ben Walsh
Mar 20, 2013 22:08 UTC

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Things are better, but they’re also still bad. That’s the shorter version of the Fed’s view of the job market: “Labor market conditions have shown signs of improvement in recent months but the unemployment rate remains elevated”.

The economy may be puttering steadily along, but young people are falling behind. Annie Lowrey reports that younger workers are doing worse than one particularly personal gauge of success -- their parents. A study by the Urban Institute finds that Americans under 40 have accumulated less wealth than their parents at the same age. As Lowrey points out, “because wealth compounds over long periods of time”, that puts young people at a distinct long-term disadvantage, and also lowers economic expectations. The usual culprits -- stagnant wages, the financial crisis, student debt -- are to blame. Surveys from Pew and Gallup also highlight the damage the current economy has inflicted on the young.

from Felix Salmon:

Counterparties: No hope for change

Ben Walsh
Mar 19, 2013 21:06 UTC

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“Mistakes were made”, Ina Drew said last week, somehow managing to both accept and reject responsibility for JP Morgan’s $6.2 billion trading loss. But reading the Senate’s exhaustive report on the London Whale, Jesse Eisinger doesn't think lessons were learned. Despite repeated assurances to the contrary, he argues, things haven’t changed since the financial crisis:

Bankers aren't acting cautious and chastened. Risk managers aren't in the ascendance on Wall Street. Regulators remain their duped and docile selves.

from Felix Salmon:

Counterparties: Ina the belly of the whale

Ben Walsh
Mar 15, 2013 21:56 UTC

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Last night, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released its 307-page report (plus a 598-page appendix) on JP Morgan’s disastrous London Whale trades. The report comes 11 months after trades were first reported, and, as DealBook notes, it details how JP Morgan “ignored internal controls and manipulated documents”, all while withholding information from regulators.

FT Alphaville’s Cardiff Garcia pulls some of the most damning excerpts. For instance, the report says that JP Morgan’s assertion that they had been fully transparent with regulators had “no basis in fact”. Or take then-CFO Douglas Braunstein’s comments on an earnings call that the CIO’s trades were a hedge against rising rates. On page 283, the report says that “none of the scenarios that Mr. Braunstein himself said he relied on indicated that the book functioned as a hedge”. Matt Philips writes that JP Morgan has lost that battle: "JP Morgan now freely admits—including Braunstein under oath this afternoon—that the CIO’s problematic position didn’t act as a hedge" and that the Senate report calls them out as proprietary trades.

from Felix Salmon:

Counterparties: Retiring the 401(k)

Ben Walsh
Mar 13, 2013 21:19 UTC

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The first generation of 401(k) holders is retiring. Duncan Black, in USA Today, reports just how bad things are looking:

According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, the median household retirement account balance in 2010 for workers between the ages of 55-64 was just $120,000. For people expecting to retire at around age 65, and to live for another 15 years or more, this will provide for only a trivial supplement to Social Security benefits... And that's for people who actually have a retirement account of some kind. A third of households do not.

Disrupting the market for helping people lose money

Ben Walsh
Mar 12, 2013 22:26 UTC

Investors tend to lose money in boring, but effective, ways. Motif Investing (“turn any idea into a motif”) promises to disrupt this predictable pattern by helping people lose their money in new and exciting ways. Motif’s CEO proudly describes the company as like the iPhone, but for investing, with the ease of shopping on Amazon. The fact that that description makes no sense at all does not make it any less terrifying. It wasn’t hard to predict that Twitter mockery would (rightfully) ensue.

Here’s PandoDaily’s Michael Carney trying to describe what Motif actually does:

Since launching in 2010, the company has offered its own motif based investment ideas and allowed regular Joes and Janes to view data on the performance of these ideas, and then make actual investments. Consider it one part E*TRADE-esque online brokerage, one part think tank, one part tech startup.

from Felix Salmon:

Counterparties: Krugman-Sachs

Ben Walsh
Mar 11, 2013 22:29 UTC

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Fresh off debating the deficit with Joe Scarborough on Charlie Rose, Paul Krugman is now tangling with fellow lefty economist Jeffrey Sachs. At issue is the government’s post-crisis stimulus spending, and the basic tenets of Keynesianism. Or at least that’s what Sachs would have you believe.

Sachs and Scarborough co-authored a Washington Post op-ed titled “Deficits Do Matter”, accusing Krugman of a crude interpretation of Keynes. Specifically, they say that short-term stimulus spending hasn’t achieved increased growth. (Krugman, by contrast, has long called the stimulus too small.) Sachs and Scarborough warn that things will only get worse as the US population ages, and healthcare costs increase. Keynes wouldn’t have approved, they say:

from Felix Salmon:

Counterparties: (NO) VACANCIES

Ben Walsh
Mar 7, 2013 23:18 UTC

Welcome to the Counterparties email. The sign-up page is here, it’s just a matter of checking a box if you’re already registered on the Reuters website. Send suggestions, story tips and complaints toCounterparties.Reuters@gmail.com.

Who controls how hard is it to get a job in America? The next few jobs reports, including tomorrow’s, Mohamed El-Erian says, will give us some insight into the answer to that question. If the Federal Reserve is effectively in charge, rolling “out one untested measure after the other”, that could help create new jobs. But if our dysfunctional, austerity-inducing Congress has the upper hand, expect job growth to sputter out. Neil Irwin sees things similarly, although he identifies a booming housing market, a rising stock market, and deleveraging consumers as the key forces pulling the American economy forward.

There may be, however, a simpler way to give the economy a shot in the arm: hiring the unemployed to fill vacant jobs. Sounds sensible, right? Here’s Catherine Rampell:

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