DealZone

The afternoon deal: Regulation overdrive

New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo arrives at a news conference in New York, February 24, 2010.     REUTERS/Brendan McDermid It’s been a busy day on the regulatory front. The New York Attorney General’s office is investigating eight banks for possibly misleading ratings agencies on the quality of mortgage securities, a source says. The Fed is conducting a broad criminal investigation into whether major Wall Street financial firms misled investors on mortgage bond deals, another source says.

Adding to the mix:
–the Senate voted to impose tighter regulations on credit-rating agencies.
–Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is concerned about a Senate proposal that could force banks to spin off their swaps business
–the White House and two state attorneys general said they don’t like an amendment to the Wall Steet reform bill that would give the federal government more power than states to regulate banks

From the Web:

Goldman, BofA, Citigroup….Did Prosecutors Leave Anybody Out - WSJ
“It’s Thursday, and one thing is clear from this morning’s headlines: Pretty much all of Wall Street is under investigation.”

Analysts Not Sweating Probe Of Morgan Stanley – WSJ
“They’re surely no worse than others, and maybe they’ll even come out ahead.”

Reduced competition juices banks’ trading records - Reuters
“Four major banks generated trading profits every day in the first quarter, an almost unheard of event that signals how competition has abated since the financial crisis began.”

Goldman builds exposure to China insurance market

Having taken a nibble at the Chinese insurance market in December, helping number three life insurer China Pacific Insurance list a $3.1 billion IPO in Hong Kong in December, Goldman Sachs is taking a bigger bite at that most promising and enticing of global investments, China’s financial products industry.

Sources tell us that an investing arm of Goldman is in the final stages of an agreement to buy AXA’s $1.05 billion stake in Taikang Life, China’s No.4 life insurer. The deal would allow France’s AXA to shed a non-core asset, while granting Goldman a piece of China’s growing insurance industry, report George Chen and Michael Flaherty.

Several private equity firms, including Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co and Blackstone Group, competed in the Taikang auction, as did Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, sources have told them.

from MediaFile:

Anyway you look at it, it’s still “shitty”

"Shitty" is such an under-used word on TV and in the stately halls of Capitol Hill, except today as senators – especially Carl Levin --  grilled Goldman Sachs executives on their role in the sub-prime mortgage meltdown. "Shitty" and its second cousin "crappy" are flying all over the place thanks to an e-mail in which Goldman Sachs employees used the phrase “shitty deal.”

This presented a dilemma for news organizations, many of which have been live blogging the hearing. Let’s check in and see how shitty goes down in the various style guides.  (It  goes without saying, shitty is acceptable over here.)

At The Washington Post, Frank Ahrens refrains from using the word straight out and instead goes with the demure “s****y deal.”  But, way down in the tags,  someone thinks the style is stuffy and manages to sneak in the full monty.

DealZone Daily

Prudential shares rise — modestly — after UK newspaper reports that its largest shareholder — Capital Group – is working on a plan to split the group up. The U.S. investor is not happy with Pru’s planned $35.5 billion acquisition of AIA, the Asian life insurer. It is working with Clive Cowdery’s acquisition vehicle Resolution, insurer Aviva and a third, unknown group, the reports say. An unlikely scenario? Perhaps, but it does show some serious discontent among shareholders.

HSBC has denied talk in the market that it may renew its bid for a $3.9 billion stake in Korea Exchange Bank. When asked whether the bank was bidding for LoneStar’s KEB, the bank’s Chief Executive Michael Geoghegan said: “No, we are not”. Right, that’s settled then.

Deutsche lends credibility to its ambitious targets with quarterly earnings that beat forecasts. The earnings benefit from strong results in debt trading — and the absence of markdowns in areas such as leveraged loans. More on investment banking later, when Goldman Sachs appears before the U.S. Senate.

DealZone Daily

The world’s largest credit and debit card processor Visa is to pay some $2 billion for CyberSource, a company that helps retailers take online payments, including from mobile phones. Analysts estimate Visa already has 45 percent of the online market and the deal will only serve to boost the company’s position further.

The U.S.’s largest mall owner Simon Property Group has sent a revised recapitalization plan to rival General Growth Properties, which would see new investors, including Oak Hill Advisers, RREEF, ING Clarion Real Estate Securities and Taconic Capital, inject a further $1.1 billion into the business. Simon has already offered to invest $2.5 billion for about a quarter of its rival, while  Paulson & Co — the U.S. hedge fund that bet against Goldman Sachs Abacus mortgage product — injecting a further $1 billion.

Film moguls Bob and Harvey Weinstein and backer Ron Burkle could reach a deal for Walt Disney’s Miramax Films within days, despite a rift between the Weinsteins and one of their minority shareholders Mark Cuban.

Goldman charges give rivals new weapon

Shark tankIn the cut-throat world of investment banking, rivals are looking for ways to use the fraud charges against Goldman Sachs to chip away at the firm’s armor.

Investment bankers have been lobbying executives at state-owned Agricultural Bank of China and pushing officials in Beijing to drop Goldman as an underwriter for the more than $20 billion IPO the Chinese bank is preparing, sources told Reuters.

Rivals are also asking officials at state-controlled Bank of Communications to ditch Goldman from its joint global coordinator role in the $6.1 billion rights issue that China’s fifth-largest bank is planning for the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

DealZone Daily

Rather predictably,  the probe into Goldman Sachs overshadowed the group’s first quarter results on Monday. Somewhat less predictably, Goldman’s rivals have been using the furore to elbow in front of the leading Wall Street bank. As an example, rival investment bankers have been lobbying authorities in China to drop Goldman as an underwriter for the more than $20 billion IPO of state-owned Agricultural Bank of China.

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) is preparing to bid for Lone Star’s $4bln controlling stake in Korea Exchange Bank, the nation’s sixth largest lender. The news of the arrival of unexpected contender for the U.S. private equity firm’s stake helped send shares in the bank 3 percent higher.

For more Reuters’ deals news, click here.

In other media:

Google is in talks to buy travel software manufacturer ITA Software Inc, Bloomberg reported. A deal could value ITA, whose programs are used by Orbitz Worldwide and Microsoft, as about $1 billion.

Goldman doesn’t need to be guilty, just smelly

If Goldman’s business starts suffering from the stain of the SEC’s lawsuit after a stellar quarter of earnings, the investment bank’s role in the rehabilitation of the financial sector could look more like a quadruple bypass at the heart of the matter.

Goldman’s stunningly hot earnings are nothing new. The company routinely throttles forecasts. So it almost didn’t matter how much money they earned. Think about that for a second. The nation’s most celebrated money maker getting no love from investors for making more money than it was expecting. What else is it supposed to do? Or, more importantly, are investors finally beginning to begrudge Goldman Sachs its success? If clients start to become fearful about doing business with the bank because of the lawsuit, its earnings-generating power will take a hit.

In fact, the smell test in this case could ultimately prove to be more important than the legal one. If the perception of unethical behavior at Goldman helps the Obama administration pass more stringent financial reform, then the SEC’s action will have been a bigger boon than any fine or penalty the bank might be made to pay down the long legal road ahead.

DealZone Daily

Australia’s competition watchdog blocked National Australia Bank’s $13 billion agreed deal for wealth manager Axa Asia Pacific Holdings, opening the door for rival bidder AMP to make a comeback. Australia’s competition regulator defied expectations it would give conditional approval for a deal, instead issuing a flat rejection on the grounds a tie-up would hurt competition for retail investors.

British train and bus operator Arriva said it is in advanced talks with Deutsche Bahn about the German state rail company’s 775 pence a share bid, valuing the company at 2.7 billion euros including debt.

European consumer goods group Unilever will kick off the sale of its frozen food arm Findus next week, expecting to draw bids from private equity groups including Permira, Lion Capital and BC Partners.

Goldman’s road to Wellsness

Most free marketers are happy to overlook a certain amount of outsmartiness from investment banks. After all, these are the rocket scientists who made mountains of cash by piling multiple levels of risk on dodgy investments and calling them hedges. Sure, such alchemy blew up in many a face, but the logic behind the free market does have a role to play here. Shorting synthetic CDOs would have ultimately helped force the market to recognize how much hot air was behind the subprime-fueled boom. But by not disclosing a mechanism built to fail — the Abacus CDO in question — Goldman Sachs may have taken too deep a bite out of the hand that feeds it.

When companies are being investigated by the SEC, they get a Wells Notice. They usually tell the markets when they get one. It’s a disclosure thing — you need to be upfront with the market about information that could be material to your results. There is no crime in not telling markets that you’ve received a Wells Notice, so long as the information is not material. But Goldman’s share price is tumbling, and even if it wins its battle with the SEC, Goldman could face angry shareholder charges for not revealing much sooner that it faced potential civil liability.

In those corners of the markets so consumed with conspiracy theory, it’s hard not to notice how close the timing of the charges comes to the debate on Capitol Hill about financial regulatory reform. On CNBC this morning, Democratic Senator Barney Frank dissed the idea of a conspiracy, as he would have been expected to do, but he admitted that the timing of the Goldman explosion helps Democrats’ chances of getting legislation through Congress.