DealZone

from Global Investing:

Do southern Europeans know something?

Slightly strange data from Deutsche Börse. Its latest survey of what top European executives have been doing shows increasing signs of optimism.  That is, management board and supervisory board members and their families have been buying shares in their own companies.

All well and good. But the strangeness kicks in when it becomes apparent that a lot of this buying has been done by the top people in the south.  Of 10 companies listed for the largest insider buying, seven were from southern Europe. Of the top sells,  seven were from more northern climes.

Deutsche Börse notes this -- "After Spain posted high purchase volumes last month (January), Italy has now awakened from hibernation" -- but gives no particular guidance.

There are plenty of reasons when top executives by and sell their firms, some due to M&A or simply personal need. But overall the Deutsche Börse report does point to a  more confident managerium. The February insider buy-sell ratio was 1.29, the highest since January 2009 just before  the global stock market rally took off.

from Summit Notebook:

Tax evaders on the run

  By Neil Chatterjee
    The U.S. has promised it will hunt down tax evaders.
    And it seems tax evaders are on the run.
    DBS bank, based in the growing offshore financial centre of
Singapore, told Reuters it had been approached by U.S. citizens
asking for its private banking services. But when told they would
have to sign U.S. tax declaration forms, the potential clients
disappeared.  
    Swiss banks also approached DBS on the hope they could
offload troublesome U.S. clients to a location that so far has
not been reached by the strong arms of Washington or Brussels.
    DBS said no thanks. In fact many private banks and boutique
advisors now seem to be avoiding U.S. clients.
    Will this spread to other nationalities, as governments
invest in tax spies and tax havens invest in white paint?
    Is this the end of offshore private private banking?

High-frequency trading: useless and manipulative?

Floor tradersThe explosion of interest in high-frequency trading has started to drag new faces to sometimes staid industry conferences. Traders who for years worked on algorithms and computer codes behind the scenes are stepping into the spotlight. They’re appearing on more and more panel discussions, feeling the need to defend their practice against the slings and arrows of politicians and regulators.

So far, they’ve managed to mix exasperation with good humor. The head of one high-frequency trading shop, speaking on a panel this week, said that if you believe everything you read in newspapers you might think the practice is “an unfair, highly profitable and socially useless trading strategy implemented by highly secretive and unregulated traders using superfast computers to compete with retail investors, manipulate markets and front run flash orders causing volatility in the financial markets and creating systemic risk.”

He argued that a more accurate definition of high-frequency trading would be, “a wide variety of highly competitive, low margin trading strategies implemented by professional market intermediaries who have invested heavily in technology that have the effect of making the markets more efficient by enhancing liquidity and transparent price discovery to the benefit of investors.”

Grisham says real-life swindlers outdo his fiction

(Reporting by Ned Barnett in Chapel Hill, N.C.)

Author John Grisham, master of the legal thriller, says the real-life fraud scandals involving Bernard Madoff and Allen Stanford trump even the gripping fiction of his novels.

He says he is fascinated by the accusations of multibillion dollar Ponzi schemes, involving tangled webs of companies and offshore banks, which have put Wall Street financier Madoff in jail for 150 years and are also leveled against Texas billionaire and sports entrepreneur Stanford.

Madoff pleaded guilty in March to a $65 billion fraud and was jailed in June, while Stanford has pleaded not guilty to charges that he bilked investors in a $7 billion swindle.

from Commentaries:

Moulton’s parting shot at Alchemy

Jon Moulton Reuters file photoReal Business is running a copy of what it says is Jon Moulton's resignation letter from Alchemy.

It is full of wonderful nuggets about the private equity boutique he set up in 1997 and gives insight into a wider malaise in financial services.  Moulton is not saying if the letter -- which is addressed to investors -- is authentic.

The letter's parting words capture the tone: "I would do it again - but better".

(Photo: Reuters file photo)

Lazard CEO: M&A rebound still in the distance

Bruce Wasserstein

Those anticipating a quick return to the heyday of mergers & acquisitions may have a wait a little while longer. 

Lazard CEO Bruce Wasserstein told investors in a conference call that it would be four years before traditional M&A activity picks back up to earlier highs. 

“We are planning for a gradual increase in traditional M&A activity, reaching the prior period highs in about four years,” Wasserstein said.

First Reserve’s deal war-chest expands

oilFirst Reserve is sitting on another $9 billion of spending money for energy deals after finishing raising its latest buyout fund, Fund XII. The private equity giant, which specialises in energy investments, said the fund is the largest ever raised in the energy sector and exceeds its previous fund, Fund XI, which raised $7.8 billion in 2006. 

The fund appears to be lower than target, however. London-based private equity intelligence firm Preqin said in a recent report that the fund had a $12 billion target.

“Energy remains a large, dynamic and complex industry where change creates new, attractive investment opportunities,” said William Macaulay, Chief Executive Officer of First Reserve in the press release (below).

from Funds Hub:

Returns and Reckonings

 

It may be the awakening we all experience in the spring, but this month two different class actions against previous financial giants were started by a bunch of pension schemes. In both cases a small group of such previously semi-obscure institutions have de facto come under the spot light for suing companies-- and their executives-- which they say have been less than straight about their financial shape and lost them millions.

 

rtxbi7hEarlier this week five schemes, including Europe's second largest one, clubbed to become lead plaintiff in a class action over about $274 million losses incurred since Bank of America took over Merrill Lynch.

 

Earlier this month two public pension schemes in the UK, Merseyside and North Yorkshire, started a class action against Royal Bank of Scotland and former chief executive Fred Goodwin. The legal firm working on the case, Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins, hired Cherie Blair. One of its lawyers even told Reuters: "Never underestimate Cherie Blair," leaving a faint promise for fire works.

Distressed investors say TGIF

Roman Catholics have fish Fridays. Boxing fans have Friday Night Fights. For distressed investors, like Jon Winick, president of Clark Street Capital, there’s Friday night Failure. 
 
“You can count on Friday failures for the next six to twelve months,” Winick said at a distressed investing conference in New York this week. He forecasts bank failures to rise to 200 through next year.
 
There have been 14 bank failures so far this year, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, with filings every Friday since Jan. 16 after the year end and New Year’s Day holidays.
    
The FDIC seized 25 banks last year. In just the first seven weeks of 2009, the 14 bank failures mean the FDIC is on pace to close more than 100 banks in 2009.
     
Distressed investors say they are expecting a record wave of bankruptcies this year, marking unprecedented opportunity for investors and a feeding frenzy on Fridays. The filings on Fridays are procedural, as the FDIC posts the failures at the end of the week. That allows the declaring bank to give regulators the weekend to sort things out, and it prevents a big run on the bank because branches are closed.
 
Brad Hunter, national director of consulting at Metrostudy, a housing industry research firm, thinks things are just getting started. He said bank takeovers ultimately could exceed 1,000. 
 
“Option ARM loans are coming due, and that will trigger another wave of foreclosure,” he said.

from Funds Hub:

Saving Hendry? Thanks but no thanks, says Hugh

rtr1z9ud1It was always unlikely that a letter of advice was going to change the mind of maverick hedge fund manager Hugh Hendry.

 

And in his latest letter to investors, Hendry has smartly rebuffed any attempt to 'save' him from his bond investments.

 

The letter in question -- Gregor.us's monthly note, entitled "Saving Hugh Hendry" -- praises the Eclectica co-founder and CIO as a "brilliant and colourful" hedge fund manager who saw the coming storm and took cover well in advance.