Unstructured Finance

Once-obese Goldman analyst becomes fitness evangelical, gym CEO

Wall Street is shrinking, but so are some of its bankers.

Eight years ago, Goldman Sachs Group’s Kishan Shah weighed 400 pounds and couldn’t find a suit that fit his 62” waist for a job interview. Now he’s 195 pounds, and he’s quitting Goldman to spread the gospel of healthy weight loss as chief executive of a chain of gyms for obese Americans.

“I made a vow that day to focus on diet and exercise, and I lost over 200 pounds – no surgeries, no fad diets, no trainers,” Shah said in a video chat this month with First Lady Michelle Obama.

Shah, who is 26 and works as an analyst in the Special Situations Group at Goldman Sachs, may not be representative of the typical bank employee who’s leaving.

Fearing that three will be fewer opportunities at banks in the future, many young workers are heading to hedge funds and private-equity firms, or else to the tech industry, where startups are itching to hire Wall Street ex-pats who can help manage their finances and operations. Senior bankers are heading to greener pastures, too. Just this week came news that two twin Goldman partners named Paul and Peter Scialla are quitting to run a home-design firm.

Shah will be taking on a leadership role at Downsize Fitness, a gym whose members must be at least 50 pounds overweight. Downsize now has two locations, in Dallas and Chicago, and is looking to expand, Shah said.

One more try at the Great Refi

By Matthew Goldstein

Don’t be surprised if President Obama includes a line or two in his State of Union address this evening about the need for a plan to allow millions of struggling homeowners whose mortgages are packaged into so-called private label mortgage-backed securities to get a chance to either refinance their loans or restructure them.

The Washington Post is reporting today that mortgage refinancing may be one of the laundry list of items Obama will talk about tonight. And for several months now, investors in private mortgage-securities–deals issued by Wall Street banks and financial firms and not guaranteed by Fannie or Freddie–have been quietly bracing for the Obama administration to move forward with a new refinancing effort.

Up until now, the federal government’s main attempts at trying to help homeowners take advantage of the Federal Reserve’s efforts to keep pushing interest rates to zero has been to prod banks and mortgage servicers to refinance home loans held in so-called agency debt guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie. But programs like HAMP and HARP have provided little relief to the millions of homeowners whose loans are held in private label securities.

Obama hearts El-Erian

By Sam Forgione and Matthew Goldstein

OK, so it’s not a big gig like being nominated to head the Treasury Dept. But President Obama’s decision to tap PIMCO’s Mohamed El-Erian to head the President’s Global Development Council is no insignificant matter.

As the co-chief investment officer of the giant bond shop founded by Bill Gross, El-Erian is seen as the eventual heir apparent to run the Newport Beach, Calif firm. And El-Erian increasingly has become one of PIMCO’s most visible faces—maybe even more than Gross himself these days–when it comes to talking about what ails the U.S. and global economies.

The assignment is another indication of PIMCO’s growing ties to the Washington establishment, something that has developed as the firm has grown to manage $1.92trillion in assets and played a starring role along with BlackRock in helping to manage some of the financial crisis rescue programs. (For more see the Special Report that Jenn Ablan led earlier this year on Gross and his empire, Twilight of the Bond King).

UF Weekend Reads

Two weeks of speechifying by the Dems and Reps has come to an end. Well not really–but the conventions are over. And for all the talk, there is one issue that got short-shrift–a solution to the nation’s still unfolding housing crisis.

Oh sure, there was talk about foreclosures and people struggling to pay the mortgages on their homes, but not a lot time for potential solutions.  And that’s unfortunate because as has been noted many times before, it’s going to be hard for the U.S. economy to take off as long as too many consumers are being crushed by mortgage debts they can barely afford.

Indeed, the disappointing August jobs report is a sober reminder of just how much work remains to get the economy humming again.  As we’ve said many times before on U,F it all still comes down to fixing housing, housing housing.

Hedge funds against Obama

By Jennifer Ablan and Matthew Goldstein

Class warfare has been the topic du jour this year and is likely to be a major theme of the 2012 election. In a speech two weeks ago, President Barack Obama blasted his Republican foes and Wall Street as he portrayed himself as a champion of the middle class.

In a speech meant to echo a historic address given by former President Theodore Roosevelt in the same Kansas town more than 100 years ago, Obama railed against “gaping” economic inequality and pressed the case for policies he insisted would help ordinary Americans get through hard times.

Not surprisingly, some hedge fund managers were none too pleased.

In fact, hedge-fund industry titan Leon Cooperman “front-ran” Obama’s populist speech by widely circulating an “open letter” to Obama, arguing that “the divisive, polarizing tone of your rhetoric is cleaving a widening gulf, at this point as much visceral as philosophical, between the downtrodden and those best positioned to help them.”

How cutting prop desks hits M&A

A wee while ago, DealZone posited that bonus-hungry bankers who had gravitated to bank prop desks might return to the once-glorified M&A desks after the Obama administration targeted banks’ proprietary trading as a business too risky for banks. A logical argument, but one that ignored an aspect of the M&A game that is becoming starkly obvious: deals putting trading operations into banks are clearly at risk.

A source tells us that JPMorgan is rethinking its planned $4 billion purchase of RBS Sempra with an eye to let the U.S. power and gas businesses be bought by Sempra Energy, which jointly owns RBS Sempra with Royal Bank of Scotland. This would leave the U.S. bank with the joint venture’s oil operations and all of the non-U.S. businesses, a source familiar with the matter said.

JPMorgan started exclusive talks with RBS and Sempra on about Jan. 20, after warding off rival suitor Deutsche Bank, which is not expected to have re-entered any talks, according to sources familiar with the situation. But if U.S. banks wind up having to chop and trim their own deals to conform with new regulations, European and Asian rivals may well wind up picking up high-octane U.S. trading assets.

Sugar shortage spawns sweet jokes from late-night comedian

By Christopher Doering 
    
The surge in sugar prices and potential risk of a shortage has provided some sweet fodder for one late-night comedian who can’t help but poke fun at the attention the tasty ingredient is receiving.
 
colbertStephen Colbert, who hosts the Colbert Report on Comedy Central, spent part of his show this week lamenting the sugar crisis. 
 
After showing a montage of television clips about the sugar situation, Colbert proceeded to break a glass cover — similar to one containing a fire extinguisher — and pulled out a bag of sugar, which he dosed all over himself.
 
“Oh my God, there’s a sugar shortage,” said Colbert. “How could this happen. Well, like interstate highways and potable water it’s the government’s fault.”
 
Large U.S. food companies, including Kraft Foods, General Mills Inc and Hershey Co, have been pushing the Obama administration to ease sugar import curbs, citing forecasts for unprecedented sugar shortages that could result in higher retail prices and possible job losses.
 
In a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack dated Aug. 5, the companies and other groups warned that “our nation will virtually run out of sugar,” if a USDA forecast is accurate.
 
“Can you imagine an America with no sugar?” said Colbert. “Juice would contain nothing but 10 percent juice and we’d all be eating uncaramelized apples. What are we going to do?”  The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c Sugar Shortage – Marion Nestle www.colbertnation.com Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Health Care Protests

For more information on the sugar shortage, click here.

Chrysler, an American Bankruptcy

CHRYSLER/DEALERSChrysler’s private equity owners Cerberus, or at least their lawyers, will arrive at bankruptcy court in Manhattan later this morning. Yesterday, President Obama assured hand-wringing industrialists that the process would be quick and efficient and that Chrysler would emerge a leaner, meaner machine.

To some degree, one can look at the U.S. airline industry in the same light. But that industry, while “saved” through bankruptcy numerous times, is today a shadow of its former self, and remains haunted every so often by the threat of a return to that business mortuary for rebirth.

But a lot has changed since the crisis mad bankruptcy court so busy. The key for the new age of court-run restructuring is to sell major assets before going to court — effectively leaving creditors to haggle over the dregs. Some disgruntled creditors contend that the quick bankruptcy promised by Obama is being engineered in such a way because the sales would never make it past a judge.

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