Unstructured Finance

Jamie Dimon’s teflon coating

By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

Jamie Dimon’s coat of teflon is wearing well, even as the criminal and regulatory investigation into the London Whale trading scandal deepens.

Shares of JPMorgan Chase, which plunged more than 20 percent in the days after the bank revealed in May that the trading losses were much worse than previously believed, have rallied back. The stock is now trading around $38.66 a share. On May 10, when the bank disclosed after the bell that it had lost at least $2 billion on derivatives bets made by a group of London-based traders, the stock closed at around $40.

When Dimon was called before Congress to testify on the trading scandal in June, he was generally treated like the king of Wall Street by congressman and senators. At the time, bank’s internal probe had not yet found evidence that the three traders may have tried to hide their losses, so the fallout from the scandal appeared limited. The bank disclosed those finding to federal authorities before releasing its second-quarter earnings and restating its numbers for the first quarter.

So has Dimon, who came sailed through the financial crisis without a scratch–unlike say Goldman’s Lloyd Blankfein–once again emerged as a champion? Maybe, but a lot will depend on what the investigations turn up and whether it fits with Dimon’s attempt to portray the now $5.8 billion trading debacle as an isolated risk management failure–potentially carried about by a small group of traders bent on concealing their actions.

As Emily Flitter and David Henry have been reporting over the past few weeks, Dimon’s narrative has begun to take some hits. The once small group of people believe to be involve now includes at least 7 current or former employees who have hired lawyers, including several risk officers. On Wednesday,  Reuters reported a fourth trader who worked under Bruno Iksil, the man nicknamed the London Whale because of the big bets he has taken on, is now also drawing scrutiny.

Libore? The real scandal is still CDOs

By Matthew Goldstein

There is an opaque financial market where pricing is determined by a cadre of Wall Street banks and private emails show that behind the scenes  many in the market don’t even believe in what they are doing.

The Libor price fixing scandal?  Sure. But what I’m talking about here is the market for the CDOs, which at the end of the day you can still argue did more harm to the world financial system than the allegations now emerging from the Libor scandal.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not defending the apparent misconduct by bankers to manipulate Libor, a benchmark interest rate for lots of commercial and leveraged loans. But it’s still not clear just what the big harm was in the Libor scandal.

Suite Scams revisited

Virtual offices can be a great cost-saver for a solo attorney, a lone accountant or any other professional who can’t afford the expense  of maintaining a separate support staff to run a business. But these outfits, in which a solo professional gets to essentially rent the services of a receptionist, a secretary and conference space, also can provide cover for bad guys bent on doing mischief.

A case in point is Robert Sucarato, a New Jersey man, who was sentenced Friday to 11 years in a federal prison for using a virtual office as a front for an alleged multi-billion hedge fund that bilked investors out of $1.6 million. A few years ago, when I was at BusinessWeek, I wrote about Sucarato long before federal prosecutors were on his trail. The BW story was called “Suite Scams” and it focused on much more than Sucarato and showed how virtual offices were proving to be a useful tool for Wall Street fraudsters with a slick website and a good marketing pitch.

Former federal prosecutors, back when I talked to them, said they were well aware of how  virtual offices were becoming the hallmarks of scams. But they said there was little  they could do to stop it since the due diligence requirements for virtual office operators are minimal.

Tyrone Gilliams keeps going and going despite charges

By Matthew Goldstein

It’s been an eventful month for hip-hop promoter and commodities trader Tyrone Gilliams, the man federal authorities allege defrauded investors out of at least $5 million.

The self-styled Philadelphia philanthropist was indicted by federal prosecutors on securities fraud charges on Nov. 14 after being arrested on criminal complaint in October. The Securities and Exchange Commission this week also filed civil fraud charges against the 44-year-old former University of Pennsylvania graduate and college star basketball player.

The SEC complaint and the indictment closely mirror the allegations we first raised against Gilliams in a Special Report in May, which revealed how Gilliams worked with a network of associates across the country to raise at least $5 million from two investment funds and then diverted that money to support his extravagant lifestyle. The money was supposed to be used for trading in Treasury STRIPS and to generate sky-high returns. But federal authorities contend Gilliams and his TL Gilliam LLC trading firm never did any trading as advertised.

No comfort for hedgies

By Matthew Goldstein

The news that federal investigators had been gathering evidence of potentially improper trading against one of the founders of Loch Capital Management since early 2009 should make some hedge fund managers nervous–especially ones whose funds were big users of expert network firms like Primary Global Research.

Ever since the FBI raided three hedge funds last November, people in the hedge industry have been grumbling that the high-profile raids–which ultimately forced Loch and Level Global Investors to shut down–may have been an indication that U.S. authorities rushed to judgment. That’s especially since no one at Loch, Level Global or Diamondback Capital has been charged with any improper trading based on stock tips gleaned from a consultant with an expert network firm.

As I reported, a court filing shows that some 18 months before the FBI raided Loch, Diamondback and Level Global, authorities already had some evidence from an informant that Loch co-founder Todd McSweeney may have gotten “inside information” from  Primary Global information. So far, neither McSweeney nor his twin brother Tim, the fund’s other co-founder, has been charged with any wrongdoing.

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