Unstructured Finance

PIMCO and BlackRock go strolling down K Street

By Jennifer Ablan and Matthew Goldstein

Wall Street may hate financial regulatory reform, but lobbyists certainly love it—especially ones working on behalf of giant asset managers PIMCO and BlackRock, which control a total of nearly $5 trillion in assets.

Last year, PIMCO and BlackRock both upped their lobbying expenditures in a big way.

The not-for-profit group OpenSecrets.org reports that Bill Gross’s Pacific Investment Management Company spent $450,000 on lobbyists last year, up from $120,000 in 2010. BlackRock’s spending on lobbyists rose to $2.5 million in 2011, up from $1.45 million in the prior year.

A BlackRock spokeswoman says the increased spending is a reflection that the firm has “more regulatory issues to deal with.” PIMCO didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The asset managers are ramping up their spending on lobbying at a time federal regulators are considering whether to treat the firms as “systemically important financial institutions,” something that could subject both to more oversight going forward. BlackRock, with more than $3.5 trillion in assets under management, has written several letters to regulators arguing that it doesn’t pose a threat to the financial system since it isn’t making leveraged bets with customer money.

Phil Angelides gives up his “secret formula”

By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

Phil Angelides, the former chairman of the commission set up by Congress to look into the causes of the financial crisis, is no longer part of a group seeking to turn a profit by investing in distressed mortgages.

A representative for Angelides emailed a statement to Reuters saying the former California state treasurer stepped down as executive chairman of the upstart firm, Mortgage Resolution Partners, on Jan. 27. Angelides, as we reported today, stepped down about two weeks after our exclusive story about his role with the firm was published by Reuters.

Angelides’ role sparked controversy because the firm touted its political connections as part of its “secret formula” for negotiating deals to buy distressed mortgages.

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.”

The confession season

By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

The year is not yet over and already the confessions are starting to roll in from some of the biggest U.S. money managers.

Bill Gross, manager of the world’s biggest bond fund, sent out a “mea culpa” letter late Friday to his many mom-and-pop investors, saying he’s sorry for putting up such bad numbers this year. Mea culpas from Pimco’s guiding light and the self-styled “bond king” are rare, largely because his Total Return Fund has long been one of the industry’s top performers.

But this year has been a tough one for Gross, who guessed wrong by betting heavily against U.S. Treasuries, which have turned out to be one of the biggest out-performers of 2011. The fixed income guru, who helps manage more than $1.2 trillion at Pimco, wasn’t farsighted enough to foresee a flight to Treasuries prompted by events like the European debt crisis, the battle over the U.S. debt ceiling and the general anemic state of the global economy.

Welcome to Paulson-mart

By Matthew Goldstein

It’s been an ugly summer for hedge fund king John Paulson with two of his biggest funds down more than 25 percent. But what makes that poor performance all the more painful is how widespread it is being felt by wealthy individual investors around the globe.

Paulson’s flagship Advantage funds would appear to be exclusive terrain with a $10 million investment requirement. But that hefty entrance fee is something of a veneer because many of Paulson’s investors have gained entrance to his kingdom by plunking down as little as $100,000. That’s because Paulson’s Advantage funds are some of the most widely sold hedge fund portfolios on distribution platforms maintained by Wall Street firms, European banks and small investment advisory firms around the globe.

Paulson has built a powerful internal marketing force to make sure there is a steady stream of money from wealthy individual investors trying to get into his funds. This was one of the more surprising things my colleagues Jennifer Ablan, Svea Herbst-Bayliss and I found when we began taking a close look at Paulson’s problems this year.

Deals wrap: Novell deal a Microsoft maneuver?

MICROSOFT/Attachmate, a privately held provider of technology services, said it’s buying software provider Novell in a $2.2 billion deal. The deal marks the end of a drawn-out auction process the Novell board began back in March after rejecting an unsolicited proposal from Elliott Associates.

A chunk of the deal’s value also includes the concurrent sale of some Novell intellectual property assets for $450 million to a consortium led by Microsoft. Novell and Microsoft have crossed each others’ paths before when they struck a copyright deal over certain Novell assets in 2006. One theory is that this could be Microsoft’s way of maintaining control over the details of that agreement and out of the hands of rivals.

Bailed-out insurer AIG is still shopping around some of its larger assets, restarting its earlier campaign to sell its Taiwan unit Nan Shan Life.  A source close to the process told Reuters on Monday that first-round bids for the unit are likely in early December, shortly after due diligence ends. In August, Taiwan regulators rejected AIG’s plan to sell the unit for $2.15 billion to a Hong Kong-based buyer group. The insurance giant is still struggling to repay its bailout debts to the U.S. government.

Spitzer: S.E.C. still asleep at the switch

Former New York Governor at a September 2009 conference

Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer at a September 2009 conference

Seems like old times. 

Eliot Spitzer, who rose to national prominence in 2002 when he forced a sleepy S.E.C. to crack down on conflicted analyst research,  is none too pleased to hear that his old rivals recently joined 12 Wall Street banks in seeking to knock big holes in that wall.

Asked for his thoughts on this Wall Street Journal article that broke the news, this is what he had to tell Reuters in an exclusive interview:

“For the S.E.C. to join with the banks to diminish consumer protections with respect to the quality of advice and research is absolutely and fundamentally violative of their duty to the public.  This one more example of the S.E.C. being in in the tank.”

Live chat: Rebuilding Wall Street

Thomson Reuters, Evercore Partners, and Korn/Ferry, the world’s largest executive search firm, have teamed up to deliver a live online forum that discusses where Wall Street is headed. Will it return to its former self or has the landscape changed forever? If you’re a financial services professional, join us here on Feb. 3 at 10 am. The panel is waiting for your questions. Leave them in the comments below and we’ll answer them on the day.

Our panel includes: Jane Gladstone, senior managing director, Evercore Partners; Alan Guarino, global sector leader, fintech & electronic trading, Korn/Ferry; and Dan Wilchins – editor-in-charge of Reuters’ coverage of U.S. banks and insurance companies.

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