The Market Ticker – Where Are The Handcuffs (Hank Paulson)

Oh, so there was inside information passed around?

On the morning of July 21, before the Eton Park meeting, Paulson had spoken to New York Times reporters and editors, according to his Treasury Department schedule. A Times article the next day said the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency were inspecting Fannie and Freddie’s books and cited Paulson as saying he expected their examination would give a signal of confidence to the markets.

This is the narrative we heard on CNBC and elsewhere.

There’s one problem: It was a lie.

At the Eton Park meeting, he sent a different message, according to a fund manager who attended. Over sandwiches and pasta salad, he delivered that information to a group of men capable of profiting from any disclosure.

Around the conference room table were a dozen or so hedge- fund managers and other Wall Street executives — at least five of them alumni of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), of which Paulson was chief executive officer and chairman from 1999 to 2006. In addition to Eton Park founder Eric Mindich, they included such boldface names as Lone Pine Capital LLC founder Stephen Mandel, Dinakar Singh of TPG-Axon Capital Management LP and Daniel Och of Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC.

After a perfunctory discussion of the market turmoil, the fund manager says, the discussion turned to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Paulson said he had erred by not punishing Bear Stearns shareholders more severely. The secretary, then 62, went on to describe a possible scenario for placing Fannie and Freddie into “conservatorship” — a government seizure designed to allow the firms to continue operations despite heavy losses in the mortgage markets.

In other words all equity would be wiped out, as would preferred stock.

Did Paulson break any laws by disclosing his intentions on a preferential basis?  That’s a bit more murky.  At first blush the answer would appear to be “no”; he had no duty to file an 8K since he wasn’t an officer of Fannie or Freddie, and it would appear that Reg-FD wouldn’t apply to him either.

The better question is whether he was a public fiduciary at the time, in which case disclosing inside information in such a preferential fashion would be a breach.

There’s no way to know if the hedgies involved in the lunch traded on what they learned.  The Bloomberg story says that at least one of them called his lawyer who told him to stop trading in any such securities as that was material non-public inside information (duh!) but whether they and the rest did so is an open question.

Both Bill Black and Janet Tavakoli went on the record for Bloomberg:

“You just never ever do that as a government regulator — transmit nonpublic market information to market participants,” says Black, who’s a former general counsel at the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco. “There were no legitimate reasons for those disclosures.”

Janet Tavakoli, founder of Chicago-based financial consulting firm Tavakoli Structured Finance Inc., says the meeting fits a pattern.

“What is this but crony capitalism?” she asks. “Most people have had their fill of it.”

Let’s just call this what it really is: Theft.

Remember, all after-IPO trades of a stock or after-issue trades of some other security are at someone else’s profit or expense.  That is, if you win someone else either loses directly or they lose opportunity — that is, they sell you their shares, you buy them, they don’t make the money and you do.  Likewise, if you buy something and it goes down in price, you take the loss they otherwise would have.  And if you short something you’ve borrowed the shares from somebody and the person who you short them to swallows the loss while you gain.

Therefore what we really have to ask here is whether any shareholder of the common or preferred stock has a valid fraud claim against the Government and Paulson personally.  After all, his public statements, which if this story is accurate were intentional lies, resulted in a near-doubling of Fannie’s stock over the space of four days.

Isn’t it nice when the government steals your money?

Oh, and why do we sit for this crap again?

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