Saturday, April 25, 2009 By Leave a Comment
U.S. lawmakers seek BofA-Merrill probe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Momentum is building among U.S. lawmakers to investigate Bank of America’s (BAC.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) purchase of Merrill Lynch, amid allegations that federal officials gave the bank’s chief executive an ultimatum to complete the deal with the troubled investment house.
A senior Republican Senator joined House Democrats on Friday in seeking more details after New York’s attorney general said CEO Kenneth Lewis had testified he was pressured by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to do the merger, or lose his job.
“That was very disturbing,” Senator Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Banking Committee, told the Reuters Global Financial Regulation Summit in Washington on Friday.
“I don’t know if there is securities fraud in there or what,” said Shelby, from Alabama.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in the House of Representatives expanded their probe by demanding all internal communications from the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury Department touching on the deal.
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday that Lewis testified that Paulson and Bernanke also pressured him to keep quiet about losses at the troubled Merrill Lynch, which rose to $12 billion from $9 billion in a matter of days.
This account has been disputed by representatives for Bernanke and Paulson but raises questions about whether federal officials encouraged Lewis to keep important information from investors.
Bank of America ultimately got additional federal bailout money to absorb Merrill.
Shelby said he wants the Senate Banking Committee to hold a hearing on the merger.
A spokeswoman for Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd said he was deeply concerned about the allegations and had talked on Friday with Cuomo. “He will decide on next steps soon,” she said.
Representative Ed Towns, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and domestic policy subcommittee chairman Dennis Kucinich, sent letters dated April 23 to the Fed and Treasury demanding the internal documents, with a request for responses by May 4.
“The implications of Mr. Lewis’ testimony, if accurate, are extremely serious,” said Towns and Kucinich.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has already said it is reviewing the disclosures surrounding the merger.
Publicly-traded companies are supposed to widely publicize so-called material information — information an investor needs to decide whether to buy or sell a stock.
“Bank of America and Ken Lewis are, in my mind, in deep trouble,” said James Cox, a securities professor at Duke Law School. “Both under state law and federal law disclosure standards there was clear duty to correct earlier statements regarding the viability and wisdom of the acquisition of Merrill Lynch.”
The potential liability of Paulson and Bernanke is a more murky area, according to former SEC chairman Harvey Pitt, who served under former President George W. Bush.
Securities law absolves government officials from liability in acts performed as part of official duties, he said.
“If Paulson and Bernanke coerced B of A to violate the securities laws out of concern for the economy, they can’t be liable and I think it would be hard to hold B of A liable,” Pitt said in an email.
“Nevertheless, you can’t violate the duties you owe shareholders merely because someone in the government asks you to do so,” said Pitt.
(For summit blog: blogs.reuters.com/summits/)
(Reporting by Kim Dixon and Rachelle Younglai; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)
Sunday, March 15, 2009 By 1 Comment
March 12th, 2009 by Patrick Byrne
What should we learn from the fact that “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart has in four evenings (1 2 3 and 4) exposed Jim Cramer in a way that, in any sane world, he would have been exposed a decade ago? To answer that, consider these associated facts: while the Jim Cramer constellation of journalists (Mitchell’s Media Mob) backed each other up while covering-up the subject of criminally abusive short selling by hedge funds to whom they were close, four channels of the media broke rank:
- Two years ago Bloomberg did a half-hour documentary that broke away from the Party Line;
- Liz Moyer at Forbes has covered the real issues fairly and diligently, and another Forbes reporter named Nathan Vardi took a good swipe at the story (”Sewer Pipes“);
- Rolling Out Magazine (”an UrbanStyle Weekly serving the African American community”) called me up a couple years ago and did precisely the fair, non-disorted interview of which the remainder of the New York financial media was entirely incapable;
- Now, “The Daily Show” has broken ranks by stating the obvious: there are journalists shilling for favored hedge funds.
Could the lesson be that the first news organizations that can break ranks with the Party Line are either fringe (”Rolling Out Magazine” and “The Daily Show”) or the properties of billionaires (Bloomberg and Forbes) who cannot be intimidated?
Perhaps someday, a journalist will look into the pressures that were brought on news organizations (e.g., on Bloomberg leading up to their running “Phantom Shares”). Just a few weeks ago I got the story, again, from a journalist: “I was working on a story about naked short selling and Deep Capture. Then, suddenly I was stopped. It’s weird because I have been a journalist here for 9 years. I have built a great reputation with my editor, and have never had a story interfered with. But I got a couple months into this story, and suddenly I was stopped from above. I’ve never seen that happen before.” I replied, If you only knew how many times a journalist has said that to me in the last couple years….
Saturday, March 14, 2009 By 2 Comments
The Columbia School of Journalism is our nation’s finest. They grant the Pulitzer Prize, and their journal, The Columbia Journalism Review, is the profession’s gold standard. CJR reporters are high priests of a decaying temple, tending a flame in a land going dark.
In 2006 a CJR editor (a seasoned journalist formerly with Time magazine in Asia, The Wall Street Journal Europe, and The Far Eastern Economic Review) called me to discuss suspicions he was forming about the US financial media. I gave him leads but warned, “Chasing this will take you down a rabbit hole with no bottom.” For months he pursued his story against pressure and threats he once described as, “something out of a Hollywood B movie, but unlike the movies, the evil corporations fighting the journalist are not thugs burying toxic waste, they are Wall Street and the financial media itself.”
His exposé reveals a circle of corruption enclosing venerable Wall Street banks, shady offshore financiers, and suspiciously compliant reporters at The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, CNBC, and The New York Times. If you ever wonder how reporters react when a journalist investigates them (answer: like white-collar crooks they dodge interviews, lie, and hide behind lawyers), or if financial corruption interests you, then this is for you. It makes Grisham read like a book of bedtime stories, and exposes a scandal that may make Enron look like an afternoon tea.
By Patrick M. Byrne