Tag Archives | Finance

Wall Street Investors Buying Up Entire Neighborhoods In Poorer Areas

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Wall Street investment firms are eager to become your new landlord. New York Times Dealbook reports:

Large investment firms have spent billions of dollars over the last year buying homes in some of the nation’s most depressed markets. The influx has been so great, and the resulting price gains so big, that ordinary buyers are feeling squeezed out. Nationwide, 68 percent of the damaged homes sold in April went to investors, and only 19 percent to first-time home buyers.

Wall Street played a central role in the last housing boom by supplying easy — and, in retrospect, risky — mortgage financing. Now, investment companies like the Blackstone Group have swooped in, buying thousands of houses in the same areas where the financial crisis hit hardest.

Blackstone, which helped define a period of Wall Street hyperwealth, has bought some 26,000 homes in nine states. Colony Capital, a Los Angeles-based investment firm, is spending $250 million each month and already owns 10,000 properties.

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Goldman Sachs Rejects Proposal To Run For Political Office

The investment banking giant needed intervention from the SEC to ensure that a shareholder’s satirical proposal—that the firm drop all pretense and simply run for political office as a candidate called “Goldman Sachs”—will not be put to a vote at its annual meeting, reports Bloomberg:

A shareholder proposal that the New York-based company run for office instead of funding political campaigns was discarded, according to a letter last month from the Securities and Exchange Commission, which agreed the firm can exclude the measure from its annual meeting.

Harrington Investments Inc. President John Harrington submitted the proposal last year, saying the $6.39 million in 2012 political contributions from the firm’s employees risks doing more harm to its reputation. He said the bank should explore running for office, using a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that corporations have similar political rights to individuals.

“It would be less damaging to the integrity of our political system and our company, for our corporation to directly run for office as a person under federal or state law, than to continue in the current form of political participation,” Harrington wrote in the proposal.

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How Your Social Media Score Will Shape Your Life Options

On the intertwining of social capital and literal capital, the Economist reveals:

Facebook data already inform lending decisions at Kreditech, a start-up that makes loans in Germany, Poland and Spain. Applicants are asked to provide access for a limited time to their account on Facebook or another social network. Much is revealed by your friends, says Alexander Graubner-Müller, one of the firm’s founders. An applicant whose friends appear to have well-paid jobs and live in nice neighbourhoods is more likely to secure a loan. An applicant with a friend who has defaulted on a Kreditech loan is more likely to be rejected.

An online bank that opens in America this month will use Facebook data to adjust account holders’ credit-card interest rates. Based in New York, Movenbank will monitor messages on Facebook and cut interest rates for those who talk up the bank to friends. If any join, the referrer’s interest rate will drop further.

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Wall Street Exploring Ways To Profit From Global Warming

Turning lemons into really pricy lemonade. Bloomberg on the investment companies banking on massive windfalls as the planet heats:

Investing in climate change used to mean putting money into efforts to stop global warming. Now some investors are taking another approach. Working under the assumption that climate change is inevitable, they’re investing in businesses that will profit as the planet gets hotter.

Derivatives that help companies hedge against abnormal weather and natural catastrophes are drawing increased interest from big players. In January, KKR bought a 25 percent stake in Nephila Capital, an $8 billion Bermuda hedge fund that trades in weather derivatives.

Drought is helping spur business at Water Asset Management. The New York hedge fund, which has about $400 million under management, buys water rights and makes private equity and stock market investments in water treatment companies.

Ole Christiansen is also investing to take advantage of rising temperatures. “Last summer we were exploring in south Greenland, mainly for gold,” says the chief executive officer of NunaMinerals (NUNA), a local mining company.

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What If All the World’s Debt Just Went Away

Picture: Roman Oleinik (CC)

Joe Brewer writes at Common Dreams:

Just for fun, imagine if all debt were wiped away when the Mayan Calendar ends this Friday…

How would the world be different?  What would become possible for you personally in your life?  How would nations and corporations invest our newfound wealth differently if we all started from a clean slate?  Problems like global warming and extreme poverty would instantly become financial drops in the bucket—easily tackled with fair contracts and forward-looking investments.  The structural debts of entrenched subsidies, invested capital, tax havens, and trade agreements that keep them from being addressed would simply no longer exist.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?  Well just such a fantasy used to be standard practice in the Hebrew Tradition throughout the early days of their civilization.  They held a great Jubilee every seven years to erase all debt and end economic slavery.  Accounts kept on stone tablets were broken.  Those stored on papyrus were burned to ash.  Slaves were returned to their families.  Everyone was given a fresh start.  (This tradition is being revived today through the Occupy-inspired project, Rolling Jubilee, that has already abolished more than $9,000,000 in US debt for everyday citizens.)

The Invention of Debt

What you may not know is that debt arose recently on the human stage.  Throughout more than 99% of our history we have not even had a concept for debt.  (The interested reader can pick up David Graeber’s excellent book Debt: The First 5000 Years for full story.)

Anthropological studies of hunter-gatherer societies reveal that there were no barter systems, no currencies to use for money, and — in the absence of these cultural artifacts — there was no debt.  With all the great variation cross cultures one might expect from ethnographic research, the anthropologists found that some tribal communities engaged in “gift economies” where status arises from how generous a person is who has acquired wealth, while others have remained egalitarian and non-hierarchical for thousands of years by sharing their food and materials based on the principles of “from each as they are able, to each as they need.”

This belies the great misunderstanding about communism that treats it as a state-centric governing system, when in truth it is the foundational sentiment of any community that builds upon the trust and good will of social relations between people who know and depend upon one another — a condition that has held for all hunter-gatherer societies throughout our long 200,000 year history as a species.

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U.S. Goverment Says Drug Cartel-Linked Banking Giant HSBC Is Too Big To Jail

HSBC was fined of $1.9 billion this week for laundering billions of dollars for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels. It’s worth noting that for the world’s second largest bank, with trillions in assets, this is equivalent to a littering ticket. The New York Times writes:

It is a dark day for the rule of law. Federal and state authorities have chosen not to indict HSBC, the London-based bank, on charges of vast and prolonged money laundering, for fear that criminal prosecution would topple the bank and, in the process, endanger the financial system. They also have not charged any top HSBC banker in the case, though it boggles the mind that a bank could launder money as HSBC did without anyone in a position of authority making culpable decisions.

When prosecutors choose not to prosecute to the full extent of the law in a case as egregious as this, the law itself is diminished.

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Fiscal Cliff? Fiscal Hoax

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Peter Hart writes at OtherWords:

The biggest story in Washington is about something that doesn’t really exist: the so-called ”fiscal cliff.” This manufactured panic is all about politicians and corporate interests getting things they want — things that don’t have much to do with the ”crisis” anyway. But instead of challenging this spin, big media outlets are playing along.

So what’s the not-really-a-cliff anyway? It’s a number of things that are set to happen all at once starting in January. On the one hand, there are budget cuts, more or less equally divided between military and domestic spending. The threat of those cuts was supposed to force Congress to reach a deal last year. It didn’t.

Add in the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and a temporary cut in the Social Security payroll tax and it starts to really add up. That’s what’s causing these breathless TV reports telling you that if Congress and the White House don’t act in the next few weeks, the average family’s tax bill will go up an astonishing $3,500.

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The Psyche Of The Wall Street Quant

Via Ghost Exchange, excerpts from a fascinating PBS interview with former hedge fund analyst Cathy O’Neil on the culture within Wall Street:

The basic cultural assumptions were not pleasant to me. The sort of most basic cultural assumption was that as a smart person, we have the right to take advantage of the system and of “dumb people.” And that is sort of — I mean, I guess I should have known, going into a hedge fund, that’s what people think.

I was thinking of it naively, more like, “Oh, there’s a system, and we should see what inefficiencies there are in the system and add information.” I mean, I just sort of drank that Kool-Aid. But once I was inside, I realized that’s not really how people think about it. They think, “Well, of course we’re going to take advantage, because we’re smart, and we can. We have better tools, and our tools are our brains.” Take advantage of absolutely everything and everyone that we can, in any way we can.

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Banking Giant HSBC Settles For $1.9 Billion Over Laundering Billions For Mexican Drug Cartels, Saudi Terrorists, And Iran

Is the second-largest bank on the planet also one of the most far-reaching criminal organizations? The New York Times reports:

Federal and state authorities plan to announce a record $1.9 billion settlement with HSBC on Tuesday, a major victory in the government’s broad crackdown on money laundering at banks.

The settlement with HSBC stems from accusations that the British banking giant transferred billions of dollars on behalf of sanctioned nations like Iran and enabled Mexican drug cartels to launder money through the American financial system, according to officials briefed on the matter. Prosecutors found that the bank had facilitated money laundering by cartels and had moved tainted money for Saudi Arabian banks tied to terrorist organizations.

Since January 2009, the Justice and Treasury Departments and Manhattan prosecutors have charged six foreign banks, including Credit Suisse and Barclays. In June, ING Bank reached a $619 million settlement to resolve claims that it had transferred billions of dollars in the United States for Cuba and Iran.

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American Banks’ Record-Shattering Crime Spree

The hottest new revenue flow trend in banking is simply stealing money from your customers. Via the Village Voice:

You wouldn’t know it by watching the news or reading the paper, but America’s banks are on the largest crime spree the country has ever known. Let’s go to the highlight reel, shall we?

In July, Wells Fargo paid a $175 million settlement after the feds caught its brokers systematically pushing minority customers into mortgages with higher rates and fees, even though they posed the same credit risks as whites. One study found that Wells Fargo charged Hispanics $2,000 more in what the Justice Department called a “racial surtax.” The bank docked blacks nearly $3,000 extra for their own improper pigmentation.

But despite a colossal civil rights fraud perpetrated against 30,000 customers, the settlement amounted to just .011 percent of the San Francisco bank’s annual income.

Across the country, in Minneapolis, U.S.

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