SEC makes emergency rule targeting ‘naked’ short-selling permanent

July 27, 2009

By Marcy Gordon, AP Business Writer
Monday July 27, 2009, 8:03 pm EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators on Monday made permanent an emergency rule put in at the height of last fall’s market turmoil that aims to reduce abusive short-selling.

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it took the action on the rule targeting so-called “naked” short-selling, which was due to expire Friday.

Short-sellers bet against a stock. They generally borrow a company’s shares, sell them, and then buy them when the stock falls and return them to the lender — pocketing the difference in price.

“Naked” short-selling occurs when sellers don’t even borrow the shares before selling them, and then look to cover positions sometime after the sale.

The SEC rule includes a requirement that brokers must promptly buy or borrow securities to deliver on a short sale.

Brokers acting for short sellers must find a party believed to be able to deliver the shares within three days after the short-sale trade. If the shares aren’t delivered within that time, there is deemed to be a “failure to deliver.” Brokers can be subject to penalties if the failure to deliver isn’t resolved by the start of trading on the following day.

At the same time, the SEC has been considering several new approaches to reining in rushes of regular short-selling that also can cause dramatic plunges in stock prices.

Investors and lawmakers have been clamoring for the SEC to put new brakes on trading moves they say worsened the market’s downturn starting last fall. SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro has said she is making the issue a priority.

Some securities industry officials, however, have maintained that the SEC’s emergency order on “naked” short-selling brought unintended negative consequences, such as wilder price swings and turbulence in the market.

The five SEC commissioners voted in April to put forward for public comment five alternative short-selling plans. One option is restoring a Depression-era rule that prohibits short sellers from making their trades until a stock ticks at least one penny above its previous trading price. The goal of the so-called uptick rule is to prevent selling sprees that feed upon themselves — actions that battered the stocks of banks and other companies over the last year.

Another approach would ban short-selling for the rest of the trading session in a stock that declines by 10 percent or more.

Schapiro said last week the SEC could decide on a final course of action in “the next several weeks or several months.”

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Countrywide’s Mozilo charged with fraud

June 4, 2009

Thu Jun 4, 2009 7:41pm EDT

By Gina Keating and Rachelle Younglai

LOS ANGELES/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Angelo Mozilo, who built the largest U.S. mortgage lender, was charged with securities fraud and insider trading on Thursday, making him the most prominent defendant so far in investigations into the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis and housing bust.

Mozilo, 70, co-founder of Countrywide Financial Corp (CFC), was accused by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission with making more than $139 million in profits in 2006 and 2007 from exercising 5.1 million stock options and selling the underlying shares.

The sales were under four prearranged stock trading plans Mozilo prepared during the time period, the SEC said.

The accusations were made in a civil lawsuit filed by the SEC in Los Angeles on Thursday.

The SEC said that in one instance, the day before he set up a stock trading plan on September 25, 2006, Mozilo sent an email to two Countrywide executives that said: “We are flying blind on how these loans will perform in a stressed environment of higher unemployment, reduced values and slowing home sales.”

Those executives, then Countrywide President David Sambol, 49, and Chief Financial Officer Eric Sieracki, 52, were charged by the SEC with knowingly writing “riskier and riskier” subprime loans that they had a limited ability to sell on the secondary mortgage market.

The SEC said that all three executives failed to tell investors how dependent Countrywide had become on its ability to sell subprime mortgages on the secondary market. All three were accused of hiding from investors the risks they took to win market share.

At one stage, Countrywide was writing almost 1 in 6 of American mortgages. The lawsuit said that by September 2006, Countrywide estimated that it had a 15.7 percent share of the market, up from 11.4 percent at the end of 2003.

“While Countrywide boasted to investors that its market share was increasing, company executives did not disclose that its market share increase came at the expense of prudent underwriting guidelines,” the lawsuit said

Bank of America Corp (BAC) bought Countrywide last July 1 for $2.5 billion, less than a tenth of what it had been worth in early 2007.

“TWO COMPANIES”, EARLY WARNING SIGNS

“This is a tale of two companies,” the SEC’s director of enforcement, Robert Khuzami, told reporters. “One that investors from the outside saw. It was allegedly characterized by prudent business practices and tightly controlled risk.”

“But the real Countrywide, which could only be seen from the inside, was one buckling under the weight of deteriorating mortgages, lax underwriting, and an increasingly suspect business model,” Khuzami said.

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Bonds’ 30-Year Hot Streak Begins to Cool

May 4, 2009

by Brett Arends
Monday, May 4, 2009
WSJ.com

Bonds for the long run, anyone?

In the latest issue of the Journal of Indexes, investment manager Rob Arnott, chairman of Research Affiliates (read article here) says that long-term bonds have beaten stocks for decades.

“Starting any time we choose from 1979 through 2008,” Mr Arnott writes, “the investor in 20-year Treasuries (consistently rolling to the nearest 20-year bond and reinvesting income) beats the S&P 500 investor.” He argues the figures are even true going back to the late 1960s.

Mr. Arnott’s article has generated quite a stir in the investment world, where he has, in theory, turned a lot of received wisdom on its head.

But American mutual fund investors, responding to last year’s turmoil, are already voting this way with their wallets. So far this year they’ve withdrawn $45 billion from mutual funds that invest in the stock market, and put $68 billion into bond funds, reports the Investment Company Institute.

Should you follow suit? Not so fast.

Obviously bonds, especially Treasurys, held up well during last year’s crisis. And they can make an important part of a portfolio, especially at the right price. But anyone hoping for a repeat of the last thirty years is probably dreaming.

Treasurys don’t look appealing. Short term bonds yield a miserable 1.9%. And long-term bonds, far from offering “security,” are actually at serious risk from rising inflation.

The past is the past. Those who bought long-term Treasury bonds in the late 1970s and early 1980s simply pocketed an enormous one-off windfall when inflation collapsed. It neared 15% in 1980. Latest figure: -0.4%.

Consider what that means for investors.

In 1979, 20-year Treasurys yielded 9.3%. So over its life the bond paid out $180 in interest for each $100 invested. At one point in 1981, 30-year Treasurys yielded an incredible 15%, thanks to runaway inflation in the 1970s. Investors demanded high interest rates to offset the expected loss of purchasing power on their money.

But when inflation collapsed after 1982, those coupon payments turned golden because the purchasing power stayed high. Bond prices soared in response.

Today, bond investors get no such deal. Ten-year Treasurys pay just 3%. And the 30-year 3.96%.

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Phases of fear and elation in the VIX

March 18, 2009

Here we show a nice relationship between the VIX and the SPX.  While this is a commonly referenced pairing, many still challenge the value of using the VIX as a market indicator.  There are numerous ways too use the VIX and almost everyone has their own tweaks.  This chart shows a very clear inverse relationship with several distinct “phases” discernible in the value of the VIX.  These “phases” correlate well with the action in the SPX.  We have labled these phases “euphoria”, “fear” and “panic”.  We also included the 400 day moving average (equivalent to the 80 week) which we discussed previously in The Significance of the 400 day (80 week) moving average.  This bull/bear market reference point matches up very well with the action in the VIX, as the VIX moves into the “fear phase” just as the 400 day is coming under assault, before eventually breaking.  A final test of the 400 day from below, which we highlighted in late April 2008, was accompanied by one last dip into the “euphoria” zone for the VIX.  That was the “last chance” to get out before the drop gathered steam as the SPX then dropped over 50% in less than 12 months.

We added the notes on Bear Stearns and Citigroup for a consensus of the “expert” opinion at the time.

vixspx031809


A Generational Opportunity

March 17, 2009

by Jim O’Shaughnessy
Tuesday, March 17, 2009

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.” -John F. Kennedy

I recently had dinner with a client who told me that stocks had not performed well over the last 40 years. At first I suspected that she was generalizing from the recent pummeling equity markets have experienced — after all, this is a time frame that included two of the biggest bull markets in history! Yet, when I went to the data, I found out that she was absolutely right. The 40 years ending February 2009 were the second worst 40-year period for equities since 1900, with only the 40 years ending December 1941 doing worse!

Let’s put this into perspective. The 40 years ending in 1941 included the stock market panic of 1907, which drove down the Dow Jones Industrial Average nearly 38 percent; the World War I Era, where the period between 1910 and 1919 was one of the worst ever for stocks; AND, oh yes, the Great Depression. Finally, icing on the 40-year cake, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. How could these last 40 years even begin to match that? Alas, they did.

40-year-real-returns1The chart on the left is a histogram of the average annual real returns for U.S. equities (large stocks) for all 40-year holding periods, with annual data starting in 1900 and monthly data beginning in 1926. There were only three 40-year periods where U.S. stocks returned less than four percent annually — the 40 years ending December 1941, where they earned a real rate of return of 3.80 percent annually for the previous 40 years; the 40 years ending February 2009 where they earned 3.86 percent annually; and the 40 years ending December 1942, where stocks returned 3.92 percent a year. Keep in mind that’s just 0.55 percent of the 545 periods analyzed. We are talking about an event so rare, that most of us alive today will never see such an opportunity again.

The histogram also shows the norm — stocks returned between 6 and 8 percent a year for 353 periods, or nearly 65 percent of all of the 40-year periods analyzed. Looked at closely, you see that 99.45 percent of all  observed 40-year periods, U.S. stocks enjoyed a real rate of return between 4 and 12 percent a year, and that we are now presented with a huge generational opportunity.

Reversion to the Mean: Short, Medium and Long Term

Let’s look at what happened with U.S. stocks the first time they earned less than 4 percent a year for a 40-year period. For the five-, ten-, and twenty-year periods following the nadir reached in 1941, here are the real average annual compound returns for a variety of U.S. stock categories:

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