Whether you know it or not, everyone is a Forex investor. As we explain in Splitting Pennies - Understanding Forex - just by going grocery shopping, you're trading Forex. If you use US Dollars, you are trading Forex. If you ...
A historic event took place moments ago when Mark Johnson, the global head of cash FX at HSBC was arrested at JFK airport for his role in a "conspiracy to rig currency benchmarks", and specifically for frontrunning customer orders. He is the first person charged by the US in the ongoing FX rigging probe.
As Bloomberg reports, a "senior manager at HSBC Holdings Plc was arrested in New York for his role in a conspiracy to rig currency benchmarks, according to two people familiar with the matter, becoming the first person to be charged in the Justice Department’s three-year investigation into foreign-exchange rigging at global banks."
From Johnson's bio:
Johnson is global head of foreign exchange cash trading at HSBC, based in London. Prior to joining HSBC in 2010, he was founding managing partner and chief investment officer at Johnson Stewart Partners. Before that, he was global head of trading at Deutsche Bank.
Mark Johnson, HSBC’s global head of foreign exchange cash trading in London, was taken into custody at John F. Kennedy International Airport Tuesday and is scheduled to appear before a judge in federal court in Brooklyn Wednesday morning, said the people, who asked not to be named because the case hasn’t been made public. He’s charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, the people said.According to Bloomberg, Johnson’s arrest comes more than a year after five global banks pleaded guilty to charges related to the rigging of currency benchmarks. HSBC, which wasn’t part of those criminal cases, in November 2014 agreed to pay $618 million in penalties to U.S. and British regulators to resolve currency manipulation allegations. HSBC, which still faces investigations by the Justice Department and other authorities for the conduct, has set aside $1.3 billion for possible settlements, according to an August filing.Rob Sherman, an HSBC spokesman, and Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment.
Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Federal Reserve banned former UBS Group AG trader Matthew Gardiner from the banking industry for life for his role rigging currency benchmarks. Gardiner used electronic chat rooms, with names including The Cartel and The Mafia, to facilitate the rigging of foreign-exchange benchmarks and to disclose confidential customer information to traders at other banks, the Fed said in astatement Tuesday. That matter is separate from the one involving Johnson, the people said.
Recall that DOJ unwillingness to prosecute HSBC was the ultimate catalyst that prompted former AG Eric Holder to admit thatsome banks are "too big to prosecute." Perhaps with this arrest things are slowly starting to change.
Now, if frontrunning clients is officially an arrest-worthy offense, we can't wait for the DOJ to unleash a crackdown on criminal HFT algos whose only purpose in "life" is to do just that.
Don’t assume that all investors are the same, just because their money is always the same color. Every entrepreneur should do the same due diligence on a potential investor that smart investors do on their startups. Check on their track records, values and management style. Taking on an investor is a long-term relationship, like getting married, that has to work at every level.
Let’s just say that every investor is different, without trying to define what is good or bad for you and your startup. Investors are human and subject to human tendencies, whether they are your rich uncle, an angel investor with personal funds or a venture capital investor with institutional money. Here is a summary of some key investor stereotypes that generally need to be avoided:
1. Investment sharks
I’m not talking about the Shark Tank TV show, but some might say the panel fits the definition. While the majority of investors are looking for a win-win deal, there are investors who like to prey on entrepreneurs who have little financial experience, don’t read the term sheet or are simply desperate for a deal. Seek out advisors to help you avoid these investors.
2. Investors who love to litigate
We all know that startups don’t have money to fight in court, so it’s easy for a few unscrupulous investors to jump to the conclusion that intimidation and lawsuit threats can improve their returns and control after the money changes hands. Here is where checking the track record pays off. Don’t assume you will be the exception.
3. Imperial investors
These are investors with such massive egos that they expect to dictate both the terms of the investment as well as all future strategic decisions of your startup. Unless you are preparing to work for Donald Trump someday, I recommend that you skip this investor in favor of a more equal partner.
4. Legal eagle investors
Negotiating terms is normal before the investment, but once the check is cashed, you don’t want to be second-guessed on every action. Be wary if the term sheet is a document longer than your business plan. Violation of abstract clauses may be used as a way to push you out, take over the company or pull the investment.
5. Academic coach investors
Coaching should be expected and appreciated, but you don’t have time for constant tutorials on how to run a business. A good advisor and mentor will tackle questions and then offer key insights. If an investor spends more than a day at your office before the check is written, it may be time to check your patience meter.
6. Pretend investors
These are “wannabe” investors who don’t have the means, or former entrepreneurs who don’t want to leave the arena. They always have one more issues to investigate or another set of questions, but never bring the checkbook. After a rational allocation of your team’s time, ask for a definitive close and be willing to walk away.
7. Investors without a clue
Many wealthy people make poor startup investors. They have long forgotten (or never knew) the challenges faced by a startup business. Many great real-estate people and doctors fall into this category. A synergistic long-term relationship in your business is not likely. Ask them for an introduction to wealthy business friends.
8. Investors for a fee
These are people who rarely invest their own funds, but promise to find the perfect match and live off a percentage of the action and preparation fees. They may be licensed investment brokers or consultants cold-calling real investors. The challenge is performing due diligence on the real investor.
Proactively seek out and build relationships with investors who interest you, rather than passively wait for potential investors to approach you. Finding investors is best done by talking to peers and attending networking events. Cold calling or emailing strangers will likely get you a sampling of all the eight stereotypes defined here.
Finally, you need to learn what investment terms make sense for your startup and craft your own term sheet, rather than rely on one being presented to you. Start with some legal advice from a source you trust. Do your homework and networking, but don’t chase investors like a one-night stand and expect it to lead to a mutually beneficial long-term relationship.
Jim Rogers told me to come here.
We were having dinner a few weeks ago in Singapore, and Jim had just returned that morning from Russia full of optimism for the improving economy.
I had been meaning to come back here anyhow to scout out private equity deals.
But after hearing Jim’s take on Russia having just met with a lot of the country’s business elite, it really lit a fire.
As I’ve written so many times in this letter, I’m really a pathetic tourist. I’ve been to Paris countless times and have never bothered to visit the Eiffel Tower.
When I travel, it’s to either build and maintain relationships, or to put boots on the ground and seek out risks and opportunities first hand.
On my return to Russia, the country has not disappointed.
You’ve probably heard about how the Russian economy has been depressed over the last few years.
Much of this was due to international sanctions imposed after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 against the wishes of Ukraine, Europe, and pretty much the whole world.
Russia’s credit rating was downgraded, and foreign businesses and investors started pulling their money out en masse.
The capital flight was extreme. Between 2014 and 2015, $210 billion fled Russia, more than 10% of the country’s GDP. That’s an enormous figure.
Then the price of oil collapsed– from $115 in June 2014 to less than $30 just over a year later. Natural gas and other major commodities also fell.
Bear in mind that oil and gas exports are a major component of the Russian economy, so the effects were devastating to both GDP and financial markets.
Russia’s economy didn’t just contract. It shriveled. And the stock market crashed.
On top of everything else, the Russian ruble went into freefall, losing 35% of its value in a matter of months.
This made imports a LOT more expensive, dramatically pushing up the rate of inflation.
Russia has essentially been suffering the worst combination imaginable– consumer price inflation, economic contraction, capital flight, credit downgrades, international sanctions, stock market crash, currency crisis– all simultaneously.
Frankly it’s pretty miraculous this place didn’t descend into Venezuela-style chaos.
But it didn’t. In fact the situation has stabilized and a lot of data shows the economy is turning around. The worst seems to be over.
And yet opportunities still abound.
For example, the Russian stock market is still incredibly cheap.
The average Russian company is selling for just 7.5 times earnings and 20% less than its book value. Plus it pays more than a 4% dividend.
This is like buying a dollar for 80 cents and receiving 3.3 cents on top of that each year.
(US stocks sell for 25 times earnings and 200% MORE than book value, meaning they are historically overvalued and very expensive compared to Russia.)
In addition to stocks, the Russian currency is still far below its historic average.
Aside from making the country dirt cheap for anyone with foreign currency, I discovered something very interesting today:
Some of Russia’s coins are now worth less than their metal values.
I’ll explain– all coins are made of some metal, usually some combination of nickel, copper, etc. And that metal has a certain cost.
A dime coin in the US, for example, has about 1.2 cents worth of metal, mainly copper (91%) and nickel.
So if you melted down a US dime, which has a 10 cent face value, and sold off the metal for 1.2 cents, you’d lose 8.8 cents in the process.
The Russian ruble has become so cheap, however, that some of its coins are basically worthless.
The 1 kopek coin, for example, is the smallest denomination Russian coin that’s worth 1/100th of a ruble.
At current exchange rates that’s $0.00015, or about 0.015 cents! It’s nothing.
And yet each kopek coin is comprised of 1.5 grams worth of copper, nickel, and steel; and the melt value of these metals is worth a hell of a lot more than 0.015 cents.
In fact Russian coin dealers have estimated that the metal value of this coin is worth more than THIRTY FIVE TIMES its face value.
That’s quite a return on investment.
So theoretically $1,000 worth of these coins could be worth more than $35,000 in profit because of the metal value.
Now, I’m not suggesting you book a flight to Russia to scoop up and melt down all the coins you can find.
But it’s worth pointing out that these sorts of anomalies don’t come around too often. And when they do, it’s important to pay attention.
Jim Rogers is one of many legendary investors who has been buying in Russia. Templeton’s Mark Mobius has called Russia the “bargain of the century.”
He may be right. Russia is incredibly cheap.
That’s not to say it can’t get cheaper. Or that it can’t stay cheap for a while.
There has to be a catalyst in order for all the pent-up value to be realized.
But that seems to be happening now. Slowly. Russia is mending fences with Europe. Oil prices have climbed 40% from their lows. Capital is returning. It’s getting better.
18th century British banking mogul Baron Rothschild is often quoted as saying “Buy when there’s blood in the streets [even when that blood is your own].”
That may be too hardcore for most investors.
I prefer to buy when assets are still ultra-cheap, but there are obvious signs that things have turned around.
That time seems to be now.
The central bank of the Netherlands is preparing an ambitious experiment aimed at discerning if an entire financial market can be built on a blockchain.
While many so-called smart contract applications of blockchains can be replicated using existing technology, the man in charge of a series of experiments conducted by De Nederlandsche Bank says the distributed nature of blockchains could lead to entirely re-imagined financial market infrastructures (FMIs), ones that are much more difficult to hack.
Like the bitcoin network itself, the experiment envisions how an FMI's internal operations could be distributed among participating nodes. To game the system – and break the financial market infrastructure — an attacker would need to gain more than half the computing power running the nodes.
News of the experiment, scheduled to begin later this year, comes as financial market infrastructures are increasingly being targeted by hackers. Earlier this month, the chairman of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) went so far as to call for immediate action on potential solutions to the issue.
Now in a new interview, De Nederlandsche Bank's head of market infrastructure, Ron Berndsen, explained why he believes blockchain could be the key to preventing more attacks.
Berndsen told CoinDesk:
"If hackers were to go through the trouble of taking down two or three data centers they would take down the financial markets infrastructure. With blockchain, you could distribute the nodes and you might not even know where they are."
To learn if an FMI can be distributed via a blockchain, Berndsen is once again tapping into the team he assembled for earlier experiments at the central bank.
Berndsen said he recruited the team of seven around coffee machines and via email invitations sent to bitcoin enthusiasts he identified within the bank.
The academic and banker is rare in the world of global financial bankers in that he began running a full node on the bitcoin network and mining the digital currency in the early part of 2013. Though he said he never earned a mining reward for his efforts, he purchased bitcoin and other digital currencies to learn the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Lessons for central banks
As a result of that familiarity, Berndsen has been able to scale up his experiments.
Announced last month, the central bank began using the open-source bitcoin software to recreate conditions at the network's inception in 2009 in an effort to model what the system might look like in 2140, when the last bitcoin is mined.
"As an academic it was very obvious to recreate the extreme points," said Berndsen, who has a doctorate in economics and is a professor of FMIs and systemic risk at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. However, he said he now believes the test to be among the more unique globally.
"I thought every central bank would have done this," he said, adding:
"I’m on many central bank committees and I expected they were all doing this, but so far they weren’t."
Among the lessons he learned from the experiments, is that the bank was able to mine what the team called DNBcoins at a much faster rate by starting with an initial block reward of 1bn DNBcoins and halving the reward every two minutes.
Of note, he said his team observed that even if what they call the "max money parameter" was set to 21 million coins — as is the case with bitcoin — they were able to mine 10 billion coins.
They also "proved" that a network could continue to run on fees alone after the bitcoin reward is dispersed, he said.
The third experiment, Berndsen said, will now be aimed in the area of financial markets infrastructure.
As defined by the Bank for International Settlements in a 2012 report, an FMI is a "multilateral system among participating institutions, including the operator of the system, used for the purposes of clearing, settling or recording payments, securities, derivatives, or other financial transactions."
In Berndsen’s speech announcing the results of his first two experiments, he listed FMIs as one of three crucial components of "the overarching goal of financial stability" that his bank aims to provide.
But this year has proven a turning point in the history of FMIs, which have become increasingly alluring targets for sophisticated international attacks.
In March, Bloomberg reported that hackers linked to the Iranian government had attacked about four dozen US financial institutions, including the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq.
A month after the report, security expert Eugen Kapersky predicted an increase in financial market threats following a separate attack against Bangladesh’s central bank by hackers who moved the Russian ruble’s exchange rate, according to another Bloomberg report.
The threats against FMIs has been so pervasive that earlier this month the chairman of the BIS Benoit Coeure published “Guidance on cyber resilience for financial market infrastructures.”
In the report Coeure wrote:
"FMIs should immediately take necessary steps in concert with relevant stakeholders to improve their cyber resilience, taking into account this guidance. FMIs should also, within 12 months of the publication of this guidance, have developed concrete plans to improve their capabilities."
Preparing for the big day
Holland’s central bank has been taking an increasingly public position in its efforts to lead other central banks to consider blockchain applications for a wide-range of possible solutions, now including financial market infrastructures.
In addition to speaking about their bitcoin blockchain experiments at last month’s Dutch Blockchain Conference, the bank last week announced its plans to open a blockchain campus by early September of this year.
Berndsen said it will take years before the full potential of blockchain becomes clear, and that his bank is working to help accelerate that learning curve.
In preparation for the FMI experiment, Berndsen told CoinDesk De Nederlandsche Bank is currently "engaged" with other parties in the industry and other central banks to see if they want to join the experiment as partners.
"We have the idea that this next prototype might require more coding, more thinking and we might need more people."
Computerized trading firm XTX Markets Ltd. has come from nowhere to dethrone major banks including Deutsche Bank AG in the rankings of the world’s biggest spot currency traders.
The London-based proprietary trader is now the fourth biggest, accounting for 7.6 percent of spot foreign exchange -- a subset of the overall currency market. It’s the first time an electronic specialist has displaced a bank in Euromoney Institutional Investor Plc’s annual survey.
Deutsche Bank has a 7.1 percent share of spot trading, according to Euromoney’s 2016 poll. The German bank was second only to Citigroup Inc. in 2015. XTX was the ninth biggest firm for overall foreign-exchange trading, which also includes swaps and options.
Its name is a reference to a mathematical expression, and the firm was spun off from quantitative hedge fund GSA Capital last year.
XTX’s sudden arrival in foreign exchange is part of an evolution that has already made itself felt in the stock market, where banks are surrendering market making to companies that specialize in electronic trading. XTX says it relies on quantitative research, machine learning and correlations between assets to generate prices.
“Electronic market making is entering other asset classes, whether it’s fixed income or others,” said Steve Grob, global director of group strategy at Fidessa Group Plc. “The foreign-exchange market is worth trillions and trillions -- it would seem an obvious direction of travel.”
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Forex has been the big banks secret gold mine, supporting their other losing operations (like normal banking business, lending, etc.). To a large extent this has been unraveling, and this SIBOR lawsuit is another attack on their risk free profit center (FX). Read the entire lawsuit released by Elite E Services here in full. More than 50 unknown defendants and about 20 known FX banks are named in the case, submitted in the UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK. Most notably:
C. The CFTC, FSA, and MAS Found that Defendants Manipulated SIBOR and SOR109. Multiple government investigations conducted by the MAS, CFTC, and the FSArevealed Defendants’ agreement to illegally manipulate SIBOR and SOR.110. MAS’ Findings. MAS uncovered a widespread conspiracy in which 133 ofDefendants’ traders sought to manipulate both SIBOR and SOR.111. As punishment for their manipulative conduct, MAS forced all of the Defendantsto make massive interest-free deposits of between 100 million and 1.2 billion Singapore dollarseach, or 9.6 billion U.S. dollars collectively, preventing the conspiracy from using these funds(and stripping its profit-making potential) for a full year.75
The common purpose of the enterprise was simple: profiteering. By engaging inthe predicate acts alleged including, but not limited to, transmitting or causing false and artificialSIBOR submissions to be transmitted to Thomson Reuters as Agent for the ABS, and byexchanging SIBOR- and SOR-based derivatives positions and prices, Defendants affected theprices of SIBOR- and SOR-based derivatives, rendering them artificial. This directly resulted inDefendants reaping hundreds of millions (if not billions) of dollars in illicit trading profits ontheir SIBOR- and SOR-based derivatives positions.
Technically, anyone who traded USD/SGD would have been affected by such manipulation - but any trader knows that the FX markets are completely manipulated (specifically, FX markets are manipulated because central banks set the M3 and interest rate).
It seems that the WM/Reuters fines & settlements opened a can of worms for the FX banks, who may be forced to find another, more savvy way of fleecing clients, as referenced in the lawsuit:
Specifically, the CFTC found that:(a) Deutsche Bank engaged in systemic and pervasive misconduct directed atmanipulating these international financial benchmark rates over a six-year period,including manipulating SIBOR.79(b) UBS derivatives traders manipulated the official fixings of LIBORs formultiple currencies, including SIBOR, SOR, Yen LIBOR, Swiss Franc LIBOR,Sterling LIBOR, and Euro LIBOR.80 The CFTC noted thatmisconduct for SIBOR and SOR was “similar” to that found in UBS’manipulation of other interbank offered rates.81(c) RBS derivatives and money market traders manipulated SIBOR and SORfrom May 2010 – August 2011, even as RBS was being investigated for (andconducting its own internal investigation related to) manipulating other interbankoffered rates.82116. As a result of their manipulation of multiple interbank offered rates, DeutscheBank, RBS, and UBS collectively paid nearly $2 billion in fines as part of their settlementagreements with the CFTC.
So here we have it in black and white - FX markets are manipulated.
On the day Maurice Spagnoletti was murdered, his black Lexus sedan was full of balloons. It was June 15, 2011, the day before his wife’s birthday, and he was planning a celebration.
Spagnoletti, 57, was the No. 2 executive at Doral Bank in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Once flush, the bank had been almost ruined by a fraud scandal, and in 2007 it was rescued by Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, and a group of hedge funds. The Wall Street investors had put up $610 million, but Doral continued to lose money, and they were losing patience. In late 2010, Doral hired Spagnoletti, a New Jerseyan experienced in managing large banks, with orders to reduce costs and get Puerto Rican operations under control.
When the banker arrived on the island, he made a good first impression. At 6 feet 2 inches and about 250 pounds, with a strong Jersey accent and hands that he used to punctuate his sentences, Spagnoletti reminded his new colleagues of Tony Soprano without the menace. He’d walk through the Doral office, stopping at underlings’ desks to get up to speed on who ran what and how.
The sun was setting on another muggy San Juan day as Spagnoletti pulled out of Doral’s bland office park downtown. His wife was waiting at home with their 6-year-old daughter. He’d flown his sister-in-law in for the party, too. The drive to his condo on palm-tree-lined Condado Beach took just 15 minutes when there wasn’t traffic. But a few minutes after Spagnoletti got onto the highway, he slowed for a backup on a bridge over a canal. Another car pulled up alongside his. Someone fired at least nine shots from a .40-caliber handgun, shattering his windows, and four bullets hit him in the head. Spagnoletti’s momentum sent his car veering off the highway, and it came to a stop in a thicket of tropical brush. The police arrived, and at 7:21 p.m. they pronounced him dead.
The identities of Spagnoletti’s killers are still a mystery, and the bank overhaul that he was hired to lead didn’t work without him. Doral collapsed in 2015, the biggest U.S. bank failure since 2010, done in by bad loans and Puerto Rico’s decade-long economic spiral. The Wall Street investors who hadn’t already sold were wiped out, and the U.S. government spent $700 million to cover depositors’ losses.
Today, almost everyone in San Juan banking circles has a theory about the murder. Some believe only Colombian hit men could pull off such an assassination. Others say Spagnoletti had enemies in the U.S. who caught up with him. His widow, Marisa, revealed her own theory in a 2013 lawsuit: She said he was killed because he uncovered fraud at the bank and fired an executive he suspected of embezzlement. Doral’s lawyers called her claims ridiculous, and after Marisa admitted in a deposition that she had no evidence, she withdrew the suit.
Since then, new details of the killing have emerged. And according to former Doral executives and people working on the criminal investigation, the widow was onto something. “Let’s use our common sense for a second,” says María Domínguez, who was in charge of an investigation into Doral as first assistant U.S. attorney in San Juan until she retired last year. “This guy was brought by the bank to put the house in order. He starts uncovering certain things that are irregular at the bank. He starts to take corrective action. These circumstances strongly suggest a financial motive to get this guy out of the way.”
But this wasn’t the usual Puerto Rican corruption. The real story of Maurice Spagnoletti’s murder may be more bizarre than anyone knew.
Doral Bank’s founder was Salomon Levis, whose Jewish father fled Poland to escape the Nazis. The family settled in Cuba, where Salomon was born, then moved to Puerto Rico. In 1972, Levis and his siblings started a mortgage company that would become Doral. The bank took off as the island prospered, and by 2001 it was originating almost half the home loans in Puerto Rico. Its profits peaked at almost $490 million in 2004. Around then, the Levis family’s 8 percent stake in the bank was valued at $355 million, making them among the island’s richest people. Salomon Levis, who had become a corpulent playboy, was a fixture at high society events, and the gossip pages chronicled his divorce and remarriage to a much younger blond lawyer.
Then it all unraveled. In 2005 the bank revealed it had inflated its earnings by about $1 billion, prompting investigations. Levis wasn’t charged, but his nephew went to prison for fraud, and the Levis family was forced out of the bank.
“We had a real mess,” says John Ward, who was appointed interim chief executive officer in 2005. The bank didn’t have enough money to pay off $625 million of debt coming due. The board wanted a CEO from outside Puerto Rico to clean house and attract new investors. In 2006 they found Glen Wakeman, who was running GE Capital’s consumer credit business in Mexico and the rest of Latin America.
Wakeman, then 46, had graduated from the University of Scranton and spent more than 20 years working for General Electric around the world. In Mexico he’d taken a stagnant business and more than doubled its size, according to Mark Begor, his boss at the time, who calls Wakeman an “energizing and passionate leader.” To lure him to Puerto Rico, Doral offered a minimum of $5 million in pay over the first two years, plus $1.5 million in stock and $6 million to make up for his GE pension.
Wakeman believed fervently in the GE management philosophy. He liked to talk about Six Sigma, the quality mantra popularized by former GE CEO Jack Welch. He hired bankers from Bear Stearns to find new investors, shuttled to New York to meet with hedge funds, and replaced most of Levis’s deputies.
Lesbia Blanco, then 59 and a human resource director at Johnson & Johnson, was one of the new executives. As Doral’s new chief talent and administrative officer, Blanco was part of Wakeman’s inner circle, with an office near his on the ninth floor of headquarters. She soon realized something strange was going on at Doral. One Saturday in 2006 or 2007, she says, when she was working overtime to help prepare the bank to court Wall Street investors, a security guard came by her office. He told her there was someone in Wakeman’s office he didn’t recognize and showed her a security-camera picture of a man wearing a beaded necklace and clothes that were unusually casual for the executive floor.
Blanco walked over to investigate. Wakeman’s secretary was there with the stranger. She told Blanco that the man was her Santeria godfather and that he was helping the bank with its recapitalization.
The religion known as Santeria emerged in the 16th century among people from West Africa, called Yoruba, who were enslaved and brought to the Caribbean. Co-opting the Catholicism that their captors tried to impose, they picked saints to represent their deities and continued to worship them in secret, with drum circles and animal sacrifices in the woods. The religion now has about 70,000 followers in Puerto Rico, according to Joaquín “Kimmy” Solis, president of the island’s Yoruba association.
The man Blanco saw in the CEO’s office was Rolando Rivera Solis. Kimmy Solis says Rivera, a distant cousin, is a babalawo, or Santeria high priest. As a babalawo, Rivera can initiate others into the religion, conduct sacrifices, and divine the destinies of his followers by tossing coconut rinds on the ground.
Blanco started seeing Rivera on the executive floor more and more. “He had access to Glen’s office directly,” she says. She says her secretary once had to clean Wakeman’s clothes – it’s not clear of what – after a ritual at the Santeria priest’s house.
Blanco wondered why the American CEO was dabbling in the local religion, but kept her questions to herself. Wakeman was close with his secretary, Nancy Vélez. Other than his driver, who doubled as a bodyguard, she was the only person allowed to ride in the executive elevator with him. She would walk him out of the building, carrying his briefcase, then kiss him goodbye on the cheek as he got into his chauffeured car, according to two people who saw them. Such embraces aren’t uncommon in Puerto Rican culture.
Other Doral employees started to notice unusual things. Juan de la Cruz, the bank’s vice president for security, says someone told him Vélez and Rivera were conducting Santeria rituals in the boardroom. There was no security camera there, but de la Cruz checked the footage from one in the hallway. “I looked in the camera and saw Rolando,” he says, “walking with the luggage and some bottles in his hand.” De la Cruz says he dropped his inquiry after another employee who practiced Santeria told him that the rituals were sanctioned by Wakeman.
A former administrative assistant, who asked for anonymity because she’s afraid of the babalawo, says Vélez told her about one ritual involving a caiman, an alligator-like reptile native to Puerto Rico. Rivera, Vélez, and another Doral employee drove the caiman to the parking lot early one Sunday, the former assistant says, and used Vélez’s access to the executive elevator to bypass security. Dressed all in white, they took the caiman into the conference room and invoked the names of each board member, the former assistant says she was told. She adds that she thinks the creature wasn’t killed, because she didn’t see any blood the next day.
Lizzie Rosso, Doral’s general manager for consumer banking at the time, says someone who was at the caiman ritual told her about it the following Monday. Other former Doral employees declined to discuss the subject. “Maybe they are afraid of the Santeria and the consequences,” Rosso says, laughing nervously. “I don’t want to be killed.”
Solis, the Yoruba association president, is skeptical that a caiman would have been involved. “We sacrifice rams, goats, chickens, roosters — all this is part of the ancient religions,” he says. “I don’t believe that the caiman has the power to do anything.”
If Rivera did perform a ritual, it was apparently successful. In May 2007, Doral announced it had sold 90 percent of its stock for $610 million to a group of investors including Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Marathon Asset Management, D.E. Shaw, and Perry Capital. Eleven months later, Rivera was given a contract to clean Doral’s headquarters and branch offices. The head of the previous janitorial service says she’d never heard of Rivera in her 17 years in the local cleaning business. Rivera’s company, SJ Tropical Maintenance Services, wasn’t registered until the month he won the contract. And while the old cleaners charged $23,000 a month, SJ Tropical was given $27,350.
Blanco says the contract was sanctioned by Wakeman. “It was a reward for helping Glen [keep] the bank afloat,” she says.
Wakeman, who’s been working as a consultant in Miami since Doral failed, denies any allegations he’d been involved with Rivera, practiced Santeria, or rewarded the high priest. “This is both shocking and untrue,” he says. Wakeman’s lawyer declined to comment further.
Rivera’s lawyer, Melanie Carrillo-Jiménez, says that while her client is a high priest, he didn’t perform any ritual for the bank. “He wasn’t getting paid for any Santeria whatsoever,” she says. “Where the hell did this come from?”
Doral’s vice president for property and facilities, Annelise Figueroa, oversaw the new, more expensive maintenance contract. She says the contract included additional services and was approved by Wakeman, who, Figueroa says, did practice Santeria. “Wakeman used Rolando,” she says. “When I found out, obviously I thought it was weird, but then again you can’t mess with people’s religions.”
Figueroa and Blanco, her boss, didn’t make an issue of the janitorial contract. But in 2009 and 2010, they accused each other of inflating the costs of other services. Blanco says she investigated her subordinate and told Wakeman that the bank should fire Figueroa. Wakeman overruled Blanco, without saying why, she says, and began to freeze her out. “Since that day, my life was miserable there,” Blanco says. “He didn’t involve me in any meetings. I was just there like a piece of paper that you move from one side to another.”
Blanco left Doral in October 2010. By then, Wakeman had already given some of her responsibilities to a new executive: Spagnoletti. “He had access to all the information in my computer,” Blanco says. “All the details on what had happened to that investigation. Perhaps he got suspicious and started digging.”
Blanco says she feels lucky she escaped with her life. “I thank my Lord every day,” she says. “That person didn’t go there to be killed, but to work. It’s bad.”
Marisa Spagnoletti now runs a handbag boutique in Morristown, N.J., called Lucy’s Gift, named after her daughter. The handbags are displayed by color — blue and pink on the left, orange and white on the right. A photo of Maurice with his arms around Marisa and their daughter sits on a mantel, surrounded by pink cloth roses and Christmas lights. All the profits go to charities to honor Spagnoletti’s memory.
“When Maurice was killed, it took so long to get on my feet,” Marisa says on an April morning, her eyes filling with tears. “Do you know what it’s like for a girl to cry every day, ‘Who killed my daddy?’ ”
Two women walk into the shop to browse. Marisa has never met them but tells them a little about Maurice’s murder. She says she still cries herself to sleep every night. With a reporter, Marisa won’t discuss her lawsuit against Doral, other than to say the bank hasn’t given her any money. When she withdrew the suit, she did so in a way that allows her to refile it later. When the truth comes out, she says, it will show that Maurice was a hero. “My husband would die with honor rather than live a life of dishonesty,” she says.
Spagnoletti started working as a bank teller in New Jersey as a teenager, according to his widow. He got a business degree at night and worked his way up in the course of 20 years, eventually becoming president of Summit Bank’s Pennsylvania division. He raised two children with his first wife. Then, in 1999, Maurice reconnected with Marisa. They’d worked together at a Summit predecessor but didn’t know each other well and had been called to testify in a court case about the bank. Maurice and Marisa were both Italian and Catholic. He’d grown up in Jersey City, and she was from Bayonne, just a few miles away. Spagnoletti was 11 years older. On the last night of the trial, he asked her out. They were married the next year.
Marisa says Maurice would cheer her up when she had problems at work. “Go look outside,” he would say. “The sun’s out, the sun’s going to always come out. Everything can be solved.”
In 2000, Spagnoletti joined Fifth Third Bank. He became head of its central Indiana affiliate, presiding over branch openings and organizing field trips for schoolchildren. He won over his new colleagues with jokes but held them accountable for meeting the goals they set. Spagnoletti would invite them and their spouses to his home for bocce and pasta. He said the word “great” so incessantly that it became a running joke at the office.
After a few years at another bank in South Carolina, the Spagnolettis moved back to New Jersey around 2008 because Marisa’s father was dying. Maurice used the free time to dote on his daughter, who was then 3. Bruce Balmas, who worked with him at Fifth Third and Doral, says his friend would call him from the park and say, “I never could have done this before.”
Two years later, recruiters contacted Maurice, asking if he’d consider moving to Puerto Rico. The package at Doral included, in addition to a $400,000 salary, a $300,000 target bonus, making him among the highest-paid people at the bank. Spagnoletti was hired as executive vice president for mortgage and banking operations, responsible for what happened in Puerto Rico day to day.
When Spagnoletti arrived in September 2010, Wakeman was battling the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The CEO was saddled with billions in loans the bank had made under its previous owners; as Puerto Rico tipped into recession, Doral had to keep marking the loans down, eroding its capital. The FDIC blocked Wakeman’s plan to buy assets from Doral’s rivals, and without a clear plan for growth, some of the bank’s Wall Street investors bolted. Goldman Sachs lost at least $30 million, and the hedge funds Marathon, D.E. Shaw, and Perry lost about $50 million each, filings show.
After the killing, Marisa was hysterical. The bank sent armed guards to walk executives home.
Spagnoletti admired Wakeman as a CEO and believed the bank could be turned around. “I’m working harder than ever, but I must say I love it,” Spagnoletti wrote in an e-mail to a friend on April 22, 2011. “I make significant contributions and feel very appreciated. One problem is the lack of talent. I need to check everyone’s answer twice. Otherwise, this is a GE type of environment. Sigma Six black belts running around.”
Initially, Spagnoletti commuted from New Jersey. He and Marisa never stayed apart for more than three days. They lived in a Marriott hotel for a while, and then a condo on Condado Beach. In the spring of 2011, Spagnoletti hired Balmas as a consultant; they had dinners at an Italian restaurant by the beach and spent some nights gambling at casinos on the Condado strip. Spagnoletti loved to swim and take his daughter to look for seashells.
But that same spring, Spagnoletti clashed with Figueroa, the facilities vice president who handled the Santeria priest’s maintenance contract. They fought about purchases as small as a table, according to a lawsuit she filed against the bank in 2012 alleging gender discrimination. On March 8, Spagnoletti e-mailed Figueroa asking whether she understood that she was supposed to follow his orders. “Do you understand that as a Vice President of this company, you are also expected to always exercise good judgment in the performance of your duties?” he wrote. “YES, ALWAYS HAVE AND ALWAYS WILL,” she replied, according to her lawsuit, which was settled confidentially.
Marisa alleged in her lawsuit that her husband uncovered fraud at Doral, in the form of Figueroa paying vendors for services they didn’t perform and making unauthorized transfers of $30,000 a week to someone. If Spagnoletti knew about Doral’s Santeria circle or the idea that the payments might have been not fraud but a reward for supernaturally assisting the bank, he kept it from his wife. Figueroa, who was fired on May 25, 2011, says she did nothing wrong and doesn’t know anything about the murder. “I’m more anxious than anyone to find out who did it to clean up my name,” she says.
Three weeks after Figueroa’s termination, on the day he was killed, Spagnoletti left work on the early side. Balmas departed later and got stuck in traffic by the bridge. He didn’t think anything of the shattered Lexus on the side of the road.
Around 2 a.m., a colleague called to tell him what had happened. Balmas went to the Spagnolettis’ apartment and found Marisa hysterical, talking about how her husband had been kidnapped. Wakeman had been there, along with other colleagues, and the bank sent armed guards to walk them home. Doral assigned security guards to other top executives, and Wakeman brought guards with him to Spagnoletti’s New Jersey funeral.
As investigations into Spagnoletti’s murder began, Doral struggled. The Puerto Rican economy only got worse, and more of the bank’s loans became worthless. The FDIC wouldn’t give Doral’s balance sheet its seal of approval, and without it, Doral couldn’t get the money it needed to operate. Wakeman tried expanding in the U.S. He moved Doral’s headquarters to Miami in 2013. U.S. operations showed a profit that year, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the deteriorating Puerto Rican portfolio.
In 2014, Puerto Rico created a major crimes unit, headed by Captain Ferdinand Acosta, and he took up the Spagnoletti murder. There weren’t many leads. None of the 911 callers got a good look at the shooter or his vehicle, Acosta says. The murder was definitely not random, but the shooter exhibited poor aim, so he may not have been a professional gunman. Acosta says he started interviewing Doral employees but got word from the FBI to back off. “They prefer to do it alone,” he says.
The FBI’s murder investigation, begun shortly after the 2011 shooting, had expanded to include fraud — just as the widow Spagnoletti had charged. In December 2014 the FBI raided Doral, seizing computers from Wakeman, his secretary, and other executives. In February 2015, Rivera and Figueroa were arrested and charged with fraud. The federal indictment said that Figueroa changed the cleaning company’s contract so that it was getting $24,288.27 every week instead of every month. In all, according to prosecutors, the pair wrongfully took about $2.4 million.
Two days later, on Feb. 25, the FDIC closed Doral’s doors for good. The agency spent $698.4 million making Doral’s depositors whole. Many of the branches, along with the headquarters, were sold to Popular, another Puerto Rican bank. The headquarters building is empty now. A rusty outline remains where the Doral sign used to hang.
Motombo grabbed a woman as a shield. “Don’t do this,” she cried. He started shooting.
Days after the bank failed, Santeria stories surfaced in local newspapers. El Nuevo Día wrote that there had been a ritual with a caiman at the bank. Levis, the founder, went on the radio to joke about it. The failure of Doral is like a “detective novel,” he said. “Not even the caiman could save them at the end.”
When Rivera came to court to plead not guilty to fraud, the proceedings revealed that police had found 10 guns in his home. All were legally registered to him or his wife. Prosecutors said Rivera had been charged with murder once before, in 1983, and was acquitted. He was put under house arrest, with an electronic monitoring bracelet. Figueroa also pleaded not guilty.
Eight months later, in October 2015, the agents looking into Spagnoletti’s murder caught a break: A man on Puerto Rico’s most-wanted list was arrested at San Juan’s airport. He’d worked for Rivera at his janitorial company, according to two people with knowledge of the investigation.
His name is Yadiel Serrano-Canales, aka Motombo, and, according to prosecutors, he was a member of a gang that dealt cocaine and heroin in San Juan’s Villa Esperanza housing projects. In a court filing, an FBI agent described a June 2012 incident that got Motombo on the most-wanted list. Just after 1 a.m., he and a friend approached three off-duty police officers who were hanging out at a bar across from the projects. After words were exchanged, Motombo left and returned with a gun. “Put down the phone, d---sucker,” Motombo said to one of the officers. The cops pulled out their own guns; Motombo grabbed a nearby woman by her hair, using her as a human shield. “Motombo, don’t do this!” she cried. He fled, firing four times at the police officers, and escaped the island. In 2015 he arranged to return to Puerto Rico and turn himself in.
FBI agents interrogated Motombo for about an hour in a windowless room on the second floor of San Juan’s police headquarters. A person with knowledge of the FBI’s investigation and one of the Puerto Rican police officers say Motombo is suspected of driving Spagnoletti’s shooter. Motombo has not been charged in connection with that. He is in federal custody, facing attempted murder charges for the police shootout. He pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer declined to comment.
In November, Wakeman’s secretary, Vélez, was arrested and charged with perjury for telling the grand jury she didn’t know about the payments to the Santeria priest. Prosecutors say she instructed two Doral employees to pay Rivera weekly rather than monthly. Vélez pleaded not guilty. Her lawyer, Mariela Maestre Cordero, declined to comment.
In April the Doral case took yet another turn. U.S. prosecutors moved to drop the charges against Rivera and Figueroa. They withdrew the indictment “without prejudice,” meaning that they can file new charges with more information if they choose to.
A day after the about-face, I drive to a gated community in a suburb of San Juan to meet Rivera, the person I’d heard so much about. I find a chubby man with a neatly trimmed gray chinstrap beard standing on the porch of a two-story gray stucco house. The Santeria priest is wearing gold bracelets on his wrists and an electronic bracelet on his ankle. Rivera shakes my hand and offers my translator a light. He cuts off my halting attempt to introduce myself in Spanish. “I speak English,” he says, without an accent. Then he tells me to call his lawyer.
His attorney, Carrillo-Jiménez, says her client had nothing to do with Spagnoletti’s murder and that the payments he received were for janitorial services he performed. “People are speculating,” she says. “There is no evidence whatsoever.”
Douglas Leff, the FBI special agent in charge of the San Juan division, held a news conference on June 15, the fifth anniversary of the shooting. He announced a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest, and Marisa offered $10,000 of her own. The authorities are in the final stages of their investigation, he said, and have a great deal of information about the culprits. In an interview, Leff declines to comment on potential suspects. The fraud and murder investigations, he emphasizes, are proceeding on independent tracks. “We’ve been working it very diligently, and we have a lot of momentum,” he says about the murder. “The more digging we do, the more potential avenues we find to work. There may be different people with different levels of culpability.”
When I visit Marisa, she says she has complete faith that the FBI will solve the case. “You need to understand,” she says, “that justice is coming.”
– With Alexander Lopez and Katia Porzecanski
Editors: Nick Summers, Robert Friedman
Development: James Singleton
This post sponsored by Fortress Capital Forex
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It was not even a month ago when we last looked at the total amount of negative yielding debt around the globe, and were shocked to find that according to Fitch, for the first time in history (obviously), there was over $10 trillion in negative yielding debt. Fast forward 4 weeks later, and the grand total is now $1.3 trillion higher, or $11.7 trillion.
The split between positive and negative yielding debt is shown in the chart below:
In a report released earlier, Fitch updates on the "investors' flight to safe assets following the UK's EU referendum on June 23" and finds that the global total of sovereign debt with negative yields was a staggering $11.7 trillion as of June 27, up $1.3 trillion from the end-May total. Brexit-related concerns drove more long-dated bond yields negative, with particularly big shifts in German, French and Japanese yield curves during June.
As Fitch notes, worries over the global growth outlook, further fueled by Brexit, have continued to support demand for higher-quality sovereign paper in June. Widespread adoption of unconventional monetary policies, including large-scale bond-buying programs and negative deposit rates, have driven the large increases in negative-yielding debt seen this year.
The chart below highlights the monthly changes in the outstanding par amount of negative-yielding sovereign debt by maturity bucket. The biggest drivers of the total increase during June were seen in longer-dated bonds. For example, German 10-year bund yields swung into negative territory and sub-zero yields moved further out on the curve for Japan -- now out to 17 years. Also, in Switzerland, virtually all sovereign debt carried a negative yield on June 27.
As DB's Jim Reid writes, yesterday we saw the Swiss yield curve actually trade negative the whole way out the curve. The longest dated Swiss government bond due in 2064 (so 48 years) touched -0.0082% at one stage before settling at +0.011% by the close. The chart below shows the Swiss yield curve to show how remarkable this is. We’ve also added the JGB curve where the longest dated bond due in 2056 (40 year) is trading at a minuscule 6bps and the Bund curve where the longest dated 30y bond is trading at 42bps.
Japanese government bonds (JGBs) continue to represent about two-thirds of the global total ($7.9 trillion), while Germany and France each now have over $1 trillion in sovereign debt with sub-zero yields. Japan's negative-yielding debt total grew by about 18% during the month, while Germany and France's total grew by 8% and 13%, respectively. European negative-yielding debt increases were offset in part by an approximately $0.2 trillion reduction in the Italian total since May 31. This likely reflected investor risk aversion related to Italy leading up to and following the Brexit referendum.
The spread of negative yields into longer-dated paper was particularly evident in June. A total of $2.6 trillion in sovereign bonds with maturities of seven years or more now trade at a negative yield. This compares with the end-April total of $1.4 trillion.
The increasing amount of long-term negative-yielding debt underscores the challenges faced by large bond investors such as insurance companies that need to match long-term liabilities with similar maturity assets. As more of the global universe of safe assets drops into negative-yielding territory, income for these investors continues to fall.
UK sovereign bonds continue to trade at positive yields across the curve, but the Brexit vote has had a dramatic effect on the UK yield curve. Following the June 23 referendum, 10-year gilt yields dropped by 44 bps to 0.93% as of June 27, according to Bloomberg.
The $11.7 trillion total, which includes $3.2 trillion of short-term and $8.5 trillion of long-term sovereign debt, is influenced by the dollar's exchange rate with the yen and euro. During June, the dollar rose slightly against the euro, but weakened significantly (approximately 9%) versus the yen. This had a major impact on the dollar value of yen-denominated negative-yielding debt in our latest analysis, pushing the JGB total up by approximately $0.6 trillion beyond increases that would have occurred on an FX-neutral basis.
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Submitted by Professor Richard A. Werner, D.Phil. (Oxon)
EU Basics – Your Guide to the Referendum
The British people should be clear about just what they will be voting on at the EU referendum this Thursday. What does it actually mean to stay in the EU? What does it mean to exit?
Concerning the second question, the dominant issue in the debate has been the question whether there will be a significant negative economic impact on the UK from exiting the EU. Prime Minister David Cameron, together with the heads of the IMF, the OECD and various EU agencies have given dire warnings that economic growth will drop, the fiscal position will deteriorate, the currency will weaken and UK exports will decline precipitously. George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer has threatened to cut pensions if pensioners dare to vote for exit. But what are the facts?
I have been trained in international and monetary economics at the London School of Economics and have a doctorate from the University of Oxford in economics. I have studied such issues for several decades. I have also recently tested, using advanced quantitative techniques, the question of the size of impact on GDP from entry to or exit from the EU or the eurozone. The conclusion is that this makes no difference to economic growth, and everyone who claims the opposite is not guided by the facts. The reason is that economic growth and national income are almost entirely determined by a factor that is decided at home, namely the amount of bank credit created for productive purposes. This has sadly been very small in the UK in recent decades, thus much greater economic growth is possible as soon as steps are taken to boost bank credit for productive purposes – irrespective of whether the UK stays in the EU or not (although Brexit will make it much easier to take such policy steps). We should also remember that a much smaller economy like Norway – thought more dependent on international trade – fared extremely well after its people rejected EU membership in a referendum in 1995 (which happened against the dire warnings and threats from its cross-party elites, most of its media and the united chorus of the heads of international organisations). Besides, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China never needed EU membership to move from developing economy status to top industrialised nations within about half a century. The argument of dire economic consequences of Brexit is bogus.
As for the first question, namely what it means to stay inside the EU, we should consult the EU itself. Happily, the EU released a major official report about its key policies and what it plans to achieve in the near future in October 2015. This report was issued in the names of the “Five Presidents“ of the EU. In case you had not been aware that there was even a single, let alone five presidents of the EU, these are: The unelected president of the European Central Bank, Goldman Sachs alumnus Mario Draghi, the unelected president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, the unelected Brussels Commissar and “president of the Eurogroup“, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the “president of the Euro Summit“, Donald Tusk, and the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz. What is the message of this not negligible number of EU presidents concerning the question of where the EU is going? The title of their joint report is a give-away: “The Five President’s (sic) Report: Completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union“. https://ec.europa.eu/priorities/publications/five-presidents-report-completing-europes-economic-and-monetary-union_en
The report starts with the frank admission that “with 18 million unemployed in the euro area, a lot more needs to be done to improve economic policies” in the EU. Well said. But what exactly needs to be done?
“Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) today is like a house that was built over decades but only partially finished. When the storm hit, its walls and roof had to be stabilised quickly. It is now high time to reinforce its foundations and turn it into what EMU was meant to be…““ we will need to take further steps to complete EMU.”
The central planners in Brussels and at the ECB in Frankfurt are not unaware that under their command, a historically unprecedented economic dislocation has taken place in the EU during the past ten years, including massive asset and property bubbles, banking crises and large-scale unemployment in all the periphery countries – with over 50% youth unemployment in Greece, Spain and Portugal, as well as the lack of any serious controls of the EU external borders to prevent an influx of unparalleled numbers of illegal immigrants and economic migrants.
However, the EU central planners are in denial about the fact that these problems have been caused entirely by their own misguided and disastrous policies. As a result, they argue that the solution to such problems can only be further concentration of powers into their hands: “We need more Europe“, as Mrs Merkel put it (source: please read these Merkel claims about the EU http://www.euractiv.com/section/eu-priorities-2020/news/merkel-calls-for-political-union-to-save-the-euro/) This is what they propose to implement in the coming years, by turning all EU members into one single country.
So the Five Presidents‘ Report makes clear that the EU is not simply a free trade area. That project had been left behind with the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and a very different kind of Europe has become enshrined with the 2007 European Constitution (called ‘Lisbon Treaty‘, since the people of Europe in several referenda rejected it. Source: please read what the author of the rejected European Constitution says: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/valeacutery-giscard-destaing-the-eu-treaty-is-the-same-as-the-constitution-398286.html ). Instead, the EU is the project to abandon all national sovereignty and borders within and melt away all European nations that don’t succeed in exiting in time, into a merged, joint new single country, with one central European government, centralised European monetary policy, centralised European fiscal policy, centralised European foreign policy, and centralised European regulation, including of financial markets and banking. This United States of Europe, an undemocratic leviathan that the European peoples never wanted, is the culmination of the much repeated mantra of “ever closer union“.
This project has been implemented steadily and stealthily over several decades, despite major and consistent policy blunders and scandals involving the central planners (e.g. in 1999 the entire European Commission – the unelected government and cabinet of the European superstate – resigned in disgrace, as it was found to have taken bribes and engaged in fraud, while the EU’s own Court of Auditors has repeatedly refused to sign off the EU’s official books).
The economics is clear: there is no need to be a member of the EU to thrive economically, and exiting does not have to impact UK economic growth at all. The UK can remain in the European Economic Area, as Norway has done, or simply agree on a trade deal, as Switzerland did, and enjoy free trade – the main intention of European agreements in the eyes of the public. The politics is also clear: the European superstate that has already been formed is not democratic. The so-called ‘European Parliament‘, unique among parliaments, cannot propose any legislation at all – laws are all formulated and proposed by the unelected European Commission! As a Russian observer has commented, the European Parliament is a rubber-stamping sham, just like the Soviet parliament during the days of the Soviet Union, while the unelected government is the European Commission – the Politibureau replete with its Commissars.
Big business and big banks, as well as central bankers and the IMF, constitute the financial elite that is behind this purposeful concentration of power – giving ever more power into the hands of ever fewer people. The undemocratic nature of EU institutions has reached such an extent that I have heard a recently retired member of the ECB governing council in private confessing that his biggest worry is the undemocratic nature and extent of the ECB’s powers, which have increasingly been abused for political ends. These facts have been drowned out by the constant drip of propaganda emanating from the powerful elites behind the creation of the United States of Europe.
During these years and decades of steady transfers of powers and sovereignty from nation states and their democratically elected assemblies to the unelected Brussels bureaucracy, I had always been puzzled by the apparent strong US support for all this. Whenever the ‘process‘ of ‘ever closer union‘ seemed to have hit an obstacle, a US president – no matter the post holder’s name or party affiliation – would intervene and in no uncertain terms tell the troublesome Europeans to get their act together and speed up unification of Europe into one state. In the naivety of my youth this had struck me as surprising. Likewise, the British public has recently been told by US president Obama that dropping out of the EU was not a good idea and they had better vote to stay in.
While it is not surprising that the global elite that has benefitted from the trend towards concentration of power is getting increasingly hysterical in their attempts to cajole the British public into voting to stay inside the EU, it is less clear why the US president and his government should be so keen on the EU project. We had been told in the past by the European media that the concentration of economic and political decision-making in Europe was being engineered in order to create a counter-weight against the US dominance. This seemed to motivate some pro-EU voices. Surely the US president must have heard about that?
There is another mystery. Only yesterday, an impressive-looking leaflet was dropped into the letterbox of my Winchester home, entitled “EU Basics – Your Guide to the Referendum“. It was issued by an organisation called the “European Movement“. The 16-page colour and high gloss booklet argues for Britain to stay in the EU. Who is this “European Movement“, and who is funding it? This little-known organisation seems financially powerful enough to drop a high-quality print booklet into every household in the entire UK.
The declassification of formerly secret records has solved both mysteries. For as it turns out, they are connected. In the words of Nottingham University academic Richard Aldrich:
“The use of covert operations for the specific promotion of European unity has attracted little scholarly attention and remains poorly understood. … the discreet injection of over three million dollars between 1949 and 1960, mostly from US government sources, was central to efforts to drum up mass support for the Schuman Plan, the European Defence Community and a European Assembly with sovereign powers. This covert contribution never formed less than half the European Movement’s budget and, after 1952, probably two-thirds. Simultaneously they sought to undermine the staunch resistance of the British Labour government to federalist ideas…. It is also particularly striking that the same small band of senior officials, many of them from the Western [note: this means US] intelligence community, were central in supporting the three most important transnational elite groups emerging in the 1950s: the European Movement, the Bilderberg Group and Jean Monnet’s Action Committee for a United States of Europe [ACUE]. Finally, at a time when some British antifederalists saw a continued ’special relationship‘ with the United States as an alternative to (perhaps even a refuge from) European federalism, it is ironic that some European federalist initiatives should have been sustained with American support.“
There is much more to read in this explosive piece of scholarly research (Richard J. Aldrich (1997), OSS, CIA and European unity: The American committee on United Europe, 1948-60, Diplomacy & Statecraft,8(1), pp. 184-227, online athttp://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09592299708406035#.V2exrU36voo )
UK journalist and former Brussels correspondent Ambrose Evans-Pritchard was the only journalist to report on such academic research findings, in two articles in 2000 and 2007:
“DECLASSIFIED American government documents show that the US intelligence community ran a campaign in the Fifties and Sixties to build momentum for a united Europe. … US intelligence secretly funded the European Movement, paying over half its budget. Some of Europe’s founding fathers were on the US payroll….“The documents confirm suspicions voiced at the time that America was working aggressively behind the scenes to push Britain into a European state. Lest we forget, the French had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the federalist signing table in the early 1950s. Eisenhower threatened to cut off Marshall aid unless Paris agreed to kiss and make up with Berlin. France’s Jean Monnet, the EU’s mastermind, was viewed as an American agent – as indeed, he was. Monnet served as Roosevelt’s fixer in Europe during the war and orchestrated the failed US effort to stop de Gaulle taking power.“One memorandum, dated July 26, 1950, gives instructions for a campaign to promote a fully fledged European parliament. It is signed by Gen William J Donovan, head of the American wartime Office of Strategic Services, precursor of the CIA. … Washington’s main tool for shaping the European agenda was the American Committee for a United Europe, created in 1948. The chairman was Donovan, ostensibly a private lawyer by then. The vice-chairman was Allen Dulles, the CIA director in the Fifties. The board included Walter Bedell Smith, the CIA’s first director, and a roster of ex-OSS figures and officials who moved in and out of the CIA. The documents show that ACUE financed the European Movement, the most important federalist organisation in the post-war years. In 1958, for example, it provided 53.5 per cent of the movement’s funds. The European Youth Campaign, an arm of the European Movement, was wholly funded and controlled by Washington.“The leaders of the European Movement – Retinger, the visionary Robert Schuman and the former Belgian prime minister Paul-Henri Spaak – were all treated as hired hands by their American sponsors. The US role was handled as a covert operation. ACUE’s funding came from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations as well as business groups with close ties to the US government.“The head of the Ford Foundation, ex-OSS officer Paul Hoffman, doubled as head of ACUE in the late Fifties. The State Department also played a role. A memo from the European section, dated June 11, 1965, advises the vice-president of the European Economic Community, Robert Marjolin, to pursue monetary union by stealth.“It recommends suppressing debate until the point at which “adoption of such proposals would become virtually inescapable“.“Fifty years after the Treaty of Rome, the architects of post-war US policy would be quite pleased, I think, if they were alive today. …
(excerpted from: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (2000), Euro-federalists financed by US spy chiefs, The Daily Telegraph, 19 September 2000; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/1356047/Euro-federalists-financed-by-US-spy-chiefs.html and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (2007), The scare of a superstate has passed, but do we want to lose the EU altogether? The Daily Telegraph, 7 April 2007)
No wonder Mr Evans-Pritchard has now concluded that he will vote for Brexit:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/06/12/brexit-vote-is-about-the-supremacy-of-parliament-and-nothing-els/
The revelation that the EU is the result of a major US secret service operation – effectively just yet another secret creature of deception launched by the CIA (taking seat of honour in the hall of infamy that includes false flag operations, invasions, coup-detats, and the establishment of organisations such as Al Qaida and ISIS) solves the third mystery, namely how on earth the allegedly democratic European nations could design such an undemocratic, virtually dictatorial structure. With the EU/United States of Europe the US not only achieves its geo-strategic goals in Europe, but it has also eliminated the role of pesky national parliaments that could on occasion get in the way of US or CIA foreign policy. And another puzzle is solved, namely why the EU had so readily agreed to a US request a few years back that US spy agencies get access to all European emails and telephone calls….
A vote to stay in the EU thus is a vote to abolish the United Kingdom as a sovereign state and merge it into the undemocratic United States of Europe which the European elites are building under US tutelage. That the European public – and, it seems, even European politicians – have little or no input in key European decisions can be seen from the increasingly aggressive NATO stance against Russia (Brussels-based NATO being the military arm of the EU, which is overtly under direct US control), and the one-sided sanctions against Russia that the US could simply order the Europeans to implement (causing significant losses in incomes and jobs in Europe, while boosting US business interests). Immigration policies are another case in point. If the US had in the past considered the largely homogeneous European populations a source of potential European resistance against its plans for Europe, then the policy to replace them with balkanised failed ‘melting pots‘ also makes sense.
Norway voted in 1995 on EU membership. Leading parties were all in favour. Big business and central banks, major media outlets and the talking heads on TV were frantically bullying and cajoling the Norwegian public to vote ‘in‘. The people remained steadfast and voted ‘out‘. Norway did splendidly. And so much more will the UK.
Professor Werner is Director of the Centre for Banking, Finance and Sustainable Development at the University of Southampton. He is known for proposing the concept of ‘Quantitative Easing‘ in Japan. His 2003 book Princes of the Yen warned of the dangers of excessive central bank independence and predicted that the ECB was likely to create credit bubbles, banking crises and recessions in the eurozone.
When one thinks of lines of people waiting patiently to obtain "hard currency", one may think Russia, as was the case in December 2014 when the currency was plunging...
... or Greece in the summer of 2015...
... one would certainly not expect it in the city considered by many as the capital of capitalism: London.
And yet, as the FT shows in what may be the first of many such stunning images, "long queues stretched outside foreign exchange bureaux in the City of London on Thursday as people cashed in their pounds ahead of the EU referendum."
Behold: London, circa right now.
Line in front of a Longon foreign exchange bureau.
In scenes reminiscent of the queues that formed outside branches of Northern Rock and led to its collapse in 2007, City workers queued impatiently around the block outside forex bureaux on Wednesday afternoon. Summaya, a 31-year-old employee of a retail bank who declined to give her surname, lined up outside the Foreign Exchange Services shop on Cannon Street. She said she was going to change “several thousand pounds” into US dollars and euros because she was convinced the public mood was shifting in favour of Brexit.“I’m protecting my money. I will stick it under the mattress until Friday,” she said, adding that Tuesday night’s televised debate had swung opinion among her friends and colleagues in favour of Brexit. “People are changing their views.”
Odd: one would not get that impression based on the several moneyed bettors who were skewing the bookies lines. Luckily, sentiment on the ground is avaiable and much more actionable than manipulated indirect data. In any case, this is what is really taking place in the UK as of this moment:
The Post Office said Tuesday’s sales of foreign currency were nearly four times higher than the same date last year, while sales in branches were nearly 49 per cent higher. Currency sales on Tuesday were up 74 per cent year on year, said the Post Office.Thomas Cook said: “There’s been a surge in customers buying euros in the last six weeks and euro sales have been consistently strong, building day by day.”Several economists predict a Leave outcome would trigger a dramatic fall in the pound when markets open on Friday, while a vote to Remain should see the pound rally. But several analysts said this week’s sharp sterling recovery probably limited the scope of the currency’s rise.Daniel Priori, an Italian who has been working as a cashier at the International Currency Exchange kiosk at Waterloo station for a year, said he and his two colleagues had dealt with many more customers than usual.Asked why, he replied: “Because they are scared about tomorrow.” He said the majority of transactions were people changing sterling into euros.
To be sure, not everyone is terrified of the inevitable collapse in sterling in case of Brexit (which is what the Scaremongering campaign is all about). Some just want some vacation money...
[S]everal of those queueing were exchanging their holiday money. Standing in a queue outside Thomas Exchange on Cannon Street, 44-year-old Chris Nobbs, who works in insurance, said: “I go to Alicante in Spain in a couple of weeks, so I’m just taking my euros out today instead of next week. I do not take more than what I need on holiday, but who knows, maybe this will earn me some extra cups of coffee.”In the queue outside City Forex, on Leadenhall Street, City worker Ed was planning to change “a few hundred quid” before travelling to Greece on holiday next week. “I don’t have a strong sense of the [referendum] result, but just want to hedge against the downside. I’ll change half now and half later,” he said.
... But it's safe to say that the vast majority of those lining up have far more existential concerns. Whether or not these are validated will be revealed as soon as the FX markets open for trading after the Brexit vote is released.
Earlier this week when we reported that the SEC staff had unexpectedly granted approval of the IEX exchange, the culmination of a long battle between free and unrigged market supporters on one hand and the HFT lobby and the NY Fed's "arms length" HFT operation and gargantuan retail order internalizer better known as Citadel on the other, we warned not to get too excited: "it is possible that the final vote will contain some variation on "protected quote" clause, thereby giving IEX its long-awaited exchange status but stripping its clients of the much needed anti-HFT protections, which are precisely the reason why so many vocal supporters of IEX have emerged in recent months."
We were wrong: in a late vote on Friday evening, the Securities and Exchange Commission voted to certify IEX as the U.S.’s 13th national stock exchange, giving the startup a license to challenge the Intercontinental Exchange, Nasdaq. and BATS. More importantly, the SEC’s decision resolved a clash over whether its rules, which sped the transition to fully electronic markets, allow IEX to use a “speed bump” that slows orders by just 350 millionths of a second, as popularized in Michael Lewis' book Flash Boys. Ultimately IEX will get unconditional status.
We were also partially right on the "protected quote" debate: as the WSJ writes, SEC Chairman Mary Jo White, and Commissioner Kara Stein, a Democrat, approved IEX’s bid. Republican Commissioner Michael Piwowar backed the broader move to approve IEX as an exchange, but dissented from a decision to give IEX what is known as a “protected quote,” which - as noted above - requires brokers to send orders to IEX when it shows the best price across all 13 national stock exchanges.
Having won approval, IEX will effectively become the first HFT-free venue, and will likely attract substantial institutional interest as the risk of being frontrun by HFT parasites is no longer present. Ironically, its competitors had said that IEX' model threatens investor benefits, when the reality was precisely the opposite.
Citadel and high-frequency trading firms deluged the SEC with letters that argued IEX’s speed bump would violate rules that require orders be “immediately accessible” to traders. Intercontinental Exchange Chief Executive Jeff Sprecher, whose firm owns the New York Stock Exchange, told analysts in February that granting IEX permission would be “un-American” because it would create a new “monopoly,” with IEX as the only exchange with a speed bump.Citadel’s founder, billionaire Kenneth Griffin, got personally involved in the fight against IEX, meeting with the SEC as recently as June 3 to lobby against its exchange bid, according to a regulatory notice.
We are delighted, if stunned, that the SEC disagreed. That said Citadel's anger was palpable: “Today’s decision will test and potentially reverse the gains in fairness, efficiency and transparency that have been made to our markets over the last decade,” Citadel said. “We must be vigilant to identify unintended consequences, and firm in our commitment to equitable and consistent treatment for all investors.”
What is surprising is that it is well-known among market participants, and originally reported here, that the NY Fed transacts by way of Citadel at key market inflection points, when bursts of momentum ignition out of the Chicago HFT powerhouse prevent ther market from tumbling when they break a downward spiral in prices. A question thus emerges if the SEC's snub to Citadel was also an indirect snub to the NY Fed and market manipulation.
While it remains to be seen what the SEC's rationale was for granting IEX exchange status, one possible explanation is that even the SEC had noticed the unprecedented collapse in investor and trader interest, especially at the retail level, as the topic of how rigged the market has become is now a daily occurrence. As such the SEC felt compelled to take a stand. Or maybe not, and there is some other ulterior motive. We hope to find out.
For those unfamiliar with the IEX story, the exchange says its 350 microsecond delay is just long enough to protect investors from predatory high-speed trading that can front-run the orders of slower investors. Opponents such as Citadel LLC, the hedge-fund manager and electronic market maker, had warned that any delays would create stale prices and the potential for manipulation.
“It does mark a pendulum shift where ‘speed is king’ may have reached the furthest point it can go,” said Andrew Upward, head of market structure at brokerage Weeden & Co. “They’ve had a victory in this debate about the importance of speed in markets, and it’s a setback for those who think speed and efficiency are the end all and be all.”
On its website, Brad Katsuyama, CEO of IEX wrote the following letter of gratitude:
To our Sell-Side and Buy-Side Partners,On behalf of the entire IEX team, I would like to sincerely thank you all for supporting us throughout our application to become an exchange. We are thrilled that the SEC has approved our Exchange Filing which puts us on track to commence a symbol-by-symbol roll-out on August 19th, concluding on September 2nd.It's been quite a journey from working in a windowless room with no money in 2012, to launching our ATS, and now completing the lengthy (and I'm sure for many…tiring) Form 1 process.We have faced several obstacles along the way and we learned along the way, but we hope our partners realize that our team's hearts and minds are in the right place – our goal is to bring real competition to the exchanges by challenging the rising cost model for data and technology while also protecting investors and delivering superior execution quality.The IEX team is extremely excited about the road ahead, and we are grateful to be in the position to improve fairness, simplicity and transparency in our industry.Thank you again for your support.
That said, the SEC’s decision may not be the end of the fight. Last month, attorneys for Nasdaq argued that the SEC could be sued if it approves IEX. The lawyers said the SEC would first have to change its own rules to explicitly allow for a speed bump. Absent that step, the lawyers wrote, the SEC lacked the authority to approve IEX’s proposal.
To this, the SEC issued an interesting response: addressing concerns about the legality of speed bumps - widely used by most of IEX's exchanges however in an inverse way, where premium paying clients are exempt from delays which are then abused by HFT frontrunners, the SEC separately said that delays of less than one millisecond (less than the time it takes to blink an eye) are consistent with its Regulation NMS. This is what the SEC said in its updated guidance under Reg NMS:
The Staff believes that, consistent with the Commission’s interpretation regarding automated quotation under Rule 600(b)(3) of Regulation NMS, delays of less than a millisecond are at a de minimis level that would not impair fair and efficient access to a quotation, consistent with the goals of Rule 611. The Staff’s view is informed by the efficient operation of the markets and the geographic and technological latencies experienced by market participants. Today, a one millisecond intentional access delay is well within the current geographic and technological latencies already experienced by market participants when routing orders between trading centers. Accordingly, the Staff believes that such a delay would be de minimis and consistent with the Commission’s interpretation of “immediate” as used in Rule 600(b)(3) of Regulation NMS.The Staff notes that the Commission’s proposed interpretation included guidance reflecting a sub-millisecond standard. Though the Commission did not adopt that guidance as part of its final interpretation, the Staff notes that commenters on the proposed interpretation were divided on the appropriateness of an intentional access delay but did not advocate for a different specific standard. Further, the Staff believes the sub-millisecond standard is a reasonable line to draw, as it is broadly consistent with the latencies experienced by market participants today when routing orders around the primary exchange data centers, and is well within the maximum geographic latencies experienced when routing orders to the most geographically remote exchange data center.The Staff acknowledges that market participants using the most sophisticated technology may today encounter access delays of substantially less than one millisecond when accessing the quotes of a single exchange whose data center is co-located with their own or located nearby. However, even the most technologically advanced market participants today encounter delays in accessing protected quotations of other “away” automated trading centers that can substantially exceed one millisecond, that either are transitory (e.g., as a result of message queuing) or permanent (e.g., as a result of physical distance). In today’s market environment, the Staff considers that intentional delays of less than a millisecond in quotation response times are de minimis in that they would not impair a market participant’s ability to fairly and efficiently access a quote, consistent with the goals of Rule 611. While the Staff believes that intentional access delays that are less that one millisecond are de minimis, that does not necessarily mean that all intentional delays that are one millisecond or more are not de minimis.
The technical interpretation of the above is that according to the SEC, IEX's 350 microseconds delay is negligible, and thus the market is automated and the quote is protected.
The far more important practical interpretation, is that the SEC has set a ceiling for what it deems the speed race among HFT firms, which over the past decade have moved from fiber optics, to microwaves to lasers in their endless quest to be faster and quicker than their competitors in order to frontrun them.
Well, no more, because with its decision, the SEC has capped what technological advancement in trading can achieve going forward, as now a 350ms delay will become the norm, while anything below 1 millisecond is deemed a de minimis delay.
This is catastrophic for HFTs for whom microseconds mean all the difference between profit and loss.
And once the vast majority of the trading public shifts over to IEX which is by definition HFT free, it will mean that the HFT scourge, already having largely cannibalized itself over the past several years, is about to end.
This is tremendous news, as it puts to rest a key part of our crusade launched in April 2009 when we first explained just how destructive for market functioning HFTs really are.
Now we can shift all our attention to central banks, the last remaining violator of free and efficient markets.