Sunday, 28 August 2016

Interesting New Blog: Uncensored Middle East Monetary Musings

AA Can See All The Way to Dubai and Even Budapest, But Sadly Not Through The Stargate

An interesting new blog:  Uncensored Middle East Monetary Musings.

Take a look.

Finance is Not the Economy

That's Where the Real Thinking is Done

Michael Hudson and Dirk Bezemer published a great article about a week ago on the net "Finance is Not the Economy".  Well worth a read.

The article focuses on one of AA's favorite topics: how the failure to account for the financial sector means that economic analysis is incomplete and therefore incorrect.  That is not to say the economics will ever be more than a best guess. 

A failure on at least two fronts--impact of the financial sector on the economy and the risk of financialization of the economy.

One thing did catch my eye - lack of a reference to Rudolf Hilferding.

Saturday, 13 August 2016


Law Enforcement File Photo

Yesterday quick thinking and alert DHS agents prevented a likely tragedy when they intercepted a dangerous individual about to enter the US via Los Angeles International Airport. 

This follows similar captures in White Plains (2012) and Newark, New Jersey (2009). 

While the media has not reported this, AA understands from unreliable sources that a concerned foreign citizen, identified only as a Mr. Salman K., provided the tip that led to this arrest.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Societal Worth of US Big Banks Part II Beyond Advertising

Actions Speak Louder Than Words, At Least That's What Some Folks Say

In a previous post, I noted the advertising campaign that major US banks had launched to rebut no doubt unfair characterization of them as “reckless” and “too big”.

Ads are fine but sometimes the most compelling argument is how you live your life or conduct your everyday business.
Turning back to the Grey Lady’s coverage of this story, a quote from Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase pictured above, doing his best for humanity, sets the stage.
“When Mr. Dimon was asked in February how he would explain to an analyst’s mother-in-law the benefit of being a large bank, he conceded, “We have a hard time explaining those things to the public.”
Mr. Dimon went on to say: “We make loans. We help companies. We help communities. We are the Rock of Gibraltar in the tough times.”    
In just a few powerful words, he’s made the case for the big banks. 

The central justifying theme is “helping”.  Or "doing one's best for humanity" as in an interview with Fox News 13 January 2015 which you can watch here. 
Of course, banks also have a duty to make an honest profit for their shareholders. 
As Krimes v. JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, 2:15-cv-05087, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) no doubt shows there doesn’t have to be a conflict between an "honest" profit and "doing one's best for humanity" or "helping communities".
In 2008 JP Morgan won a no-bid contract to provide ex- convicts from all Federal prisons in the US prepaid debit cards which they could use to withdraw money they had earned in prison or money that had been sent to them while they were incarcerated.
According to Fortune magazine,
“But when the convicts were freed and tried to access their money, they found that they had to pay huge fees for what seemed like ordinary services.
The former prisoners had to pay $24.50 if they wanted to get a lost card replaced quickly; $10 to withdraw money at a teller window; and $1.50 if they didn’t use the account for a month, according to the Financial Times. They even had to pay $0.45—or the equivalent of two hours of work in prison, the FT notes—if they wanted to check their account balances.”
AA side comment: $0.45 doesn't sound like much until you scale the fees to the convicts' wages per hour to get an idea of the relative cost of the service.
Bloomberg quoting an unnamed ex prisoner:
“I left prison with $120,” an unidentified former inmate said in the complaint. “Because of the fees, I was only able to use about $70 of it.” 
Success in achieving goals is a function of attitude and aptitude so they tell AA. 
Perhaps, encouragement to "try harder" would be in order as AA is confident in the presence of aptitude at JPMC.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Department of Manifest Absurdity: Big US Banks Launch Ad Campaign to Demonstrate Their Worth to Society

If You Can't See the Obvious Link to Big Banks, Take as Many Looks as You Need Until You Can.

The New York Times reports (and when the NYT reports AA pays more than his useful careful attention even when the  reporting doesn’t cover metals) that big US banks are engaged in a major advertising campaign to demonstrate their societal worth and why they should be more loved

Not one to usually share the spotlight AA will uncharacteristically let the NYT speak for itself.  The Grey Lady’s comments are in quotation marks.  AA’s thoughts are indented and in italics.

“At both the Democratic and Republican conventions, the nation’s biggest banks were again cast as the bad guys, criticized as being too big and too risky.”

AA:  Note the charge “too big” and” too risky”.   How will the banks prove that they’re not reckless and a danger to national economies?   Glad you asked.

“This week, as the Olympic Games begin in Brazil, one of the big banks, Citigroup, is offering a rebuttal with a series of prime-time television and digital ads featuring images of sweaty athletes, the Space Shuttle and an early A.T.M.

[AA: Heartwarming video here, but be warned if you're a sensitive sort, you might break down crying.]

“Our business is helping Americans make progress,” the ad’s narrator says, as a runner with a prosthetic leg sprints down a track.

AA:  Impeccable logic. .Show hard working folks at their tasks which no doubt have something to do with banking.  What precisely isn’t clear.  Used an ATM? Have a credit card?  In any case a powerful rebuttal against "recklessness" and "riskiness". And one which shows big banks’ virtue.  Smart move as I believe there were some no doubt unfounded allegations about big banks’ ethics and morality.

AA understands from thoroughly unreliable sources that JPMorgan is preparing its own commercials.  Jamie Dimon, known for his no nonsense suffer no fools approach, is reportedly going to appear in a series of ads featuring animals.  Among the ads planned, one features Jamie with whales off the coast of London or Washington state (location yet to be finalized).   Another with cuddly puppies, ice cream, and adorable children.   Tag line:  “Banking making a kinder gentler future for all of us”.

As a banker, AA knows the value of getting a fee for advice, but in a spirit of reckless (I am a banker after all) generosity (here the analogy breaks down), some ways this “geometric logic” could be applied to other cases. 

Goldman is reportedly assisting the US authorities with inquiries into its conduct and fees (a cool half a billion) for the US$6.5 billion in notes (bonds to the layman) it arranged for 1MDB in 2012 and 2013.   Two of the note issues were to fund-–well at least partially—1MDB’s acquisition of power generation assets.  AA sees a compelling ad featuring Malaysian farmers toiling alongside their water buffaloes.  Sweaty and tired after a hard day’s work, they settle back to listen to one of the fireside chats given by Malaysia’s prime minister.  One old chap speaks up.  “I remember when we didn’t have power”.  Tears in his eyes, he turns to the camera, “Thank you, Lloyd”.

Several Malaysian businessmen—LOW, TAN, AZIZ--have been charged with misappropriating 1MDB funds (to use the US Department of Justice’s happy turn of phrase).  Some of the funds are alleged to have been used to acquire works of art as well as fund a Hollywood blockbuster.  Key the camera.  The Parthenon, the Coliseum (Rome), Hagia Sophia, the Pyramids.  Voice over by an actor with an appropriately sonorous voice (Morgan Freeman?)  “Culture is what defines a civilization.”  Pictures of The Rjiks Museum, Museuminsel, The Louvre, The Tate, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  “Reflected in great art that is still accessible to us today.”   Pictures of the three gentlemen named earlier.  “Art patrons before they are businessmen.  Supporting culture in all its forms”.

And then there is the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Perhaps a harder case with some audiences.  I see a testimonial by Candy Charms who recently visited for some cosmetic surgery.  Nose, if you're interested. According to the Mirror, she said.  "Loved Tehran. The people are so kind and generous.  "Really overwhelmed by the whole trip. The people are so amazing.  Tag Line: “Amazing Iran.  Friendly people.  The most advanced medical care at a reasonable cost”.    Let’s go local with the link on this story from Gulf News as the Mirror article is accompanied by some unsuitable pictures.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Public Poll: To Move or Not to Move?

AA has had more than one suggestion that he needs to "keep up with the times" and move his hard hitting blog from BlogSpot to a more congenial and modern venue:  Wordpress.

So if you have a view, please leave a comment.

AA's concerns with the move are all about loss (I just can't seem to shake that "bond guy" appellation no matter how hard I try): 
  1. Losing the few regular readers he has in the shuffle.
  2. Losing his modest ranking in internet search engines.  Hard won, I might add, over years of diligent hard work that no doubt proves "big banks" are a value to society and deserving of much more love.
Technically the move should be well within AA's modest skills.   And AA has call on some related IT resources if need be.

Also AA keeps a very low profile so don't expect any personal replies.  That doesn't mean offers aren't welcome, just that it pays to be cautious.

1MDB Scandal: "The UAE Connection"

This post deals with the second “phase” of the alleged misappropriation of funds from 1MDB and is based primarily on the US Department of Justice (DOJ) complaint against Red Granite, producers of The Wolf of Wall Street.    (the “Red Granite Complaint” or “Complaint”).   Paragraph not page numbers are used to cite the Complaint.  Where other sources are used, I’ve included links to websites, when possible.
Before I begin one very important note.
The US DoJ has filed complaints.  Certain parties mentioned in the complaints have been accused but have not been convicted of any crime, nor have they had a chance to neither respond to the charges made against them, nor have their responses and the original complaints tested by the judicial process.  At this stage all that can be said is that allegations have been made.  Please bear that in mind as you read this post. 
As before the focus is on connections to the GCC, though AA will be unable to resist excursions off his natural turf should the information be compelling.
In this post, I’ll look at the involvement of IPIC and Aabar, specifically that of two individuals who were officials of those companies at the time of the alleged misappropriation: 
· H.E. Khadem Abdulla Al-QUBAISI, Managing Director of IPIC (until 2015) and Chairman of Aabar (until 2013)  
· Mr. Mohamed Ahmed Badawy Al-HUSSEINY, CEO of Aabar until 2015.
I’d note that both these individuals’ names appear in the Complaint unlike the officers of PetroSaudi International (discussed in an earlier post) who were not explicitly named.
The Aabar Phase – Overview (Paras #9-10 and Paras #112-120)
During 2012, 1MDB raised US$3.5 billion in notes (laymanspeak “bonds”) arranged and underwritten by Goldman Sachs to fund the purchase of energy assets in Malaysia.  There were two issues each for US$1.75 billion.  IPIC guaranteed the issues either “directly or indirectly” as per the Complaint.  (Para 114).  1MDB also provided guarantees because the issuers of the Notes were newly created subsidiaries of 1MDB with no track records of their own.
The Complaint alleges that US$1.367 billion of the proceeds (39 percent of face value and 43 percent of estimated net proceeds) were diverted to a Swiss bank for the account of Aabar Investments PSJ in the British Virgin Islands (Aabar – BVI or BVI).  Despite the similarity to IPIC subsidiaries Aabar Investments and Aabar Investments PSJ, the BVI company was not owned by IPIC or Aabar. 
Funds were later allegedly transferred from the BVI account to an account controlled by TAN Kim Loong, described by the Complaint as an associate of Mr. LOW and further transferred presumably to disguise their origin and then used to acquire assets and transfers were made for the personal benefit of officials at 1MDB, IPIC, and Aabar.
The Aabar Phase Selected Details (Paras #121-227)
May 2012 US$1.75 Billion 5.99% Notes Issue Maturing 2022 (CUSIP XS0784926270)
Paras #122-127:  In order to fund its purchase of power generation assets from Tanjong Power, 1MDB decided to raise70 percent in Malaysian Ringgit (MR) from local banks and engaged Goldman Sachs (GS) to arrange and underwrite the Notes to fund the remainder.  After GS’s fees and transaction expenses, the net proceeds of the US$1.75 billion issue were estimated to be US$1,553,800,000.  Approximately, US$810 million of the proceeds were to be used for the purchase.   The remainder (US$744 million) was to be used for “general corporate purposes, which may include future acquisitions” as per the offering circular.  
AA side comment:  That is, almost half the proceeds were for unspecified “general corporate purposes”.  That pattern continued with the subsequent deals.  A natural question is why 1MDB continued to issue more Notes while accumulating an apparently ever increasing cash hoard.  There is a natural dilemma bankers face in structuring transactions.  The bigger the deal, the bigger the fees and, thus, the larger the personal bonuses.  On the other hand the banker has a duty to both the issuer and investors to ensure that amounts raised are appropriate.
Para #130 – Goldman earned US$192.5 million--11 percent of the Notes face amount--in fees (US$17.5 million) and commissions (US$175million). 
AA Side Comment:  Much has been made of the fees GS made on the three bonds it arranged for 1MDB.  The percentage appears “rich” but Goldman was underwriting the issues.  If it could not place the bonds, then it would wind up owning them itself.  It is also a fact that “debutante” (first time) issuers pay more in interest and fees than more “seasoned” issuers. Besides being a debutante, 1MDB presented a set of issues that increased the riskiness of the deal.  While it is owned by the Malaysian state, 1MDB is not full faith and credit.  As well, 1MDB had a very aggressive (risky) capital structure –one that would delight the heart of the stereotypical Kuwaiti “investor”:  maximum use of OPM --heavy on debt and low on equity.  1MDB’s fiscal year is 31 March so let’s use 2012 financials as a starting point. Then, before the Note issue, equity was already a scant twelve percent of total assets.  Not much structural balance sheet protection for lenders or bond investors.  By 31 March 2013, it was five percent.  Any banker or investor with a modicum of intelligence could have factored in this issue and seen that 1MDB’s already weak credit profile would be weaker after the issue. The riskier the issue, the higher the bankers’ fees. 
Paras #129 and #146 – Within one day of closing of the issue (21 May 2012), 1MDB transferred approximately US$577 million to the Swiss account of Aabar Investments PJS – BVI. Note that Tanjong was paid US$650 million (Para #144).
Para #134 – 1MDB granted Aabar Investments PJS – BVI a ten year option to acquire up to 49 percent of these assets for a maximum of MR1,225,000,000.  Note that the compensation for the IPIC guarantee is going to an alleged unrelated party not to an IPIC or Aabar entity.
October 2012 US$1.75 Billion 5.75% Notes Issue Maturing 2022 (CUSIP XS0829573913)
Paras #137-139  This issue also for US$1.75 billion was arranged and underwritten by Goldman, guaranteed by 1MDB with “indirect” guarantee provided by IPIC.  The Notes were to fund the purchase of energy assets from Genting.  Net proceeds after expenses and Goldman’s fees were estimated at US$1,636,260,000 of which US$692,357,340 was for purchase of the Genting assets. As before the rest was for “general working capital purposes”.   Roughly fifty-eight percent of the issue.   This just reinforces the issue above about 1MDB’s real need for such large issues. 
AA Side Comment:  Assuming a rough US$4 million for expenses, as was the case with the first issue, Goldman’s fee was roughly US$110 million, six percent of the face amount of the Notes, and 57 percent of the fee on the first issue.  This validates the comments about debutante issues above. The lower fee may also be due to the support IPIC provided for the issue.  For more on that see below.
Para #141 – 1MDB guaranteed the Notes but IPIC did not.  IPIC “nevertheless agreed to privately secure the bonds on a bilateral basis with Goldman. No reference to IPIC’s indirect guarantee was included in the offering circular.”
AA Side Comment:   If IPIC originally provided credit support to the issue, it would seem that Goldman would have to disclose this to potential investors as a material fact.  However, if the support were in connection with the underwriting, then GS would not have had to disclose this information.  In an offering circular for the 1MDB guaranteed US$3 billion note 2013 issue by 1MDB Global Investments, the second US$1.75 billion is described as guaranteed only by 1MDB.  . 
This is all very strange “privately” securing the bonds “on a bilateral basis with Goldman” sounds as though IPIC is providing support for the underwriting.  This might have been structured as a “put” option.   If GS couldn’t place the Notes, it could exercise the option and “force” IPIC to buy the bonds immediately.  Perhaps, it was structured as a credit default swap, with GS being able to claim after default.  In any case, it doesn’t sound like IPIC’s undertaking extends to holders other than GS.
Para #141 – As compensation for procuring IPIC “indirect guarantee”, Aabar BVI was granted an option to acquire up to 49 percent of the Genting assets for up to ten years.  As the Complaint alleges, BVI is not an IPIC/Aabar entity and thus the compensation owed them was misappropriated.
Para #152 – One day after the second issue closed, 1MDB transferred US$790 million to Aabar BVI’s Swiss account, bringing the total transferred to US$1.367 billion.   Per Para #116, 1MDB recorded these transfers as “deposits” at Aabar Investments PJS in its financial statements. 
Disposition of Funds at Aabar – BVI
As outlined above, the Complaint alleges that US$1.367 billion was transferred to Aabar BVI’s Swiss account.  What happened to the funds?  I’m not going to recite details of the intermediary transfers, though I will make a general comment on the mechanics.
AA Side Comment: Not completely relevant to this post, but interesting.  The names of all the intermediaries allegedly used for the subsequent funds transfers make them sound like investment firms or funds.  (Paras 173-176) Two of them were actual investment funds according to the Complaint.  The Complaint notes that Aabar moved money into these two funds through CITCO.  That’s a tantalizing comment.  It suggests the possibility that these transfers did not pass through normal commercial banking payment channels, that is, Aabar moved funds to its account at CITCO and then instructed CITCO to credit accounts on its books. This would make detection harder.  In any case the use of “investment firms/funds” to move money provides an apparent justification for the transfers: investment firms (not individuals) making investments.  If true, a neat way to disguise the transactions and deflect any AML (anti-money laundering) queries.     
Para #181 and 182– US$473 million in four transfers between 29 May and 30 October 2012 to Bank Privee Edmond de Rothschild Luxembourg for the account of VASCO Investment Services SA, described as “affiliated with AL-QUBAISI” who is the “beneficial owner”.
Para #186  to 189 -US$55 million in four transfers between 29 May and 3 December 2012 to BHF Bank Frankfurt for Rayan Inc.  AL-HUSSEINY is identified as the “beneficial owner”. 
Paras #190-192 - US$11.6 million in two transfers 18 December 2012 and 22 January 2013 to Bank of America Texas for MB Consulting for “Services Rendered” of which AL-HUSSEINY is identified as “beneficial owner and sole signatory.”
Paras #194-196 - US$30 million to AMBank Malaysia for the account of Malaysian Official 1.  As per my post about PetroSaudi International, MO1 would appear to be the current Prime Minister of Malaysia.
Paras #197-198 – US$5 million to Falcon Bank Zurich for account of 1MBD Officer 3 identified as 1MDB’s General Counsel and Strategic Director in Para #27. 
Paras #202 – US$238 million to Red Granite Capital.  A portion of these funds are alleged to have been used to produce The Wolf of Wall Street, acquire assets, and fund a gambling vacation in Las Vegas.
AA Side Comment:  I can’t resist.  According to the Complaint, Paras #222-225 Red Granite transferred US$41 million to Alson Chance (AC) in June 2012.  On 10 July 2012 AC transferred US$11 million to the Venetian Casino in Las Vegas for deposit to LOW’s account.   On 15 July 2012, five days later, an apparently very unlucky LOW withdrew US$1.1 million from the Casino (US$0.5 million for the remainder of the deposit and US$0.65 million for chips.  Of course, gambling is not the only thing that one can spend money on in Las Vegas.  And Mr. LOW was hosting several people, including a former 1MDB officer and a famous movie star. On the other hand, chips are “bearer instruments”.   If I want to pay you, I can give you some chips.  When you cash them in, they are “winnings” and there is no obvious connection to the provider.  
The UAE Connection
Let’s look at some of the allegations made against AL-QUBAISI and AL-HUSSEINY as well as some other UAE connections.   Please note that AA’s comments are not assertions of wrong doing by the individuals named, but rather comments on what the allegations would mean, if they are indeed true. 
Para #115 - H.E. Khadem Abdulla ALQUBAISI and Mohamed Ahmed Badawy AL HUSSEINY were directors of Aabar Investments PSJ-British Virgin Islands, the company allegedly used as the first link the misappropriation of the US$1.367 billion.  They were at the same time officials of IPIC and/or Aabar, entities that were also defrauded in the scheme.  If the allegations are true, then they also participated in weakening 1MDB which could lead to calls under the guarantee.   See Para #162 for 1MDB’s claim that the BVI is indeed owned by Aabar/IPIC. 
Para #125 – When a Goldman MD met with Shaykh Mansour Bin Zayed, the Chairman of IPIC, to discuss the first bond issue, LOW was present, though “not involved in the deal” as “far as” the Goldman MD “was aware”. 
It’s interesting to speculate on how LOW became involved in the meeting.  Introduced by ALQUBAISI?  Direct relationship? 
What are the chances the LOW just popped by when Goldman’s MD came for a no doubt pre-arranged meeting to talk about the transaction?  Another “remarkable coincidence”?  That being said, Sh. Mansour is no doubt a very busy individual with many demands on his time.  Perhaps, he is double booking appointments as way of meeting all those who need to talk with him. 
Paras #131 and 141- 1MDB issued options as compensation for IPIC’s guarantees, but these were granted to the BVI which is not related to either IPIC or Aabar, according to the complaint.   The options granted the BVI the right to buy up to 49% of the two power projects financed with the bonds over a ten-year period.  For the Tanjong option, AL HUSSEINY allegedly signed on behalf of the BVI.  Thus, IPIC/Aabar was also a victim of “misappropriation”.   See also Para #162.
Paras #181-192- As outlined above, ALQUBAISI allegedly received US$473 million and ALHUSSEINY US$66.6 million.
AA Side Comment:  Geez we all want a bit when we retire, but US$473 million? Surely a lot more than 10,000 Swiss Francs a month.  Seems like a rather “princely” sum for a mere “excellency”.   As noted before on this blog, AL QUBAISI acted as an intermediary for Shaykh Mansour Bin Zayed on the Barclays capital raising.  If the 1MDB allegations are true, perhaps, he (QUBAISI, not Sh. Mansour) decided it was time to “wet only his beak”.  Rather a bold and highly risky move by an individual whose continued livelihood in the UAE depends on remaining in Sh. Mansour’s good graces. Sh. Mansour is personally committed to IPIC and the tarnishing of its name in a scandal is no doubt unwelcome as well as what would appear to be betrayal by a very trusted business partner.