• William A. Ackman of Pershing Hedge Funds got everyone freaking out about bond insurers by issuing a report yesterday afternoon predicting that MBIA and the Ambac Financial Group might just lose $24 billion on mortgage investments. “Here comes Ackman at the 11th hour upsetting the apple cart,” Douglas M. Peta, chief market strategist at J.& W. Seligman & Company, told the Times. “I don’t think anybody has really thought it all through, but we all understand the implications of real trouble in the bond insurers could be far reaching.” [NYT] Related! MBIA announced a $3.5 billion write-down this morning. [CNN]
• Wharton is still the number-one place in the universe to pick up an MBA.
• Following in the steps of other CEOs with giant mortgage-related losses, Merrill won't give its top brass any bonuses. But they will give them stock options "to promote the continuity of the management team as they continue to navigate through challenging market conditions in 2008." That's one way to hang on to staff. [Reuters]
After a fraught holiday weekend in which the European and Asian stock markets dropped in response to Wall Street's weakened state, and the nation grew near-hysterical with recession fears, the Fed finally stepped in this morning with an unprecedented eleventh-hour rate cut, to 3.5 percent. But was it too little too late? At first it appeared to be so: In the first half-hour of trading this morning, the Dow was down by 450 points. Now it's hovering around 300, and analysts on CNN are encouraging a glass-half-full attitude. "This is not the biggest market drop ever, this is a steep drop and it's coming after a couple weeks of steep drops," one just said. "For the market to even close, to halt trading, we would have to see a drop of 1,350 points in the Dow Industrials." Still, Asian and European markets remain volatile — and skeptical. "The dramatic reduction in the cost of money sends another worrying message to the markets," London's Daily Telegraph wrote this morning. "It says things are really looking very ropey indeed for the U.S. and by extension the global economy."
We're hearing that layoffs at Citigroup began yesterday and are continuing today. No word yet on how many heads have rolled, but earlier reports suggested the numbers could reach 20,000, and our tipster says it’s a "bloodbath." After the losses they reported earlier this week, this can't have been a surprise to anyone at the bank. But here's something that must have come as a shock: Citigroup was due to give out bonuses next week, and now we're hearing those who were canned won't get to partake. Representatives for Citibank said they'd call us back, but they haven't yet, so … developing!
UPDATE: Ok, so it's true: The first round of layoffs has begun. A Citigroup spokesman declined to comment specifically on the number of people laid off in New York or in any area, but during its earnings call this week the company indicated that in the fourth quarter, the bank would shed around 4200 employees worldwide. So far, those who've been sacked have been primarily in markets and banking. Regarding bonuses, Citi says that they're scheduled to be doled out in the next week or so, but again wouldn't comment specifically on if and how the newly unemployed would be affected. Some reports have said that company-wide, employees will receive stock instead of cash. Which, as someone but we can't remember who pointed out, is kind of like Arby's giving you a bunch of hamburgers instead of a paycheck.
Earlier: Vikram Pandit Gets a Write-down, Foreign Capital for His Birthday
Our new boyfriend, Zeppelin-loving new Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain, seems to be keeping his cool remarkably well, despite his firm's announcement yesterday that it was writing down $14.6 billion and lost nearly $10 billion, which caused its stock to drop 10 percent and fueled the growing perception that the economy is, or is about to be, in the shitter. But why shouldn't he be calm? After all, "I didn't cause this problem," he told the Journal today. But he does plan to solve it: by expanding international operations, and adopting some of the hierarchical strategies of his former employer, Goldman Sachs. Thain's hired Noel Donahue to run risk management and hopes to hire former Goldman co-head of sales and trading Tom Montag (no relation to Heidi). "The problem is not a zero, but it is for the most part behind us," Thain told the Journal. Can Thain, with his Clark Kent good looks and cool-headed fixer attitude, transform into Superman, steer Merrill back on course, and save us all? We kind of think maybe. Oh, and there's good news for media Chicken Littles, too: The Journal didn't bring up the poop incident, which we take to mean that Rupert Murdoch hasn’t wrapped his soft hands around their editorial coverage just yet.
Merrill's Risk Manager [WSJ]
Related: Setting The Story Straight On The Merrill Bonus Rage [Dealbreaker]
Related:Who Is NYSE CEO John Thain? [NYM]
Merrill Lynch lost $9.8 billion in the fourth quarter, the brokerage announced this morning. As with many of the other lenders reeling from mortgage mess, this is the firm's biggest quarterly loss since it was founded, which, in Merrill's case, was 94 years ago. In a scary bit of synchronicity, new Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain used the exact same words Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit used the other day when his firm lost nearly $10 billion. The results are "clearly unacceptable," they said. Yeah. Remember in It's a Wonderful Life when Uncle Billy lost $8,000 and the Bailey Brothers Savings and Loan nearly went under? That was unacceptable. This is way worse. But on the bright side, Thain, who replaced recently deposed Stan O'Neal, has lately brought in some liquidity by selling a commercial-finance unit and almost $13 billion worth of capital investments overseas. “We’re very confident that we have the capital base now that we need to go forward in 2008,” he said in the conference call this morning. Well, he should be confident. After all, he is hotter than his predecessor, which, according to a recent study, bodes well for his success.
Live-Blogging The Merrill Earnings Conference Call [WSJ]
Merrill Posts Steep 4Q Loss [AP]
For sub-prime sufferers who blame Alan Greenspan for setting off the collapse with his low-interest-rate policy, today's announcement that the former Federal Reserve chairman has joined up with John Paulson, the Queens native and hedge-fund manager who famously made billions of dollars betting against the mortgage market, must especially sting. Paulson & Company, which has assets of $28 billion, have hired Greenspan to be their own personal Nostradamus — they're the only hedge fund he will advise on the direction of the economy and for whom he will assess, according to the Financial Times, "the potential for and severity of a US recession," so that next time there's a giant bust (credit cards! Auto loans!), they can roll around in piles of filthy lucre while the rest of us rubes wail and tear our garments in the streets. Although not if we're canny. According to the Journal, Paulson, who recently gave a presentation titled "The Worst Is Yet to Come," has been known to tell investors "it's still not too late" to bet on economic troubles.
Trader Made Billions On Subprime [WSJ]
Greenspan Joins NY Hedge Fund [FT]
Yesterday was new Citigroup honcho Vikram Pandit's 51st birthday, and pretty much everyone forgot, since this morning he had to announce the largest quarterly loss in his bank's history. To be sure, the $18.1 billion subprime-mortgage-related write-down is not as much as the $24 billion that was predicted over the weekend, but it was enough that it led to a fourth-quarter loss of $9.83 billion. But there was a silver lining: The bank says it has plans to raise upwards of $12.5 billion through a private securities sale, which includes $6.88 billion from Singapore. They also expect the Kuwait Investment Authority, Alwaleed bin Talal, and even former Citigroup CEO Sanford "Sandy" Weill to kick in with investments. That's "a huge vote of confidence on [Weill's] part," one analyst told Reuters. "I'm surprised to see his name there." We wonder if Pandit is surprised. Maybe today after work, he'll go outside and Weill will be waiting for him in his red convertible. "Me?" Pandit will say. "Yeah, you," Weill will say, and later that night they'll share kisses over birthday cake while the Thompson Twins' "If You Were Here" plays softly in the background.
Citigroup raising $14.5 billion [Reuters]
Hedge-fund managers use a lot of lingo. The reason they do this is to trick you into thinking what they do is really complicated, and you are too dumb to understand it. Because after all, if everyone knew what "g-7 crosses" were, everyone would start trying to make piles and piles of money, and then there wouldn't be as much left for hedge-fund managers! But n+1 was not fooled by their trickery. Recently, they sat down a hedge-fund manager and wrung out of him the meaning of some of his people's most confounding words. After the jump, a starter guide to the Secret Language of Money.
Jimmy Cayne is officially out at Bear Stearns, the company announced last night, and Alan D. Schwartz is in as the new CEO. Yesterday's Times referred to Schwartz as "a smooth, discreet investment banker," Portfolio today called him a "smooth dealmaker," and former Time Warner head Richard Parsons says he's "a smooth operator." But other than the fact that he is, apparently, silky soft and hairless, what do we really know about Alan D. Schwartz?
Yesterday, we told you we'd read in the Post that Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman went to visit J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Lehman CEO Dick Fuld, so that he could forgive them in person for having pulled the plug on financing for his PHH deal. But it turns out that maybe that was a total lie? "A person familiar with the matter says no such meetings took place, and that Schwarzman was, in fact, out of town when the meetings were supposed to have taken place," the WSJ DealBlog reported today. However! The Journal does back up the Post source's statement that Schwarzman didn't want to be in a "pissing contest" with the banks, although their source used a different, though still penile, metaphor. "This person did say that Schwarzman decided a sword fight with the banks is of little value, and that it is hard to fault the banks for the stand they took." Emphasis ours!
Related: Steve Schwarzman Is Friends With Jamie Dimon and Dick Fuld Again
For Bear Stearns CEO Jimmy Cayne, his 74th year was a difficult one. In August, two of Bear's hedge funds collapsed, heralding the subprime crisis and tipping off the worst losses in the firm's history. Then there were the firings, the Wall Street Journal article that painted him as a slacker pothead (and also weird), plus the investor retaliations, the regulatory investigations, the whispers that, after 39 years of service, he might need to be canned. It's enough to make anyone want to take refuge in golf and ganja. Which, the Journal and other media outlets are reporting, is what Cayne is doing. Citing "sources" who have been briefed on the situation, the papers are reporting that as early as today, Cayne will step down from his role as CEO at Bear Stearns and be replaced by Alan D. Schwartz. Cayne is "relieved," one source told the Times. As with a great movie where the hero dies in the end, we knew this was coming, and yet still, we're surprised. With his bridge addiction, his aversion to breakfast cereal, and his rumored affinity for the wacky tabacky, Cayne was a Wall Street original, an orchid in a sea of carnations, if you will. We'll miss you, old chap.
Cayne to Step Down As Bear CEO [WSJ]
Bear's Cayne Will Quit As Chief Executive [NYT]
Earlier: Intel's coverage of Jimmy Cayne
Bill Ash, a former assistant to Seth Tobias, the hedge-fund manager and CNBC analyst who was found dead in his pool in September, has passed a lie-detector test, in which he swore that Tobias's wife, Filomena, confessed to him that she murdered her husband by stirring Ambien into a "spicy" pasta sauce, then coaxed him into their pool, telling him, "If you eat [all the pasta], I'll call Tiger [tattooed go-go dancer, escort, and porn star, pictured at left] to come over for some kinky sex." Ash has been saying for months that Tobias was murdered by his wife, but his insistences have been rather drowned out by his record, which includes eleven arrests, for prostitution and writing bad checks. Ostensibly, he's hoping the lie-detector test, news of which he distributed by press release, will clear his, uh, good name. Filomena Tobias's lawyer continues to deny the allegations. "We've tried to take his deposition three times under oath [in the probate proceeding over Seth's estate]," he told the Daily News today of Ash. "He failed to show up." Ash e-mailed New York this morning to say that's not exactly true, that he just asked for an extension, and moreover and that Tobias's lawyers have actually tried to block his testimony by filing motions that "attack" his credibility: "They are trying to block me for giving a deposition!" he said. "They are telling the press I won’t be deposed, but they are filing motions to try to block me They have been hitting the roof."
Widow Drugged Money Mogul, Aide Says [NYDN]
Earlier: Daily Intel's Coverage of Seth Tobias
So, yesterday Bear Stearns CEO Jimmy Cayne announced the investment-banking firm's first quarterly loss in its history, on the tail of announcing a $9.1 billion write-down. He was apologetic, sort of: He said the results were unacceptable and declared that neither he nor his management team would be taking bonuses this year. Then he then proceeded to entirely skip the conference call with investors. “You’d think the circumstances might have merited a show of contrition,” noted The Wall Street Journal today. Yeah. Especially since, the other day, Charlie Gasparino reported "sources" were saying the Bear Stearns board has been talking about a successor for him. We can't, er, bear this idea: We've grown fond of the Jimster, he's like our pot-smoking, bridge-playing, possibly pervy uncle. Which is why we have to assume that Cayne skipped the conference call not because he didn't feel bad, but because he couldn't deal with all that bad energy.
Bad News for Bear Stearns [WSJ]
John Mack thought that by offing co-president Zoe Cruz last month, he himself might be spared the guillotine over Morgan Stanley's mortgage-related losses. But lo, it is not so easy. It's dark times out there on Wall Street; the cobblestones are stained with blood. And after Mack's announcement yesterday that Morgan Stanley would be taking a $9.4 billion write-down, the people are clamoring for a new sacrifice, and the writing is on the wall for John Mack. Also, it's in the papers.
"He's a chronic destroyer of value," Kevin Murphy, a retired Morgan Stanley airline analyst who recently sold his stock, told the Wall Street Journal today. "He's a nice person, but you put this guy in the corner office and there's an x factor where he hurts himself."
Christmas is a time for giving, and lest we forget, it is also a time for sacrifice. This year, James Cayne and the other top executives at Bear Stearns are making the ultimate sacrifice: They've decided to forgo their year-end bonuses. Because they have enough money? Because they decided to donate it to the children of Darfur? Because J.C. hit it big at bridge? Eh, no. Ostensibly this decision has come about because they're gearing up to announce some pretty shameful fourth-quarter results tomorrow, and after losing $1.6 billion in investor money this year, pocketing what little is left would look kind of bad. So instead they're divvying up the small pool left over from what they didn't blow on subprime mortgages and giving it to players in the firm in hopes that they don't jump over to, say, Goldman Sachs.
Bear Stearns Chiefs to Skip Bonuses [WSJ]
Update: It's a trend! After announcing a $9.4 billion writedown, Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack is foregoing his bonus, too. Somewhere, Zoe Cruz is snickering.
• Alan Greenspan's old flame Barbara Walters complained the G-man never gave good advice, insisting back in the seventies that she avoid an apartment on Fifth Avenue because it was a "bad investment." [NYP]
• Henry Kravis got a little egg on his face thanks to the collapse of the $8 billion Harman buyout. Steve Schwarzman gets bragging rights or an excuse to back out of his own impossibly huge deals. [Deal Journal/WSJ]
• With computers taking over, the NYSE plans to cut the trading floor down by half from its historic high. The famous Main Room and "the Garage," opened in 1903 and 1922 respectively, will remain open. [NYT]
Yesterday's Times had a story about how some young bankers, like Gabriel Hammond, the 28-year-old founder of Alerian Capital Management, are forgoing the traditional b-school route in favor of gathering gold bricks at a private-equity firm or hedge fund. After all, 'tis always better to make money than spend it on a degree that, if you're making enough for your employer, won't necessarily matter.
• The SEC is investigating whether banks and brokerages are hiding subprime lending losses. Goldman and Merrill are the first to be scrutinized. [WSJ]
• This is how bad the market is right now: Even music bloggers are worried about it. [DealBreaker]
• KPS Capital Partners is ditching its MetLife Building penthouse for a two-story space on 66th and Lex that leaves room for expansion. [Deal Journal/WSJ]
• James Cayne and three other top Bear Stearns execs cashed out $57 million in stock before the bank took a nose dive, pawning off $16 million in losses on regular investors. [TheStreet.com via DealBreaker]
• With Ellyn McColgan's departure, Fidelity president Rodger Lawson has gone from new guy in town to likely successor. [Boston Globe via DealBook/NYT]
• Blackstone raised $21.7 billion for its latest private-equity fund. Apparently drumming up the last $6 billion was pretty tough. Cue the violins! [Deal Journal/WSJ]
• Bear Stearns CEO Jim Cayne rewarded himself for firing the firm's second-in-command by playing his first round of golf in almost three weeks. [NYP]
• Fidelity CEO Edward Johnson's uncertain succession plan claimed another victim as Ellyn McColgan, a longtime exec and onetime heir apparent, got fed up and stepped down. [NYT]
• Were the threats against Goldman Sachs "Hundreds will die. We are inside. You cannot stop us." just a prank by three teenage kids? [Newsday]