SEC To Investigate Trades Based On S&P Downgrade Inside Information

Aug 12, 2011

Inside Info

While the president makes yet more speeches about how the time to leave the past behind us is now (while newly scapegoating Europe for the economic catastrophe), the sniping war against S&P continues, only this time with a twist. According to the FT, the SEC has asked the rating agency to disclose who at the company knew about the downgrade, “as part of a preliminary look into potential insider trading.” The funny thing is that while the answer will be everyone, even in that case the SEC will end up doing nothing as it always ‘does’ (pun intended), and the whole process is nothing but a sham to humiliate the rating agency. “The inquiry was made by the SEC’s examination staff, which has oversight of credit rating firms, one person familiar with the matter said. The exam staff can make referrals to the SEC’s enforcement division if it believes any laws have been violated, but the inquiry might not result in a referral….Proving someone leaked information about the downgrade, or traded ahead of it, could be challenging. Many traders anticipated the downgrade and bets could occur across numerous securities or currencies without inside information. In a traditional insider trading case, there is often a more predictable correlation between a company’s stock price and a particular development.” Of course the next question is what is the null hypothesis: that leakees would buy or sell bonds based on the info? Because the natural response would be to dump treasuries even as the real outcome was a plunge in equities and a scramble to safe one-ply paper. So is PIMCO about to be charged with insder trading for having sold 10 Years even though in reality the spread tightened by a record 60 bps in the following week?

So instead of going on yet another wild horse chase, in which the simple defense is that all those who traded on the leaked downgrade report, actually lost money, how about doing some real work and finding out if some of the numerous politicians who were certainly privy to the data, and for whom insider trading regulations are ineffective, did not by some odd chance spill the secret to their significant others.

Which brings us to the inverse case, already discussed previously on Zero Hedge, when we learned about two months ago that after Moody’s had leaked the fact that it would not downgrade the US, one of those who found out was Nancy Pelosi. This inspired us to ask whether it was not so much Ms. Pelosi, but local financier and multi-millionaire Paul Pelosi who may have traded on said information.

For the benefit of those who may have missed it, we recreate the full piece below, and in doing so we ask the SEC to perhaps investigate and pursue cases which are a little easier to prove and prosecute, instead of going on yet another worthless and time-consuming wild goose chase that will inevitably result in absolutely nothing.

  • A D V E R T I S E M E N T

From Zero Hedge, June 2, 2011

Moody’s Leaked Again: Told Nancy Pelosi Will “Probably Not” Downgrade US Weeks Ago; Did Her Multi-Millionaire Investor Husband Know Too?

Moody’s reputation for leaking inside information is well-known: after all it was one of its own employees, Deep “Throat” Shah, who leaked to infamous hedge fund Galleon information of upcoming LBOs. But at least that wasn’t information originating from Moody’s: the world’s most incompetent rating agency was merely a conduit. Yet we were little surprised to learn that the firm that facilitated the housing bubble, and where such talking head apparatchiks as Mark Zandi reside, informed none other than House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi that it likely wouldn’t downgrade the US debt as long as several weeks ago.Per Dow Jones: “Moody’s earlier Thursday took the unusual step of warning that it might place the U.S. government’s debt rating under review for a possible downgrade. The agency said the review would come if Congress doesn’t make progress on raising the country’s debt ceiling. Pelosi said she was alerted to the Moody’s report just after House Democrats met with President Barack Obama at the White House. She said a few weeks ago she was in New York and the head of Moody’s told her that it “would probably not downgrade, so this is interesting news today,” she said. “But the fact is we cannot default” on the debt.” We are relieved to learn that the head of Moody’s, a firm which only last summer received a Wells Notice from the SEC, in an investigation which was promptly scuttled by powerful and rich people, takes its responsibility of protecting material, non-public information with such passion. Yet it is the topic of another leak of non-public information, and not Moody’s criminal incompetence, that bothers us. Because as wenoted last week, it is now proven scientifically that members of both Congress and Senate (especially democrats), tend to trade a littel too much on inside information. And even if not Ms. Pelosi, who precisely will guarantee us that Ms Pelosi’s husband, multi-millionaire Paul Pelosi who just happens to be the owner of Financial Leasing Services, Inc., a San Francisco, California-based real estate and venture capital investment and consulting firm, did not procure the Moody’s inside information courtesy of wagging tongues at Moody’s and in his wife’s mouth, and then proceed to trade accordingly. Alas, with the regulator in charge being the same one who let the whole Moody’s investigation get deadended in record time, we are not hopeful of getting any information or justice. Ever.

From Dow Jones:

Pelosi said she was alerted to the Moody’s report just after House Democrats met with President Barack Obama at the White House. She said a few weeks ago she was in New York and the head of Moody’s told her that it “would probably not downgrade, so this is interesting news today,” she said. “But the fact is we cannot default” on the debt.

When pressed a few minutes later about what Moody’s told her, Pelosi said the ratings agency told her they “might not” downgrade the country’s debt.

The country is set to default on its debt by Aug. 2 if Congress doesn’t agree to raise the government’s borrowing limit. Pelosi said all Democrats agree a default would have devastating consequences for the economy.

A downgrade of the government’s debt could increase the country’s borrowing costs.

And a little more on the mysterious Mr. Pelosi:

For more than 20 years, Paul Pelosi has been able to stay in the shadows, even as the millions he has made as a successful San Francisco financier and businessman have helped fuel the political career of his wife, Nancy.

“I’ve made a conscious effort to not be involved or give the appearance of being involved in her political career,” he told The Chronicle in 2004. “People should realize that she’s the one.

But the couple’s net worth, most of it linked to Paul Pelosi’s investments, has made the legislator the ninth-richest person in the 435-member House.

The family money, along with the many business and social connections Paul Pelosi has brought to their 43-year marriage, gave Nancy Pelosi the financial independence she needed to spend long hours doing unpaid Democratic Party business in the 1970s and 1980s. Since she was elected to Congress in 1987, it has also added a degree of comfort to her life in Washington, where she has a $1 million-plus residence and a lifestyle that doesn’t depend on the $212,100 annual salary she will receive as speaker.

“Having a Town Car pick you up is way better than Yellow Cab,” said Joe Cotchett, a Burlingame attorney and Democratic fundraiser who is a longtime friend of the Pelosis.

“Frankly, it’s a copout to say, ‘My husband makes the money,’ ” said Peter Schweizer, a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution whose recent book “Do as I Say (Not as I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy” contains a chapter on the Pelosis.

In fact, Nancy Pelosi’s most recent financial disclosure statement shows just how careful Paul Pelosi has been in his investment decisions. Because the federal statements require a politician to give only a range of value for investments, they show the Pelosis’ net worth was $14.7 million to $55 million in 2005, ranking them ninth in the House and 17th in the entire Congress.

The bulk of the Pelosis’ money comes from investments in stocks and real estate. Operating through Financial Leasing Services, his San Francisco investment firm, Paul Pelosi owns stock in companies including Microsoft, AT&T, Cisco Systems, Disney, Johnson & Johnson and a variety of tech stocks.

Real estate investments include a four-story office building at 45 Belden St. in the Financial District, office buildings on Battery and Sansome streets near the Embarcadero, a building housing a Walgreens drugstore near Ocean Beach and other commercial property in San Anselmo.

Other investments include a St. Helena vineyard worth between $5 million and $25 million, a $1 million-plus townhome in Norden (Nevada County), and minority interests in the Auberge du Soleil resort hotel in Rutherford, the CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, and the Piatti Italian restaurant chain.

Yes, something tells us Mr. Pelosi would make quite a few financial decisions were he, like his wife, to know weeks in advance of the general public, what Moody’s intentions vis-a-vis America’s sovereign rating were…

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