Deutsche Bank Hid $1.6 Billion Loss From 2008 Until, Well, Now

For over a decade, Deutsche Bank hid a $1.6 billion loss it racked up in 2008 on some municipal bonds it purchased in the wild markets that led to the 2008 market collapse. The loss was first reported on February 20, 2018.

Even more stunning than the lost decade was that the bank was able to convince the bank’s auditors that the value at which is was carrying the bonds was market value. It gradually acknowledged losses incrementally until its full position was finally liquidated after 9 years. The bonds were shuttled off to what the bank called its “noncore operations unit.” Internally, the process for this operation was “Project Marla.” Here’s a safety tip: If you have to refer to what you are doing as a project with a goofy name, you may have crossed a few ethical lines. See FBI efforts to investigate a presidential candidate and then a president as “Crossfire Hurricane.” Regardless of political views, the FBI seeking to remove a president through wiretaps and tries smacks of something a little above their pay grades.

All during this period, the bank was raising capital without disclosure of the valuation issues. Upon liquidation, the bank, its audit committee, and auditors debated whether it should restate its financials for those 9 years. Somehow they all agreed,”Let’s just move along without doing all of that.” They labeled it all “inline with accounting standards.”

Think of how many people at the bank were aware of this activity, and yet, for over 9 years, no one said a word. Now that’s a culture problem.

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McKinsey Settles Its Failure to Disclose Bankruptcy Positions for $15 Million

As the Barometer noted some months ago, McKinsey & Company, the management consulting firm, was under fire for its failure to disclose conflicts of interest in bankruptcy cases. The issue was McKinsey providing counsel and advice on distinction of estates and payment of creditors even as its retirement fund for its employees held positions in the debtors. Bankruptcy rules require disclosure of conflicts of interest, but McKinsey did not make the disclosures in the bankruptcies of Alpha Natural Resources, Westmoreland Coal, and SunEdison. McKinsey had maintained that it did not have conflicts because it was a different entity from its retirement fund.

The Justice Department’s United States Trustee Program, which oversees the U.S.Bankruptcy Court System, begged to differ and did so through a mediation process. The outcome is that McKinsey has agreed to pay $15 million distributed as follows: $5 million each to Alpha, Westmoreland, and SunEdison to be distributed to their creditors. Interestingly, the settlement also had to provide that McKinsey could not accept any repayments from the $15 million as creditors. In other words, the conflict prohibited McKinsey from accepting its own settlement money. There may be other cases that could result in settlements.

McKinsey admitted nothing but is grateful for the “clarification” it received during the process. And, as usual, it will “move forward and focus on serving its clients.” Translations: “Minimize, deflect, and tout goodness.” And this simple rule: You have to disclose conflicts between your role in bankruptcy reorgs and liquidations that involve, directly or indirectly, your company in any way, even your retirement plan.

There was an interesting characterization of the case by the Justice Department as “one of the highest repayments made by a bankruptcy professional for alleged noncompliance with disclosure rules.” There was also a warning from the Justice Department, “If this conduct is repeated in future cases, we will seek even more far-reaching remedies.”

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Millennials and Trust: Misguided or Misinformed Views

A Deseret News study finds that millennials have the greatest trust in the military and colleges and universities. Those are the only two categories that garner a majority of millennials in trust. Oddly, their third highest level of trust is in professional sports and their fourth in organized labor.

Their lowest trust level? Corporate America. One wonders if they understand that professional sports are corporate America. The next lowest trust levels are in governors, news media, the federal government, and organized religion. Banks, the criminal justice system, Silicon Valley, and mayors (?) do not get to even 30% trust levels.

If we just did a gate tally on the categories of post on this blog, the shaker-and-mover generation might realize that their trust metrics may be a little off. That they trust mistakenly may be a function of perception based on incomplete information.

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However, We Would Do Anything For Love, All Due Credit to Meat Loaf

They are only 1.5% of the total number of scams reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), but the amount lost is $143 million. “They, all 21,000 in 2018 alone,” are the reports that come in to the government agency that handles consumer fraud from the poor souls who have been scammed via an online dating relationship.

The plot is the same — the fraudsters build a relationship online with their targets. They do take their time, building up trust along the way. Then, they spring. There is a medical emergency, the loss of a job, something tragic that hits the con man/woman hard. Next thing you know, they are on the receiving end of cash from their online lovers. The money gets deposited into an account set up with fake ID. The things we do for love.

The FTC has some simple suggestions: Never give money or property to anyone you have not met in person. No wiring money. Try to verify information that they give to you online, including searching to see if the photo they use shows up in other places online.

Oh, the chutzpah of those who tug on the heart strings of the lonely. Love is blind, knows no caution, dismisses logic and reason, and those volatile combinations allow fraud to thrive on the Internet.

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Staying on Welfare by Applying For Jobs Well Over Your Pay Grade

Senator JimCarlin, after receiving three reports from Iowa Workforce Development, is targeting what he calls the “habitually unemployed.” These folks, in order to stay on unemployment, fulfill their requirement for seeking employment by applying only for jobs for which they are not qualified. They can prove their applications and their rejections and continue to receive unemployment. What pushed the senator over the edge was when he was trying to hire a paralegal and received applications from pizza-delivery folks who had zero experience.

He has resistance because one example touted was an applicant who applied for a job as a computer technician after losing his restaurant job. He said that he had no experience but he was willing to learn. The young man testified of a chilling effect on people in his position who want to work.

The senator says that he is willing to tweak the bill, but he wants to keep going to penalize those who are not really trying to find a job in a market that is looking for workers.

Further proof that we need to be careful what we incentivize. People will find a way to get the money — in this case, a way to get the money for not working.

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56% of affluent consumers want financial security; 44% want “head over heels” love

O tempora! O mores!

Does that mean 44% do not want financial security? Or does it mean that 56% don’t need “head over heels” love? Or does it mean that they are fine with “run of the mill” love?

SOURCE: Merrill Edge Report, based on a survey of 1.034 adults earning between $50,000 and $250,000 annually

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“I would consider it cheating.”

The words of a parent of a child seeking admission to one of New York City’s hoity-toity high schools upon having an admissions exam tutor offer a copy of the high school’s admission exam. The parent said that he/she did not look at the exam or allow his/her son to do so because he/she considered it cheating. Who would conclude that it was not cheating?

The tutor explained that he had obtained the exam by sending “spies” in to take the exam. New York City needs to do something about its admission process for its high schools. Over the years the number of cheating stories, with limitless creativity, have appeared in the New York Times. The kids cheat, the parents get the kids tutors who cheat, and it seems that no one gets caught or is sanctioned.

The ethical dilemma the parent presented was whether to send the test back to the school anonymously or with identity disclosed and whether to report the tutor. The response of Times‘ Ethicist was that it was unlikely that the high school would make the students retake the exam. Why would that be? That remedy is the teaching moment: If one student cheats, everyone is affected. Indeed, that is the very definition of the ethical mind — the ability to understand what would happen if everyone behaved in the same way. If everyone has a copy of the admissions exam, there really is not an admission process. There is no longer a system of merit, but one of corruption. Whoever can get the best tutor wins the admission lottery. Then whoever can pay the tutor the most gets the exam..Funny, they call this graft and corruption in foreign countries. We can take some small comfort in knowing that New York is teaching this system of banana republic corruption to children early and often and all through the public schools.

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Jeff Bezos: Amazon CEO, the National Enquirer, Lewd Photos, and Extortion

The richest man in the United States blogged that he has a problem. The National Enquirer threatened him with publishing photos that were obtained somehow from his private e-mail. The photos were of Mr. Bezos were described as follows: “A full-length body selfie of Mr. Bezos wearing just a pair of tight black boxer-briefs or trunks, with his phone in his left hand — while wearing his wedding ring.” The photos were sent to Lauren Sanchez, with whom he was having an affair, an affair that resulted in the announcement of the Bezos divorce.

The soap-operaish magazine offered to not publish the photos if Mr. Bezos would acknowledge that the Enquirer’s coverage of him was not politically motivated. Mr. Bezos wrote that he would not “capitulate to extortion and blackmail.” The coverage of the story has praised Mr. Bezos for his brilliant strategy to thwart the efforts of the Enquirer. One commentator noted that Mr. Bezos has greater stature because we now know he is “like one of us.”

Could we pause for a minute? Those of us who reach 55 years of age, as Mr. Bezos has, (or older) have learned learned a thing or two and grown up a bit or three. Here is a list of some of the lessons we who will never be billionaires have learned:

1. What you send in e-mail is not private. Hackers, who are also wearing only underwear, sit int their basements day and night, some in Pakistan and some in Duluth, finding ways to hack into others’ information. They prefer credit card and bank info, but if they can entertain themselves with photos of scantily clad entrepreneurs (old guys) trying to charm younger women, well, they are all in.
2. Selfies of oneself in briefs is really not at the heart of true romance.
3. Grow up, stay grown up, and find something better to do, such as setting an example for your three children.
4. There is no correlation between wealth and intelligence. Hollywood is a lab of Petri dishes for that hypothesis.There are also various political labs around the country testing the same theory (see the Commonwealth of Virginia). Sometimes the intelligence was never there, sometimes the intelligence loses in a coup d’stat of the brain by ego, money, or hormones. but disappear it does. Like all powerful leaders, Mr. Bezos needs a few non-sycophantic folks around him, at the ready with the phrase, “Not a good idea.” He has the funds for a nixer, a sort of substitute for arrested intelligence and/or good judgment. Ah, the blessing of self-made discretion that modest means offer.

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Truth Percolates — And Its Nature Has Spawned a New Business

Virginia — Is there an elected official in the Commonwealth who does not have bizarre yearbook issues, sexual assault allegations, and/or incredibly poor responses to either? From 35 years ago to 15 years ago, the indiscretions and misconduct of the past have percolated to the surface. The process of redemption is possible, but does require a step back for reflection. That no one in the top four slots in government is willing to take that step tells us that no one there is quite ready for forgiveness.

Saudi Arabia – Crown Prince Mohammed has said that he had no involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. However, an intercepted and recorded conversation of the Prince in 2017 finds him saying that he would use “a bullet” on Mr. Khashoggi if he did not return to the kingdom and stop criticizing Saudi government. True enough, a bullet was not the choice of weapon, but Mr. Khashoggi met a grisly death at the hands of a squad of folks close to the Prince who were dispatched to an embassy far, far away. The very same embassy into which Mr. Khashoggi walked but never emerged, at least not living.

Entrepreneurial spirit has kicked in now. Principal Communications, a major Hollywood player when it comes to representing stars and handling media relations, had created a new company, Foresight Solutions, which will work with Edgeworth Security, a firm with former U.S. government sleuths, to offer preemptive services — they will find the skeletons and yearbooks in your closets before someone else does. That way, the Oscar folks can research their potential hosts and screen out those with problematic Tweets, Facebook posts, or yearbooks. Foresight says that it will comply with all privacy laws because, “Ethics and standards have to be major guideposts.”

Between social media, intelligence, memories, and yearbooks, young people today have two important lessons: Truth percolates and what you do and say, even as a young ‘un, or in private conversations counts and can and will be used against you. There is one sidebar lesson — those yearbooks have been beasts for everyone from Supreme Court nominees to governors to comedians called upon to host the Oscars.. No images yet from Prince Mohammed’s yearbooks.Although, the Barometer believes that one gets the Princeship regardless of flawed behavior in the past.Indeed, even flawed behavior in office is not a deal breaker, which brings us back to Virginia. A governor who changed his denial and nearly did a moonwalk to illustrate his confessed black-faced conduct is still in office. So are his direct reports.

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More McKinsey Issues: More Than a Conflict

The bankruptcy of SunEdison took an interesting turn with a court filing by an attorney for one of SunEdison’s creditors. The filing, based on an investigation that the SunEdison board launched after receiving reports from employees, alleges that McKinsey and SunEdison executives worked together to be sure that McKinsey was paid. The scheme alleged was one of McKinsey no longer directly billing SunEdison but calling back its unpaid bills and then rebelling them to several solar projects for SunEdison customers.

Problem with the scheme? McKinsey had not done any work on those projects. In fact, e-mails setting up the plan have a McKinsey partner writing, “Acknowledge that this is not ideal,” and that “we should anticipate some spirited opposition from PMs (project managers).” Spirited opposition? If you were a PM and suddenly got bills for your project for which there was no work, you bet your boots you would push back. Hence, the SunEdison employees reports to the company about cash flow issues. Hence, the investigation.

In bankruptcy, scheming to get paid ahead of other creditors before bankruptcy is declared is prohibited, and the court is permitted to call back any such payments. When there is deception involved in getting the payments, well, the court has broad discretion. The creativity of McKinsey is stunning. And creativity may be a charitable term. The pleading asks for McKinsey to return $37 million in fees paid through the arrangement. Ah, the doctrine of voidable preferences. Ah, the tangled webs we weave that are foiled through our own e-mails.

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The Treasury Secretary on Private Jet of Junk-Bond King Milken

The Barometer has a question: What kind of government regulations could look at a flight by the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury on the private jet of a convicted securities fraudster and conclude that no ethics waiver was necessary?

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin flew from Washington to Los Angeles on the private jet of the king of junk bone, Michael Milken, and the Treasury Department said, “Nothing to see here. No problem.”

When the optics are this bad, the rules are irrelevant. We can talk ourselves blue trying to justify the actions:

Mr. Mnuchin reimbursed Mr. Milken for the flight
The two are old friends (not sure this one helps, but the regulations are more liberal for optically challenging conduct when friendship rests beneath the interaction).
They are unsure whether the two discussed a potential pardon for Mr. Milken.
Mr. Milken has been a philanthropic giant, complete with the Milken Institute, a think tank. He has funded projects for increasing global prosperity, helping youth, and advancing medical research. Purchasing goodwill for pardon purposes does not make a private jet flight any less tacky. In fact, given the formulaic approach of philanthropy to felonious reprieve, the jaundiced eye takes on greater tint.

Despite all attempts at mitigation, the whole thing shows, at a minimum, poor judgment. A cabinet official trekking across country with a felon who committed securities fraud is a story that will not go begging for coverage. Cozy relationships undermine public trust, no matter how much reimbursement come along.

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More on Pharmas and Addiction

Purdue Pharma has been running ads about its role in stopping the opioid crisis. However, a court filing reveals that members of the Sackler family, founders of Purdue, took a slightly different track upon learning of abuses of their prescription drug, OxyContin. E-mails from Richard Sackler, included in a court filing read, “We have to hammer on abusers in every way possible. They are the culprits and the problem. They are the reckless criminals.” The attorney general of Massachusetts revealed the e-mails as part of a suit against the company seeking recovery for the costs to the state of dealing with the addiction problem. The e-mails were during the 1999-2003 time period when Mr. Sackler was CEO of Purdue. At that time, the company was receiving information that OxyContin was being abused and sold on the street.

The e-mails also direct sales representatives to encourage doctors to prescribe the highest doses possible of the drug. The drug was the company’s most profitable one.

Purdue has already entered a guilty plea to federal charges that it misrepresented the dangers of OxyContin. The company paid a $634.5 million fine in2007 following the plea. The Sacklers were not named in that case.

On the bright side, one sales rep complained to the company about Mr. Sackler’s micromanagement of the company and his attempts to control what sales reps were saying.

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Connection Between Gifts and Payments to Docs and Opioid

A study published Friday in the JAMA Network Open finds a link between those counties in which physicians receive the highest number of gifts and payments from pharmaceutical companies and the rate of opiod overdose in those counties. Scott E. Hadland, Ariadne Rivera-Aguirre, and Brandon Marshall, et al., Association of Pharmaceutical Industry Marketing of Opioid Products With Mortality From Opioid-Related Overdoses, January 18, 2019, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2720914.

Herewith the findings:

In this population-based, cross-sectional study, $39.7 million in opioid marketing was targeted to 67 507 physicians across 2208 US counties between August 1, 2013, and December 31, 2015. Increased county-level opioid marketing was associated with elevated overdose mortality 1 year later, an association mediated by opioid prescribing rates; per capita, the number of marketing interactions with physicians demonstrated a stronger association with mortality than the dollar value of marketing.

In other words, the rules of conflict of interest apply, even to physician relationships with pharmaceutical companies. While the physicians will always believe that they are doing what it best for their patients, the subtle influence of “stuff,” including cash, cannot be dismissed even in those with the noble goal of caring for the health of others. Nobility cannot trump the power of the mind’s need to respond in a positive way to those who help us, give us stuff, or, are just plain nice to us.

We can talk until we are blue in the face about how the medical profession answers a higher calling. Even those in the highest of calling suffer from human foibles. Nearly all of us suffer from the weakness of taking stuff from other. We just have a need to quid their pro.

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New Study: When They Change the Wording in the Earnings Reports– Be Afraid

In a working paper, “Last Prices,” economist professorsLauren Cohen, Christopher Malloy, and Quoc Nguyen, gathered together the annual (10-k) and quarterly reports (10-q) of publicly traded companies and discovered something investors should consider: the numbers are not the answer; the key is in the wording. Actually, the key is in the CHANGES in the wording. For example, look at the risk discussions of companies. When the wording changes, trouble’s a’comin’. For example, following the findings in this important research, the Barometer took a look at Tesla’s latest reports. Walk through the 10-q’s for the last year. In the risk discussion — watch the increasing length. The longer that discussion, well, you could draw a parallel graph for the also increasingly bizarre behavior of Elon Musk over the past year.

Figures don’t lie, but liars do figure. However, they will not risk minimizing risk. They can fool around with the numbers, but you cannot withhold increasing risk. They didn’t. It’s just that investors were so enamored of Tesla that they didn’t read. We should.

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