Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Federal Reserve Bank Board Chairman Ben Bernanke delivers remarks at the Fed Sept. 15, 2011 in Washington, DC.
The New York Times' Steven Davidoff — the Deal Professor — argues that the Federal Reserve is actually the world's most successful hedge fund. But it's not like any other hedge fund. It creates its own money and doesn't care about profits (hedge funds borrow lots of other people's money and are OBSESSED with profits). It also pays its employees squat for making about $77 billion in 2011.
By the usual hedge fund rule of "2 and 20" — a 2 percent management fee plus 20 percent of the profits — the Fed's staff should be dividing up more than $14 billion on profits, exclusive of whatever it might charge to run $3 trillion in assets (2 percent of that would be $60 billion).
I call the Fed a hedge fund because it is operating like one, leveraging its balance sheet to earn huge profits. The main difference between a hedge fund and the Fed is that the Fed effectively creates its own money, so it doesn’t have any borrowing costs, meaning yet more profits. Remarkably, the Fed’s profits are also an afterthought. The Fed is trying to stabilize and increase the United States economy in the wake of the financial crisis, and its profits are a nice byproduct.
Still, these earnings blow away any other hedge fund profits.
The Fed employees who manage this operation receive a federal salary for their efforts. The money is well above the pay of the average American but still relatively modest compared with those in the financial industry. The top salary class at the Federal Reserve has a maximum of $205,570 a year. Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, earns $199,700 a year, while the other members of the Federal Reserve board earn $179,700.
Last night, I had the distinct pleasure of talking with MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan about his new book, "Greedy Bastards: How We Can Stop Corporate Communists, Banksters, and Other Vampires from Sucking America Dry." We had a full house at the Crawford Family Forum. The conversation was lively. The questions from the audience were great. And Ratigan didn't even remotely hold back. We were delighted that we could partner with LA's own Rare Bird Lit to make the event happen.
The book consists of Ratigan's take on a variety of challenges currently facing the country, all brought on by what we decided should be called "greedy bastardism" — there's a bit of the greedy bastard in all of us, but some greedy bastards are greedier than others. For what it's worth, I pointed out that Ratigan is in good company with his indictment of the greedy bastards. He's very upset about how greedy bastards gave us the financial crisis and are wrecking the country. In the aftermath of the Great Depression, John Steinbeck was equally enraged. And even though he would go on to write the "Grapes of Wrath," he thought that the work of journalism was the best way to make his immediate case again the perpetrators of America's misery:
MPR529/Flickr (Creative Commons-licensed)
One of the potential bidders for the Dodgers, due to be sold out of bankruptcy by April 30, is Steven Cohen, a secretive and monumentally successfully hedge fund billionaire. I've already written about how he made his money. I've also speculated on why he might want the Dodgers. What I haven't dealt with is that possibility that he could wind up in jail.
That's probably overstating the case. However, Cohen's firm, SAC Capital Advisors, has seen a number of former employees get in hot water with the Securities and Exchange Commission over insider trading. And the heat just got turned up a few notches. As part of an ongoing investigation into insider trading at hedge funds, the FBI has arrested three SAC Capital alumni (and they aren't the first to face prosecution). This is from CBNC's John Carney:
Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney greets supporters after addressing a primary night victory rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, January 10, 2012.
At DealBook, Andrew Ross Sorkin talks to Paul Levy of JLL Partners and a self-confessed small-fry among the big fish of the private-equity world. As you probably know, in recent weeks, private-equity — the practice of buying struggling companies, usually with debt, taking them private, turning them around, and re-selling them — has taken a drubbing, based on the notion that successful PE guys, like GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, are Gordon Gekko-esque in their commitment to greed.
Levy thinks this is terrible. How terrible? It's nearing red-scare levels:
...Mr. Levy has been dismayed that the industry’s heavyweights have not sought to publicly defend their industry in recent days. Private equity came under attack when Mitt Romney’s political rivals put his career at Bain Capital in the spotlight as part of the Republican primary.
“There’s a tinge of McCarthyism here,” Mr. Levy said in an interview. “I think it’s a pretty honorable industry, and I don’t know why people aren’t stepping up and defending the careers that define their lives. That’s a sad thing. What do they fear it will cost them?”
Mr. Levy, who voted for President Obama in 2008, is right. Virtually none of the big names in private equity have spoken up to defend the industry. Over the past several weeks, anytime my colleagues or I have sought comment about attacks on the industry, private equity’s kingpins have declined. (The industry’s lobbying group, the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, has been working behind the scenes to shore up support and plans a more public campaign in the coming weeks, but with none of the leading private equity executives playing a significant role.)
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney addresses a primary night victory rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, January 10, 2012. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
At last night's Republican debate, Mitt Romney said that if he sews up the nomination, he would likely release his tax returns, as opponents and the Obama Administration have demanded. This is from USA Today:
I think I've heard enough from folks saying, look, let's see your tax records. I have nothing in them that suggests there's any problem and I'm happy to do so. I sort of feel like we are showing a lot of exposure at this point. And if I become our nominee, and what's happened in history is people have released them in about April of the coming year and that's probably what I would do.
OK, so Romney isn't necessarily the most blissfully fluid speaker in the land. It's hard to blame him for nonlinear sentence structure after the 734 debates he's endured in his quest to take on the president in November. But a more important question looms: What would we learn from Romney taxes?