Good morning, Viewfinders. Here’s your daily roundup of my breakfast reading.
Jed Rakoff on too big to jail
The U.S. district judge from Manhattan spoke yesterday at a New York Bar conference, criticizing the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for the lack of prosecutions of high-level executives in connection with the financial crisis. This part was a stinger: “Attorney General Holder himself told Congress that `it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if we do prosecute -- if we do bring a criminal charge -- it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.’ To a federal judge, who takes an oath to apply the law equally to rich and to poor, this excuse -- sometimes labeled the `too big to jail’ excuse –- is disturbing, frankly, in what it says about the department’s apparent disregard for equality under the law. In fairness, however, Mr. Holder was referring to the prosecution of financial institutions, rather than their CEOs. But if we are talking about prosecuting individuals, the excuse becomes entirely irrelevant.”
What to do about Fannie and Freddie
Henny Sender and Stephen Foley of the Financial Times report that “a group of hedge funds and private equity companies is preparing a proposal to take over large parts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.” And the pitch will go something like this: The hedge funds and private-equity companies want Congress to change the laws so they can make lots of money! And that’s about the extent of the pitch. (You weren’t expecting it to be about serving the public interest, were you?)
Things that puzzle Narayana Kocherlakota
See this excerpt from a speech by the Minneapolis Fed president yesterday, and you’ll see where the nickname “QE-ternity” comes from: “The Federal Open Market Committee is currently buying $85 billion of long-term assets per month. Recently, there has been an ongoing public conversation about the possibility that the FOMC might reduce its current flow of long-term asset purchases over the next year. The FOMC’s asset purchases push down long-term interest rates, and encourage consumers to spend and businesses to invest. Hence, reducing the flow of purchases in the near term would be a drag on the already slow rate of progress of the economy toward the Committee’s goals. From the perspective of a goal-oriented approach, the timing of this conversation seems puzzling.” Kocherlakota doesn’t have a voting slot on the FOMC. But as you can see, when it comes to the Fed’s most ardent doves, there is no good time to end quantitative easing. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that they’ll ever see one.
Iran and the ayatollah’s money
Reuters has the final installment of a fascinating investigative series about the economic empire behind Iran’s supreme leader. The focus of today’s piece is an organization called Setad, which Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has used “to amass assets worth tens of billions of dollars, rivaling the holdings of the late shah.” Its holdings include “includes banks, farms, cement companies, a licensed contraceptives maker, apartments seized from Iranians living abroad and much more.”
Not sure what to make of what the NYSE’s new boss is saying
The Wall Street Journal got an interview with Jeffrey Sprecher, the CEO of IntercontinentalExchange Inc., the New York Stock Exchange’s new parent. He said he plans to reorient the exchange back toward individuals and away from high-frequency traders. “Everything we do on the NYSE should be focused on: Are we making it a better environment for individual investors and people who manage individual investors' retirement accounts?" He also criticized the practice of paying rebates to active traders. And I suppose this all could be part of a broader plan to maximize shareholder value. But believe it when you see it, because the idea of a stock exchange putting the interests of moms and pops over those of its most active customers seems on its face like a lot of PR hooey.
(Jonathan Weil is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)