Bill Ackman's Pershing Square Capital Management disclosed that it acquired almost 10 percent of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac common shares not owned by the government. Now Ackman is joining the parade of hedge-fund managers lobbying Congress to rewrite public policy in a way that makes them and their clients richer. Because that's what taxpayer bailouts of huge, insolvent financial institutions are for -- to make money for wealthy hedge-fund guys when the government loses its nerve and can't bring itself to liquidate Fannie and Freddie like it committed to doing years ago, right?
The market for contemporary art is on fire
An egg-shaped punctured canvas by Lucio Fontana that sold for $1.3 million a decade ago went for $20.9 million at Christie's this week. That's a 32 percent annualized return and a record for the artist, as Bloomberg News reporters Katya Kazakina and Philip Boroff point out. The bull market in art is back. And the stuff is more fun to look at than gold bars.
SNL Financial had a couple of interesting pieces late this week that caught my eye. In its latest auction for preferred stock that it acquired through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the Treasury Department sold its shares in seven banks that had missed dividend payments for an aggregate discount of about 47 percent. Today, SNL reported that, for the third consecutive quarter, "the banking industry experienced a contraction in troubled debt restructured loans."
Give up on seeking alpha? Or give it a whirl?
Tadas Viskanta, who runs the blog Abrnomal Returns, has a thoughtful roundup addressing recent comments by Ray Dalio, Steven Rattner and other money managers on how difficult it is for individual and professional investors alike to beat market averages. He writes that "the idea that generating alpha is a tough one has become the dominant theme for those writing about the markets for individual investors," and he adds some decent context and counterpoints. "Just because an all-index portfolio makes sense for most people does not mean you should somehow feel cowed from moving beyond index funds."
Actually, the flights are to "the Toronto area," otherwise known as the Niagara Falls airport. Only $29.90 one-way. The slogan: "We're not smoking crack." Nice shot at the mayor there.
(Jonathan Weil is Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)