Dark Forest: The Brutal Game of Modern Banking

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  1. Thanks for the apt metaphor. Investors need to remember the adjectives of hunger and desperation translate into rising funding costs, falling net interest margins, tightening lending standards and greater credit losses for those on the outside looking at the SIFI’s. The fundamentals in the modern banking world are worse, and particularly in Europe this was a very crowded long trade. It was just reported that INFLOWS into the US bank regional ETF, KRE, were a record in the past week. The muscle memory of how to invest in a ZIRP world with endless backstops hasn’t changed…yet.

  2. Love a good analogy. I enjoyed the read. Banks are suffering from what every business will suffer from eventually. Inflation created the need for interest rate hikes, and as cost structures adjust to the new inflation environment and new interest rates, all is fine as long as revenue grows in line with costs. But once pricing drops due to demand hits from fighting inflation, the lagging cost structure increases wallop the business. It already happened with used vehicles. Used car dealerships got slaughtered second half of last year because their costs (cost of inventory) adjust rapidly to the market. Automakers have a slower adjustment but are about to feel it. And banks had a surge in demand for deposits with stimulus money and did well on it, but now costs are rising but revenue is not (interest income). Every industry will have its turn, and earnings will eventually reflect it. The transition from inflation to not inflation is super damaging to businesses. What seems especially pernicious about banking is the counterparty risks between industry participants. Car dealers that go bust don’t have significant financial arrangements with other car dealers. That is where a really good analogy for the industry in real life is helpful. So, yes, the hunters with ample food are trying to lead, but how much food do those hunters have? And at what point do those hunters have to turn on the other hunters in the dark forest because the big hunters are worried about their food? I especially agree with your statement that the alternative of loosening monetary policy is just burning the forest down. The Fed knows it can’t reverse because inflation could get sticky and the Fed would lose control. Great stuff Ben.

  3. The market is grappling with how confident to be in that statement. The Fed has its political mission of keeping an eye on inflation, employment, and financial stability. It’s behind the scenes purpose is to help the banking industry. Whether that is not raising interest rates for quarters after inflation took off, not actively supervising a technically insolvent bank that had outrageous deposit growth and inadequate risk controls, or possibly blinking on the inflation mission during a bank run.

    I am not highly confident that the Fed statement and press conference messaging next Wednesday can fix all of these competing narratives at once.

  4. Taking the analogy of the ‘Dark Forest’, Ben you express the hope that you see a way out of the American Dark Forest. However, what if in this interlinked world, the American Dark Forest is possible only part of the Dark Forest? Hunters / forces from other adjacent parts of the Dark Forest (Europe?), despite the measures taken, overwhelm the place with unfortunate outcomes?

  5. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Oh that’s the risk here, for sure! Just like it was for J Pierpont Morgan in 1907 when he tried to rally his peers to prevent a rolling series of bank runs. The difference today, and I think it’s a difference that makes all the difference, is that JP Morgan didn’t have a central bank to backstop the effort in 1907 and today they certainly do.

  6. Avatar for robh robh says:

    Don’t forget fighting climate change and promoting racial justice……

  7. Can I fast forward to the end of the game and open up my bank account with Mother Nature?

  8. Perfect analogy! Going a step further – doesn’t the question of whether cash deposits are safe for all depositors have to be answered? If only systemic banks are “protected” then the hungry hunters are carrying muskets instead of center-fire rifles.

  9. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Hahaha! The road to CBDC is paved with good intentions …

  10. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Yes, 100%. I’d favor insurance on all deposits up to $5m. Over that, you take counterparty risk with your bank.

  11. Yellen seemed more “deer in the headlights” vs resolute solution secured in her testimony at the Senate yesterday. This can’t stay ad hoc, they have to come up with a uniform rule or the deposit flight upstream will continue.

  12. I enjoyed reading the piece. I could see the bank managers shivering. But you only looked at the banks’s liabilities. The problem however stems from their assets. Whether they did not hedge their rates exposure or did have too fastly growing credit portfolios. In the end it is an equity and not a liquidity problem. With credit standards tightening increasingly fast in the high volatility environment and recession risk rising, banks will suffer substantial write downs bleeding equity. Let’s wait for the weekend and whether CS will still be there on Monday, but the outlook for the banking world is grim. As the example of CS shows, even 50 BN CHF liquidity does so not provide much comfort.

  13. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Yellen is a disaster. She’s the Tony Fauci of Tim Geithners.

  14. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Honestly I don’t think that’s right. The systemic rot in the banking system today, imo, is not on the asset side (I mean, we’re really gonna get worked up about owning Treasuries and munis and agency MBS?) but on the liability side, where the fickleness and skittishness of large deposits creates existential risk for every non-GSIB bank.

  15. There’s a name to help revive all of those GFC memories! Dimon is a scarred survivor of the gunshot weddings, and forced capital raises of that era, as are his SIFI peers. They can’t swoop in as they are already pushing deposit and market share limits. And, given the shareholder capital that was vaporized in the endless fines I doubt their boards would willingly approve. So, the game plan used last time has to be adjusted. This is problem needing solutions on the asset and liability side. The depositors are in a much better position both politically and in the cap structure.

  16. Owning Treasuries and MBS without proper risk management creates a whole on the asset side. But you are right, without deposits fleeing, you may be able to weather this storm if the position is in a HTM book. Nevertheless when I look at balance sheets of several of the US regional banks or European peers and see that commercial real estate exposure or consumer credit books have doubled within 3 years (as there was cheap funding via deposits) imo I would be surprised if there was no reason to worry about asset quality.

  17. Avatar for robh robh says:

    at 1:30:45.

    Doesn’t really engender the “warm and fuzzies”.

  18. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Agree 100% on CRE and consumer credit.

  19. The brutal verdict of the market will force a more comprehensive solution. Investors with millions of their own capital at risk won’t be satisfied with that very wishy-washy answer. Does she really think that emphasizing not just a majority, but a super-majority of FDIC/Fed bureacrats has our backs?!

    Edit: I was intending to reply to Rob’s post of the Yellen video.

  20. Watching Yellen answer questions at that Senate hearing made me suspicious that perhaps all those speaking fees she raked in over the years weren’t exclusively because people wanted to hear her share wisdom and insight. :thinking:

  21. I should add, someone on Twitter posted this sentence and I do not know if it was original to them or if it has a different origin, but it perfectly captures the discussions about what to do about fixing this kind of problem:

    Today’s problems are from yesterday’s solutions.

    I thought that summed it up nicely.

  22. Treasuries and agencies, maybe not. Munis, actually yeah I think so. Munis (meaning the actual borrowers in this instance, not the asset class) are in their own Dark Forest themselves. They have also been promised eternal warmth and light and they’ve gone and added tremendous infrastructure to their balance sheets ever since the “shovel ready” stimulus days. That infrastructure has operational costs. Check out the labor cost portion of the consolidated operating margin line item and days cash on hand for your average hospital bond. The Munis are hungry…

    We’re now in the dark time where that sunlight has gone away. Rates are much, much higher. Borrowing costs are much, much higher… and so are operational costs. The maintenance of that aging infrastructure is a problem. The rural areas have had a huge influx of new residents over the past 10 years, a lot of which was people fleeing high tax cities and flocking to smaller cheaper towns. Those budgets were stretched thin, but now they can’t get cute with finances and bury some of their operational costs in bond offerings and cheaply cover them over. They too can’t turn on the flashlight and do a new bond issuance or investors/rating agencies/etc will shoot them dead. A fresh look under the hood for new bond issuance at current rates could create cascading effects.

    I don’t know how you ring fence the munis.

  23. I agree with Ben’s take on raising the covered level to $5 million. And, before the gut reaction is MORE BAILOUTS! There are some things that should result if that happened.

    1. Depositors could then flow AWAY from the TBTF POS big banks for the better service.
    2. Losing customers might result in the 4 Big ones being forced to care a bit more.
    3. The concentration of risks for future financial accidents goes down instead of being hyper-concentrated.
    4. The negatives of too much scale are beat back rather than getting worse.
  24. $5m per individual, $10m for joint, $5m for corporation?
    Also, if the insured amounts go up to your suggested $5m, do you remove the language that allows for uninsured depositors to be made whole in case of systemic risk as happened with SVB? Or still leave that provision in?

  25. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Oh I agree with that 100%! Still riding some of the Covid money high in a lot of communities, but a hard rain is gonna fall here, no doubt.

  26. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    I think the “systemic risk” designation for SVB was purely to allow the FDIC to run a process that didn’t require them to favor bids that had zero backstop facilities.

  27. F’n A Cotten! F’n A.

    That’s pithy brilliance.

  28. Avatar for elias elias says:

    If you want to open an account these days with Mother Nature you actually …can. For a (short?) window of opportunity you can just go to a Mother Nature’s branch of SVB!

  29. Excellent game theory metaphor yet current steps won’t solve the too many weak bank problem. Mother Nature should immediately takeover all the marginal regional banks at once while (already) backstopping depositors. No other country has thousands of regional banks. Why do we? Mostly politics. Politicians and political influencers use small banks as personal piggy banks and money laundering operations. Mother Nature after taking over the marginal banks should then outline bank consolidation across the country. Four or five primary money center banks are all we need to compete globally. Otherwise, every recession the weakest bank flashlights will come on & panic & instability will ensue. This cycle proved SVB, FRB among many others, cannot compete against money center banks without taking inordinate and essentially unsustainable risks. Buffett’s oft quoted observation comes to mind: “we find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.”

    Lastly, my suggestions above reflects what is politically possible. Personally, I’d much prefer letting all the uninsured depositors lose those deposits and the mayhem that would ensue. The real Mother Nature, not the Fed, could solve the inefficiencies in short order. The complacency of SVB customers is the root of the problem, but God forbid we hold the public accountable. The Fed instead has stepped in earlier and more massively in each recession. ‘Moral Hazard’ is more like ‘Existential Hazard’ at this stage. Fortunately, for us in the game, the Fed, unlike Mother Nature, can just add zeros.

  30. Once there is convergence on a single store of value, it may be that a Ponzi scheme will work.

    If Charles Ponzi could have issued the medium of exchange as needed, what would the practical limit be ? Every loss of confidence can be met with new issuance.

    The limit would be that the allocation of goods and services would lack competitive rationalization in a market. What is a market lacking functioning price mechanisms ?

    Is the market the last McGuffin ?

  31. Avatar for Btaff Btaff says:

    Once again we have been fooled and this time by SVB customers crying wolf. I don’t think the rules could have been clearer. Your deposits are insured up to 250k after that either use a money market or another bank. Is it that hard? If SVB in their loan documents or some other fashion state that you must keep more thank 250k in their bank, get a lawyer and go to the SEC and or FDIC and say “foul”. If we keep “making whole” those who don’t deserve it the rest of us will be paying for it. Entities must fail or we all pay the cost for the gambler’s debts.

  32. Yes, that is nearly impossible if you are running annything other than a very small business. It is hard enough to focus on growing a small business; we can’t stifle the economy by forcing every SMB to spend inordinate amounts of time trying to keep their cash safe at REGULATED institutions.

    It’s not a failure of law, it’s a failure of regulation. Hold them accountable not the customers who trusted in them.

  33. Bank risk management sits firmly at the intersection of contractual cash flows and the opaque facets of customer behavior. The buffer for uncertainty lies in levels of capital, liquidity management practices, and margin management.

    Contractual cash flows do what they do, because that’s what they do. There may instances of disruptions, but over time they are pretty manageable after considering any associated optionality.

    Customer behavior can be tough to fully understand and occasionally goes through periods that would make Mandelbrot proud. The key is to diversify exposures into multiple books of business that are non correlative in behavior, across many scenarios. This is not easy, but bankers need to strive to think and manage this way…

    In the dark forest, you want to find your pack of ghillie-suited hunters and band together to manage through the moment. Time needs to pass to smooth customer behavior and offset contractual cash flows.

  34. UBS goaded into backstopping CS for a nominal equity price tag. I am watching the press conference and the first three questions from the press would be charitably described as “hostile”. Early messaging is trying to describe this as “Not a Bailout”. It will be interesting to see if the CoCo’s are converted into equity and take a bath. So far, the reports indicate they are trading higher. UBS’s credit risk pricing is widening.

    Edit: I see one headline that the $17 billion in CoCo’s have risen sharply and another saying they are worthless! Financial crisies are “fog of war” to navigate.

  35. I imagine being counterparty to CS and facing a doomsday scenario helped encourage the management of UBS to swallow that pill.

  36. I think that these banks’ collective deposit of $30 billion in uninsured accounts with First Republic is the first step in solving the Dark Forest problem of the American banking system.

    It saves the “American banking system”, but doesn’t it zombify First Republic & the regional banks? Maybe that’s the intention, dragging their death out over time as to stave off the panic, prevent the bank run, but they are effectively dead to shareholders. If your management at any of these banks, you’re trying to find a way to exit ASAP. And don’t they need to come out with the zombie prop fund for every other regional bank by 7am tomorrow morning?

  37. Now a tiff between European and Swiss bank regulators about how the AT1 (CoCo) bonds were treated in the backstop/bailout of CS. This is a $275 billion market that grew out of the capital needs of the European banking system post-GFC. Most would expect equity to be first loss before bonds, tell that to the $17 billion CS holders. How does an investor price the remainder of the market when the local gang meted out its decree to protect its national champion. Another security where they decide how it works when things get real.

  38. This looks to me like the very definition of losing the meta game. Zero out the AT1 people, sure, that’s the risk they signed up for. But bypassing them to give equity holders anything other than zero is pretty egregious and absolutely murders the market for CoCos for years to come. So now any bank that needs to go get additional funding via a CoCo is going to find the terms the market will accept to be untenable. This was a short term solution that creates a gigantic problem like five minutes later.

  39. Agreed, bailing out the equity holders is… wild!

  40. The corollary to your earlier admonition that Today’s problems are from yesterday’s solutions.

    I loved Groundhog Day, and the Superbowl commercial spoofing it. It is tiresome regarding global bank backstops without consequences.

  41. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Honestly I think this was the functional equivalent of zeroing out the equity, basically the same thing as $2/share for Bear. Only difference is that I’m sure they’ve papered this well enough so that it doesn’t end up being $10.

    On the CoCos … I remember when this was launched it seemed like such a strange place in the stack. My sense is that the stress right now is contained to the Snr/Sub spreads, which is fine? ish? But we’ll see.

  42. My working theory… JP Morgan would like to buy First Republic especially their advisory business as it would fit in with their own advisory business.

    They face two issues… 1) last time they bought (were forced to buy) a firm (WAMU) they got a good price but were sued several years later for the sins of WAMU and 2) unlikely regulators would approve a merger with First Republic.

    What to do? 1) Keep First Republic alive so the asset remains intact and 2) work the back channels to get a fair price and no resistance to the merger.

    Failing that they put themselves in a position to buy just the advisory business in a liquidation.

  43. Leave it to Bloomberg’s Matt Levine to make other critical points about Modern Banking. I pasted the important parts of today’s column. For those bored with the basic idea that banks f#cked up, regulators weren’t watching, executives kept gains anyway, and the public stepped in…Again; unfortunately, there is more!

    Main points are that laws that theoretically govern large banks are more “suggestions”, the suggestions get changed in unpredictable ways during a “crisis”, and actors with no economic interest in the securities you own tell you when it is a crisis. All of those involved in the ecosystem will bald face lie to your face when they need to with no consequences. And, yet investors still line up to buy bank stocks…

    Rule of law

    An uncontrolled bank failure is very bad for everyone. Banks are not generally constructed in such a way that they could withstand all their money fleeing at once: If there is a run and all the depositors take their money out at once, the bank will be forced to sell everything hastily and will probably end up without enough money to pay back the depositors, leaving other creditors and shareholders with nothing. At a big international bank that is active in the capital markets, this problem is probably worse: Derivatives counterparties and overnight lenders will flee, traders will bet against the bank’s positions, markets will be stressed and the bank will probably collapse rapidly and in a way that leaves too little value for everyone.

    If you are a national bank regulator and one of your biggest banks seems to be teetering on the edge of an uncontrolled failure, here are some things that are generally true:

    1. You know that an uncontrolled failure would be bad for that bank, for its shareholders and creditors and depositors and other stakeholders.
    2. You know that they know it.
    3. You know that an uncontrolled failure would be bad for the rest of your banking system, and your economy, and the world’s banking system.
    4. You are not inclined to run a risk of that happening at, you know, a 30% or 40% probability. “Ehh let’s see what happens, maybe it won’t fail, maybe everything will be fine”: not usually the position of the national bank regulator.
    5. You will want to arrange some sort of rescue, preferably one where the struggling bank is acquired by a bigger and more solid bank, not-preferably-but-inevitably one where the national regulator and central bank provide some guarantees to the acquirer to further reassure the market.
    6. You know that the bigger and more solid bank can’t really say no to doing the rescue: It also knows that an uncontrolled failure of the struggling bank would be very bad for the rest of the banking system, and for itself, and that you can make things particularly bad for it if it says no.
    7. You pretty much have to do any rescue between the close of US markets on Friday and the opening in Asia on Monday: Doing it during market hours is too chaotic, and doing it overnight on a weekday doesn’t give you enough time.
    8. Between the time that you start getting nervous and the time that you actually do the rescue, you have to put a brave face on things. “Struggling Bank is doing just great, its capital and liquidity are strong, it has access to very large but not at all panicky central bank liquidity facilities, what are you even talking about, why would anyone worry,” you say at the press conference on Wednesday, and then you go back to your office to continue arranging a rescue for the weekend.

    This is all a pretty standard playbook for, you know, once-a-decade-or-two banking crises, but it is not really written down anywhere, except eventually in the memoirs of central bankers and regulators. Mostly for good reasons, there will not be a law saying, like, “if the national bank regulator is worried about a 20% probability of an uncontrolled bank failure, she can pick a different bank and force it to buy the struggling bank over a weekend, and name her own price.” It’s just, if you are the regulator, you kind of know you can do that, and you know that you should, and you know that the relevant bankers also know it.

    And so if you meet with the chief executive officer of the struggling bank on Thursday and say “hey your biggest rival is gonna buy you this weekend at a 90% discount to your closing stock price tomorrow,” and he says “what, no, what gives you the right to do that,” you can just sort of stare at him for a minute and he’ll say “oh right” and agree to the deal.

    He is a banker and his counterpart is a banker and you are a bank regulator and you all know the unwritten rules, but not everyone does. The struggling bank’s shareholders, for instance, might get angry about being forced to sell their shares at a 90% discount. “This is illegal, we have rights,” they might say. And your response might reasonably be “well, no, if we hadn’t done this deal over the weekend, the bank would have gone into uncontrolled failure, which would have had many very bad consequences, the least consequential of which is that your shares would be worth zero, so be happy you got something.”

    But their response might reasonably be: “What? Prove it. I don’t know that the bank would have gone to zero over the weekend, and in fact on Wednesday you were saying that its capital position was great and there was nothing to worry about. Now you are telling me it’s a zero, but I don’t believe you.”

    And for various reasons, it will be hard for you to prove that the bank was going to zero. For one thing, you did keep saying everything was fine. And there is a general fog of war and quantum uncertainty of bank assets. And it is hard to prove the counterfactual: The stuff you did to stabilize the system over the weekend might have made the struggling bank solvent. Also, though, you might be wrong? Like, if you thought there was a 30% chance of an uncontrolled failure, you probably took decisive steps to end it over the weekend, which means there was a 70% chance you were wrong. Not a risk you wanted to take, as a bank regulator, but maybe one the shareholders would have been willing to take.

    Or politicians might say “what gave you the right to do this bank merger over the weekend, put thousands of bankers out of work, and promise tons of taxpayer money to backstop the combined bank?” And you will mutter a legal answer — you do have lawyers, and they can make creative use of the written rules in an emergency — but the real deep intuitive answer is that bank rescues follow an unwritten and ad hoc playbook and you did what you thought you had to. But nobody wants to hear that answer and you will save it for your memoir.

    The Financial Times has a particularly brisk and brutal account of how the Swiss “trinity” — the Swiss National Bank, the Financial Markets Supervisory Authority and the minister of finance — forced UBS Group AG to buy Credit Suisse Group AG over the weekend. All the elements are there. There’s the worry about an uncontrolled failure due to bank run:

    By Friday evening, when it was revealed that UBS was exploring a state-mandated takeover, Credit Suisse had lost another SFr35bn in client deposits over the preceding three days, according to a banker involved in the deal, and international banks from BNP Paribas to HSBC were cutting ties. Regulators concluded that it would probably not be able to open on Monday.

    There is the peremptory order to the struggling bank:

    In the same meeting where they authorised the SFr50bn backstop [on Wednesday], they also delivered another message: “You will merge with UBS and announce Sunday evening before Asia opens. This is not optional,” a person briefed on the conversation recalls.

    Note that this was the meeting last week at which Finma and the SNB announced a liquidity backstop for Credit Suisse; the announcement said “FINMA confirms that Credit Suisse meets the higher capital and liquidity requirements applicable to systemically important banks” and that “there are no indications of a direct risk of contagion for Swiss institutions due to the current turmoil in the US banking market.” Even as the regulators were telling the market that everything was fine and Credit Suisse was not in trouble, they were telling Credit Suisse that it was all over.

    There is the peremptory order to UBS, which understood that uncontrolled failure of Credit Suisse would be a catastrophe for UBS as well:

    The trinity called UBS and ordered the group to find a solution to save its ailing peer from bankruptcy.

    “Resolution [a government-controlled wind-down] would have been a disaster for the financial system and introduced the threat of contagion around the world,” says another person involved on the UBS side. “Our interests were also aligned because a failure is not good for the Swiss wealth-management brand. So we said, on the right terms, we would help.”

    There was some pushback from Credit Suisse:

    [Credit Suisse Chairman Axel] Lehmann’s communique also carried a threat. He wrote that Credit Suisse’s three biggest shareholders — including two from Saudi Arabia and one from Qatar — had expressed their “extreme discomfort” with the opacity of the deal. They demanded to see a fair price, a vote on the deal and that any get-out clauses be removed. The letter also noted that the Saudis and Qataris were large clients of both banks.

    In response, on Saturday evening [UBS Chairman Colm] Kelleher called his counterpart at Credit Suisse from outside a restaurant to tell him UBS was prepared to offer $1bn in stock for the whole group, about SFr0.25 a share, far below the SFr1.86 closing price on Friday.

    The government then informed Credit Suisse it would introduce emergency legislation to strip both sets of shareholders of the right to vote on the deal.

    Credit Suisse was outraged and refused to sign.

    But it had no real leverage:

    Under pressure to get a deal done before the end of the day, the trinity started to ramp up pressure on both sides, threatening to remove the Credit Suisse board if they did not sign off. …

    The final terms were still so favourable to UBS they were “an offer we couldn’t refuse”, a person on the negotiating team told the FT. An adviser to Credit Suisse described them as “unacceptable and outrageous” and a “total disregard of corporate governance and shareholder rights”.

    But the shareholders also complained[4]:

    Its Middle Eastern shareholders were also incensed.

    “You make fun of dictatorships and then you can change the law over the weekend. What’s the difference between Saudi Arabia and Switzerland now? It’s really bad,” says one person close to one of the three major shareholders.

    One difference is that the Swiss regulators did not bring the chairmen of Credit Suisse and UBS to a hotel and torture them until they agreed to the deal. (This is in part because the chairmen of Credit Suisse and UBS are experienced bankers who know how this is supposed to go, though also for other reasons.) Still I mean you can see their point. Bloomberg’s Hugo Miller and Dylan Griffiths write:

    For decades, Switzerland has sold itself as a haven of legal certainty for bond and equity investors. The collapse of Credit Suisse Group AG revealed some unpleasant home truths.

    In the race to secure UBS Group AG’s purchase of its smaller rival over the weekend, the government invoked the need for stability and emergency legislation to override two key aspects of open markets: competition law and shareholder rights. Then bondholders discovered that $17 billion worth of so-called Additional Tier 1 debt was worthless.

    Aside from the sense of shame brought on by the bank’s collapse, legal observers say these three surprises raise some fundamental questions about the primacy of Swiss banking law and also sows doubt with foreign investors about putting money in the country.

    “Foreign investors may wonder if Switzerland is a banana republic where the rule of law doesn’t apply,” said Peter V. Kunz, a professor specialized in economic law at the University of Bern. The country “is not endangered, but there might be the risk of lawsuits” because authorities “intervened here on very thin ice.”

    Kern Alexander, a professor of law and finance at the University of Zurich, agreed, saying crisis management was carried out in a “panicked” way that “undermined the rule of law and undermined Switzerland.”

    I guess. One can always find fault with these rescues, in part due to fog-of-war and hard-to-prove-the-counterfactual reasons and in part because, you know, why wouldn’t people panic in a crisis. But to me, the Credit Suisse rescue looks more or less like the standard playbook. Which doesn’t mean that it followed the rules and upheld the rule of law. That’s not how these things generally go.


    For example, I wrote yesterday about how Credit Suisse’s additional tier 1 capital securities were zeroed by this deal, even as Credit Suisse’s shareholders got something (though not much). There are about 16 billion Swiss francs of AT1s outstanding, and their holders are very upset about this treatment and contemplating suing. The AT1s are, nominally, senior in the capital structure to the common stock, so it is weird for them to get nothing when the common gets something.

    The AT1s are basically bonds that pay interest, but there is a provision in the bonds saying that they get written down to zero if (1) Credit Suisse’s common equity tier 1 capital falls below 7% or (2) the Swiss regulators decide that zeroing them is necessary to keep Credit Suisse solvent.

    My point yesterday was that the first trigger — the 7% capital ratio trigger — necessarily means that the AT1s are sometimes junior to the common stock: If the common equity capital ratio falls to 5%, then (1) there is value remaining for the equity (5% of risk-weighted assets!) but (2) the AT1s get triggered and written down to zero.

    But I conceded that that is not exactly what happened to Credit Suisse’s AT1s: Credit Suisse did not make a determination that its capital ratio fell below 7% and then deliver that notice to the holders in accordance with the terms to force a writedown. Part of the reason it did not do this was urgency, fog of war, etc.

    But part of the reason is that Credit Suisse’s capital ratio never fell below 7%. A week ago, Credit Suisse reported that its common equity tier 1 capital ratio, as of the end of 2022, was 14.1%. Last Wednesday, as I mentioned above, the Swiss regulators affirmed “that Credit Suisse meets the higher capital and liquidity requirements applicable to systemically important banks,” as of Wednesday; those requirements included a 10% common equity tier 1 capital ratio.[5]

    And then Credit Suisse sold for about CHF 3 billion to UBS over the weekend. On the one hand, an equity value of CHF 3 billion is quite small, roughly 0.6% of its total book assets as of the end of 2022, and about 1.2% of risk-weighted assets, suggesting that the actual value of Credit Suisse’s equity was well below 7%. On the other hand, that’s not how capital accounting works, and it seems like for accounting purposes UBS is allowed to treat Credit Suisse as though it was solvent and well capitalized and its assets were worth far more than its liabilities. UBS’s investor presentation notes that it got CHF 56 billion of badwill from the deal, meaning that for accounting purposes it bought CHF 59 billion worth of equity for CHF 3 billion, and CHF 59 billion of equity would leave Credit Suisse quite well capitalized.[6]

    So as a matter of rough justice, the AT1s going to zero while the common stock went almost-but-not-quite to zero seems very fair and expected to me. On the other hand, as a legal reading of the documents, this argument doesn’t really work.

    Instead, the AT1s got zeroed through a more ad hoc regulatory determination that it was necessary to zero them to save the bank. And the problem there is (1) you can second-guess that determination and (2) you can argue that, if it was necessary to zero the AT1s, then it was also necessary to zero the common stock, so preserving value for the common undermines the case for zeroing the AT1s.

    I am not super-sympathetic to those arguments, but they are not trivial, and they are the sort of arguments that come out of an ad hoc desperate weekend rescue of a big bank. And in particular, the Swiss regulators’ insistence that Credit Suisse was well capitalized both last week (when they were trying to calm markets) and this week (when they don’t want to leave UBS with a giant capital hole) makes it harder for them to argue that the AT1s needed to be triggered. There is a real tension between the standard regulatory responses of (1) insisting that everything is fine and also (2) taking drastic emergency actions.

    Anyway, this isn’t over. Bloomberg reports:

    US law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan said it will host a call for [AT1] bondholders on Wednesday with representatives from its offices in Zurich, New York and London to talk through the “potential avenues of redress which bondholders should be considering.”


    Dealers including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley are willing to buy risky Credit Suisse debt known as additional tier 1 bonds, or AT1s, for somewhere around 2 cents on the dollar and sell somewhere around 5 cents as of early afternoon on Monday in New York, according to the people. The Swiss bank said on Sunday that the bonds would be written down to zero as a condition of the rescue of the bank.

    Other banks, including BNP Paribas SA, BTIG, Jefferies Financial Group Inc., as well as JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, are also getting involved, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private trades. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. traders were preparing to take bids on claims against the bonds in messages circulated late Sunday, according to separate people with knowledge of the matter.

    That’s basically a bet that you can get someone (a court, a government) to second-guess the Swiss authorities’ decision to zero the AT1. The market odds on that bet are between 20-to-1 and 50-to-1, so a long shot but not utterly hopeless.


    One charming thing about Credit Suisse in recent years is that it had a habit of paying its employees with its weirdest assets. It was happy to give its managing directors bonuses consisting of, like, toxic mortgage assets, or derivatives counterparty credit exposure. The idea was that, if Credit Suisse had stuff on its books that looked bad for regulatory capital, and that the market didn’t want, but that Credit Suisse thought was good, then it would give that stuff to its employees. This was clever both as a matter of aligning incentives (bankers would be more careful if they had to eat their own cooking in their personal accounts) and as a matter of dis-aligning incentives (the bankers, after all, were picking which bits of their cooking got jammed into their PAs, and might have picked the good bits).

    But eventually this got a bit more standardized, so that instead of paying employees in whatever weird exposures it had lying around, Credit Suisse started paying part of their bonuses in one particular weird exposure. It was … oh no … it was additional tier 1 contingent capital securities! The things that got zeroed this weekend! Bad choice.

    Except that the bonuses weren’t exactly paid in the AT1 bonds that were publicly traded and were zeroed this weekend. Instead, they got paid “Contingent Capital Awards” with very similar terms, including that the awards would go to zero if capital fell too low or to prevent insolvency or a public rescue.[7] So did they get zeroed over the weekend along with the public AT1 bonds, or not? I don’t know! Maybe not? Bloomberg’s Harry Wilson and Marion Halftermeyer report:

    These were meant to mirror risky bonds that were wiped out in the takeover but had yet to be written down to zero before the Swiss statement landed, a person familiar with the matter said earlier Tuesday.

    The CCA awards were worth about 360 million francs ($388 million) at the end of 2022. One of the conditions of the awards is that the instruments have no value in the event of a collapse of the bank. But the nature of the rescue — couched as a private takeover — left some wondering if it was feasible the weekend’s events may not trigger this. …

    In 2021, just over 5,000 Credit Suisse employees received contingent capital awards, of which 1,229 were classified as material risk takers, performing jobs considered most vital to the bank’s health.

    The lender stated in its annual report that the contingent capital awards carry “risks similar” to other contingent capital securities it issues.

    Yeah look, if I were the regulator (or UBS), I might prefer to zero the public-market AT1s but not the employee ones: The employee ones are fairly small, so zeroing them doesn’t conserve much capital, and the employees are going to be pretty demoralized right now, so giving them something seems helpful for the long-term future of the business. On the other hand, the holders of the public AT1s are already threatening legal action because they got zeroed while the shareholders got something, and they are going to be furious if Credit Suisse pays out the more-or-less identical employee AT1s and not them. Any banking rescue is going to involve some arbitrary distinctions, but that one seems tough.

    First Boston

    Oh well:

    UBS Group AG wants to cherry pick top dealmakers from Credit Suisse Group AG’s investment bank instead of supporting Michael Klein’s plan to build a new independent firm, according to people familiar with the discussions.

    UBS executives have told their Credit Suisse counterparts that they prefer selectively bolstering their own investment bank while dumping the riskier operations, the people said, asking for anonymity because the review has just begun and no final decisions have been made. In initial talks, the acquiring bank indicated little interest in continuing the planned effort for a CS First Boston carveout that would create a new competitor, the people said.

    All this means Klein’s dream of leading a new investment bank under the revived CS First Boston brand looks increasingly unlikely.

    When we last talked about the proposed First Boston carveout, good lord, six days ago, I said that it “might be the most conflicted transaction I have ever seen. I just admire it?” It was an amazing piece of work, for Klein to be a Credit Suisse board member, to be put in charge of deciding what to do with the investment banking business, to decide the answer was to sell it to himself and also to buy his existing investment banking boutique, and for him to get Credit Suisse to agree that that was all fine.

    And now it is apparently falling apart for reasons that have nothing to do with its own audacity. Oh, I mean. It is possible that there is some characteristic of Credit Suisse that made it unusually likely to (1) do this First Boston deal, (2) have the Archegos, Greensill, tuna-bond, garden-party-spying, etc. scandals and (3) ultimately fail and be sold to UBS. Possibly the problem is that the overall level of audacity at Credit Suisse was too high, and eventually that caught up to it.

  44. Patrick, all that information deserved a thread/article of its own! So much information packed in there!

  45. It could. I think it is more powerful in this thread. There is enough similar fodder in the world of finance to keep Matt busy writing a DAILY column of similar density, length, and head shaking revelations. We all need to be reminded that the darkness pervades many levels.

    I have empathy for managers who have to navigate the minefield of public business models that populate the indexes clients measure them against.

  46. Levine is great, and always a must-read.

    Regarding First Republic, I think it all comes back to the client base.

    FRC clients are generally wealthy and financially sophisticated individuals, and they are the core of both sides of the balance sheet. The company has built one helluva brand catering to them (“It’s a privilege to serve you”), and they know it. Potential buyers see this too, but not in a good way right now.

    On the deposit side of the balance sheet, these clients have been slowly departing over recent quarters for the greener pastures of money market accounts and T-bills. They already know savings interest rates are inadequate, but they for now are a bit stickier because they have a loyalty to the bank. That said, recent events have them seriously questioning any excess over $250k.

    But back to loyalty. First Republic clients have this loyalty partially because of service, and partially because FRC likely refinanced their first mortgage at 2.5%, and maybe they sold them a second home mortgage at 3.0%. These loans are almost entirely jumbo mortgages that the bank carries on its balance sheet. Sure, the loans are performing, and the clients remain in strong financial positions, but the mortgages are still worth a lot less now than they were due to rates.

    So you are now Jamie Dimon, and you might want to buy the bank. First Republic looks mint on paper: great, mostly loyal, customers, big balances. But you know their depositors are already looking to greener interest pastures, and their mortgages are not worth par at today’s rates. If you tried to hold on to these fleeing deposits by selling 3 month CDs at the T-bill rate, you would be paying your clients more than you are earning from their 30-year mortgages. Do you really want to own this bank? Your best move is to stabilize the bank, not own it, which is why Dimon did what he did last week.

  47. I am a client of FRC. I became one five years ago when J.p. morgan, after a 20 year relationship, decided they didn’t want my business. So the idea that JPM wants FRC for the client base is not one I buy into.

  48. I agree - I think Dimon would prefer the ‘stickier’ deposits of corporate accounts and middle income savers over the more financially aware HNW base at First Republic.

  49. Since this is a public thread on the internet, several people have inquired privately as to why JP Morgan would not want a client’s business…let me summarize it as:

    1. Our account was not large enough and were not buying enough cross sell at JP Morgan to make it worth their while.

    2. For our fund business which was large enough, the reason given was that we were not doing AML with one of their big four approved providers. It didn’t matter to them that our administrators were Northern Trust and SS&C. It also didn’t matter to them that they had done full KYC on us and knew perfectly well after a 20 year relationship who was in our fund since most of them were their clients as well.

    Basically, we were not interesting enough to JP Morgan and were not generating enough fees. Plus Big Four loves Big Four. That is how the 'polies form.

    And thank you to all who inquired privately, that was considerate and unexpected in a very positive way. I have no issues sharing the reasons publicly. The one who ought to be embarrased at their treatment of their clients is JP Morgan. They got no shame though.

  50. The potential bank rescuers (JPow and Yellen) seem overconfident to investors who aren’t sure what the rules of the road look like for a substantail swath of the US banking sector. Pretty simple tell is KRE (regional bank ETF) up, markets calm. Today, it slumped 4% in the aftermath of both missionaries speaking.

  51. What time did she say that cause I think it was her comments that tanked the markets.

    The financial missionaries are saying it was rate increase , of course the DOW up a couple hundred points after that announcement.

  52. This has been an absolute banger of a week for the comms teams of the Fed and Treasury. If you had told them to be more confusing and unprofessional a la Brewster’s Millions what would they have done differently?

  53. Isn’t there an underlying belief that a state like Illinois will not be allowed to go bankrupt? As long as the president elected won the state in trouble the federal government will come to the rescue for sure? And if not the case the pressure to save pensions of state employees may be politically too much? We’ve seen Jefferson County AL and Detroit and Orange County but what about states? If Illinois gets bailed out the doors to moral hazard get opened wide.

  54. Agree on this point. Many businesses have natural scale requirements to be competitive. Compliance and risk assessment operations are a big financial overhead burden that needs to be adequately spread. You would never have boutique reinsurance companies because you need diversification. Interesting that we have these specialized really good operators of banks that focus on industries. There is value in that. Is there a private market reinsurance for banks that could handle these banks as an intermediate aggregator of risks between these banks and the federal government? Swiss Re and General Re don’t seem to be going under.

  55. With the FDIC and other regulators having stepped in pretty quickly for Signature, at what point do they step in for FRC? Is it equity stock based (ie, FRC trades below $1)? Is it deposit to asset based? Right now it just seems like they’re doing a slow bleed and hoping it goes away. But a $100 bn deposit loss does not instill confidence. Is the new release going to cause more depositors to flee and continue/restart the bank run?

  56. John,

    I have little doubt that the holdouts in the FR uninsured deposit base are turning tail after the earnings call yesterday. I speak from my own book. We had left some funds in an effort to support the FR teams that we have been working with for over five years, but that time is past. The business is being decimated and many of the folks we want to support are likely to join the ranks of the cut as the business downsizes while the brilliant managers that drove the bus off the cliff cut themselves a deal.

    The system is playing with fire…

  57. I am thinking about this a lot today. Not for banks though. Banks are the Rumsfeldian “known unknowns”. We know that we don’t know what their balance sheet is currently worth. So that will start to sort itself out with some bank failures and bailouts like it normally does.

    I am starting to get concerned about a very large and rapidly growing non-banking sector though. Every asset manager, banker, and financial advisor I talk to however thinks I’m crazy. Here’s the thing though, the US Treasury Secretary is actually worried and openly warning about it too.

    Money Market Funds.

    Why? Ben’s quote is just as applicable, if not more so, to MMFs as it was to the regional banks. Investor redemptions in an illiquid market when the underlying assets are under tremendous pressure. Pressure from the Fed raising rates, but also on the Congress on the debt ceiling.

    I’ve heard zero narratives on this.

  58. It’s what those floating NAV funds were created for right? But we haven’t had a real test to see if they actually solve the problem or simply shifted it and will ultimately make the whole system worse.

  59. Thought of the original note last night and woke up (in Australia) to the freefall of the SPDR KRE Mid cap bank index. Looks like there is 0 natural support which I expect means we will get a few more failures over the coming weeks

  60. Careful, we are in the narrative zone that it isn’t the fault of the banks who loaded up on long duration assets counting on a near zero funding cost forever. It is the evil speculators loading up on puts and shorting. Don’t be caught offside not expecting an attack on factions seen as destabilizing to the banking system.

  61. I was reading Ben’s twitter and he seems to take the opposite position to your comment here. So im not trying to pit you guys against each other, more try to understand it all.

    So based on combining the two stories, would it be right to say that 2 wrongs don’t make a right?

    Obviously the banks were having poor risk management to pivot from a low rates environment to the opposite, but are the shorts right to buy puts and and crash the prices by manipulating sentiment?

    Also since the FED are the ones who set the rates, is it fair to blame the banks for being overly loaded up on long duration assets? Wouldn’t they have had to take more risks to be competitive or were they just being greedy or lazy?

    I don’t ask these questions with any real insight in the matter and I think I read one of your posts before and it was very enlightening. So just wanted to pick your brain.

  62. All great questions! I’m sure that some of the trading action in the banks is happening due to put buying and shorting, just like the action in financial stocks during late summer/fall of 2008. That is the direction of the fundamentals in what was a very crowded trade.

    It is the asymmetry of the narrative that always intrigues me. No one cares when a ridiculous option gamma short squeeze carries scores of names into a valuation land that guarantees when the fever breaks the stocks will be down 95%+. But, when financial stocks start picking up a set of risks the market had been ignoring, all sorts of constituencies jump in to try to make investors stop bullying them. The system only likes upside price volatility. BREIT is gating their investors, Private Equity and Private Credit are slow to mark Level 3 assets, and banks are holding most of their underwater assets to maturity if they can. No one can accept a real mark due to the leverage in their model and the system.

    The instability of that leverage and how it manages to roll forward creates this tension and the narratives that shorts are un-American or evil. The other side of that argument is that encouraging a decade of necessitating levered carry trades due to zero rates was a move that could never work in the long run. It was a short sighted policy that would eventually blow up and destabilize the system.

  63. When we buy/sell our current preferred MM funds I usually gloss over all the disclaimers that pop up in my trading system because, you know, I’ve read them before and we’ve been using these funds for years without incident.
    This time, I stopped and re-read the disclaimer that I have seen probably hundreds if not thousands of times. “This money market fund may be subject to liquidity fees and gates on redemptions.” In light of you comment, I am now taking this warning more seriously and currently giving it some thought as to my next steps in regards to using these (and other similar MM) funds.

  64. Glad to know I helped someone with my paranoia! I just moved some funds out of the federal MMF and over to a corporate MMF. My FA freaked out because I’m losing 36bps. My response was that I trust a basket of short term corporates more than the short term Fed paper. Upon reflection… I didn’t even question that the corporates had a lower yield (less risk) than the .gov paper!

  65. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    This is a very fair point, Patrick, as is your comparison to summer/fall 2008. And I am a dyed-in-the-wool short seller! I made my career by running a very successful short book, particularly in 2008 when I was short every financial stock you can name.

    But here’s the difference … PacWest and the other crushed regional banks this week did NOT have big deposit outflows - like SVB and FRC did - that would ‘justify’ their stock price getting killed. On the contrary, all of these guys reported deposit gains over the quarter, and they were not tapping the Fed term loan facility. There was no news on these guys, and if you look at the options activity here it was purely a bear raid. And not just an ordinary bear raid, but one designed to CREATE deposit outflows and destabilize the entire banking system.

    Are the profit margins for regional banks under clear stress and should their multiple go down? Yes, obviously. Are they a good short? Yes, I think they are! But what happened earlier this week was WAY more than a lot of ordinary-course long/short guys setting up a regular way short position and WAY more than long-only guys punting their position. It was absolutely a mega bear raid and absolutely a systemic attack on the United States. Hard pass.

  66. Ben may be correct that some of the put option buying intent was in the hopes the declining stock price would further incent deposit flight. However, I am not sure how to determine what percentage of put contracts were opened by hedgers, fundamentally driven speculators and arsonists. And, based on today’s trading those put purchases or shorts are getting some comeuppance. The market should sort this out better than a regulator 99% of the time.

    My other point is that no one lifted so much as a finger to put the businesses of short sellers back together after consistent meme stock manipulation by Reddit traders in 2021 bankrupted them. No one said, hmm they are just kiting the price by colluding on social media and in the process creating gamma squeezes that force short covering. The reaction seemed to be that is was fun to watch the shorts get busted, and many a trading desk was just as actively following the price action and hopping aboard. The volume Gamestop was trading was not all Robinhood! It even created an index of “most shorted names” that is reliably a strong performer on days like today when the KRE bounced back and investors loved AAPL eps. But, in the process of pushing short strategies into the shadows it just made the bubble in stupidity inflate to levels where Carvana collapsed from $350 to single digits instead of only barely holding its IPO price then collapsing.

    To my mind, the short seller is playing at the tables just like everyone else in the casino. But, when they win they are blacklisted. In the process the rest of the blackjack players are hurt because that increases the odds a drunk is sitting at the anchor position constantly hitting his 15 when the dealer has a 6 showing. Wall Street never seems to mind chaos until it finds Credit Suisse or Bear Stearns.

  67. Thanks for all the comments - interesting to wake up and see the same index is now up 6% overnight… To me it seems weird that all this is happening on no news (or at least nothing i can see that should effect the entire long tail of the US banking system). I really just look at the price action over a few days and it would seem that the original point of Ben’s note is intact - ie big structural problem = no reason to buy = generally prices going down

  68. Sorry forgot to add - volume. Last few months have been massive and last 2 days in the top traded daily volumes for the index over 4 yrs - on monthly basis the volumes are 4x to long average and on weekly 6x - I think that means this has now got the focus of the market and won’t be going away quickly regardless of the reason for the price move

  69. I don’t think manipulation is the word that fits here. Recognizing a trend and then following it is what every single momentum fund out there does. The only difference between a quant momentum fund and the Reddit meme phenomenon was that some number of retail traders actually got to make money while the pros got wrecked.

  70. Patrick,

    If the regional banks were not central to the economic well being of small and medium sized businesses there would be a lot less concern about the situation. The reason people are coming to the defense of the bank, imo, is that you are not just fucking with the abstract market world, you are messing with main street.


  71. Avatar for robh robh says:

    Exactly-- this isn’t Herbalife, Valeant or Tesla-- this is F*cking around with the stability of the US financial system. And short sellers that participate in bear raids that actually cause banks failures will probably end up dealing with 10b5 prosecutions.

  72. I think it does deserve the term manipulation. It got a pass as it seemed to be happening outside of the traditional channels. But, if 20 sellside and buyside desks were all messaging each other to push their flow into certain stocks, like the meme stock bros, I bet it would have been stopped. I’m certain savvy traders figured it out and got to stay anonymous from the Reddit crowd.

  73. I may be wrong, but it seems obvious that @jpclegg63 is saying that this is manipulation AND that was manipulation. And yet, everybody wants to prove to him that this is manipulation.

    Or, I guess, the argument is this is badder manipulation, so it’s not comparable. But then, how does one compare?

    This makes me appreciate the Robinhood founders for their choice of name.

  74. Manipulation requires intent to deceive investors in order to move price up or down. The meme traders simply noticed that unusually high call volume pushed the stock up. This was knowledge that professionals already had, by the way. They didn’t discover some deep market secret, they just stumbled upon a known reality of math.

    GME blew up Plotkin because WSB saw that he was short bigly and they decided to have some fun with him. “Let’s put this smug jerk out of business and maybe make some money while doing it!” isn’t manipulation. As more short sellers piled in at nosebleed prices this loose collective of retail rebels decided that it was high time the pros got to taste the sting of the market’s least respected participants. Nobody was really deceived. And everyone knew why GME was going up, and it had nothing to do with fundamentals or an earnings release or some sham merger offer. It was bubble-blowing, courtesy of a once-in-a-generation set of mathematical circumstances, and everyone knew it.

  75. Um, I was responding to his questions as to why people got upset about the business of banks over the business of short sellers. No opinion offered on anything else.

  76. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    I had a long talk with Marc Cohodes about Gabe Plotkin and his GME short, and we are in total agreement here: Gabe was a terrible short seller! By that we mean that he was a ‘big stack’ short, using his huge balance sheet and … interesting … ability to get apparently unlimited borrows to just browbeat the market with his short position. I can’t tell you how ridiculous it is that Gabe had a mid-single digit portion of his portfolio short a stock where he was like 20% of the float. It’s idiotic! Why? Because there is ALWAYS someone with a bigger stack, and as soon as they decide to sit down and play at your table, you’re gonna lose.

    Look, I was short GME back in the day with a not-small hedge fund. I rode that stock down from $55 to $25 or so. And then I was out. Playing for a BK outcome by shorting more and more of a stock and just bullying your way forward is a really dumb way to short stocks. It can absolutely work for a while (and ditto on the upside, like with Bill Hwang and Archegos), maybe a long while, but ultimately you always get found out and blown out.

  77. It seems like we are all the way back to my original musing about the asymmetry of the narratives between shorts and longs! All of this back and forth highlights it. Manipulation doesn’t have to be a loaded word, but it usually conveys a malicious motive when talking markets. Shorts seem to be assumed bad until overtly proven otherwise. On the long side, just about anything goes as most in the markets are rooting for the guys in the white hats.

  78. As far as I can tell, the main crime committed by WSB and the memestock bros was not working for a G-SIB while doing what they did.

  79. I’m responding to this without fully absorbing this…very thorough thread, so forgive me if my response is out of context.

    There’s a securities law definition of “market manipulation” and a plain language / common sense definition of “market manipulation.” By the letter of the law, there is absolutely no question in my mind (which, you should know, is not the mind of an actual securities lawyer) that the WSB crew engaged in market manipulation under Section 78(i). They colluded with the purpose of causing some particular stock performance with the aim of influencing the outcomes of the issuer and other investors. I watched the subreddit. They absolutely colluded, could absolutely be charged, and obviously never will.

    Why? Because in common sense terms, I think we all realize that the level of “market manipulation” that a bunch of apes mustered pales in comparison to what financial media, CEOs and sell side desks do on a daily basis and in vastly greater scale. It was an experiment into what they could get away with and what they could reveal about the hypocrisy of regulation and governance of market makers, asset managers, traders, bankers and research houses.

    I have no idea if that answers your actual question. But my no-context response is: yes, of course it was market manipulation.

  80. “The moral flabbiness born of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That, with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word success-is our national disease.”

    William James (1906)

  81. Is it, though? This was a completely in-the-open operation that has managed to manipulate the price of like two small cap stocks. I feel like the appeal of WSB as an example is precisely that its open nature makes it comparatively EASY to describe the scale and scope of its form of manipulation.

  82. It can’t be easily compartmentalized into two or a handful of stocks. There were so many adjacent and related trades in the world of crypto. Think of the hundreds of coins/tokens below the established few. The price setting there was/is full on “bucket shop” from the 1920’s/penny stock pump 'n dump. SPAC’s by celebrities? That wouldn’t happen without the same attitude in markets. Call option derivatives pushing even megastocks like TSLA around.

    All kinds of weird price action happens when money is free, new investors were given a grub stake, start working from home, and temporarily had no gambling outlet via sports. I have invested through several manic periods. When the flashing tickers are supporting more margin debt, confidence, spending, and the share prices of every other business NO ONE CARES. When it all ends in tears everyone cares again and scapegoats must be rounded up. It just went further and weirder with nearly $20 trillion in sovereign debt trading at negative yields at the peak, with central banks enforcing those prices. That “tool” directly connects our Mandarins to the market pricing and behavior we witnessed.

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