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One of the on-going arguments across the blogosphere and even the entire world is whether the economic problems of the last ten years are more related to incompetence or basic corruption. I must say, just the last week has offered plenty of evidence for both views. For example, we had this article from Bloomberg yesterday (Tuesday, November 29) about how then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson met with his hedge fund buddies and gave them the first class insider information on his plans to place Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into "conservatorship."
Paulson explained that under this scenario, the common stock of the two government-sponsored enterprises, or GSEs, would be effectively wiped out. So too would the various classes of preferred stock, he said.So, apparently what Paulson did was not illegal, yet there were and are no controls on Paulson or anyone else receiving this information. But it does smell of corruption. Or maybe Paulson was so incompetent as to believe that he was just sharing gossip with his friends that would harm no one.
The fund manager says he was shocked that Paulson would furnish such specific information -- to his mind, leaving little doubt that the Treasury Department would carry out the plan. The managers attending the meeting were thus given a choice opportunity to trade on that information.
And law professors say that Paulson himself broke no law by disclosing what amounted to inside information.
At the time Paulson privately addressed the fund managers at Eton Park, he had given the market some positive signals -- and the GSEs’ shares were rallying, with Fannie Mae’s nearly doubling in four days.
William Black, associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, can’t understand why Paulson felt impelled to share the Treasury Department’s plan with the fund managers.
“You just never ever do that as a government regulator -- transmit nonpublic market information to market participants,” says Black, who’s a former general counsel at the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco. “There were no legitimate reasons for those disclosures.”