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Wall Street's "Paperwork Crisis"
With the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) handling 10 to 12 million shares daily, brokers were literally buried in paperwork, and concern about risk was growing in Congress, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and elsewhere.
The crisis became so severe that, in order to help reduce the backlog, the exchanges closed every Wednesday, shortened trading hours on the other days, and extended settlement to T+5 from T+4. Eventually the industry developed two separate and distinct approaches to solve the paperwork problem.
One Solution: Immobilization
The first solution was to immobilize physical stock certificates by maintaining them in a central location or depository, and to record changes of ownership using "book-entry" accounting methods where no certificates actually change hands. Initially, this was done by the NYSE and its Central Certificate Service. That led to the creation of DTCC's depository subsidiary in 1973.
Another Solution: Netting
The second approach to solving the paperwork crisis involved a concept called multilateral netting. If one broker does 100 trades in IBM, both buying and selling at different prices with a variety of different brokers, there are few opportunities for netting. By interposing a central organization as the counterparty to all trades, all that broker's trades in IBM can settle to one net position, and all money for trades in all securities can settle to a single dollar figure owed to or from the central counterparty.
In brief, they process the vast majority of all stock transactions in the United States as well as for many other countries. And - and that's the real interesting part - 99% of all stocks in the U.S. appear to be legally owned by them.
In the old days, when you owned stocks you would have the stock certificates lying in your safe. And if you needed to trade them, you needed to get them shipped off to a broker. Nowadays that would be considered very cumbersome, and it would be impractical to invest via computer or over the phone. So the shortcut was invented that the broker would hold your stocks instead of you. And in order for him to legally be able to trade them for you, the stocks were placed under their "street name". I.e. they're in the name of the brokerage, but they're just holding them in trust and trading them for you. And you're in reality the beneficiary rather than the owner. Which is all fine and dandy if everything goes right. Now, it appears the rules were then changed so the brokers are not allowed any longer to put the stocks in their own name. Instead, what they typically do is to put the stocks into the name of "Cede and Company" or "Cede & Co" or some such variation. And the broker might tell you that it is just a fictitious name, and will explain why it is really more practical to do that than to put it in your name.
The problem with that is that it appears that Cede isn't just some dummy name, but an actual corporation that DTCC controls. And, well, if you ask anybody about this, who actually knows about it, they will naturally tell you that it is all a formality. To serve you better, of course. And, well, maybe it is. DTCC seems like a nice and friendly company. It is a private company, owned by the same people (major U.S. banks) who own the Federal Reserve Bank. And if they all stick to their job, and just keep the money and your stocks flowing smoothly, I'm sure that is all well and good. But if somebody at some point should decide otherwise, and there's a national U.S. emergency and/or the U.S. government becomes unable to pay its debts, well, they might just not give you your stocks back. Because legally they own them. Something to think about.
Ming the Mechanic: The unknown 20 trillion dollar company
Naked short selling, or naked shorting, is the practice of selling a stock short, without first borrowing the shares or ensuring that the shares can be borrowed as is done in a conventional short sale. When the seller does not obtain the shares within the required time frame, the result is known as a "fail to deliver". However, the transaction generally remains open until the shares are acquired by the seller or the seller's broker, allowing a trade to occur when the order is filled.
Recent concerns about short-selling have culminated in a regulatory flurry of emergency orders and amendments. What should be of concern, however, is not short-selling per se: As its devotees frequently remind us, short-selling is a vital and legitimate market activity. What should be of concern are specific types of stock manipulation that cloak themselves within legitimate activities such as shorting, and which, in one way or another, rely upon loopholes in our nation's system of stock settlement.
"Settlement" is the moment in a stock trade when the seller receives money and the buyer receives stock. Our settlement system has gaping loopholes that allow sellers to sell shares but fail to deliver them. In such cases, the system creates IOUs for shares, and lets those "stock IOUs" circulate in the expectation the seller will soon correct his error. This is harmless--as long as the IOUs are inadvertent, temporary and few.
Manipulators are exploiting these loopholes, however, selling stock they do not intend to deliver. This is often referred to as "naked short-selling" (short-selling because they feign selling borrowed shares; naked because they don't really borrow shares, but instead deliberately rely on loopholes to generate and hide stock IOUs).
Naked In Wonderland
However, naked short-selling is just one form this manipulation takes. Other forms include failed long-sales, abuse of the option-market-maker exception, failed offshore deliveries and ex-clearing abuses. The common denominator of these manipulations is that they flood the system with stock IOUs that are deliberate, persistent and massive.
According to former Undersecretary of Commerce for Economics Dr. Robert Shapiro, "There is considerable evidence that market manipulation through the use of naked short-sales has been much more common than almost anyone has suspected, and certainly more widespread than most investors believe."
His research turned up at least 200 companies that were destroyed, for "a combined market loss of more than $105 billion." Shapiro added, "we believe that this type of stock manipulation has occurred in many hundreds and perhaps thousands of cases over the last decade. ... Illicit short-sales on such a scale or anything approaching it point to grave inadequacies in the current regulatory regime."
"An editor at The Journal asked me to write it, and I told him he wouldn't be allowed to publish it," Byrne says. "He insisted that only he controlled what was printed on the editorial page, so I wrote it. Then, after a few days, he got back to me and said 'It appears I can't run this or anything else you write.'"
But for years, The Journal and so many other news outlets ignored Byrne's warnings, with some journalists - most notably a Forbes.com columnist and former BusinessWeek reporter named Gary Weiss - painting the Overstock CEO as a raving madman.
Byrne has long argued that the press dismissed his views at least in part because Weiss - hiding behind various anonymous accounts - spent years controlling the relevant articles on Wikipedia, the "free online encyclopedia anyone can edit."
"At some level, you can control the public discourse from Wikipedia," Byrne says. "No matter what journalists say about the reliability of Wikipedia, they still use it as a resource. I have no doubt that journalists who I discussed [naked shorting] with decided not to do stories after reading Wikipedia - whose treatment [of naked short selling] was completely divorced from reality."
As recently as last week, Weiss told us he's never even edited Wikipedia. But emails shared with Byrne and The Register show that Weiss has in fact edited the encyclopedia's article on naked shorting. And they indicate he's behind an infamous Wikipedia account known as "Mantanmoreland," an account that - with the backing of the site's brain trust - ruled the articles on naked shorting, Patrick Byrne, and Overstock from January 2006 to March 2008.
A single Wikipedia edit also links the Mantanmoreland account to a PC inside the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC). Owned by Wall Street investment banks that may have benefited from naked shorting schemes, the DTCC oversees the delivery of stocks on Wall Street.
Emails show journalist rigged Wikipedia's naked shorts.
...manipulators selling millions of stock IOUs drive down share prices: If they choose the right target (e.g., a large financial firm already weakened by exposure to the mortgage crisis, or a small biotech company sipping at capital as it develops drugs), this can crash the firm.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has revealed that, during the second quarter of 2008, there were $14.9 billion in stock IOUs at just the tip of the non-settlement iceberg. The commission refuses to reveal (and, in fact, may not know) the size of the whole iceberg. Public data suggests the entire bucket may be over $150 billion; settling it would cost more than $150 billion, but perhaps far, far more.
Our settlement system lies within a black-box called the Depository Trust & Clearance Corporation. The DTCC is essentially unregulated, but is owned by those who benefit from seeing these activities continue--investment banks, which in return for prime brokerage fees, enable manipulative hedge funds.
When these loopholes began to be exposed this winter, Wall Street started to eat its own. In a moment of Shakespearean irony, Bear Stearns--with its legendary willingness to provide cover to manipulative hedge funds--became the target. Stock IOUs in Bear Stearns spiked, as they subsequently did in Lehman Brothers (nyse: LEH - news - people ), Merrill Lynch (nyse: MER - news - people ), Fannie Mae (nyse: FNM - news - people ) and Freddie Mac (nyse: FRE - news - people ).
Naked In Wonderland.
And then, something amazing happens: the Market Reform Movement goes mainstream. Members of Congress, brave individuals inside the Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, famous trial lawyers, respected economists and recovering stock brokers all reach the same conclusion: hundreds of companies have been victimized by the very crimes that Patrick laid out in his “Miscreants’ Ball” presentation - the ones that the Easter Bunny and his band of blogging oddballs have been describing for years.
The crimes are the work of Wall Street hedge fund managers and brokers who engage in a common trading strategy known as short-selling...Their most egregious trick is to sell “phantom stock.” By exploiting a glitch in Wall Street’s computerized trading system, and a loophole in federal regulations, some hedge funds sell virtually unlimited amounts of stock that they have not yet borrowed or purchased.
Patrick has written a blog explaining how this works in laymen’s terms. An economist has written a detailed history of “failures to deliver” (i.e. stock sold and not delivered, because it is phantom stock) for Regulation magazine, published by the Cato Institute. A former SEC Chairman has spoken extensively against the problem. Many other researchers, several professors, a former SEC economist, and a former deputy secretary of commerce have also written papers on the subject. If you are interested in the mechanics of the crime, read some of those papers here, here, here, here, here, and here.
But it is enough to know that by the time Patrick gives his “Miscreants’ Ball” presentation, the Securities and Exchange Commission has published a list of more than 300 companies whose stock has been sold but never delivered in excessive quantities. In other words, a significant fraction of the stock sold in more than 300 companies is phantom stock. If you think you own shares in one of these companies, the chances are that a broker has sold you air to satisfy a crooked hedge fund client. The computer might say that you own stock, but in reality, you do not.
In addition to the 300-plus companies on the SEC’s list, as many as 1,000 companies have already been wiped off the map by illegal short-selling, according to some experts.
The short sellers did it, Richard Fuld, the former chief executive of Lehman Brothers, said in testimony to a Congressional committee on Monday.
In an extraordinary public autopsy into the biggest bankruptcy in US history, Mr Fuld declared that he felt “horrible” about what had happened to the venerable investment bank. He insisted, however, that Lehman was brought down by a crisis of confidence in the marketplace combined with a plague of naked short selling.
By blaming the short sellers, Mr Fuld echoed the testimony of a fellow victim of the credit crisis earlier this year. Alan Schwartz, former chief executive of Bear Stearns, told a Senate committee in April that short sellers had helped create a run on the bank, which sapped Bear Stearns’ liquidity and forced it into a shotgun marriage with JPMorgan Chase.
Originally posted by loam
Fuld says Lehman victim of naked short sellers
...but when it happened to other companies, it was all ok.
[edit on 6-10-2008 by loam]
Originally posted by malcr
With any institution that holds other peoples money (savings, pensions etc) there is a legal safeguard but NOT for all of it ($100k in the US and £50k in the UK).