16 March 2012

One Half of Italy's New Sales Tax Receipts Go Directly to Morgan Stanley in New York

Complex derivatives deal from the 1990s backfires on Italy.

Bankers win.  The people pay.

One of my less scrupulous bosses once told me, "The way I like to win a race is to punch the other guy in the stomach and then yell, 'Let's race.'"

And I replied, "Well that may be all well and good, but if the guy you punch is Italian or Greek, I would not stop running at the finish line."

He was a Irish lad,  who having enjoyed a temporary run of luck, was left terribly over his head, pretty much in everything.  And as you might suspect, he ended badly, and took a lot of his type, whom he had gathered into his contrivances, down with him.  Its the little things that make life worth living.

No wonder the American derivatives dealers are leaving Europe.   They are probably just a few steps ahead of the pitchforks and torches.  Europeans keep a ledger of wrongs that never expires until the debts are paid.

The bad news is that they are coming home.

These Wall Street hooligans remind me of an old acquaintance of German descent, (nice fellow although a bit cheap, confirmed bachelor, good card player, but an unbearable drunk), who had been banned from so many pubs around his modest country home that we used to have to go over forty kilometers to get a drawn beer on the weekend. It got so bad that he finally gave up drinking altogether, just to save on gas. Found a nice woman, or rather I think she discovered him, and got married at fifty. Found his happiness. True story.

Italy Said to Pay Morgan Stanley $3.4 Billion
By Nicholas Dunbar and Elisa Martinuzzi
Mar 16, 2012 10:10 AM ET

When Morgan Stanley (MS) said in January it had cut its “net exposure” to Italy by $3.4 billion, it didn’t tell investors that the nation paid that entire amount to the bank to exit a bet on interest rates.

Italy, the second-most indebted nation in the European Union, paid the money to unwind derivative contracts from the 1990s that had backfired, said a person with direct knowledge of the Treasury’s payment. It was cheaper for Italy to cancel the transactions rather than to renew, said the person, who declined to be identified because the terms were private.

The cost, equal to half the amount to be raised by Italy’s sales tax increase this year, underscores the risk derivatives countries use to reduce borrowing costs and guard against swings in interest rates and currencies can sour and generate losses for taxpayers. Italy, with record debt of $2.5 trillion, has lost more than $31 billion on its derivatives at current market values, according to data compiled by the Bloomberg Brief Risk newsletter from regulatory filings.

These losses demonstrate the speculative nature of these deals and the supremacy of finance over government,” said Italian senator Elio Lannutti, chairman of the consumer group Adusbef.

The transaction may prompt regulators to push for greater transparency and regulation of how governments use derivatives, said the head of the European Parliament panel that deals with market rules.

“This latest revelation shows that we need to know a lot more,” Sharon Bowles, chairwoman of the economic and monetary affairs committee, said in an interview today. “I’m reluctant to have quite as many exemptions for central banks and countries” from transaction-reporting rules, she said.

Morgan Stanley said in a Jan. 19 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it “executed certain derivatives restructuring amendments which settled on January 3, 2012” and reduced its Italian exposure by $3.4 billion.

Mary Claire Delaney, a spokeswoman for the New York-based firm, declined to comment further. Officials at the Italian treasury in Rome declined to comment on the contracts...