Matt Taibbi of The Rolling Stone has broken an unbelievable story of lawyers for Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Bank of America have just released accidentally highly embarrassing documents outlining their practices in naked short selling. While attempting to keep the documents sealed in fighting an unsuccessful lawsuit brought by Overstock, the lawyers accidentally disclosed them while filing a unredacted version of Overstock’s motion as an exhibit in their declaration of opposition to that motion.
The lawyers for Goldman and Bank of America/Merrill Lynch have been involved in a legal battle for some time – primarily with the retail giant Overstock.com, but also with Rolling Stone, the Economist, Bloomberg, and the New York Times. The banks have been fighting us to keep sealed certain documents that surfaced in the discovery process of an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit filed by Overstock against the banks.
Last week, in response to an Overstock.com motion to unseal certain documents, the banks’ lawyers, apparently accidentally, filed an unredacted version of Overstock’s motion as an exhibit in their declaration of opposition to that motion. In doing so, they inadvertently entered into the public record a sort of greatest-hits selection of the very material they’ve been fighting for years to keep sealed.
The lawsuit between Overstock and the banks concerned a phenomenon called naked short-selling, a kind of high-finance counterfeiting that, especially prior to the introduction of new regulations in 2008, short-sellers could use to artificially depress the value of the stocks they’ve bet against. The subject of naked short-selling is a) highly technical, and b) very controversial on Wall Street, with many pundits in the financial press for years treating the phenomenon as the stuff of myths and conspiracy theories.
Now, however, through the magic of this unredacted document, the public will be able to see for itself what the banks’ attitudes are not just toward the “mythical” practice of naked short selling (hint: they volubly confess to the activity, in writing), but toward regulations and laws in general.
Some of the interesting comments were
“Fuck the compliance area – procedures, schmecedures,” chirps Peter Melz, former president of Merrill Lynch Professional Clearing Corp. (a.k.a. Merrill Pro), when a subordinate worries about the company failing to comply with the rules governing short sales.
former Merrill Pro president, Thomas Tranfaglia, saying in a 2005 email: “We are NOT borrowing negatives… I have made that clear from the beginning. Why would we want to borrow them? We want to fail them.” Trafaglia, in other words, didn’t want to bother paying the high cost of borrowing “negative rebate” stocks. Instead, he preferred to just sell stock he didn’t actually possess. That is what is meant by, “We want to fail them.” Trafaglia was talking about creating “fails” or “failed trades,” which is what happens when you don’t actually locate and borrow the stock within the time the law allows for trades to be settled.
naked short selling, in essence, is selling stock you do not have. If you don’t have to actually locate and borrow stock before you short it, you’re creating an artificial supply of stock shares.