Sunday, November 30, 2008

We've Had Some Budget Cuts

Yes, like most state schools, Unknown University had had some budget cuts - about 10% so far from the original budget. So these three strips by Scott Adams were pretty funny. A bit close to home, but funny.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

One of The Best Explanations of the Credit Crisis I've Ever Seen

Every once in a while you come across an explanation that makes you realize that just really aren't all that good a teacher. Here's another one to add to the pile. In this video, Marketplace Senior Editor Paddy Hirsch gives one of the best explanations of CDOs and how they contributed to the current credit market woes that I've yet seen:

He's also got some other videos up on YouTube that I'll post in the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Here's wishing a Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from the Unknown Family. We've got a great, great many things to be thankful for - job, family, health, living situation, etc...). For now, we're off to the Unknown Sister-in-Law's house to engage in some extreme eating - three sisters in the family, and all (and Grandma, too) are great cooks.

Now go overdose on Tryptophan.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

(Bad) Governance at The University

For good corporate governance, it's important that the independent directors on the board are really independent. In particular, they shouldn't have business relationships with the company other their board service. If they did, it would make it hard for them to rein in the CEO, for fear that they'd lose the business.

There's been tons of work on this topic both in the academic and practitioner literatures. But I haven't seen much on similar relationships for universities. I'm sure that a lot's been done- I just haven't seen it.

Until now.

There's a good illustration in the Boston Globe of directors at Suffolk University (actually, trustees, which serve a similar role for a university) with significant business ties to the school. It turns out they just awarded the University president a 2.8 million dollar pay package. Of course, there were "good reasons" for doing so. Here's the lede from the story:

Boston lobbyist Robert Crowe was key among the Suffolk University trustees who made David J. Sargent the highest paid university president in the nation in 2006, with a $2.8 million compensation package. Less than a year later, Sargent renewed a $10,000-a-month contract with Crowe's lobbying firm to represent Suffolk's interests in Washington.

This month, as controversy flares over Sargent's pay, the job of publicly defending it falls on George Regan, himself a new appointee to the Suffolk Board of Trustees as well as the beneficiary of a $366,000 annual contract with the university.

Read the whole thing here.

Is this necessarily a bad thing? Not really - it could be perfectly innocent, and it's not surprising that trustees of a university might have significant business ties to the university. After all, they tend to be prominent alumni with a long history with the school. But, when you have those ties, a pay package like that is going to get far greater scrutiny than it would otherwise. Or as Ricky Ricardo would have said, "they got some 'splainin to do".

As an aside, if you want to see some excellent examples of affiliated directors in the corporate world (along with other examples of bad governance), there's no better place to go than Michelle Lederer's She's made a career out of scouring through company documents to find some truly outrageous examples of corporate mis-governance.

I think the president of Unknown University considered having some trustees with business ties to the school, but we didn't have enough money to pay the required graft.

Monday, November 24, 2008

All The Monty Python You Could Ever Want

At this point in the semester, we're all tired, frustrated, and looking towards the end of the term. So things that make us laugh become even more important. Luckily, there's now a Monty Python YouTube Channel. Here's the announcement from the MP boys themselves:
For 3 years you YouTubers have been ripping us off, taking tens of thousands of our videos and putting them on YouTube. Now the tables are turned. It's time for us to take matters into our own hands.

We know who you are, we know where you live and we could come after you in ways too horrible to tell. But being the extraordinarily nice chaps we are, we've figured a better way to get our own back: We've launched our own Monty Python channel on YouTube.

No more of those crap quality videos you've been posting. We're giving you the real thing - HQ videos delivered straight from our vault.

What's more, we're taking our most viewed clips and uploading brand new HQ versions. And what's even more, we're letting you see absolutely everything for free. So there!

But we want something in return.

None of your driveling, mindless comments. Instead, we want you to click on the links, buy our movies & TV shows and soften our pain and disgust at being ripped off all these years.

For the lawyers, here's the disclaimer:
Warning- clicking on the link can result in hours of time wasted, a skewed perspective on life, and adoption of British accents.
Now go and enjoy.

HT: Barry Ritholtz.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The NYU Finance Department Has a Blog!

NYU has one of the largest and best finance faculties around (most surveys place them squarely in the top 5 programs in terms of research output). It turns out that they now have a blog: Stern Finance.

It looks pretty promising. Although it's less than 2 months old (the first post was made on September 26), it already has a lot of high-quality content, with participation from a pretty large nuimnber of the faculty. Just this last month, it has posts by Viral Acharya, Marti Subramanyam, Edward Altman, and Joel Hasbrouk among others).

It's definitely one to add to your feed reader.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mark Cuban Charged With Insider Trading By SEC

Mark Cuban, HDnet founder and owner of the Dallas Mavericks was just charged with insider trading by the SEC. The commission alleges that Cuban received a call from tje CEO about a pending PIPE offering of Mamma's stock. The call was supposedly prefaced by a disclaimer from the CEO that the information was confidential. The SEC complaint alleges that Cuban then used this insider information to sell all his shares in after-hours trading, thereby avoiding a loss of about $750,000. In case you're interested, here's a link to the complaint.

It should make for an interesting case. Cuban has the resources to fight this thing pretty much as far as he wants (even potentially all the way to the Supreme Court), and is definitely stubborn enough to do exactly that. He's already posted a response to the complaint on his blog:
Mr. Cuban stated, “I am disappointed that the Commission chose to bring this case based upon its Enforcement staff’s win-at-any-cost ambitions. The staff’s process was result-oriented, facts be damned. The government’s claims are false and they will be proven to be so.”
Not surprisingly, Stephen Bainbridge has a very thorough legal analysis of the issue. After all, it's in his wheelhouse.

In the meanwhile, I have SAS programs to run and papers to write.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Weird Happenings on My Feeds

In the last few days, I've noticed big fluctuations in my feed readership along with a lot of strange things on Bloglines: all of a sudden, 200 new posts are listed for one blog or another. Is this happening to everyone, or just to me because of the last few political cartoons I posted?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Churchill Quote Relevent to the Current Economic Crisis

Compliments of Newmark's Door
In fact, my favorite Churchill story is the one about the time that Churchill was standing at the urinal in the men's room of the House of Commons. Atlee came into the room and stood at the urinal next to Winston's. Churchill looked up at him, zipped up, moved a couple of urinals farther down and resumed his business. "Why Winston, I had no idea you were so modest.", said Atlee. "It's not modesty, Prime Minister. It's only that every time you find something that is large and functions well, you try to nationalize it, and I thought it best not to take a chance!".
What will they nationalize next?

The Financial Crisis From A To Z

Tunku Varadarajan at Forbes has a pretty clever piece titled "The Financial Crisis From A-Z". Here are a few of the items that tickled my fancy:
C is for Credit Default Swaps, defined for me by a Wall Street watcher as: Risk whatever you want, and we insure it; risk too much, taxpayers insure it.

L is for leverage (a means of maximizing your losses), liar loans, Lehman (pronounced "lemon")--and the losses/liabilities that unite them all.

M is for where it all started: the mortgage (which, aptly, means death-pledge). Like the dog, it comes in a variety of breeds, "sub-prime" being a cross between a pit bull and a chihuahua.

Q is for quants, who forgot that, every so often, past performance is no indicator of anything at all.

S is for securitization, the process by which one passes off cat food as caviar.
The other 21 letters are pretty good too. Read the whole thing here.

HT: The Big Picture.

Monday, November 10, 2008

New Blog

As a new blogger, Financial Rounds benefitted from a number of higher-profile bloggers mentioning it. So, I think it's important to pay the favor forward and highlight new blogs of note.

The latest new one is a put out by The Applied Portfolio Management Program at Washburn University.

Unlike other academic blogs, this one is unique in that material is contributed both by faculty and by students in the program.

Go check it out, and add them to your feed reader - it's been added to the blogroll. And if you come across any other ones, drop me a line.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Professor Time vs. Grad Student Time

That reminds me - I have to check up on my grad assistant to see how he's doing on the assignment I gave him at the beginning of the semester.

Great Source For Financial Information

The student-managed investment fund class I teach is fortunate to be in a trading room with a lot of resources - because of a prominent alumni, we have access to everything from analyst reports to trade and quote data. But for those who don't have these resources, check out Tickerpedia - it has analyst forecasts, recommendations, SEC filings, a neat chart of ratios from various sources, and much more.

It's interesting how much the reported ratios change by data source. As one example, for GATX corp, the reported operating margin (trailing 12 months) ranged from 18.92% (reported on Reuters) to 46.7% (on Marketwatch).

HT: Jim Mahar at Finance Professor

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Post Election Analysis From South Park

Compliments of South Park. Hey - I suspected it was an insidious plot of some kind all along.

Caution - may not be safe for work, unless you can close your office door and turn the audio WAY down.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Joke For The Science Nerds

Apropos of nothing:

Heisenberg gets pulled over by the cops for speeding. Cop walks up to his care and asks,"sir, do you have any idea how fast you were going?"

Heisenberg replies, "no, but I know exactly where I am."
Don't ask me why - I just thought it was funny.

Update: if you haven't managed to get your geek on, click here (hey - a couple of people asked, and I'm nothing if not accommodating).

Can I Bwing My Mommy? Puh-Weeze?

A new student (I'll call him SnowFlake from now on) walked into my office last week asking for advice on classes. He'd transferred to Unknown University from a private school (which, by the way, has a reputation for drastically inflating grades). He needed some advice on which classes to take, and since I'm listed as his advisor, I seemed like the right person to check with. But he also wanted some advice on how to study since he's flunking intermediate accounting, and "that's never happened in any of my classes before".

SnowFlake starts out by blaming the instructor (who, by the way, is one of the best in the college). After some questions and comments on my part like "Gee, that doesn't sound like Professor X at all. Are you sure?", it turns out that he hadn't been keeping up with the work, and hadn't worked more than a problem or two from the end of chapter material. Instead, he tried to cram for the first exam, and did poorly. Since that strategy worked out so well on the first exam, he decided to try it once more on the second exam for good measure. Lo and behold, the same approach yielded the same result (funny how that happens).

So, I gave Snowflake some standard advice on how to study, and then he asked if he could set up a time early this week to set up his classes for the next semester. We set a time (Monday morning at 10), and then came the kicker:

He asked if it was alright if his MOTHER came to the appointment.

I managed to keep my jaw off the floor, since he was a second-semester junior, and if you have hover-moms, they usually get cured of it by sophomore year (and they're almost non-existent in Business schools). But since I couldn't think of anything else to say (other than "You'll be all right once they drop", which didn't seem prudent at this juncture). I said, "Well, Precious, that's entirely up to you".

Monday morning comes around, and I'm running late for our 10:00 a.m. appointment. So, I have the secretary leave a note on my door saying I'd be a few minutes late, and hurry in to the office with visions of MomZilla running loose in the hallway and going on a rampage in the Dean's office.

I get there five minutes late, and there's no sign of either Snowflake or MomZilla. I hang out in my office for a few hours just in case, and it seems like a larger-than-usual number of faculty seem to filter by my office (they keep me off the beaten path, which is probably a good thing). I guess after hearing about Mom coming in, they just couldn't resist sneaking a peek.

In any event, I get a call late that morning from SnowFlake informing me that he had to be in traffic court that morning, had completely forgotten, and wanted to reschedule.

I guess I should have had his Mom remind him.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

We Voted

The Unknown Family just went to the polls and voted. Unknown Son went into the booth with me, and Unknown Daughter went in with the Unknown Wife. We let our kids fill out the ballots (they were paper ones), and then feed them into the machine.

It's pretty cool explaining how our political system works to an 8 year old and a ten year old. This year, I think I'll start working through the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights with them - it's never too early, and most people (myself included) don't know enough about these foundations of our country.