Everything is Securities Fraud!
October 16, 2020 11:55 PM   Subscribe

Emily Flitter profiles Matt Levine (NYT), the author of Money Stuff, a free newsletter with 150,000 subscribers. “Mr. Levine’s favorite subjects include insider trading statutes, bond-market liquidity and the ubiquity of securities fraud, but his columns are never boring. They may be the only entertaining words a financial markets professional reads all day.” posted by adrianhon (18 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
And so, at 33, Mr. Levine sat down to write.

Matt Levine is very good at what he does, but how much experience did he have in the non-academic, non-blogging world? What five years? Harvard + time off to teach + Yale Law. A couple years at Wachtell, a couple at GS and he's the insider of the finance world?
posted by geoff. at 12:37 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]


(Again his analysis is great, I can't believe he's able to gain that from such a comparatively short time in his working career)
posted by geoff. at 12:39 AM on October 17


while waiting for Matt Levine to get back from paternity leave, it might be a good time to read "Business Adventures: 12 Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street". The title may not sound promising, but it's actually a great book -- don't let the endorsements and marketing put you off. This is not "Who Moved My Cheese".

It's a collection of 12 midcentury New Yorker pieces by John Brooks, who seems comparable to Matt Levine as a writer.

What's interesting is that many of them are descriptions of hugely important aspects of the modern economy, written before it was totally clear how important they would be. Some highlights:
  • early Xerox, which is strikingly similar to modern Silicon Valley companies (high-tech company with university ties, loses money building information-processing technology, builds a monopoly and becomes ubiquitous, and is somehow vaguely associated with center-left progressive politics).
  • "SEC vs. Texas Gulf Sulphur Co.", one of the first major cases in insider trading.
  • the start of noncompete and nondisclosure agreements for employees.
  • Early innovations in dubious income tax writeoffs
It is very prescient.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:02 AM on October 17 [16 favorites]


Matt is incredibly smart and erudite. I have some glancing experience with some of the securities matters he covers and he captures perfectly the absurdity of much of what goes on. Tyler Cowen is probably not most people's cup of tea here, but this interview with Matt is really interesting and deep. I can't believe how well read he is.

I was also very surprised to read that Money Stuff is a free subscription? I've been burning up my "4 free articles" or whatever on Bloomberg for Money Stuff for years.
posted by Mid at 7:53 AM on October 17 [1 favorite]


Michael Lewis started his writting career after a short time as a wall-street banker. I had heard of Levine, but have no doubt he could have sood insights based on a short career I am eager to dig in.
posted by CostcoCultist at 8:16 AM on October 17 [3 favorites]


In financial news — a medium not known for cultivating eccentric or literary voices —

I find this assertion baffling.

I mean from J.K. Galbraith to "Adam Smith" to Caroline Baum to Michael Lewis to Matt Taibbi to Walter Bagehot to Fred Schwed and many many many more the world of "money writing" is filled with wits, shits, eccentrics, gadflies & "literary" voices of allsorts. It's often some of the best writing around, same as with sports. Heck, even the narrator of The Great Gatsby is a bond trader.

(I think part of the reason is the oulipian constraint that you are always writing about more or less the same thing: either making a lot of, or losing a lot of, money.)
posted by chavenet at 9:19 AM on October 17 [6 favorites]


The short tenor of his career is what makes him effective. He knows enough to write in the language of the business, but he's not so marinated in it that he can't see the ridiculousness of it all.

I wouldn't really say he's explaining things his original readers didnt understand for some definition of "understand" rather he's saying "you all know this is nonsense right?"
posted by JPD at 9:23 AM on October 17


95% of people who read Liars Poker think it's a pro investment banking as a career book.
posted by JPD at 9:25 AM on October 17 [5 favorites]


part of the reason is the oulipian constraint

...derail, but ooh, ooh, got a new favorite word!
posted by sammyo at 9:37 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]


His stuff on Tesla is fantastic, from the "going private at $420" last year:

When the chief executive officer and chairman of the board of a public company approaches the rest of the board with a proposal to take the company private, his position with respect to the company immediately changes. ... Of course the board will ... form a special committee of disinterested directors to consider his proposal and negotiate on behalf of shareholders. Those are basic demands of decent corporate governance; that’s how every management buyout goes; that’s the bare minimum.

That is just what you do—if the CEO has come to you with a real going-private proposal. But if he comes to you and says “I would like to take the company private for $80 billion” and you say “where are you getting the $80 billion” and he holds out a handful of beans and says “THESE ARE ENCHANTED” and starts to dance a jig, forming a special committee seems premature. If that’s what’s going on—if this fully funded going-private transaction is in fact an elaborate Twitter trolling operation—then you don’t need to form a special committee to negotiate the terms. You do need to hold a board meeting without the CEO present. But the topic of the meeting will not be what to do about the buyout proposal. It will be what to do about the CEO.

posted by true at 10:22 AM on October 17 [5 favorites]


Oh my gosh, I just remembered one of my all-time favorite Levine columns, about Softbank and WeWork. The column includes this imagined dialog between Masayoshi Son and Adam Neumann, which was based on reporting that Son insisted that Neumann "be even more crazy" in the way he used Softbank's investment:

--

Son: What does your company do?

Neumann: We lease office buildings, spruce up the space and sublet it in small chunks.

Son: Hmm I invest in visionary tech stuff, this doesn’t really sound like my thing.

Neumann: Did I mention we are a state of consciousness. A generation of interconnected emotionally intelligent entrepreneurs.

Son: Okay yeah that’s more like—

Neumann: The world’s first physical social network. We encompass all aspects of people’s lives, in both physical and digital worlds.

Son: You’re crazy! I love it! But could you be, say, ten times crazier?

Neumann: You’re going to invest $10 billion in my company, which I will use as kindling to light the whole edifice on fire, and then when we are both standing in the ashes you will pay me another billion dollars to walk away while I laugh at you.

Son: All my life I have dreamed of meeting someone as crazy as you, but I never really believed this day would come.

Neumann: I’m gonna use your money to buy a mansion with a room shaped like a guitar, where I will play the world’s tiniest violin after all your money is gone.

Son: YES PUNCH ME IN THE FACE.

Neumann: Also I’ll rename the company “We” and charge it $6 million for the name.

Son: RUN ME OVER WITH A TRUCK.

--
posted by Mid at 10:43 AM on October 17 [14 favorites]


Ha ha! I used to play poker with Matt when I clerked at the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

He's kind of a jerk, if you ask me. Arrogant. Not as smart as he thinks he is. And not much of a poker player either.
posted by mikeand1 at 11:14 AM on October 17 [6 favorites]


He's kind of a jerk, if you ask me. Arrogant. Not as smart as he thinks he is. And not much of a poker player either.

He does understand Wall Street!
posted by geoff. at 11:59 AM on October 17 [10 favorites]


Matt Levine is very good at what he does, but how much experience did he have in the non-academic, non-blogging world? What five years? Harvard + time off to teach + Yale Law. A couple years at Wachtell, a couple at GS and he's the insider of the finance world?

It's probably just right. Too long and you end up believing it a little too much. (not always, but often.) No experience at all and you can often end up going just delivering polemics about "wall street" without understanding that a banker is not a trader is not a salesman. That's fine if you're writing for twitter or the NYT but not going to be compelling to insiders.
posted by atrazine at 12:02 PM on October 17 [1 favorite]


95% of people who read Liars Poker think it's a pro investment banking as a career book.

Pertinent interview segment with Michael Douglas.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:38 PM on October 17


In financial news — a medium not known for cultivating eccentric or literary voices —
---
I find this assertion baffling.

I mean from J.K. Galbraith to "Adam Smith" to Caroline Baum to Michael Lewis to Matt Taibbi to Walter Bagehot to Fred Schwed and many many many more the world of "money writing" is filled with wits, shits, eccentrics, gadflies & "literary" voices of allsorts. It's often some of the best writing around, same as with sports. Heck, even the narrator of The Great Gatsby is a bond trader.


I think you missed the word "news", as in frequent reporting of current events. Almost all of these are long form writers; Taibbi does write news, but it's almost all political. I love a good Michael Lewis book, but he has months and years to do his interviewing, form his prose, etc.

The existence of Jane Austen doesn't mean that the society page isn't usually dreck; the most important qualifier in the sentence you're reacting to is "news", not "financial". Longform journalists and academic theorists and novelists produce excellent literary writing on any topic under the sun; it's the news that is usually pretty straightforward.
posted by Superilla at 1:21 AM on October 18 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the truly impressive thing is he gets up at 5am and writes these newsletters, and sends them out at lunchtime, every day.
posted by vogon_poet at 4:11 AM on October 18


I am 65 years old. This morning, yes, I actually subscribed to someone's newsletter.
posted by SPrintF at 7:37 AM on October 18


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