No Free Lunch
There is history behind the removal of Georges Chadron de Courcel as COO of the BNP-Paribas bank over violations of US sanctions against Iran, Cuba, and Sudan. While BNP is now being strongly defended by the French socialist government things were not that cozy with Paribas.
When Francois Mitterrand came to power in 1981, investment bank Paribas, then quite independent, managed to elude nationalization by hiving off non-French assets into its former Swiss sub, renamed Pargesa. This scheme by CEO Pierre Moussa outraged the Socialist-Communist government.
But short of invading Switzerland or arresting Moussa for retroactively violating nationalization laws, there was nothing to be done. Later when the Mitterrandists (after letting the Communists go and with a right-wing National Assembly) reversed the bank takeovers, Paribas was folded into BNP which had been nationalized by De Gaulle right after World War II.
BNP stands for Banque Nationale de Paris, which gives you an idea of how state-sector it was seen to be. Chardon de Courcel is from the BNP side of the bank, a connected graduate of the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, and a member of the legion d'honneur. He is taking the fall for failing to control the piratical Paribas-Pargesa side of the merged banks.
Pargesa during its heyday made Goldman Sachs look angelic. Pierre Moussa, while intellectually of the left, was lambasted for lack of patriotism, among other things because of his Egyptian heritage and because of the heritage of Paribas, formerly Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas. Pays-Bas means Netherlands in French. Moreover the extremely high earning power of Paribas partners stimulated French sans-culotte mentality.
Despite their socialist claims, Mitterrand appointees at nationalized companies like Elf-Aquitaine or Credit Lyonnais bank engaged in corrupt crony capitalism. Both were merged out of existence too.
Adam Feuerstein of TheStreet.com writes:
“The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Galena Biopharma (GALE) for its role in the 'DreamTeam Group' stock-promotion scandal. Galena paid an investor relations firm, DreamTeam Group, to engage in a stock-promotion campaign on behalf of the company. The DreamTeam's work for Galena included publishing promotional articles written under false names on the investor web site SeekingAlpha.
“If you thought Galena would lay low while SEC investigators dig into its business practices, you'd be mistaken. Galena is now paying a different marketing firm to create promotions for its experimental breast cancer vaccine Neuvax. These Neuvax ads are dressed up to look like legitimate news articles, except for the small disclaimer labeling them as 'sponsored content paid for by a third party.'”
The Motley Fool's Sean Williams disagrees based on a very small sample in trials:
“Cancer immunotherapy drug developer Galena… saw its shares rocket higher by 16.8% despite no company-specific news today. Galena shares, however, have been practically unstoppable since releasing phase 1 study data last week. In that study, involving GALE-301, Galena noted that out of 30 enrolled patients with ovarian or endometrial cancer, 7 out of 14 in the control arm had their cancer reoccur. Out of the 16 GALE-301 intent-to-treat patients, 4 had their cancer reoccur after completing the vaccine series, 2 had their cancer reoccur prior to completion, and one withdrew.
“Possibly the biggest factor in today's continuation move higher for Galena is its nearly 23% short interest. A rapid increase in Galena's share price forces short-sellers to either endure the pain or cover their short shares, possibly sending Galena even higher.
“I am keeping a close eye on Galena as its HER2-negative breast cancer adjuvant therapy NeuVax has the potential to put the company on the map, but until I see its phase 3 results I'm perfectly satisfied sticking to the sidelines.”
Google Altert meanwhile sent me a note from a penny stock newsletter called Caddystocks offering a free write-up of GALE if I signed up. When I did I learned that I am already a subscriber to this service which warns in a hard-to-find disclaimer that:
“All information on profiled companies is provided by such companies.. and no representation, warranty, or guaranty is made as to its accuracy or completeness... Neither CaddyStocks.com nor any of its owners, operators, or affiliates shall be liable to any subscriber or reader for any losses or damages arising from the use of any inofmration contained herein, caused in wholeor part by CaddyStocks.com in … compiling, interpreting, reporting or delivering all information contained herein.”
Despite my signing up, my efficient spam-blocker kept the GALE report out of my in-box. All I got was this note:
“GALE has been added to our watchlist. Our team has been doing their due diligence to provide a detailed report including both Technical and Fundamental Analysis on GALE. We have been monitoring GALE's press releases, SEC filings, and management history for quite some time.”
GALE “proclaimed that date from the phase I study with GALE-301 or Folate Binding Protein, was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Meeting.”
GALE “surged +04.2% and closed at $2.41 on a traded volume of 1.02 mn shares, in comparison with 2.56 mn of average trading volume. The company has a total market capitalization of $284.44 mn.”
Of course 04.2% is not a surge and all the information is boringly public. Does Caddy want a tip?
This tells you that there is no such thing as a free lunch, particularly not on the Internet. All 4 services are supposedly free. www.global-investing.com is not free since we pay our contributors for their investment advice—and ban them to getting fees from companies they write about, mutual funds, or “investment relations” stock-promotion firms.
Our reporter in England signaled problems at the company with which Ireland's Mallinckrodt was merging for tax avoidance reasons, California's Questcor Pharma. Questcor earns 95% of its revenues from a 60-yr-old immune system booster drug, Acthar, which is being promoted for broad use beyond its US Food & Drug Administration indications. The laws were looser in 1952 when it was approved. Today in The NY Times, Gretchen Morgenson wrote about the spate of adverse events, including at least 20 deaths, and 6 disabilities reported to the FDA from Acthar since 2012. She observed that the MNK merger prospectus didn't mention these adverse events. Another 13 deaths from Acthar were reported to the FDA earlier in this century.
We sold MNK in April after the deal was announced but before the misleading prospectus was issued.
Oil and water don't mix but they can both go wrong at the same time. The Bombay Stock Exchange and the rupee are both reeling today because of oil and water.
Water is the expected failure of the monsoon affected by El Niño on the western coast of Latin America. Weather can go wrong.
Oil is the collapse of the Iraqi government whose oilfield output north and south are at risk.
Just to add fuel to the fire, the Modi government has arrested editors and publishers of a South Indian university student publication for a parody article illustrated with pictures of Modi alongside Hitler and Saddam Hussein. So Indian democracy is also at risk.
More for paid subscribers on Britain, India, Japan, Australia, Spain, Canada, Israel, and Ireland. It is a slow news day except in Iraq.
I hit the road for Britain later this month just in time to suffer from the rise in sterling to close to $1.70 per pound after talk of interest rates rising from the Governor of the Bank of England. Luckily I will be using London as a base for trips to euroland (using cheap airlines, rail, and residential services already booked in dollars). What this means for the portfolio is explained for paid subscribers in today's commentary along with two trades.
Return of the Rating Agencies
The big rating agencies, whose manipulations helped bring on the global financial crisis, are at it again. Today's Financial Times tells how “rating shopping” is back. This term refers to a practice of bond-issuers sounding out rating agencies for feedback on a pending deal.
Then, based on the responses received, the bond-issuers “hire the agency that offered the best possible designation.” The FT cited the dispute over the valuation of the Times Square Westin hotel, whose mortgage is part of a “structured finance” deal rated higher than Fitch, one of the raters, was willing to grant. Fitch is publicly criticizing the rating.
Mis-rating works both ways. Donald van Deventer wrote today in Kamkura Reseach:
“Financial institutions have relied on the concept of a credit 'rating' for more than 100 years. During this time, in nearly all wings of the social sciences, modern statistical methods out-perform legacy agency ratings, as proven by the rapidly accumulating published research. Quantitative methods have proven repetedly more accurate than informal assessments by even the most well-trained 'experts'.
“Many investors are ignorant of this statistical evidence, recent actions taken by the European Union against the rating agencies, and the 150 page litany of rating agency mistakes listed by the U.S. Senate Permanent Sub-Committee on Investigations.”
Mr van Deventer thinks that informed investors using modern statistical techniques can find mis-rated bonds to buy or short. His service tries to spot them by examining the pricing of credit default swaps. His firm also runs seminars to train analysts in the fundamentals of credit model testing and construction to show the superiority of modern quant methods. The course text is Advanced Financial Risk Management, 2nd edition if you want to read more. I stumbled on this because I looked into the rating of a US pipeline limited partnership I own in my yield portfolio.
Forget the famous 3 female CEOs: Meg Whitman at HP; Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook; Indra Nooyi at Pepsi. Will Ashworth selected another trio as “best female CEOs” for Investor Place Insights yesterday. He noted that female CEOs head only 40 of the top US companies. The best, he says, are Carol Meyrowitz at TJ Max; Laura Alber at Williams Sonoma; and Mindy Grossman at Home Shopping Network. For paid subscribers today I want to add a non-US co-CEO.
Apologies for not containing my enthusiasm about new internet stock services using Xignite.com reported yesterday. As I wrote, Xignite can only follow about half our model portfolio positions although all are owned via US brokerages. The new services are also handicapped or limited despite what Xignite's Kerry Langstaff wrote.
*Motif portfolios only work with listed US stocks because trading 30 pink-sheet small cap or foreign shares cannot be done quickly enough on the site.
*8Securities.com only will open Hong Kong accounts for non-Americans, the same as Boom.com about which we wrote earlier. Both fear tax evading insider traders Americans becoming customers.
*Kapitall wants to sign up customers for its brokerage services at rates the same as those at e-trade, where I now have my account, and turned me down.
*And as I wrote, Robinhood Financial's zero commission stock trading service is still in development. Readers can help me get an account by signing up for information on its progress at
More for paid subscribers from Japan, Australia, Israel, Panama, Mexico, Spain, Britain, The Netherlands, Finland, Norway, and Seattle.
Gee whiz! Kerry Langstaff of Xignite, a San Mateo data supplier, wrote about cheap financial applications using its market data, existing or forthcoming. On-line investors can use Xignite to cut costs. Here are some on-line newbies:
*Motif Investing (Rancho Cordova, CA) uses crowd-sourcing to allow investors to create a “motif”, a group of up to 30 securities which can be published on the website for others to trade. A package trades in real time for only $9.95/per trade and the motif-creator earns a royalty. CEO is Hardeep Walia, a turban-wearing Wharton MBA, formerly with Microsoft and a member of the Finra small-firm advisory board backed by a team of investment pros. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-855 586 6843;
*Robinhood Financial will offer buy trades at zero dollar commission via web or mobile devices and at $10 if you need telephone help. Sells are at the SEC minimum of .0224/$1000 and a Finra trading activity fee of .000119—both rounded up to the nearest penny, alas subject to change without notice. The future program has signed up over 375,000 potential customers. Sign up to an account linked to mine at https://www.robinhood.com/?ref=VLexdV;
*8Securities.com offers market research and social networking along with trading of 15,000 US and Hong Kong securities for $8.88 (US). This is cheaper than the US$9.99 e-trade commission when I buy HK shares. It all beats local prices at HSBC and Bank of China. The service was founded by chairman Mathias Helleu, a son of the creative director of Chanel perfumes, an e-trade veteran. Helleu started e-trade's pricier Hong Kong brokerage. 8securities users can trade HKEx-listed securities they follow via Xignite at 0.08% with a HK$50 minimum. This is beer rather than champagne or Chanel territory;
*Kapitall in NYC has broken firmly with Karl Marx. It is a teaching site for investors wanting to play the market using a $100,000 practice portfolios to learn to become “Kapitallists”, share “playground” ideas with buddies, and win prizes. It has a content provider called Kapitall Wire which puts out stock ideas, including the occasional American Depositary Receipt. I am creating a portfolio to compete in the sandbox. Sign up at https://kapitall.custhelp.com after which you get messages from Kapital Koncierge;
Global Investor, a UK magazine costing £850/yr or $1850/yr not related to this blog, last week published an article about how Global Depositary Receipts (GDRs) can be used for pump-and-dump schemes, market abuse, fraud, and money laundering. Its Anna Reitman reports that the gap in regulatory jurisdictions was used by an Indian firm, Pan Asia Advisors (headed by Arun Panchariya), to manipulate the prices of 6 Luxembourg-traded GDRs so insiders and brokerages could sell the lemons. He was fined by their SEC, The Securities and Exchange Board of India.
However, on appeal, Panchariya got the case thrown out on a split ruling on jurisdictional grounds although the SEBI is appealing to the Supreme Court. Panchariya moved to Dubai but there was banned from stock broking. ADR expert John Geminario, quoted I the mag, sent me a copy of the article. He heads Global Securities Services Corp.
More for paid subscribers from Australia, Britain, Canada, Chile, China, Finland, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, and Spain.
The Wild Frontier, Ukraine et al.
While not invested in Ukraine, I find the haggling over its natural gas bills from OAO Gazprom fascinating. Gazprom, OGZPY, is ostensibly a private for-profit company, but it isn't really. After the Maidan demonstrators toppled the Victor Yanukovich regime and Russia seized Crimea, Gazprom removed the discounts Ukraine had been granted earlier in return for letting Russian lease its port in Sebastopol, now snatched by Russia.
This boosted the price Ukraine was to pay for Russian gas by 80% to $485.50 per 100 cubic meters.
Gazprm added insult to injury, as it penalized Ukraine for Russia seizing part of the country. Having paid a $786 mn back bill for gas delivered last winter, Ukraine's gas company, Naftogaz, and Gazprom, (headed by friend-of-Putin Alexei Miller), are still haggling over how much Ukraine needs to pay for future deliveries at the hiked-up price or a reduced one. The European Union, which gets gas for Western Europe via a pipeline running through Ukraine, is offering its good offices (and its cash) to try to resolve matter and now hosting the talks in Brussels, Belgium.
The two gas company chiefs are assisted by the EU Commission's energy chief Guenther Oettinger in their talks. Deadlines have come and gone. But Commissioner Oettinger says progress has been made. That presumably means Russia has reduced its outrageous bill a bit.
Since the talks are clearly political in any case, why doesn't Kiev ask for a new rebate to cover the value of the part of the country seized by Russia? Yalta with its palaces and tourist facilities, the huge Black Sea Sebastopol harbor (causus belli for a 19th century war between Britain and Germany), and other Ukrainian bits and pieces should be priced in to slash Gazprom charges. Talks resume tonight but now will include the Russian and Ukrainian energy ministers.
So for the EU has lent Ukraine euros 1.6 bn (about $2.2 bn) to pay its gas bills to keep the flow to Western Europe coming.
Ukraine is an example of a frontier market. Today ETFdb.com published what it arrogantly calls “A Complete Guide to Frontier Markets.” These are countries which have not yet graduated to becoming emerging markets. Recent research suggests that risks are not as high as you might expect in these least developed stock markets. A main reason is that least developed stock markets until now have not all been in least developed countries.
While ETF.db tried hard, it missed every single one of the frontier market funds and entities my newsletter recommends, mainly because it only examined US listed exchange-traded funds with a broad frontier focus: iShares MSCI Frontier 100 (FM); Next Emerging & Frontier ETF (EMFM); and the frontier pioneer, Frontier Markets ETF (FRN). Not one word from Jared Cummans about non-ETF vehicles investing in frontier markets like open- and closed-end funds, REITs, holding companies, or country funds that are not US ETFs.
We invest in frontier markets but not via US ETFs, being picky. As reported earlier, MSCI, the creator of regional indexes, has removed many least developed stock markets from the Gulf region from its frontier list, from the start of this month. So index-tracking funds have to shift their positions away from the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar while boosting their holdings in other frontier markets like Ethiopia or Pakistan, Jordan or Mongolia. This wave of portfolio shifts means that generalized frontier funds must incur high trading costs. A characteristic of frontier markets is lack of market liquidity. And as all the frontier market-trackers shift their holdings in unison, stock prices will suffer. You don't want to own global indexed frontier market ETFs now.
Adding to the risk of ETFdb's report is that it also listed 4 single-country or regional ETFs. And Mr. Cummans included Market Vectors Gulf States Index ETF, MES, which invests in the very region now promoted to the developing country MSCI index from its frontier list where adjustments are hurting the market.
Now that Vietnam has taken to jailing bankers starting with Nguyen Duc Kien, I would hesitate to buy into his 'Nam pick, Market Vectors Vietnam ETF, VNM. That leaves Nigeria and Argentina ETFs.
While we cannot buy more after the close-end fund was open-ended and made institutional, my readers and I own Morgan Stanley Institutional Frontier Emerging Markets Fund, MFMIX, also omitted from the ETF.db list. My average acquisition price in 2013 was $8 for shares now trading at $21.27.
More for paid subscribers about alternative frontier funds and other news from Portugal, Canada, Russia, Hong Kong, Britain, Cyprus, Israel, Ireland, The Netherlands, and Brazil.
Internet and Baby Formula
Many years ago, inspired by Chinese-American contributor RR, we owned a dairy and baby-milk-powder stock, American Dairy, which despite its name produced milk on the plains of Inner Mongolia. It is now renamed Fiehe but still uses the ticker symbol ADY. It went private via a bunch of Cayman Islands companies funded by Morgan Stanley last year.
Shazaam. Now Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group, the Chinese e-commerce site whose ipo is eagerly awaited, via a sub has taken a stake in Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, a dairy firm. Yili 2 years ago had to recall its branded mercury-tainted infant formula. I am not quite sure how the businesses connect. Maybe Chinese parents can buy on-line formula guaranteed by Alibaba to not be contaminated with mercury or (an earlier scandal) melamine. It will be delivered to their homes not with a drone but with a magic carpet.
Inspired by the yachts on the East River, we walked a mile north via the riverside esplanade yesterday to an Italian grocery formerly in our East Midtown neighborhood but now in the Upper East Side. Then, laden with fresh produce, we walked back home along hospital row. First we saw a woman in full hijab buying halal food from a street vendor, and I wondered how she would be able to eat it; then a woman in a gorgeous pink and yellow sari; and then a bearded rabbi in full kit. All par for the course.
But next a surprise: a duck and a drake high-stepping it in shrubs along the edge of the sidewalk beside a high-rise apartment house, over 3 blocks from the river. They seemed okay so we walked on. Wildlife in Manhattan.
More for paid subscribers from Canada, Britain, Israel, Qatar, Pakistan, China, Mexico, Spain, The Netherlands, Africa, Ethiopia, and Russia.
As is normal in the Internet age, particularly for investors, I alternate between confidence and desperation. Today I couldn't get into my own website with Mozilla Firefox and had to use Google Chrome which didn't allow me to copy and paste the tables. So I had to re-install Firefox which now uses (yech) yahoo rather than google as a search engine. It was ssslllooowww to install That's the low end. Browser wars are a pain.
The high end is watching the ferries and yachts sailing on the East River from my apartment window. Beyond the boats is a sign reading "PAL" which tells us that as the old TB hospital on Roosevelt Island is being torn down, asbestos is being kept from wafting across the waters.
My neighbor Jean, a head-hunter who knows her boats, says she spotted three super-yachts in the past week: SKAT, owned by Charles Simonyi, a founder of Microsoft and far from Seattle; Triumphant Lady, which is for sale at $7.9 mn; and TATS, whose current owner wants to be anonymous after a Maine workman was killed while she was in drydock.
Jean only told their names. I checked the owners. Note that searching yacht names may risk virus attacks for being (as I'm not) part of the 1%!
Our tables can be accessed at http://www.global-investing.com
Everyone can view our closed positions but only paid subscribers may view our current holdings. To make the spreadsheets more readable on screen, click the "print" button even if not printing them.
CheapOair, Seeking Alpha, and Other Questions
A question: If he wandered off-base in the Afghanistan war zone without permission, how did Bergdahl make sergeant? Critics of the Administration's deal to get him released after 5 years of captivity by the Taliban need to address how a supposed disloyal soldier got promoted by our US military.
Another (with apologies to Dickens): Is it a far better thing that I do than I have ever done?
BNP Paribas' Swiss-based COO with an aristo name, George Chodron de Courcel, 64, appears to be ready to sacrifice himself to settle with US prosecutions over money laundering on behalf of rogue regimes Iran, Cuba, and Sudan. As with A Tale of Two Cities, the action was not done in Paris in US$s but via the Swiss arm of the French bank.
This might protect BNP CEO Baudouin Prot, who sounds more like a Sans-Culotte, from the guillotine.
A 3rd query: Did European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi really break new ground with his under-water interest rate offer to banks yesterday?
Missing in news articles about the ECB negative interest rate program is recollection that Swiss banks also had to pay to deposit their cash with the Swiss National Bank (their CB) during crises in the last century. Then a too-high Swiss Franc threatened the country's exports of chocolate and Swatches. CB intervention to force down interest and exchange rates down is not unprecedented. It was also tried more recently by Denmark with a tax on deposits.
Moreover Super-Mario stopped short (so far) from trying quantitative easing on the Anglo-US model, according to Bloomberg and other critics. All he did was hint that QE could be rolled out if the latest measures fail to work. QE drives down interest rate spreads and encourages bankers' animal spirits. ECB buying asset-backed securities will have modest impact as Euroland banks don't use ABS's much. I think the securitization of euros 800 bn of bank loans to the “real economy” with the long-term refinancing operation (LTRO) can work. But failing to sop up non-performing loans with a QE initiative was a political decision, and probably a wrong one.
More for paid subscribers follows from Mexico to Mongolia to Myanmar, with some stops in between in Canada, Italy, Spain, Britain, Brazil, China, Norway and The Netherlands.
The Cross of Lorraine
Consultant John Llewellyn wrote an email to me. “The present experience in the Euro area is more than a little redolent of Japan: a banking crisis addressed far too slowly; a burst of expansive fiscal policy followed by retrenchment; talk of structure policy reform [with] very little concrete action; deflation looming; and a long multi-year period of slow growth that risks becoming self-sustaining.
“The US under Bernanke looks as if it may – just – have pulled off a recovery. But in Europe, where animal spirits are somewhat less buoyant (part of the national character, I guess), expansivie monetary policy has not prove[n] strong enough to overcome that plus fiscal retrenchment.”
Dr Llewellyn is a founder and partner in London-based Llewellyn Consulting, www.llewellyn-consulting.com, 44-20-7213-0300.
John wrote to me before the European Central Bank cut its deposit rate to minus 0.1%, the first CB to use a negative (sub-zero) rate in the current crisis. The ECB also cut its refinancing rate by 10 basis points and its margin rate by 35 basis points, both now 0.4% to fight deflationary trends. It aims to penalize banks which place money on deposit with it rather than lending it out.
The theory of Mario Draghi, the ECB head, is to stuff banks with liquidity to force them to lend to borrowers in the real economy. He also said the ECB may act to further cut rates.
While European stocks are up on the Draghi initiative, BNP-Paribas, with an ADR traded as BNPQY on the OTCQX market barely budged.
France is more exercised over a US court planning a huge fine (on the order of $10 bn) against BNP, a giant privatized French bank, for violating sanctions in 2002-9 by laundering money for transfers to blacklisted countries (Iran, Sudan, Cuba, and others) than it is about Russia seizing Crimea. The bank was mistakenly advised by its lawyers that if its US branch was not directly involved in the transfers to outlaw states of US$s, it would not violate US laws and could escape sanctions because it wasn't breaking French or European laws. BNP also will have to stop conducting business in dollars for a time.
Bon appetit. Now Pres. Hollande over a Paris summit dinner will lobby Pres. Obama to violate the US constitutional separation of power by blocking the court actions. Obama said earlier “the [US] tradition is that the president does not meddle in prosecutions.” Bloomberg wrote today: “banks that can't pay the fine shouldn't do the crime.”
France plays its own games. It also bans genetically modified foods to protect its traditional farm industry. It doesn't allow fracking within its borders. Moreover, despite events, France is delivering two Mistral aircraft carriers to Russia under a pre-Crimea contract by Oct., one of which will patrol the Black Sea.
France has a history of being a bad ally, dating back further than De Gaulle's exit from Nato in 1966. Even during World War II, France asserted its sovereignty in petty disputes leading Winston Churchill to remark: “Every man his his cross to bear, and mine is the Cross of Lorraine”, the symbol of De Gaulle's resistance movement when France was occupied by Nazi Germany.
Friday is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, when allied troops fought their way ashore in Normandy with air support limited by the overcast skies. US troops landed at Omaha and Utah beaches and Canadians at Juno beach. Although you might not know it from movies like Saving Private Ryan, troops from Britain, Poland, Norway, and the Free French also were in the invasion forces which ultimately succeeded in beating back the German Panzer tanks.
France, in a momentary break with its history of going it alone, in 1944 was a team player. Even De Gaulle knew he had no alternative.
My husband and I lived many years in Paris, and as is normal there, we would be heckled at times with calls of “Yankee go home”. My husband, actually not a Yank but a Brit, would then quietly ask in his best French if he was to take home the bodies of his uncles, one killed on the River Somme in World War I and the other killed in the retreat from Calais after the German blitzkrieg wiped out the French forces in 1940.
In business life too, France likes to go it alone. I was present at the total purge of management at French government-controlled oil company Elf Aquitaine when Mitterrand took power and wanted to get his hands on its lolly for political use. Loïc Le Floch-Pringent in 1989 was named CEO despite having no experience in the oil industry. That ELF had an American Depositary Receipt trading on Wall Street was of no account I was told at the shareholder balloting. Le Floch was later indicated for fraud in France and imprisoned in Togo in the Putaine de la République affair which also hurt other Socialist worthies.
France is not a team player under either Gaullists or Socialists.
My favorite asset manager, State Street, a US bank with shares I own, likes global investing via index exchange-traded funds. Today it launched 4 SPDR ETFs tracking indexes: SMEZ tracking Euro Stoxx small cap; QEFA tracking MSCI EAFE Quality; QEMM tracking MSCI Emerging Market Quality shares; and QWLD tracking MSCI World Quality. I am not recommending these indexed ETFs mainly because I am not sure what “quality” means in an index-tracking ETF.
In pink sheet trading, companies like BNP-Paribas on the OTCQX are considered to be “quality” stocks on a quality exchange.
More on Brazil, Spain, Canada, Britain, France, Colombia, China, Singapore, and Ireland.
Politically Correct in Cambridge
I have something to get off my chest, which you may want to ponder.
The Radcliffe Institute was founded 15 years ago to sop up the endowment of the former woman's college I attended before it opted to be absorbed by Harvard. This merger, while opening up more places and grants for women undergraduates, also ended a near-century focus on BA education for women. I attended a day of lectures and presentations by current and former scholars at the Radcliffe quadrangle last Friday. The new era of college political correctness has led to honorary degrees or commencement speaker slots being denied to people who had offended the current liberal-populist orthodoxy, criticized in his commencement address by honoree Michael Bloomberg, the former NYC mayor, the day before. But even worse occurred at Radcliffe Day.
I was deeply offended when the introductory first speaker, who heads the Radcliffe Institute nattered on about the long history of the exchange of ideas by citing medieval “scholars sitting under the palm-trees in Timbuktu”, before segueing on to call the Radcliffe Institute “the Mecca and Medina of ideas.”
The speaker, Lizbet Cohen, by the way, was neither African-American nor Muslim, but female like the majority of the audience, and the majority of Radcliffe donors. I nearly walked out, and to his credit, my husband, one of the few male attendants, agreed.
If you are as unaware of it as she was, Islamic theology teaches that women have only half the soul that men do. This justifies hampering female education and liberation in many traditional Muslim countries.
Moreover, unlike other mainstream monotheistic religions, Islam doesn't allow theology and practices to be easily undated or liberalized. Mohammed was the culminating prophet, and there can be no other. That is a problem for the Muslim men and women faithful, and not me, to deal with.
But to refer to the brilliant Islamic scholastic past at a women's academic institute without recalling the misogyny which accompanied it is a proof, not just of the temptation to rewrite history, but also of contempt for the intelligence of the audience.
I will hereby cease donating to Radcliffe, having cut off Harvard during the reign of Larry Summers. I will hitherto donate only to The Bronx High School of Science.
More from around the world follows for paid subscribers including a new stock pick. Join them or test drive the full www.global-investing.com package to see what you and your portfolio are missing. To stop piggy-backers, we are not updating our ticker symbol list for this issue until later in the week, after which those who have paid will have been able to do the trades recommended. Note that there will be no blog Weds., the Jewish Pentecost holiday.