A suit has been filed by Facebook shareholders against Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, Morgan Stanley and others. It’s based on a very simple concept: when internal analysts learned that Facebook’s numbers were going to be worse than expected, the company and its bankers didn’t tell everyone, but just “selectively disclosed” information to a small group of “preferred investors.”
Henry Blodget, who unfortunately should know about these things, gave a good summary of it all on CBS This Morning:
I was on the phone last night with a former hedge fund CEO who was talking about this. “Facebook,” he said, “is a colossal example of a complete clusterfuck where everybody wins except the ordinary investor.”
His point was that virtually every week now we see stories like this that hint at a kind of two-tiered market system – in which most of the real action takes place inside an unregulated black-box network of connected insiders who don’t disclose their relationships or their interests, while everyone else, i.e. the regular suckers, live in the more tightly-policed world of prospectuses and quarterly reporting and so on.
All of these stories suggest that Wall Street is increasingly turning into a giant favor-and-front-running factory, where the big banks and broker-dealers that channel vast streams of crucial non-public information (about the markets generally and their clients specifically) are also trading for their own accounts, and sharing information with a select group of “preferred investors,” who in turn help the TBTF banks move markets in this or that desired direction by jumping on or off various pigpiles at the right times.
Sooner or later, people are going to clue into the fact that one or two big banks, acting in concert with a choice assortment of unscrupulous “preferred investors,” can at least temporarily prop up or topple just about anything they want, from Greece to Bear Stearns to Lehman Brothers. And if you can move markets and bet on them at the same time, it’s impossible to not make tons of money, which incidentally is made at everyone else’s expense. So we should always be on the lookout for any evidence that that sort of coordinated, non-disclosed activity is taking place.
This Facebook thing is a perfect example. It’s like that scene in Brain Candy where the evil pharma CEO Don Roritor takes his star scientist, Chris, on a walk in the middle of a party at his house: after they walk around Don’s rocking indoor pool, they open a set of doors and there’s a completely different party going on there.
“What’s this?” Chris asks. “Oh, this is the real party,” says Roritor.