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Friday, September 19, 2008 11:28 PM

Paulson's Shorting Ban Needs Revisions Already

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Before we get to the revisions, here is an interview with Levitt, Siegel and Poole on the Paulson Plan.

Click Here To Play Video

Poole: Former Fed Governor

These are grand ideas that cannot be executed. There will be one stumbling block after another. I am very leery of jumping in with emergency measures like this.
Levitt: Former SEC Chairman
I do not think you can precisely value the assets. All of the steps if carried to their extreme could have severe unintended consequences.

Paulson is acting decisively and I think heroically. Is he taking a risk? You bet he is taking a risk.

Short selling is a terribly valuable tool. But right now abuse by hedge funds which are totally unregulated, I think that something has to be done. We have to get to the core of the problem which is what's going on at these hedged funds.
Seigel and Levitt were both arguing strongly for the bailout measures even while presenting strong warnings about unintended consequences.

Poole is the only one of the three that made any reasonable statements.

SEC Considers Revising Shorting Ban in Options Market

In less than a day, a stumbling block on the short selling ban is forcing the SEC To Consider Revising Shorting Ban in Options Market.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission may revise its ban on short sales to add financial companies and carve out an exemption for brokerages that pair off brokers in the $1.6 trillion U.S. options market.

"If they don't fix it, there just won't be an options market on Monday," Steve Claussen, chief investment strategist at OptionsHouse LLC, the Chicago-based online brokerage unit of options trading firm PEAK6 Investments LP. "If they have an exemption for market-makers that they're allowed to sell stock short, then they can provide a market in the options."

Options market makers would have been prohibited from making short sales starting next week under the ban adopted today to keep speculators from driving down stock prices. The Options Clearing Corp., which guarantees all trades exchange-listed options, said a ban would have proved "disastrous."

Market-makers, accounting for about 40 percent of trades, are obliged to quote prices at which they'll buy and sell securities so investors are able to complete trades.

"Either you had to change the rules or you had to halt options trading," said Henry Schwartz, president of Trade Alert LLC, a New York-based provider of options market analytics. "This is the better choice. You couldn't have left it as it is because options market makers were refusing to quote without the ability to hedge."

Option Prices

Prices for options today show that market-makers were already seeking to compensate for the added risk by widening the difference between their bids and offers, according to Peter Bottini, an executive vice president of Chicago-based online brokerage OptionsXpress Holdings Inc. The wider spreads make it more costly for investors to buy or sell options.

"For our retail customers, the costs of adjusting their portfolio has gone through the roof, because the bid-ask spreads have gone through the roof," said Bottoni, a former market maker at the Chicago Board Options Exchange.
Naked Shorting Source

Options trading is one source of shorting (including naked shorting). When someone buys PUT options, the market makers short stock as a hedge. And as noted above, if the market makers cannot short, the options trading market would cease.

So who is doing much of the shorting everyone is harping about? Goldman Sachs (GS) and Morgan Stanley (MS), two of the very firms seeking protection against short selling. Ironically, Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer John Mack says "short sellers are using abusive tactics to attack companies."

Mack needs to look in a mirror to see who is responsible for most of the so-called "abusive" shorting.

NPR: SEC Bans Short-Selling Stocks

Barry Ritholtz at the Big Picture is on NPR discussing the short-selling ban.

Here is a partial transcript.
Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are screaming about short selling now. I can tell you from anecdotal stories and actual data that when Bear Stearns was going down, the two biggest shorting houses of the stock were Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.
Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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