Aug 232018
 
 August 23, 2018  Posted by at 1:35 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Gustave Caillebotte Young man by his window 1875

 

If there’s one thing that is exposed in the sorry not-so-fairy tale of former Trump aides Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, it’s that Washington is a city run by fixers. Who often make substantial amounts of money. Many though by no means all, start out as lawyers and figure out that let’s say ‘the edges of what’s legal’ can be quite profitable.

And it helps to know when one steps across that edge, so having attended law school is a bonus. Not so much to stop when stepping across the edge, but to raise one’s fees. There’s a lot of dough waiting at the edge of the law. None of this should surprise any thinking person. Manafort and Cohen are people who think in millions, with an easy few hundred grand thrown in here and there.

But sometimes the fixers happen to come under scrutiny of the law, like when they get entangled in a Special Counsel investigation. Both Manafort and Cohen now rue the day they became involved with Trump, or rather, the day he was elected president and solicited much more severe scrutiny.

Would either ever have been accused of what they face today had Trump lost to Hillary? It’s not too likely. They just gambled and lost. But there are many more just like them who will never be charged with anything. Still, a new fixer name has popped up the last few days who may, down the line, not be so lucky.

 

And that’s not even because Lanny Davis is a registered foreign agent for Dmytro Firtash, a pro-Russia Ukrainian oligarch wanted by the US government. After all, both Manafort and Cohen have their contacts in that part of the world. Manafort made tens of millions advising then-president Yanukovich in the Ukraine before the US coup dethroned the latter. Cohen’s wife is Ukrainian-American.

Lanny Davis is a lawyer, special counsel even, for the Clintons. Has been for years. Which makes it kind of curious that Michael Cohen would pick him to become his legal representation. But that’s not all Davis is involved in. Like any true fixer, he has his hands in more cookie jars than fit in the average kitchen. Glenn Greenwald wrote this in August 2009 about the health care debate:

 

Lanny Davis Disease

After Tom Daschle was selected to be Barack Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services and chief health care adviser, Matt Taibbi wrote: “In Washington there are whores and there are whores, and then there is Tom Daschle.” One could easily have added: “And then there’s Lanny Davis.” Davis frequently injects himself into political disputes, masquerading as a “political analyst” and Democratic media pundit, yet is unmoored from any discernible political beliefs other than: “I agree with whoever pays me.”

It’s genuinely difficult to recall any instance where he publicly defended someone who hadn’t, at some point, hired and shuffled money to him. Yesterday, he published a new piece simultaneously in The Hill and Politico – solemnly warning that extremists on the Far Left and Far Right are jointly destroying democracy with their conduct in the health care debate and urging “the vast center-left and center-right of this country to speak up and call them out equally” – that vividly illustrates the limitless whoring behavior which shapes Washington generally and specifically drives virtually every word out of Lanny Davis’ mouth.

Davis’ history is as long and consistent as it is sleazy. He was recently hired by Honduran oligarchs opposed to that country’s democratically elected left-wing President and promptly became the chief advocate of the military coup which forcibly removed the President from office. He became an emphatic defender of the Israeli war on Gaza after he was named by the right-wing The Israel Project to be its “Senior Advisor and Spokesperson.” He has been the chief public defender for Joe Lieberman, Jane Harman and the Clintons, all of whom have engaged his paid services.

And as NYU History Professor Greg Grandin just documented: “Recently, Davis has been hired by corporations to derail the labor-backed Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for unions to organize, all the while touting himself as a “pro-labor liberal.” Davis was also the chief U.S. lobbyist of the military dictatorship in Pakistan in the late 90s and played an important role in strengthening relations between then President Bill Clinton and de facto president General Perez Musharraf.”

There’s much more in that article, but you get the drift. And now Davis, the Clinton fixer, is Michael Cohen’s lawyer. The fixer defending a fixer. So who pays the bill? Well, ostensibly no-one, because Davis started a Go Fund Me campaign where people can donate so Cohen “can tell people the truth about Trump”. The goal is $500,000. Which goes to .. Lanny Davis.

On TV yesterday he apparently promoted a wrong URL, which was promptly picked up by someone else who had it redirect to the Trump campaign. Even fixers screw up, right? Still, there’s already well over $100,000 donated for Cohen Davis. But why $500,000? One of the accusations against Cohen concerns lying to a bank for a $20 million loan. He bought an apartment not long ago for $6.7 million. He owned multiple apartments in Trump buildings.

Did he lose everything when Robert Mueller et al raided his office, home and hotel room on April 9 2018? Were all his assets frozen? Possibly. What we do know is that he ‘expected’ the Trump campaign to pay for his legal fees. Which they declined. Or rather, as Fortune reported in June: “The Trump campaign has given some money to Cohen to help cover legal expenses for the Russia investigation. To date, though, it has not offered financial assistance in the investigation of his business practices.”

It seems safe to assume that’s the point where Cohen turned, or was turned, to Lanny Davis. From a full decade of being Trump’s fixer to being fixed by the Clintons’ fixer. That’s a big move. It raises a number of questions: why did Trump not pay Cohen’s legal fees? This is 2 months after the raid on the man’s office, home, hotel room, in which huge amounts of files and disks etc. were seized.

Second question: if Lanny Davis only now sets up a Go Fund Me campaign, who’s been paying him over the past 2 months? Did Cohen sell assets, or is someone else involved?

Anyway, so Davis goes on TV with big words about how Cohen will tell all about Trump -provided people donate half a million- and adding “I know that Mr. Cohen would never accept a pardon from a man that he considers to be both corrupt and a dangerous person in the oval office. And [Cohen] has flatly authorized me to say under no circumstances would he accept a pardon from Mr. Trump.”

Oh, and that “the turning point for his client’s attitude toward Trump was the Helsinki summit in July 2018 which caused him to doubt Trump’s loyalty to the U.S.” That, to my little brain, doesn’t sound like something that would come from Cohen. That sounds more like a political point the likes of which Cohen has never made. That’s plain old Russiagate.

 

But anyway. So Lanny Davis, fixer of fixers and presidents, goes on a talk-show tour last night and what do you think happens? He walks back just about everything he’s said the previous day. Aaron Maté made a list in this Twitter thread:

 

 

Is Michael Cohen sure he wants this guy as his lawyer? Is he watching this stuff?

If Cohen and Manafort have broken laws, they should be punished for it. The same goes for all other Trump campers, including the Donald. But it would be good if people realize that Cohen and Manafort are not some kind of stand-alone examples, that they are instead the norm in Washington. And Moscow, and Brussels, London, everywhere there’s a concentration of power. In all these places, and probably more so in DC, there are these folks specializing in the edge of the law.

What do you think will happen when someone of the stature of Bob Mueller spends 18 months investigating the Clintons and their fixers? Perhaps the events of the past few days won’t bring such a 2nd Special Counsel any closer, but by the same token they might do just that. Offense is the best defense.

I don’t know, we don’t know, what monsters Trump has swept under his luxurious carpets. But we do know that those are not the only monsters in Washington. Meanwhile, the Steele dossier that was used to start the entire Mueller remains just about entirely unverified. The Russian collusion meme he was tasked with investigating has so far come up empty.

That he would find something if he tried hard enough was obvious from the start. That is both dangerous in that the mandate of a Special Counsel should be limited lest it becomes endless and veers off the reasons it was initiated, as well as in the risk that it can easily turn into a party-political tool to hurt one’s opponent while one’s own dirt remains unscrutinized.

In the end, I can draw only one conclusion: there are so many sharks and squids swimming in the swamp that either it should be expanded or the existing one should be cleaned up and depopulated. So bring it: investigate the FBI, the Clintons, and fixers like Lanny Davis and Michael Avenatti, the same way the Trump camp has been.

Because if you don’t do that, you can only possibly end up in an even bigger mess. You can’t drain half a swamp.

 

 

Oct 102014
 
 October 10, 2014  Posted by at 6:29 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  


DPC School Street and Parker House, Boston MA 1906

It’s been only two months since I last -again – addressed the shale industry, but apparently it’s still not clear enough what a predatory scheme it is. Today, Bloomberg adds even more fuel to the fire. If you want to know how the combination of slip-sliding legal standards and ultra-low interest rates has perverted the US – and global – economy, you need look no further than shale.

The central point the Bloomberg article evokes is simple: does the difference between proved reserves, probable reserves and possible reserves (or resource potential), as reported by oil and gas extraction companies, constitute a lie? And the answer is just as simple: no, it doesn’t. But that’s not where the issue ends, it’s where it begins.

That is, if the difference between the two gets too wide, – potential – investors in company stocks and bonds are not getting the information they are entitled to. The industry may claim, as in the article, that investors are aware of the discrepancy inherent in the numbers, but that’s at best true for most investors, and the bigger ones. Still, the companies shouldn’t be able to use that as some unlimited excuse to claim whatever they wish. Because they can basically throw out any number they want in front of investors, no matter what it’s based on, and it’s legal.

And while there may be a kernel of truth in this bit …

“They’re running a great risk of litigation when they don’t end up producing anything like that,” said John Lee, a University of Houston petroleum engineering professor who helped write the SEC rules and has taught reserves evaluation to a generation of engineers. “If I were an ambulance-chasing lawyer, I’d get into this.”

… there’s also something missing. By the time investors can start any litigation, chances are the companies involved may be long gone. The greater public, and some of the investors, may be fooled, but the industry people themselves? They know about the depletion rates typical of shale wells, of the fact that few wells ever make their owners any real profit, and of the $500 billion(!) the industry lost over the past 5 years.

The shale industry runs on debt, not on energy. And as long as these companies can issue junk bonds at low rates, they will. But that doesn’t mean they will ever be profitable. For their owners, sure, they’re raking in dough like it’s Halloween candy, but for investors in those bonds things don’t look so rosy. Shale is a Ponzi.

And US law allows it to grow. One set of reserves gets presented to the regulator (SEC), and an entirely different one to the investor. One company, Rice Energy, tells investors it has 27 times as many reserves as it tells the SEC.

We’re Sitting on 10 Billion Barrels of Oil! OK, Two

To count as proved reserves to the SEC, companies must have “reasonable certainty” that the oil and gas will be extracted from existing wells and those scheduled to be drilled within five years. [..] The forecasts are based on fuel prices, geology, engineering and the performance of nearby wells. Planned wells must be economically and technically viable.

Whereas forecasts for investor presentations are based on a combination of hopium, wishful thinking, media savvy, creative accounting and pure fantasy. This is ‘justified’ by saying: ‘everybody knows we lie, so who cares if we lie’. Except that it’s not legally a lie.

No such rules apply to appraisals that drillers pitch to the public, sometimes called resource potential. In public presentations, unregulated estimates included wells that would lose money, prospects that have never been drilled, acreage that won’t be tapped for decades and projects whose likelihood of success is less than 10%.

Figures the company executives cite during presentations “are used in the capital allocation process, and are a standard tool the investment community understands and relies on in assessing a company’s performance and value …” [..] The presentations rarely explain how the drillers calculated the figures. The numbers sometimes change from one presentation to the next.

On account of thorough research by the companies, no doubt.

… companies use their own variation of resource potential, often with little explanation of what the number includes, how long it will take to drill or how much it will cost. The average estimate of resource potential was 6.6 times higher than the proved reserves reported to the SEC …

And 6.6 times is really lowballing it when it comes to some of these firms:

Lee Tillman, chief executive officer of Marathon Oil, told investors last month that the company was potentially sitting on the equivalent of 4.3 billion barrels in its U.S. shale acreage. That number was 5.5 times higher than the proved reserves Marathon reported to federal regulators. Such discrepancies are rife in the U.S. shale industry. Drillers use bigger forecasts to sell the hydraulic fracturing boom to investors and to persuade lawmakers to lift the 39-year-old ban on crude exports.

62 of 73 U.S. shale drillers reported one estimate in mandatory filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission while citing higher potential figures to the public, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Pioneer’s estimate was 13 times higher. Goodrich’s was 19 times. For Rice Energy, it was almost 27-fold.

Denver-based Cimarex Energy is one company that doesn’t report a different number to investors than it does to the SEC. “We want to have things on the books that are part of our near-term drilling plans,” Karen Acierno, a Cimarex spokeswoman, said in an interview. “A lot of people appreciate our conservative nature, a lot of investors.” Cimarex shares are up 19% in the past year.

The investor presentation by Rice Energy shows 2.7 billion barrels. Rice, which went public in January, reported 100 million barrels to the SEC in March, records show. At Pioneer Natural Resources, the number they cite to potential investors has increased by 2 billion barrels a year in each of the last five years – even as the proved reserves it files with the SEC have declined. The rising number is “a game changer for this company,” said Sheffield, the CEO. “It’s a game changer for this country.”

No kidding, there, Mr. CEO.

Investors poured $16.3 billion in the first seven months of the year into mutual funds and exchange-traded funds focused on energy companies, including drillers that create fractures in rocks by injecting fluid into cracks to enable more oil and gas to flow out of the formation. That’s almost twice as much as in the same period last year, bringing total assets to $128.2 billion, according to New York-based Strategic Insight. [..]

Lee, the University of Houston professor, said in an interview that he’s alarmed by the inconsistent and overly optimistic estimates published by shale companies. “If a lot of people get burned – and I think a lot of people can and will be burned – by these numbers in the investor presentations, there may be a push by investors to get the SEC to do something about it … ”

Horse, meet barn. The SEC won’t do anything, and it cannot change the law anyway, until these companies are dead broke and their owners longer liable for anything at all.

The US shale industry presents itself to investors as something it is not: it hugely overestimates its reserves, it carries incredible amounts of debt, there is cash flow but it doesn’t even begin to cover expenses, and its wells, which cost $8-20 million a piece to drill, even on average deplete faster than you can say ‘Christmas next year’.

Meanwhile, politics and media sing the Hossanah of energy independence, which in turn makes oil and gas prices slump to such a degree that shale becomes even less viable than it -obviously to us – already is. But as long as you’re legally allowed to overstate your reserves 27-fold, you can squeeze this balloon for another year or so, right.

It all makes me think that if people don’t see through this nonsense, they get what they deserve and perhaps need in life. But as always, it’s the little people who will end up paying up. And I don’t like that one bit. And if this is what America has become, a giant Ponzi, someone should raise their voice before it gets completely out of hand. If this kind of spiel is legal, there’s something deeply wrong with the law.

I could say much more about this, and I have, but it’s probably better if for more, you refer to for instance these past Automatic Earth articles on shale:

Get ready for the North American gas shock

Fracking Our Future

Shale Gas Reality Begins to Dawn

Shale Is A Pipedream Sold To Greater Fools

The Darker Shades Of Shale

Debt and Energy, Shale and the Arctic