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OPAL Public Funds Summit, 1/12-14/2011

The Public Funds Summit will address the issues that are critical to the investment success of senior public pension fund officers and trustees. Although attendance is not limited to those in the public sector, the conference takes aim at topics that are of particular relevance to public pension funds.We will closely cover the processes for selection and evaluation of investment managers, review legal concerns with fund investment and management policies and explore the benefits and pitfalls of a wide variety of investment strategies.The Summit will take place on January 12-14, 2011 at the Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona. The preliminary agenda can be seen at: http://www.opalgroup.net/conferencehtml/current/public_funds_summit/public_funds_summit_agenda.php

Recent economic data releases: what's really going on

Two recent releases economic data releases raise grave questions. We refer to the following:
A. "The Fed cuts US economy growth estimate for 2011 and ups unemployment. The Federal Reserve has cut its 2011 growth forecast for the US economy, newly released minutes of its last policy committee meeting reveal. The Fed expects growth of 3-3.6% next year, down from its previous 3.5-4.2% estimate. It also forecasts higher unemployment and lower inflation than before."
B. "After holding steady for three months, the U.S. unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent in November, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.The report out Friday was a letdown for the country’s economics, many of whom had predicted much larger job growth figures. The disappointing news was another sign that the nation’s economy remains in a fragile state."
What's really going on.
The Federal Reserve faced a firestorm of criticism after implementing QE2, or Quantitative Easing Number Two. We for…

Opal Alternative Investing Summit - 5-7 December, 2010

Alternative Investing Summit - 5-7 December, 2010. The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, Dana Point, CaliforniaThe Alternative Investing Summit will bring together trustees and representatives of institutions as well as money managers and consultants to explore the roles of alternative opportunities and strategies. Participants and delegates of this alternative investing conference will investigate a range of critical investment issues, including discussion of the risks and benefits involving private equity, investigating the risks and rewards involved with hedge funds, examining means of cutting costs associated with implementation of absolute returns strategies, reviewing the future of commodities and surveying the landscape of emerging international markets.The label "alternative" describes a nebulous investment class to many investors, especially those in the institutional world who have strict ethical and fiduciary obligations to their organizations. However, pursuing altern…

A Comparison of CSR Methodologies (Angela Liu, GWU, MSF, 2011)

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In the posting below, CIR Intern Angela Liu, (GWU, MSF, 2011) compares two recent papers on CSR.
A web article from Ioannis Ioannou, Assistant Professor of Strategic and International Management at London Business School, asks "Is there a link between a company's social responsibility and its profitability?" The second study reviewed is the Boston College 2010 Corporate Social Responsibility Index.
A Comparison of CSR Methodologies
Both studies focus on how to measure and value corporate social responsibility (CSR). Both show how difficult it is to precisely measure the exact economic value of CSR, but both also use methods that highlight the intangible value that social responsibility might actually bring to a given firm.
External and Internal Aspects
The research from the London Business School mainly focuses on the internal aspects of CSR. The authors have collected data since 1990. They use this data to study the key ways that a firm can transfer CSR information to…

Federal Reserve Board QE2 - $600 billion, $75 billion at a time...

According to the Fed, "To promote a stronger pace of economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at levels consistent with its mandate, the Committee decided today to expand its holdings of securities. The Committee will maintain its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its securities holdings. In addition, the Committee intends to purchase a further $600 billion of longer-term Treasury securities by the end of the second quarter of 2011, a pace of about $75 billion per month. The Committee will regularly review the pace of its securities purchases and the overall size of the asset-purchase program in light of incoming information and will adjust the program as needed to best foster maximum employment and price stability."$600 billion is $100 billion larger than anticipated and $75 billion per month seems reasonable. This is an appropriate response and stands every chance of being effective, especially since economic activity has been…

Racial predatory loans fueled U.S. housing crisis: study

(From the Firm Grasp of the Obvious Department at the American Sociological Review as reported by Reuters....)"Predatory lending aimed at racially segregated minority neighborhoods led to mass foreclosures that fueled the U.S. housing crisis, according to a new study published in the American Sociological Review.Predatory lending typically refers to loans that carry unreasonable fees, interest rates and payment requirements.Poorer minority areas became a focus of these practices in the 1990s with the growth of mortgage-backed securities, which enabled lenders to pool low- and high-risk loans to sell on the secondary market, Professor Douglas Massey of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and PhD candidate Jacob Rugh, said in their study.The financial institutions likely to be found in minority areas tended to be predatory -- pawn shops, payday lenders and check cashing services that 'charge high fees and usurious rates of inter…

Proxy Access Granted! (Sandy Wu, CIR Intern and MSF program, GWU)

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The Securities and Exchange Commission voted this morning to adopt changes to the federal proxy and other rules to facilitate director nominations by shareholders by allowing shareholders to more easily nominate directors to corporate boards. This will definitely change the balance of power between general investors and management at many U.S. companies. This is the fourth time the SEC considered questions about proxy access over the past few years.The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act finally confirmed the Commission’s authority to resolve the issue. “The proxy is often the principal means for shareholders and public companies to communicate with one another, and for shareholders to weigh in on issues of importance to the corporation,” said SEC Chairman Mary L. Schapiro. The rule was passed on a 3-2 vote, with two Republican commissioners, Troy Paredes and Kathleen Casey, opposing. “The rule is fundamentally and fatally flawed, and it will have great diff…

Section 342. Office Of Minority And Women Inclusion

Much recent attention has focused on Section 342 of the Financial Reform Bill (Dodd-Frank Bill). The section calls for the creation of Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion at all Federal financial institution regulatory agencies. While most blog comments on the Section have been negative, there has been a lack of accurate information about just what this section calls for and why.

Let's start with why. As we noted in 2003 and 2006:

"Envy, hatred, and greed have flourished in certain capital market institutions, propelling ethical standards of behavior downward. Without meaningful reform, there is a small (but significant and growing) risk that our economic system will simply cease functioning." (2003);
and

"Individuals and market institutions with the power to safeguard the system, including investment analysts and rating agencies, have been compromised. Few efficient, effective and just safeguards are in place. Statistical models created by the firm show the probabi…

Creative Investment Research, Inc. testifies at the Joint Public Hearing on CRA

Sponsored by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision (The Agencies), the Joint Public Hearing on the Community Reinvestment Act Regulation was held in Arlington Virginia on July 19, 2010. We provided testimony for the hearings.

Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) in 1977 “to encourage depository institutions to help meet the credit needs of the communities in which they operate, including low and moderate income neighborhoods, consistent with safe and sound operations.”

Our testimony follows a series of warnings we have issued since 1998:

- In an October 1998 brief filed with the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, we objected to the Citigroup/Travelers merger. We cited evidence that growing financial market malfeasance greatly exacerbated risks in financial markets, reducing the safety and soundness of large …

Minority firm part of $1.85 billion FDIC asset sale

An article by Ling-Ling Wei in today's Wall Street Journal noted that: "A partnership between Tom Barrack's Colony Capital LLC and a minority-owned investment firm won the bidding for a $1.85 billion portfolio of distressed commercial real-estate loans auctioned off by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The deal, the second-largest bulk sale of commercial-property debt under a public-private partnership, is expected to be announced Wednesday by the FDIC.

This deal is the first public-private setup in which a minority-owned firm has taken a stake, albeit a small one, during this economic downturn. Cogsville, an African-American-owned firm, contributed $16 million to the $218 million investment, for a 7% stake in the portfolio.

Over the past year, there have been complaints on Capitol Hill and among smaller financial firms, especially those owned by minorities and women, about the lack of minority-firm participation in various public-private investment programs.

'A lot of …

Another Black-owned bank closes

According to the FDIC, "On Friday, July 9, 2010, Ideal Federal Savings Bank, Baltimore, MD was closed by the Office of Thrift Supervision, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was named Receiver. No advance notice is given to the public when a financial institution is closed. As a convenience to local depositors, the FDIC has made arrangements for the insured funds in demand accounts, savings accounts, NOW accounts, insured CD's, and any other transactional accounts to be transferred to the Manufacturers and Traders Trust Company ("M&T") located at 715 N. Howard Street, Baltimore, Maryland. M&T Bank will also accept the failed bank's direct deposits from the federal government, such as Social Security and Veterans' payments through Saturday, September 4."

The institution was established as Ideal Federal Savings Bank on April 4, 1920. As one of the original Black owned financial institution in the United States, the bank had a stor…

Minority and Women-owned Company Small Business Financing Guide and Workbook, 2010 Edition

MinorityFinance.com is pleased to announce the publication of the Minority and Women-owned Company Small Business Financing Guide and Workbook, 2010 Edition.

The Guide and Workbook are designed to provide actionable information minorities and women can use to obtain small business financing. The Guide and Workbook consists of two sections: The Guide provides detailed business financing information of specific relevance to Minority and Women-owned Businesses. The Workbook is an electronic document with blank loan applications, grant forms, business planning and financial reporting templates, IRS Forms and other documents.

The Guide and Workbook will be of specific interest to those seeking to finance a new firm and/or start-up. It has special sections on financing a Day Care Center, financing a Beauty/Hair Salon, financing a Music/Film business.

Specific sections of the Workbook provide detailed information on:

How to complete a Bank Loan Application (completed sample application include…

Creative Investment issues comments for the Small Business Federal Contracting Forum

Creative Investment Research, Inc. issued comments for the Small Business Federal Contracting Forum public meeting to be held on Monday, June 28, 2010. The purpose of the meeting is to encourage public comment on small business issues.

On April 26, 2010, President Obama established an Interagency Task Force to develop proposals and recommendations for enhancing the use of small businesses in Federal contracting, including businesses owned by women, minorities, socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, and service-disabled veterans of our Armed Forces. The Memorandum establishing the Task Force is available here.

Creative Investment has long been familiar with the problems that small and minority businesses encounter when attempting to contract with the federal government. We reviewed our experiences in our comments. In addition, we noted which Federal agencies are doing the best job in their small business outreach strategies.

We noted that doing business with the Federal go…

Financial Reform passes!

In another stunning victory for the Obama Administration, the US Senate passed the financial regulatory reform bill by a vote of 59-39 on Thursday night. (A summary of the legislation can be found on the Senate Banking Committee website.)

We are optimistic that this legislation will begin to address the "trust issues" that now dominate the equity marketplace. It was these "trust issues" that caused a 1,000 point intra-day fall in the Dow Jones Industrial Index on May 6. Until now, rational, fair or effective solutions to the practices that caused so much turmoil in 2007, 2008 and 2009 had not been enacted in any Western economy or market system.

Market mechanisms are simply stressed to the breaking point, given the sharp rise in transaction costs. Transaction costs increased as marketplace ethics decreased. Financial market institutions, recognizing that a decline in ethical standards eventually leads to a decline in trust and an increase in transaction costs, atte…

ShoreBank's Rescue Gives Community Lenders Hope

Summary version from The American Banker Newspaper. Wednesday, May 19, 2010. Story by Robert Barba.

Sources said early Tuesday that the struggling $2.3 billion-asset lender had secured $140 million in capital commitments, well exceeding the $125 million it needed to become eligible for a $75 million investment from the Treasury Department.

Though most of the companies on the roster have been solid supporters of community development financial institutions, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and General Electric Co.'s GE Capital were two newcomers. They also were among the biggest investors in the group, kicking in $25 million and $20 million, respectively.

Another headline investor in ShoreBank is Citigroup Inc., at $20 million. Others include Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., U.S. Bancorp, Morgan Stanley, Northern Trust Corp. and PNC Financial Services Group Inc. Also on board were State Farm, the Ford Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur…

Corporate Governance Research

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Pursuant to Request for Proposal No. 2009-5330, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System intends to award the contract for Corporate Governance Research Spring-Fed Pool to: Creative Investment Research, Inc. See: http://www.calpers.ca.gov/j2/data/ei/contracts/files/2009-5330/Intent-to-Award.pdf
Related articlesFact and Fiction in Corporate Law and GovernanceCorporate GovernanceCorporate Governance

Investment Trends Summit

Opal Financial Group's Investment Trends Summit is designed to meet the needs of senior pension fund officers, trustees and other institutional investors who prefer smaller, more structured programs. By limiting the number of managers in attendance, participants will be able to more carefully examine a distinct set of topics specifically tailored to their interests.

This year's Summit will take place June 16-18, 2010 at the fabulous Four Seasons Resort, The Biltmore, in Santa Barbara, CA.

Topics of Discussion Include:
• Challenges Institutional Investors Are Now Facing
• Post Crisis Hangover - Lower Risk or Raise Returns?
• Real Asset Investing
• The Changing Regulatory Environment
• Ongoing Education for Plan Fiduciaries and Participants

Register here. Institutional investors registrations are complimentary.

Punishing Goldman Sachs

According to news reports, most prominently a report by Charles Gasparino, Goldman Sachs is looking to settle SEC charges that the firm willfully mislead and defrauded investors in selling an investment product based on subprime mortgages. This is, of course, the smart thing for them to do, if they can. I am not sure that the SEC will let them off the hook lightly. Even a billion dollar fine would be of little consequence to the firm. What to do? Here is what I said in 2005:

"One thing I would note about the (Global Research Analyst) settlement itself is our belief that the penalties should have been income based. I know that's a settled point, but our suggestion would have been that the settling firms be stripped of all income for a 12-month period as a way of ensuring that they would not engage in these egregious actions again. What you do is let the firms run themselves for a 12-month period, you take a look back at how much money they made, and you take all of that money o…

OK, maybe they landed a glove or two....

According to the Washington Post, "The Securities and Exchange Commission has referred its investigation of Goldman Sachs to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution, less than two weeks after filing a civil securities fraud case against the firm, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News reported Thursday night that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan had followed up on the request and opened a criminal probe. The office declined to comment.

It is very rare for the government to indict a firm, and the mere threat of criminal prosecution can destroy a company. A criminal investigation destroyed the infamous Wall Street firm Drexel Burnham Lambert in the 1980s even though the firm settled with authorities."

Never laid a glove on them

I attended part of Senator Carl Levin's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing concerning Goldman Sachs. Bottom line: they never laid a glove on them. As one report noted, "By day’s end, the investment bank’s market value had risen by $549 million." My comments follow.

1. When questioned about most matters, Goldman's CEO simply misdirected the questioner to an irrelevant portion of the inquiry. Specifically asked a direct question about the firm's short position (a position that benefits from a fall in prices, in this case, housing prices) in the mortgage market, the CEO referred to Goldman's 140 year history (this was a misdirection), and characterized the firm's position as a hedge (this was false). A key factor relates to relative position size. A $1 million dollar long position offset by a $1 million dollar short position is a hedge. A $1 million dollar long position offset by a $10 million dollar short position is a directional bet on the ma…

SEC accuses Goldman Sachs of civil fraud

According to the Washington Post, "The Securities and Exchange Commission filed charges Friday against Goldman Sachs, one of the most successful but vilified banks on Wall Street, for misleading and defrauding investors in selling a financial product based on subprime mortgages.

In filing the civil suit against Goldman Sachs, the agency is targeting one of the banks that largely escaped the wreckage of the financial crisis and, with the help of various forms of government aid, emerged stronger."

We believe this may be the first in a series of actions targeting Goldman. An examination of Goldman's transactions with AIG will probably reveal similar questionable practices. As we noted on July 9, 2009, the US lost 53% supporting Goldman.

As we noted on March 5, 2009, Goldman was one of several firms accused of systematically cheating customers.

And, finally, as noted on July 19, 2007,

"From an ethical standpoint, (Goldman) has repeatedly engaged in behavior that would cau…

Opal's Emerging Managers Summit and Awards Luncheon

Emerging Managers Summit and Awards Luncheon
May 12-14, 2010
Swissôtel Chicago, Chicago, IL

According to Opal, the conference organizers, "If you are looking to expand and diversify your asset allocation by investing in emerging managers as well as women and minority owned investment managers, the emerging managers conference will provide the unique opportunity to access a diversified group of up-and-coming performance-oriented managers and manager of managers. The conference will explore the benefits and opportunities offered by investing in emerging managers as well as new strategies for implementing an emerging managers program. If you are an emerging manager, you will learn the procedures used by institutions to launch and maintain successful emerging manager programs. This event will showcase a variety of emerging mangers as well as minority-owned manager funds and other high potential smaller investment firms, and it will offer participants invaluable networking opportunities.…

Hearing on the link between Fed Policy and Bank Supervision (Frank Hung, Intern)

We attended the hearing held by House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday March 17, 2010. Among the speakers:

The Honorable Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve

The Honorable Paul Volcker, Chairman of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve

Their testimony focused on interest rates and government guarantees, such as those granted Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. One Congressman asked if holding rates too low for too long causes inflation? Bernanke indicated he is watching economic trends closely will move rates up or down in order to avoid future economic problems. He stated that arbitrage opportunities still happened and that, based on current reports and research, demand is still lower than the full employment level. He noted that low interest rates can stimulate consumer expenditures and alleviate the unemployment problem.

He also stated that the Fed cooperates with other regulatory agencies in superv…

Federal agency orders Ideal Federal Bank to find a buyer

From the Baltimore Sun, March 11, 2010 by Jamie Smith Hopkins

"Ideal Federal Savings Bank has until March 31 to find a buyer, a deadline set by the Office of Thrift Supervision after the federal agency determined the small Baltimore institution was undercapitalized.

The bank — which opened in 1920 to combat rampant discrimination in lending — is one of the oldest continuously operated black-owned businesses in the country, according to Creative Investment Research, an analyst of minority and women-owned banks."

See: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2010-03-11/business/bal-idea-bank-0311_1_federal-agency-women-owned-creative-investment-research

This Week in SRI March 10, 2010. Volume 2. Number 3.

This Week in SRI Newsletter March 10, 2010. Volume 2. Number 3.

This Week's Newsletter

The 40 Best Books on Social Investing

The 40 Best Books on Social Investing

Compiled by Frank Hung, Jui-Kai Li, Interns. Winter, 2010. An updated listing of some of the best books on socially responsible investing.

Professor compares subprime borrowers to e-coli

We attended today's Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) hearing earlier today. The Commission brought "experts who have researched the financial crisis for a forum in Washington, DC on February 26-27, 2010 at American University Washington College of Law."

More smoke than light was shed on the cause of the crisis. I was struck, however, by one comparison made. In the last session on Shadow Banking, Gary Gorton, Professor of Finance, School of Management, Yale University, compared subprime borrowers to e-coli, suggesting they had "infected" the home loan market.

According to Wikipedia, "Between 2004-2006 the share of subprime mortgages relative to total originations ranged from 18%-21%, versus less than 10% in 2001-2003 and during 2007. The value of USA subprime mortgages was estimated at $1.3 trillion as of March 2007, [17] with over 7.5 million first-lien subprime mortgages outstanding." That's a lot of e-coli, too much for this analogy to …

On Shorebank

Ailing ShoreBank Seeks the Aid of an Ailing State

American Banker | Wednesday, January 27, 2010

By Robert Barba

With dwindling capital and mounting losses, ShoreBank Corp. in Chicago is seeking a bailout from the state of Illinois.

Executives of the $2.5 billion-asset community development bank met with the Illinois Finance Authority and regulators earlier this month to discuss raising as much as $50 million through a bond deal, according to local media reports. ShoreBank executives are playing up its history of community service in trying to secure a lifeline from the state.

Banking experts say such help is conceivable, as ShoreBank's inception stems from the civil rights movement in the 1960s and it has supported struggling Chicago neighborhoods. Yet state assistance could have unintended consequences - especially given Illinois' own troubled fiscal picture.

"It deserves a look, because from a historical standpoint, it is part of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.'s C…

Bankers to Commission: Screw You

The First Public Hearing of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was held on January 13, 2010 at the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, DC. "The Commission..has been given a mission to examine the causes of the financial crisis and to report findings to the Congress, the President, and the American people."

According to the New York Times, "The heads of Wall Street’s largest banks faced skeptical questions on Wednesday about executive pay and the failures of regulation from the bipartisan commission established to examine the causes of the biggest downturn since the Depression. Tensions flared as commission members retraced the events leading to the near-collapse of the financial system in 2008 and pressed bankers on whether they or their employees had acted unethically."

This is inaccurate. There were no skeptical questions. There was no tension. No one pressed the bankers on anything. They lied at will, without fear of being contradicted. It was as i…