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back to article Emails show journalist rigged Wikipedia's naked shorts

Two and a half years ago, Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne penned an editorial for The Wall Street Journal, warning that widespread stock manipulation schemes - including abusive naked short selling - were threatening the health of America's financial markets. But it wasn't published. "An editor at The Journal asked me to write …

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Olympic Class Clusterfuck

That's all there is to it.

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Hahahahahaha

So there it is, oh mighty financial institutions of america - that's Numberwang.

Good article El Reg.

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Paris Hilton

Nothing to see here

Wikipedia will always be subject to these type of battles for control of content. There is no real peer review, just bully reviewing and the one with the most wiki-cred wins. If someone wants to pretend a problem doesn't exist and works hard enough at it, they can make it disappear.

Wikipedia is great for movie trivia, but really one has to take much of it with a grain of salt.

Paris 'cos I'm sure she's abused naked shorts.

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So, in other words

Byrne, the man that The Register has loved to abuse, vilify and otherwise make fun of, was perhaps right all along?

I have a feeling someone owes the man an apology.

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Oh Man

There's shit, and then there's heavy-duty shit. This article is awesome, and we've not heard the last.

Scary stuff, bring it on.

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Anonymous Coward

One day somebody is going to make

a really boring movie about this seemingly interminable masochistic circlejerk

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Pirate

So I guess the Russian Mafia aren't involved anymore?

I remember Byrne making dramatically-veiled references to "people" in "Eastern Europe" who were behind the whole thing.

I guess those guys aren't part of it anymore?

Although this whole story is, as Grundy puts it, a classic example of an Olympic Clusterfuck. There are going to be some AWESOME books written about this, it's got everything you'd want for "Bonfire Of The Vanities 2". Spurned lovers; family dysfunction; the New Media; and it all culminates in a gigantic stock-market crash.

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@Jeff

Normally you'd be correct but there is so much more to the story about Patrick Byrne, naked short selling, Wikipedia editors and SlimVirgin. Byrne knew SlimVirgin in college (where she randomly changed her accent among other weirdness) - based on her actions I'd say he might know her in the Biblical sense as well since she is acting just like a jilted lover.

It's a real mess that has actually had a negative impact on world financial markets because the peasants didn't understand what what going on (if in doubt look at some of the El Reg comments in previous short selling stories).

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Stop

the hastening

Fine, naked short selling is evil, but remember, but all he's actually saying is that it hastened what was already going to happen.

The problems with credit default swaps and CDO's were already in play. Short sellers identified the problem and acted. If they had not, the risk portfolios would have KEPT ON GROWING and the final result would have been even worse.

For all concerned, things would have actually turned out better and with lower impact if more people had sold more naked shorts much much sooner, back when it was only a $100 billion problem instead of a $1 trillion problem.

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top-notch article

Notwithstanding that el Reg may have had the wrong end of the stick in previous articles on the subject, this article (and the series on Phorm, along with a few other notables) actually has me thinking that The Register is a world-class journalistic publication. Keep up the good work, but don't let praise like this go to your heads!

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Anonymous Coward

Not too sure what to make of this

Just read this, then every other article on el-reg containing the words "Patrick Byrne".

Seems he's been the butt of a few jokes/articles/put-downs over the past 2 years.

Is the reg now saying "oops, he was right all along" or "hey look, the muppet has got something right for a change, shoot enough arrows and something will hit the target".

The near-collapse of an entire super-power economy is a pretty big arrow methinks :p

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Do like Oz did during the Poseidon bubble

....and ban short selling entirely.

This happened in 1969/70 during the Poseidon mining bubble in Australia. Combined short selling volume of one of the mining companies (Southern Cross?) exceeded its total registered shares. As a result, at the end of that account many short sellers couldn't deliver the stock. What a surprise!

The Australian Stock Exchange stopped all trading in the short sold stock and forced all short sellers to complete at the agreed price. Needless to say, those holding the shares could and did charge what they liked and short sellers lost their shirts. When this activity was complete the ASE banned all forms of short selling and then unfroze the stock. Poetic justice if you ask me!

Short selling should be banned everywhere as a disreputable practise.

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Holy fuck.

Truth really IS stranger than fiction.

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Alert

See his video...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIHw7C73s3E

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Dead Vulture

The stock market as so little to do with...

Capitalism. The private ownership of capital. Whether it is manufacturing or anything else. Sure, the stock market is where a company is supposed to sell a portion of ownership to raise money, it has become so much more. It is a slot machine without a handle to pull.

Like futures, yes, orange juice makers or oil companies are supposed to use this market to fix in a price for a commodity it needs in the future. The producer of the commodity can then be assured of a known return and the buyer can plan on costs and availability of the commodity in the future when they need it. However, it has become a change for people who will never produce, deliver or use a commodity to jump in and try to make a profit. That, it seems to me, would be gambling.

Short selling is fine, as long as you don't manipulate the market in an attempt to make the stock price fall to make your profit. Simple, huh? Naked short selling should never ever be allowed. If you don't have it and you sell it, well, that seems to me to be fraud. "Oh, I was selling a bridge... it wasn't fraud officer. I planned on buying one to sell it. See? I just ran out of funds and couldn't buy it to sell what I had promised."

Idiots on the stock market looking for short term profits and companies doing questionable or even out right illegal things to meet market expectations each quarter leads to the US loaning the US automakers $25 Billion dollars (with another possible $25 Billion) to retool. Why? Because they were chasing the short term, high margin profits of gas guzzling SUVs.

Once again, we have to bail out those who should be drawn and quartered.

Anyone that uses WIKI as an accredited source is no longer worthy of listening to. They lost their credibility. Granted, I use it as a source... for football players history.

This won't be the end of capitalism. We keep bailing it out.

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So this is a FEATURE and not a BUG?

@bandor:

"The problems with credit default swaps and CDO's were already in play. Short sellers identified the problem and acted. If they had not, the risk portfolios would have KEPT ON GROWING..."

So, what, we should THANK these people for defrauding billions of dollars out of the market, destroying hundreds of companies, bribing members of the regulatory boards involved, and libeling the business owners who called them on it? Gosh, I hate to see what they'd be like if they WEREN'T such nice people...

@Jaowon: I think that the Reg's attitude towards Byrne has been something like "amused tolerance"; they agree that he has a point about naked shorting being bad (and El Reg's stance towards Wikipedia is long since known), but then Byrne goes off onto tangents about the Russian Mafia and international conspiracies, and you can practically see Cade Metz nod and wink at the camera.

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But "naked shorting" ISN'T allowed.

@Darren: "Naked short selling should never ever be allowed."

Well, ha ha, that's the funny thing: it ISN'T allowed. Naked shorting is supposed to result in heavy fines. But the SEC and DTCC, for the last decade, have been too busy doing...uh, something...anyway, they haven't enforced that regulation in a very long time.

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Flame

still doesn't fix the problem

of getting the money back from all the crooked bastards who have made millions (if not billions) off of this and just walked away. the public should NOT be picking up the tab to bail out these large corporations from their nefarious deeds.

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Now that we have your attention....

First, El Reg owes me no apology. In particular, as someone said above, this "actually has me thinking that The Register is a world-class journalistic publication." Cade deserves great credit. The fact that he took some time to connect these dots does not matter: the fact is, there are a dozen journalists who knew at least some of the dots, and none could see the picture emerge other than Cade. It matters little to me that as he did so, he kept a foot, and then a toe, in the camp of conventional thought: in the end, he was the guy who stepped out of it first. The tongue-in-cheek stuff of earlier El Reg articles were a small price to pay.

Second, in response to the people saying things like, "So I guess the Russian Mafia aren't involved anymore?" I respond, that's is just more non sequitur. There is nothing in here that says OC is not involved. In fact, here is a Forbes story from 20 months ago that El Reg readers should take a look at, and then see what dots they can connect for themselves:

http://www.forbes.com/home/free_forbes/2007/0212/064.html (Understand that the way PIPEs are gamed is through naked short selling, though Vardi treads lightly on explaining why.)

Third, if you want to get the true Big Picture, and understand how this all relates to today's headlines, and enter a $75,000 contest where the readers decide who wins the prizes, read

http://www.deepcapture.com/the-story-of-deep-capture-by-mark-mitchell/ . Warning: PG-13, and it is 69 pages of Thomas Pynchon meets John Grisham, and is a hell of a dense story to make sense of.

Four and finally, after three years of trying to get people to see the implications of what is going on, Iamzippy's quote made my day: "There's shit, and then there's heavy-duty shit. This article is awesome, and we've not heard the last." You got it. You got it. You got it.

Selah,

Patrick Byrne

patrick@overstock.com

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Great piece

OK, so now they are taking Byrne seriously. But you can't really blame el Reg for their initial skepticism as it did sound like a nut-job conspiracy theory at the time.

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Go

More to add to the suspicion

On March 11, several days before Bear Stearns collapsed, someone bought $1.7 million dollars of put options 50% below what was the current price, options that expired 10 days later. This is an insane bet, one that nobody would have made. Yet whoever it was, they made a profit of over $270 million dollars.

GO muckraking journalism!

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Flame

A trillion here, a trillion there....

1. Do not bail out intentional failure.

2. Find the bastards.

3. Fry 'em.

4. Have a great weekend.

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More than about wikipedia

This goes well beyond the integrity of Wikipedia, it gets into the integrity of the financial press and how far they will go to protect their sources. There is a reason why Gary Weiss risked his career on this and most likely somebody had to pay him to act in this manner. More concerning, and based on the massive circle of the financial media Weiss circulated with on this issue, it really raises doubts about the financial press and their desire to educate the public.

Now, with all we now know, you must ask how far those that convinced Weiss to take on this risk will go. would they persuade economists to fudge analysis to tout their positions? like Wikipedia, there seems to be a heavy diversion of opinion coming from economists with ties to Yale University. Many coming out "independantly" and citing the same party line. And ironically, the same party line as Weiss and his circle of friends.

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Flame

when will these scumbags ever get what they deserve?

This so-called journalist is just another scumbag that deserves the axe ... more literally than figuratively in my opinion. With all the deranged loonies and criminals in America, you'd think that one of them would hit upon the keen notion of doing good by whacking these clowns that are raping us ... folk like the scumbag former ceo's of Enron, Worldcom, Bear Stearns (sp?), Merril Lynch, Washington Mutual, etc. etc. etc. that loot and pillage and walk away with millions of innocent people's dollars in their pockets. Well, that's my opinion at least :-).

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Joke

@A trillion here, a trillion there....

Surely that should be

1. Do not bail out intentional failure.

2. Find the barstewards.

3. Fry 'em.

4. Have a great weekend.

5. ???

6. Profit!

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Tim
Boffin

Lost your shirt? Prepare to lose your shorts.

There is a solution to the problem of naked shorting, tax proceeds of naked short trades at 90%. See how many people have the balls to short then.

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Stop

Erm

Byrne is a loon. Hell, read his post on this thread. Read as much as he as written as you can. The fact that he latched on to naked short selling as one of his obsessions hardly means he is sane. Well, unless dark jedi really are behind much of this.

As for Weiss. I don't really give a shit about Wiki politics, but after some previous articles here on the Weiss vs. Byrne's hired proxy issue, there didn't seem to be anything untoward in the edits. Byrne or someone writing on his behalf kept making edits that insisted that naked short selling was criminal and tossed a bunch of insults at any and all who might possibly do it. The language was not of a tone that would fit an encyclopedia--or at least, I don't recall Britannica using that sort of language. Someone else kept changing things back to something that described naked short selling as an activity that was currently acceptable, but dubious ethically if not legally. The text was rather dry, didn't toss anything resembling an insult around...was quite boring, really. In short, like an encyclopedia.

I just don't see some nefarious dark conspiracy behind changes that seemed designed to make sure Wikipedia at least sounded like Britannica, and not some nutter's blog site.

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Black Helicopters

Re: Russian Mafia, etc

Russian Mafia is probably still involved.

They have access to resource that can extract the best benefit out of the current financial markets - brains (and the right sort of brains).

An exchange can be viewed as a game theory problem with multiple competing players. Most players in it at present use specific types of algorithms. Specifically, the majority of realtime primadonnas driving Mazerattis use mostly statistical and pseudo-statistical (Bayes + neural net) algorithms that predict stock behaviour based on past performance. Russians have done quite a bit of work in the past analysing the overall game problem where players use this type of algorithms. During the cold war USA/NATO went in the NN/Bayes direction for their AA, fire control and missile guidance as these were easy to implement in a "number cruncher". Instead of blindly following down the same route the Russians looked at the problem from a pure mathematical perspective including on how it will behave players use stats+NN. And they got some answers for the cases they looked at (AA). Moving from there to stock market problems is an obvious step (and mathematically it is not a particularly big one).

Players armed with this class of algorithms have clear advantage over the other traders. This advantage also increases as the market goes more and more unstable due to game theory providing better odds compared to Bayes/NN.

So considering who has the best access to the people who once upon a time researched this class of problems, I will not be surprised if the so called Russian Mafia is deeply involved in this.

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Shorts are good!

I absolutely agree on the exposure of the Orwellian machinations of the Wonkypedia.

However as far as short selling goes I still think Byrnes position is fairly dodgy. Naked shorting only works on a f**ked company. It certainly hastens the decline of a failing company and

this is good or bad depending on your idealogical viewpoint.

No one can make any money naked shorting a healthy company!

Put options are a different matter. Its up to the companies management to offer and sell these.

Bear Stearns offered put options for sale as part of an enromous bluff to pretend the company was healthier than it was, when the bluff was called they had to pay up, depleting the operation of ready cash it desperately needed.

The US in particular has a vast number of protetions and subsidies which protect corporations at the expense of thier customers, tax payers and even shareholders.

e.g. Chapter 13 bankruptcy -- where a large badly run company can survive at the expense of it smaller and probably well run suppliers. Banning short selling would only add to the number of corporate welfare measures already in place.

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Unhappy

Cassandra

Patrick Byrne is like Cassandra who was cursed to be able to see the future, but have no one believe her.

All I know is that I have only 5 years to go before I start drawing my pension, and I just hope there's something left in the fund by then, and it's not all pissed up against a wall by a City wide-boy.

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Gates Halo

I have an intellectual problem.

I can't see how naked shorting, which basically amounts to the creation of phony shares, is different from playing a term market, which amounts to create funny money. On the one hand, you forge money you don't have - yet - , on the other hand you create shares you don't own -yet -.

How comes everybody and his neighbour (save a few commies desperately clutching to their vintage Marx's opus in the XXth party officially approved edition) is A-OK with term markets and suddenly frowns at naked shorting ? Since when has forging money become somewhat more "moraly acceptable" than creating virtual shares ?

Bill Gates, for obvious reasons.

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Im confused

Instinct says we shouldnt bail out this mess. Self interest says we should. Its us who will suffer.

What I dont understand is why we cant bail out the markets, subject to some conditions.

1>. The people at the top of these companies need to be held accountable. They must walk away from the mess as penniless as their customers.

2>. The people at the top of these companies must never, ever work in a position of responsibility again. Im not sure Id even like them handling cash in McDonalds.

3>. Im not sure i'mm qualified to comment on short selling, but nake short selling seems mad. How can anyone be allowed to bet someone elses money selling something they dont have and cant borrow. Its worse than heroin junkies at the pawn shop.

4>. ALL bank deposits must be guaranteed. I dont care how you arrange it. IT IS NOT THE BANKS MONEY. By depositing in an account, YOU agree to LEND the bank YOUR MONEY at an agreed rate. THEY MUST guarantee to give it back.

5>. Fat cat bonusses. What a pile of crap. Hold them in covenant for an entire economic cycle. If they really perform they will still get their bonusses. If not, then get stuffed.

6>. Finally, the markets probably have enough regulation. As with the rest of the country though, its useless without enforcement.

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SlimVirgin? I don't buy it...

SlimVirgin is clearly the fat chick from school that never had a boyfriend so put out with the truckers. Those are two traits that if you have them you don't need to brag about them.

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Shorting

The really crazy thing is that, while I've no doubt that the shenanigans detailed went on, the original claim that there's something wrong with shorting stocks (whether nakedly or not) is wrong in itself.

You're allowed to buy stocks on margin so why shouldn't you be able to sell them on margin, that's all that shorting is.

A very recent example, HBOS and Lloyd's. Everyone was worried that, because the HBOS price was so far below the Lloyd's offer, that the deal wouldn't go through. Panic in the markets.

The traditional response to this situation, a large price difference between an offer for a company's shares and the market price of those shares is as follows. Buy HBOS shares and go short Lloyd's. This locks in that profit. But as you can't short financials in London at the moment you can't make that trade.

Which is a pity, because if those speculators were making that trade then HBOS shares would rise, Lloyd's would fall, thus there's more chance that the deal will in fact go through.

Blaming short selling for all sorts of things is really only done by those who don't understand why people might go short. Another example...banning short selling of financials has closed the convertible bond market to financial companies. Really not what we want at the time that we want all those financials to be raising more capital.

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Paris Hilton

Are there no fricking papertrails?

Ok, so bail out the situation to avert further chaos - that's what governments are supposed to do - but then GO AFTER THE GUYS THAT CAUSED IT AND GET THE MONEY BACK (and then stick them in jail).

So, naked short selling is not allowed, but hasn't been enforced... aren't there records of those deals?

Paris, coz she probably knows more about it than me. I admit it. But it amazes me that this situation seems to implicate crimes and malpractice in abundence but noone is talking about plans to go get the money back from those dodgey dealers.

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Unhappy

Way back to the future

It seems that the bible is right; A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country. This entire episode exemplifies this perfectly and shows the American nightmare, as it certainly is no dream, for what it is. Totally amoral and unfit to be places within civilised society. I have to ask "what kudos did theose who suppressed it get?"

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So there is a conspiracy?

The scary thing is that this confirms that Patrick Byrne was right on two counts - that naked short selling shouldnt be legal, and that he was being silenced by his critics (the account of the Wall Street Journal not publishing his piece is particularly revealing).

Personally, I think the second revelation is the scarier one. Everyone knows that crime in general, including fraud, happens and will continue to happen. But when those who are guilty of it, know they are doing wrong, and are able to silence critics..... Thats when things get a little scary.

This is, I fear, the problem with capitalism. Although Adam Smith's invisible hand works in an ideal market, in reality, everyone is motivated by greed, and thus will do whatever they can to get money, and that includes illegal activity. I dont know people are surprised when individuals, including those work for corporations, act illegally, and then say less regulation is needed. Its exactly what I would expect from greedy humans.

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Missing the point

you guys need to look deeper into this.

First, legal shorting is leal - naked shorting is not. That is the law. If naked shorting does not harm companies, why would such an alliance of the financial press attack the messenger. Wouldn't it be easier to just leave him alone. weiss risks his career and his reputation on this. Would you do that on nothing?

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Happy

A lot of fat cats aren't any more

They were paid in shares - most of them borrowed against the value of those shares. Most of them are now bankrupt. I heard someone from Meryl Lynch saying this. $50m dollars worth of nothing built up over 20 years of effort.

They have lost as much as anybody, if not more. I suspect a canny/cynical few are still doing alright because they diversified, but they won't have anywhere near what everyone thinks they do.

I don't have a lot of sympathy for them, but you need to get it into perspective. They are probably as pissed off with the casino mentality as everyone else.

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Dead Vulture

Huh?

"Naked shorting only works on a f**ked company. It certainly hastens the decline of a failing company"

Naked shorting is nothing shot of fraud.

The way stock markets work now bears absolutely no relation to the 'health or wealth' of a company, by which I mean its assets and cash balances.

Share prices are dictated by what anal ists think it is worth and trade on that valuation. If they want to ruin a perfectly healthy company, they can and do.

A more realistic way to value any company would be on its tangible assets and cash, anything else is just hot air and a means for the rip-off speculators to make as much money as they can at our (the general public) expense.

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Anonymous Coward

Many missing the point here

Maybe purposefully, you can play the sockpuppet game on El Reg as easily as on Wikipedia.

Those missing the point should catch up with current affairs. For instance the UK has made it illegal to put shorts on a company that's had a run on its shares. But maybe because you live in the US you are unaware of this.

Tim Worstall does, but again trots out the line that naked shorting seems to be OK.

"the original claim that there's something wrong with shorting stocks (whether nakedly or not) is wrong in itself."

It's fucking not Tim.

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Tom
Silver badge

@Big Dave

The crooks most responsible for the mess won't go to jail because they currently chair the committees that would investigate the Wall Street tycoons.

As for the legality of naked short selling, it depends on who you ask and what day of the month it is. Right now the 'not legal' crowd seem to have the controls. Short selling, whether naked or not, has a place in the market, the caveat being that the operations need to be transparent. And what is obvious about the rukus over naked short selling, is that it was NOT transparent.

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Boffin

All naked shortselling is illegal in the US

Only the SEC has not been enforcing the rules the past few years.

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Sam

Confused

"They're sold but not delivered."

Doesn't that mean you have to give the money back?

How do you gain?

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Anonymous Coward

A house of cards

NSS was a tremor that brought down an economy riding unrealistic consumer credit and hiding a mountain of bad debt. Deriviative and securitisation markets provide effective instruments for tranferring risk - that's a good thing we need to have (e.g. from insurance to mortgages) otherwise we're back to Dickensian times of living hand-to-mouth except for the born rich - and aggregated in the markets.

However, the complexity of the interactions that evolved made it impossible to navigate or understand. We all sensed it was bad. How do you fix consumer credit bubbles, housing bubbles? Well this bubble covered the planet, and it just popped.

A wise man told me it this way: Alan Greenspan's chickens have come home to roost. Yeah, haven't heard much from him for a while...

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Anonymous Coward

@Confused

I think, to us laymen it works a bit like this

person a: buys share from entity b:

entity b: your shares are on their way. Thanks for the cash.

Share price drops, entity b buys shares and gives them to person a:

Now I think the premise with naked shorting is that

person a: buys share from entity b:

entity b: goes great here are your shares

market: share crashes

person a: holy poop here buy these shares back from me, entity b: buys the non existent share back for less then they sold it.

results? Profit.

Now as I said, from the glancing looks I've given things thats how it looks to a laymen.

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@bandor

I will be the first to admit I have a very flimsy grasp on all this, but here goes anyway:

"The problems with credit default swaps and CDO's were already in play. Short sellers identified the problem and acted. If they had not, the risk portfolios would have KEPT ON GROWING and the final result would have been even worse."

Trading CDOs seems to be a prime example of Stiglitz's "asymmetric information", which is a Nobel-prize winning wasy of saying "buying pigs in pokes". I'm amazed to learn that, in addition to having no idea how to assess the risk of the CDOs, companies used "mark to market" accounting when booking them. So they book a profit based on the current market value of a completely unknown quantity, long before they actually sell (whether at a profit or loss). I thought "mark to market" went down with Enron, but apparently not.

So the only rational response to a company booking non existent profits is to revalue that company. If you want to make a profit in so doing, short sell its stock. Unfortunately, short sellers (naked or otherwise) aren't making anything except other people's money, which they squander on fast cars and overpriced fizz. If someone can indicate a tangible contribution these people make to the economy or society, do let me know.

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Anonymous Coward

everyone

is screwed?

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/b5a0b48c-838d-11dd-907e-000077b07658.html?nclick_check=1

may as well 'invest' money by continually betting on manchester united (insert top basketball team/hockey team/nfl team/baseball team here) winning every match.

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Silver badge

Question:

Isn't SlimVirgin an invert of FatSlag???

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