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Top 10 at 10: Kelvin Syms' 'Life of Riley'; Serepisos forced to sell 1 of 2 Ferraris; A Fakelaki big problem; Dilbert

Top 10 at 10: Kelvin Syms' 'Life of Riley'; Serepisos forced to sell 1 of 2 Ferraris; A Fakelaki big problem; Dilbert
Here are my Top 10 links from around the Internet at 10 past 12 pm I welcome your additions and comments below or please send suggestion for Tuesday’s Top 10 at 10 to bernard.hickey@interest.co.nz  There are no babies trapped in our walls. Dilbert.com 1. Kelvin Syms' Ferraris - Maria Slade at the Herald on Sunday has a detailed story about Kelvin Syms and his Vestar financial advice empire, which is now being sued after a bunch of investors were shoved into finance companies that failed. The detail of Kelvin's lifestyle makes for painful reading for investors who lost millions.
Financial advisory firm Vestar invested most of an elderly Taranaki woman's life savings into seven failed finance companies and funds, including ones it was connected with, documents filed in the High Court at New Plymouth allege. In early 2007, just after Vestar founder Kelvin Syms sold the firm to publicly listed Australian company MFS for $52.5 million, the 89-year-old rest home resident's portfolio was worth $500,000. Less than a year later it was worth $150,000, the documents claim. The woman has since died. Known for his love of luxury vehicles, he lives in a $5.3 million waterfront home in Westmere and has a $2.6 million Italian-style beach house in Mangawhai. He also co-owns another Mangawhai property, two units in Mt Maunganui and several properties in Dargaville, and has shares in infant formula exporting company Avante International. The Herald on Sunday understands he drives a red Ferrari and his third wife Gina drives a darker coloured model. Gina Syms comments on her Facebook page that she is "living the life of Riley - very happy, no time or financial pressures to worry about". The Taranaki family say their disabled mother had lived in a rest home for 10 years. She was a conservative investor who wanted to preserve her capital and supplement her income.
2 Speaking of Ferarris... - It turns out Wellington property developer (and soccer team owner) Terry Serepisos has had to sell one of his two Ferraris, the Dominion Post reports. Poor dear. It seems he has a few unpaid rates bills and a few of his cheques have bounced recently... Not to worry. He still has one Ferrari left. After all, owning two Ferraris is just plain greedy...
Last Tuesday's sale of a 2001 Ferrari 360 Spider came days before a Wellington City Council deadline for Mr Serepisos to tackle a rates bill, estimated at $2 million. He declined to say whether he had met the deadline, but indicated there would be developments this week. Yesterday, he said the Ferrari sale had nothing to do with his cash-flow situation. "It's a beautiful car and it needs to be driven. It was just sitting in my garage doing nothing. What's the point of owning a beautiful car if you're not driving it? I've got another one, I don't need two Ferraris."
3. 'A childish impudent bleater' - Bob Jones rarely pulls his punches and he didn't in the Sunday Star Times when talking about Terry Serepisos, who, it seems, told the NBR he was worth more than the NZ$140 million estimate in the NBR's Rich List. Hmmm.....
Jones, who says he was the show's first choice for the role of the Donald Trump-inspired Kiwi Apprentice boss, deemed Serepisos "childish" to blame the recession for his inability to pay his bills. "He made imprudent decisions, simple as that... bleating about the recession, I'm tired of it. Recessions are normal in a healthy market economy and in our business you have to anticipate it. It's like complaining it's wintertime." Jones accused Serepisos of being thirsty for publicity and willing to attend frivolous events – "like hairdresser openings" – in a bid to get his face in newspaper society pages. "He's a harmless little fellow, he likes getting into the paper and there is nothing wrong with that."
Dilbert.com 4. Not enough - China tightened its monetary policy again over the weekend, increasing the reserve requirement for by bigger banks by 50 basis points to 16.5%, but there are still doubts about whether it is enough, Bloomberg reported.
Inflows of speculative capital from investors betting on yuan gains may have driven yesterday’s move, said Lu Zhengwei, a Shanghai-based economist at Industrial Bank Co. Glenn Maguire, chief Asia-Pacific economist at Societe Generale SA in Hong Kong, said “China has been inundated with hot money on the back of yuan revaluation speculation.” Non-deliverable yuan forwards indicate the government will end the peg to the dollar, letting the currency gain 3.2 percent within 12 months. In March, a $22.5 billion jump in foreign-exchange reserves, the biggest gain in four months, suggested investors could be showing a renewed appetite for bets on the currency. Exports and company profits are rebounding and the economy expanded 11.9 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier.
Dilbert.com 5. Greece's Fakelaki big problem - The New York Times has an excellent piece delving the beneath the surface of Greece's endemic culture of tax avoidance. It paints a picture of what happens when the population have completely lost faith in their government. It's obviously very different from New Zealand, but I'm sure the events of the last decade have helped build the base for such an avoidance culture.
In the wealthy, northern suburbs of this city, where summer temperatures often hit the high 90s, just 324 residents checked the box on their tax returns admitting that they owned pools. So tax investigators studied satellite photos of the area — a sprawling collection of expensive villas tucked behind tall gates — and came back with a decidedly different number: 16,974 pools. That kind of wholesale lying about assets, and other eye-popping cases that are surfacing in the news media here, points to the staggering breadth of tax dodging that has long been a way of life here. “We need to grow up,” said Ioannis Plakopoulos, who like all owners of newspaper stands will have to give receipts and start using a cash register under the new tax laws passed last month. “We need to learn not to cheat or to let others cheat.” Mr. Plakopoulos, who supports most of the government’s new efforts, admits that he and his friends used to chuckle over the best ways to avoid taxes. To get more attentive care in the country’s national health system, Greeks routinely pay doctors cash on the side, a practice known as “fakelaki,” Greek for little envelope. And bribing government officials to grease the wheels of bureaucracy is so standard that people know the rates. They say, for instance, that 300 euros, about $400, will get you an emission inspection sticker.
Dilbert.com 6. Tied together - The New York Times has done an excellent job with this graphic below (click on it for a bigger, more legible version) that explains how intertwined Europe's banks and governments have become. Essentially, the Germans and French had no choice but to bail out the Greeks because any contagion that led to the failure of Portugal and Spain would have been catastrophic for the German and French banks... More debt is being piled upon more debt. How well might this all end?
For all the handwringing, the reality is that the Germans, the French and the rest of Europe have little choice. In the decade since the introduction of the euro, the economies on the continent have become increasingly interwoven. With cross-border banking and borrowing, many countries on the periphery of Europe owe vast sums to one another, as well as to richer neighbors like Germany and France. Like the alliances that drew one country after another into World War I, a default by a single nation would send other countries tumbling. Ireland is heavily indebted to Germany and Britain. The exposure of German banks to Spanish debt totals $238 billion, according to the Bank for International Settlements, while French banks hold another $220 billion. And Italy, whose finances are perennially shaky, is owed $31 billion by Spain and owes France $511 billion, or nearly 20 percent of the French gross domestic product. “This is not a bailout of Greece,” said Eric Fine, who manages Van Eck G-175 Strategies, a hedge fund specializing in currencies and emerging market debt. “This is a bailout of the euro system.”

7. I'm with him - Warren Buffett, a man much admired by regular punters in the United States, has put his full force behind Goldman Sucks Sachs, Bloomberg reports. Buffett, of course, has made a tidy sum out of his bet that the US government would bail out Goldman Sachs because it was 'Too Big to Fail'.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s Warren Buffett praised Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein and said the bank shouldn’t be blamed for losses suffered by clients who invested in mortgage bets at the center of a fraud suit filed by regulators. “He’s done a great job running that firm,” Buffett said yesterday in Omaha, Nebraska, in a Bloomberg Television interview before Berkshire’s annual shareholders meeting. He said he supports Blankfein “100 percent.”
Dilbert.com 8. 'Prostitutes and Orgies' - Remember Jerome Kerviel? He was the young French trader that got away with trading up a storm before his bets cost Societe Generale 4.6 billion euros. Now he has written a book called "L'engrenage ("The Vicious Spiral")", he has talked about how he was just a 'prostitute in a big orgy' run by bankers, The Independent reports (in the NZHerald). Sounds about right.
He says that he rapidly became just "a number" and "a creature without any real identity". He says that he was "broken by the machine" and treated as a "prostitute" in the "great banking orgy". In an interview yesterday with Le Journal du Dimanche, Kerviel said that the bank accepted - and even tacitly encouraged - massive risk-taking, so long as a trader was making profits. "I lived in a world completely disconnected from reality and in many ways irresponsible. The only concern was to make the most possible money in the shortest possible time," he said.

9 Real financial reform - Mish at GlobalEconomicAnalysis points to the latest moves emanating from the US congress that might actually break up the the 'Too Big to Fail' banks and get them to split off their proprietary trading (gambling) desks. I'll believe it when I see it. Even Lee Kuan Yew (Mr Singapore) is sceptical, Bloomberg reports.
“It would be a safer banking system,” he said in response to a question in a dialogue session with about 500 delegates at the Inter-Pacific Bar Association conference at the Marina Bay Sands convention center in Singapore today. “Would it happen? I don’t think so,” he said, noting that if the United States and United Kingdom did change their rules, financial institutions could migrate to other countries.
10. Totally irrelevant video - Zose crazy Germans are virth vatching. HT Gertraud via email.

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