French Stock Market Regulator Hits US Blogger With $10K Fine For Publishing Opinion On French Bank's Leverage Ratio

from the France-still-not-making-much-effort-to-shrug-off-the-'crazy'-tag dept

Everyone gather 'round as I regale you with a tale of stock exchange regulation and global finance bloggers!

Wait! Come back!

I'm sorry. Before your eyes glaze over again, let me entice you with a better opening sentence.

An American market blogger found himself on the receiving end of a 8,000 euro fine for quoting another blogger. In real money, that works out to an almost $11,000 fine. And all for quoting another blogger's best guess on a French bank's leverage ratio.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock is a US blogger who covers global markets and his story begins this way.

On August 15, 2011, I posted BNP Paribas leveraged 27:1; Société Générale Leveraged 50:1; Sorry State of Affairs of U.S. Banks; Global Financial System is Bankrupt

In that post I quoted Jean-Pierre Chevallier on his Business économiste monétariste béhavioriste blog, that BNP Paribas leveraged: 27!

I also cited Chevallier's Société Générale leveraged: 50!

Société Générale took exception to the numbers and came up with its own set of numbers. According to SG, its leverage was 9.3%.
Chevallier revamped his math after SG's initial noisemaking and Shedlock issued an addendum to his own post.
Société Générale disputes the numbers and new calculations using the banks' numbers are 28:1 or perhaps 23:1 not 50:1 as noted on Forex Crunch.
My position has not changed much. Something is seriously wrong at Société Générale. Banks do not plunge out of the blue on rumors. I do not know the precise leverage, but shares are acting as if Société Générale has severe capital constraints (which of course they will deny) and/or other major problems.
That only seemed to irritate SG more. It contacted the SEC and basically informed the American regulatory body that whatever numbers it's presented were to be taken as fact. The SEC passed this complaint on to Shedlock, adding (paraphrased by Shedlock) "French banks [are] notorious about filing frivolous complaints."

Shedlock received a few more letters (in French) which urged him to respond to the complaints (but only in French), which he duly ignored. Later, a French blogger compiling his own post on the issue (entitled: Gross Delirium: The AMF sanctions bloggers rather than financial corporations!) contacted Shedlock and offered his assistance. One of Shedlock's friends broke down the French bank's complaints into plain English.
The French authorities accuse Chevallier of 'knowingly disseminating false information' about SocGen and you to have disseminated it further on 'Chevallier's urging', although you should have known better and it was your duty to check if his numbers were right (that is the basis for fining him 10,000 and you 8,000 euros).
The French blogger's post pointed out that Chevallier didn't "falsify" anything. He merely used a standard calculation for leverage ratios, one that disregarded "risk weighting" of various assets. Shedlock himself found a Wall Street Journal article that put SG's leverage ratio at 23-24 times its equity, still considerably higher than SG's own figures.

None of this mattered to the French bank, which accused the bloggers' calculations of possibly "influencing" its share price. While the SEC may have passed on the complaint with an eyeroll, the AMF, which regulates the French stock market, took the accusations at face value and issued fines to both bloggers. Not that the AMF is going to have much luck collecting these fines. Chevallier is appealing the verdict and suing AFP (France's largest newspaper) for making "false and defamatory accusations." Shedlock, conversely, is doing nothing.
The Witch hunt is now over and I was fined nearly as much as Chevallier. It's absurd enough to fine someone for a quote, and even more so when the facts are accurate.

The AFM has no jurisdiction over me, so they won't collect. As a US citizen living in the US, I am not subject to the absurdities of French laws, or French witch hunts. All they get from me is a vow to never go to France.
Good idea, considering French law apparently provides regulatory bodies with the power to fine bloggers for publishing their opinions on French banks, even when these opinions are backed up by reasonable calculations. And Shedlock is almost certainly protected under the SPEECH Act, which protects Americans against foreign judgments that would violate the First Amendment here. There doesn't seem to be much "regulation" going on in this situation. (And any French legislation that touches on the internet is routinely terrible.) Conceivably, SG could leverage itself Lehman-style and financially beat into submission anyone who points out this fact by running and complaining to the nearest subservient "authority."


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  1. icon
    Anonymous Howard (profile), 22 Nov 2013 @ 7:43am

    First, 8,000 euro fine for quoting another blogger. In real money, that works out to an almost $11,000 fine
    Is this supposed to mean that you do not consider "real money" ?

    Second, how on earth can a french institute fine a foreigner with no presence in France?

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