President Obama did everything but quote from Adam Smith in his recent town hall on CNBC. No, he insisted, he's not anti-Wall Street, not anti-hedge fund.
Personally I'm one of the people who feel he actually hasn't done enough to crack down on Wall Street, but that's neither here nor there. What's more important, I think, is that I've found some evidence indicating that Steve Schwarzman may have had a point when he said "It's like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939." He was referring to Obama trying to raise taxes on private equity managers -- really makes you think of Hitler, doesn't it? -- but he could have been talking about something that is likely to make the fat cats even more likely to flip their lids.
I'm talking about something more obscure but potentially just as inflammatory. The Obama administration has weighed in on a Supreme Court case that strikes at one of the financial service industry's most cherished concepts. The case can be summed up thusly: Shall investment companies, banks and brokerages be allowed to perpetuate the fiction that there is a dime's worth of difference between mutual fund holding companies and "investment advisors" who actually run the funds?Yes, friends, it's Hitler marching into Poland, it's Hannibal crossing the Alps, it's Custer at Little Big Horn. It's big. It may be a little arcane, but trust me, this one has tremendous implications for every mutual fund management company -- especially Janus Capital Group (JNS - Get Report), which is heroically defending the right of fund management companies to shirk their responsibility for statements made in the funds' prospectuses. This case dates back to the "market timing" mutual fund scandals of about seven years ago. Investors filed a class action suit, claiming that Janus prospectuses contained assurances that the funds would not engage in market timing, when there seems to have been plenty of such stuff going on. There was a lot of back-and-forth over technicalities, but the essential issue is set forth in an appellate court decision that the Supreme Court is currently weighing. There's the parent company, the publicly held Janus Capital Group, and there's a wholly-owned subsidiary called Janus Capital Management, which actually manages the Janus funds, as its name implies. Most fund customers (as well as everyone else) assume that they're pretty much alter egos. JCM is JCG's primary operating company, and both share the same executive offices, the same Website, the same everything. Any separation between them is therefore a kind of legal nicety. "As a practical matter, JCM runs the Janus family of funds," said one judge quoted in the decision, sort of stating the obvious. But Janus (the parent) was not about to lie down and admit that it is to be held responsible for anything JCM does, especially when somebody is suing.