How Kidder tore dollars 210m strip off profits

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The Independent Online
ONLY in the past year has Kidder Peabody - the Wall Street investment bank General Electric acquired for dollars 602m in 1986 - begun to look a decent investment, finally bringing a significant contribution of dollars 439m to the conglomerate's bottom line last year.

But it turns out that dollars 350m, before taxes, did not exist. Yesterday, General Electric was obliged to take a dollars 210m charge against first-quarter earnings to cover the cost of reversing profits reported on non-existent US government securities trades.

The charge at Kidder, equal to about 25 cents a share, broke a long string of successively higher earnings for GE, America's biggest and most profitable company, which reported a profit of dollars 1.068bn on sales of dollars 14.1bn - about dollars 1.25 a share - compared with dollars 1.085bn on sales of dollars 12.9bn in the first three months of 1993.

Joseph Jett, the chief US Treasuries trader who executed the scheme, generated the profits on the derivative bonds by exploiting an anomaly in the computer program that tracks the value of Kidder's securities holdings. Mr Jett discovered that by entering contracts for forward sales of bond 'strips' - the interest portion of a note that has temporarily been divorced from the bond's principal - the accounting system credited Kidder immediately with the eventual value of the strip when it was reconsolidated with the rest of the bond.

Normally, the value of the strip would gradually approach its face value as that maturity neared. But Mr Jett never settled the contracts, choosing instead to roll the positions over again and again in ever larger amounts and longer maturities.