Category Archives: Investment management

Pump and Dump: How to Rig the Entire IPO Market with just $20 Million

How much does it cost to manipulate an entire market? Not much. And it’s getting cheaper!

It was leaked on Tuesday by “people with knowledge of that matter,” according to the Wall Street Journal, that VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers had decided in May to plow up to $20 million into message-app maker Snapchat, for a tiny portion of ownership. An undisclosed investor also committed some funds. The deal, which apparently hasn’t closed yet, would give Snapchat a valuation of $10 billion.

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Burger King the Latest to Jump on the Corporate Tax Inversion Bandwagon

A number of corporations have engaged in corporate tax “inversions” this year, which typically involves a large U.S. company merging with a smaller counterpart in a lower-tax country abroad, then moving the corporate billing address to the lower-tax country to reduce the overall tax burden. The actual headquarters and the executives go nowhere, but the nominal address changes so the company can avoid U.S. tax rates. A number of corporations in the pharmaceutical space have pulled this off in 2014, but it took the drugstore giant Walgreen to flirt with the idea (through a merger with the Swiss company Alliance Boots) for the non-financial press and the public to really catch on. Outcry actually stopped Walgreen from going through with the inversion; they merged with Alliance Boots, but kept their headquarters in the U.S. Clearly, it was easier to rally public scrutiny to a consumer-facing brand attempting to skip out on America while still using the public resources afforded any company selling their wares here.

Now, the same coalition that stopped the Walgreen inversion will get another chance with Burger King:

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Regulators Punting on “Too Big to Fail” Problem of Repo, Looking to Install Yet Another Bailout Vehicle

The post-crisis era is rife with band-aid-over-gunshot-wound approaches to deep-seated weakness in the financial system. Perversely, because the authorities were able to keep the system from falling apart, albeit via a raft of overt and covert subsidies to the perps, they’ve reacted as if all that needs to be done is a series of fixes rather than more fundamental interventions. One glaring example is a critically important funding mechanism, repo, for firms that hold large inventories of securities and/or enter into derivative positions, such as major capital markets firms like Goldman, Deutsche Bank, and Barclays, as well as hedge funds. Here, the authorities have been giving way to industry demands that will assure that repo, which was bailed out in the crisis, will be bailed out again.

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The SEC’s Mary Jo White: A Failure, or Doing Her Real Job?

Your humble blogger has to confess to having called Mary Jo White’s appointment incorrectly, based on enthusiastic readings on her from people who’d worked with her as a prosecutor, such as Neil Barofksy. But the default assumption for Obama appointees, that he’d never give anyone who’s rock the status quo a serious role, was the right assessment. White’s ten years in the private sector at Debevoise seems to have reinforced habits that aren’t serving her well, even in her role as Potemkin fixer-upper of an agency that is widely seen as timid and floundering. Not only is she failing to move regulatory measures forward quickly enough, but she’s also engaged in an unseemly amount of turf warfare with other agencies.

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Summer 2007 Deja Vu: Banks and Short Sellers Dump Risk on Chumps Via Complex Products

NC contributor Michael Crimmins flagged a Bloomberg article yesterday that described the proliferation of complex synthetic structures, depicting it as return to some of the bad risk-shifting of the blowout phase of the last credit bubble.

The amusing bit is the headline was toned down after the post was launched (you can tell by looking at the URL, which almost certainly tracks the original). The current version is the anodyne “JPMorgan Joins Goldman in Designing Derivatives for a New Generation.” But the very first paragraph flags the troubling resemblance to the last hurrah of the pre-crisis credit mania:

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How Much of a Short Position Did Paul Singer Take in Argentina? And Who Were the Bagholders?

With the Argentine default, we are seeing a replay of a strategy that established Naked Capitalism readers will remember from the crisis: use a complex structure to disguise risk so that short sellers can place their wagers at far lower prices than they would be able to otherwise. And that raises the interesting question of how large a net short position Paul Singer, the instigator of the litigation that has undone Argentina’s restructuring deal and put the country in default, took against Argentina, as well as the relationship among the parties that put on the positions on behalf of short sellers.

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Hedge Fund and Private Equity Fund Rent Seeking: High Fees, Crappy Performance

We’ve written from time to time about the fact that alternative investments like hedge funds and private equity funds don’t live up to their marketing hype. For instance, hedge funds claim they deserve their outsized investment fees because they deliver “alpha,” meaning manager outperformance. In reality, it has long been known that at most what they really provide is “synthetic beta,” which is a return profile that investors find attractive because it is not strongly correlated with that of other investments, and therefore lowers portfolio risk. In reality, that “synthetic beta” is typical of the defective airbags all too regularly sold in finance: they fail when you most need them to work, which is in badly spooked markets.

Yet the marketing spin of wonky hedge funds touting intimidatingly complex strategies and slick private equity fund professionals with their cherry-picked success stories remain all too appealing to investors hungry for returns. And the most credulous and desperate are public pension funds, although many endowments and foundations and high net worth individuals are not far behind.

FT Alphaville has a devastating update on this front from Nomura along with other research findings.

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RI Treasurer Justifies Hedge Fund Secrecy With Need to “Minimize Attention” Re Pay, Protect Them From Poaching

Remember the infamous moment in The Untouchables, the PBS documentary on the failure to prosecute major financial firms for blowing the global economy, when assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer made it clear that he was more worried about harm to banks than harm to the public? Rhode Island is updating Breuer’s playbook.

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Financial Times on Private Equity Firm Grifting and Arrogance

The Financial Times weighed in today with a long, well-researched piece, Private equity: A fee too far, on an issue we’ve discussed for some time, that of private equity firm oh-too-cleverness and too often, outright pilfering, in its dealings with investors, who include public pension funds, foundations, endowments, and insurers. This article is far more […]

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Former CalPERS CEO Pleads Guilty to Bribery, Fraud, Including Taking Cash in Paper Bags

Several readers sent accounts from the California press on the latest sordid chapter in a long-standing, large scale pay-to-play scandal at the giant California public pension fund, CalPERS. Earlier this month, state papers reported disclosed that the former CEO, Frank Buenrostro, had cut a plea bargain with Federal prosecutors and was turning evidence on his (alleged) former partner in crime, placement agent and former CalPERS board member Alfred Villalobos. We’d heard privately before that story broke that the charges against Buenrostro were about to be greatly expanded, which is likely what lead the former CEO to fold. But as a CalPERS insider told us, “It was a race to see who was going to cut a deal first.”

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Corporate Bond Trading a Casualty of QE and ZIRP

The Financial Times has an article on how corporate bond dealers are going to create a new trading hub to try to preserve their market position while “boosting liquidity” in the market. Narrowly speaking, there’s nothing wrong with the piece as a description of investor unhappiness and planned bank responses. But it curiously missed how Fed policy has helped generate conditions that are reducing corporate bond market liquidity.

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How Private Equity Investors Signed Up for Tax Trouble

How did supposedly sophisticated investors sign up for investments that have tax liability bombs in them? The seemingly arcane but actually important tax problem of UBTI, or “unrelated business taxable income,” illustrates how utterly outmatched private equity limited partners are by the general partners and their top-tier hired guns.

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