Category Archives: Private equity

Did New York Times’ Dealbook Throw a Source Under the Bus in TPG Suit Against Ex-Employee/Ex-White House Staffer?

If a lawsuit filed yesterday by TPG is to be taken at face value, the private equity kingpin has been the subject of a nasty extortion attempt by a vengeful now former employee, Adam Levine. Levine allegedly not only threatened to use his PR clout to bring down the firm, but purloined confidential materials from TPG’s systems and doctored at least one before sending it to a reporter at New York Times’ Dealbook. And TPG further claims it had good reason to be worried because Levine asserted that it was his grand jury testimony, shortly after he left the Bush White House as a member of its communications team, that brought down Scooter Libby.

But the real bombshell in the filing is the way that the New York Times’ Dealbook looks to have thrown Levine, an alleged source, under the bus.

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KKR’s Botched Document Cover-Up Reveals Washington Public Pension Fund Cronyism

As we’ve been examining private equity abuses, readers have been incredulous that investors have put up with one-sided, deliberately vague, complex, and/or obfuscatory contracts, unreasonable demands for secrecy, and lack of access to critically important information, such as the financial statements of the portfolio companies that they own. This failure of investors to protect their own interest is particularly troubling given that so many are fiduciaries.

We have another example of this sort of conduct that comes out of an important story in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Private equity kingpin KKR made what amounted to an admission of guilt by rebating fees that the SEC had found were improperly charged, meaning stolen from the limited partners. We’ve obtained the document that was the foundation of the story and are embedding it at the end of this post. It’s a remarkable example of how cronyistic the relationships are between hapless, captured investors and the general partners who led them by the nose.

We are about to do some document forensic work, so put on your gumshoes!

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KKR Rebates Some Ill-Gotten Fees to Investors Due to Dodd Frank Reforms

KKR made what amounted to an admission of guilt to the blistering charges that the SEC laid at the doorstep of the private equity industry last May. Then, Andrew Bowden described in unusually specific detail the widespread, serious abuses it was finding in its initial private equity examinations, including what amounted to embezzlement.

Mark Maremont of the Wall Street Journal, based on a document obtained by FOIA from the Washington State Investment Board, learned that KKR had disgorged some ill-gotten fees.

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CalPERS Board Discussion of Fees Exposes Naivete, Misguided Aim of Fee Reduction Effort

Today, the Financial Times has a prominent article on how the giant public pension fund and private equity investing heavyweight CalPERS has a new push on to reduce the fees that it pays to private equity firms.

This would all be salutary, except that a board meeting in December exposed that CalPERS’s staff has an unduly narrow conceptualization of the charges that private equity firms are taking out of the companies that they buy with the funds of limited partners like CalPERS. As a result, this effort demonstrates how badly captured the limited partners like CalPERS are. They passively accept the parameters set by the general partners and ask for concessions only within that framework, rather than demanding entirely new arrangements in light of well-publicized abuses and gaping shortcomings in transparency and accountability.

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Paper Exposing Manipulation of Electricity Prices Stymied by Editor with Private Equity Ties

Yves here. I’ve read the detailed traffic between the author Eric L. Prentis and the publication in question, Energy Economics, and have also run them and his paper by academics who have or are supervising significant research and publication efforts. They gave the Prentis paper high marks and agreed that the actions of Energy Economics […]

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How the Republican Campaign to Gut Dodd Frank is a Huge Gimmie to Banks and Private Equity Funds

The Republicans have been quick and shameless in using their control of both houses to try to crank up the financial services pork machine into overtime operation. The Democrats at least try to meter out their give-aways over time.

Their plan, as outlined in an important post by Simon Johnson, is to take apart Dodd Frank by dismantling key parts of it under the rubric of “clarifications” or “improvements” and to focus on technical issues that they believe to be over the general public’s head and therefore unlikely to attract interest, much the less ire. However, as Elizabeth Warren demonstrated in the fight last month over the so-called swaps pushout rule, it is possible to reduce many of these issues to their essential element, which is that Wall Street is getting yet another subsidy or back-door bailout.

Today’s example is HR 37, with the Orwellian label “Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act”.

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Private Equity Miscreant Freeman Spogli Illustrates Investor and SEC Cowardice

Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times released an important story over the holiday period on how a mid-sized private equity firm, Freeman Spogli, with $4 billion under management, was found to have made serious violations of its investment agreement. The SEC’s fund examination unit stated that Freeman Spogli, in two of its older funds, FS Equity Partners V (“FS V”)and FS Equity Partners VI (“FS VI”), looked to have repeatedly violated of fee-sharing agreements and to have operated as an unregistered broker-dealer. It asked for Freeman Spogli to make full restitution of the failure to reduce management fees and provide evidence that required reimbursements that looked to have been, um, ignored were actually made.

While Morgenson has done a fine job of presenting the facts of the case, we beg to differ with her as to some of the inferences she draws. She sees this case as a real step forward for investors. We see it as showing how loath both investors and the SEC to take serious action even in the face of clear-cut evidence of misconduct.

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Wolf Richter: First Oil, Now US Natural Gas Plunges, “Negative Igniter” for New Debt Crisis

Yves here. Wolf has been keeping a sharp eye out on how shale gas players were junk bond junkies, and how that is going to lead to a painful withdrawal. Here, he focuses on one of the big drivers of the heavy borrowings: the deep involvement of private equity firms, who make money whether or not the companies they invest in do well, by virtue of all the fees they extract. The precipitous drop in natural gas prices is exposing how bad the downside of a dubious can be, at least for the chump fund investors.

It’s hard to imagine an industry that is a worse candidate for private equity than oil and gas exploration and production. The prototypical private equity purchase is a mature company with steady cash flow. Oil and gas development is capital intensive and the cash flows are unpredictable and volatile, because the commodity prices are unpredictable and volatile.

A less obvious issue is that it actually takes a lot of expertise to run these businesses. This is not like buying a retailer or a metal-bender. Now private equity kingpins flatter themselves into believing that experts are just people they hire, but here, the level of expertise required, and the fact that the majors are way bigger than private equity firms means that the private equity buyers don’t know enough to vet whether the guy they hire is really as good as he says he is. Like all outsiders, they are way too likely to be swayed by the sales pitch and personality rather than competence.* And even with all the money that private equity has thrown at energy plays, it’s not clear that New York commands much respect in Houston.

As one private equity insider wrote in June, ironically just before oil priced peaked:

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Jeb Bush: The Forrest Gump of Financial Improprieties?

The Financial Times has an unusual story featured prominently today. As Jeb Bush has made a soft launch of his presidential campaign, the pink paper has published a surprisingly long list of financial relationships that do not put the Florida governor in a particularly good light.

The intriguing part isn’t so much a history of dubious-looking complicated money dealings. It’s the fact that many of them are live.

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Private Equity “Money for Nothing” Tax Game as An Example of Elite Lawlessness

Most members of the great unwashed public, when they hear about unfair results of the tax code, like Warren Buffet’s secretary facing a higher tax rate than he does, or private equity and hedge fund barons paying capital gains tax rates on labor income, assume that those outcomes are the result of a combination of the rich getting the tax code changed over time or succeeding in preserving the exploitation of loopholes that should have been closed ages ago.

But there is another category of tax games that are not discussed much in polite company, that of outright abuses. What is disturbing about that behavior is that it has not only become increasingly common, but members of the bar, including those at white shoe firms, are enablers. “Money for nothing” private equity monitoring agreements are a blindingly obvious example.

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NYTimes Dealbook’s Dishonest Salvo at Elizabeth Warren Over Calling Out an Unqualified Nominee for Treasury Post

Even though Andrew Ross Sorkin and his mini-empire, the New York Times Dealbook, are reliable defenders of their Big Finance meal tickets, they’ve managed to skim above, if sometimes just barely above, abject intellectual dishonesty. But Dealbook has published not one but three pieces in as many weeks in defense of an unacceptably weak Obama Administration nominee for an important Treasury post, the Under Secretary of Domestic Finance.

The candidate is Antonio Weiss, a Lazard mergers and acquisitions professional who was elevated to head of investment banking in 2009. There’s no doubt that Weiss is accomplished. The non-trivial problem, as Elizabeth Warren and others have pointed out, is that Weiss’ experience and skills have absolutely nothing to do with the Treasury role.

What is striking is the way that Sorkin and his colleagues have launched what amounts to a media war against Warren in defense of Weiss, and have shameless resorted to a drumbeat of Big Lies in the hope that their messaging will stick. The fact that they can’t even mount a proper case on its merits speaks volumes about Weiss’ qualifications for the job.

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Eileen Appelbaum and Rosemary Batt: Can Private Equity Be Reformed?

Yves here. This is the third part of an interview by Andrew Dittmer with the authors of an important new book on private equity, Private Equity at Work (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).

This final post focuses on the question of whether private equity can be reformed. Even though there is a long list of possible curbs and fixes, Appelbaum and Batt single out the critical ones that they believe will have the most impact.

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