Category Archives: Private equity

State Street, Governor Elect Rauner Both Implicated in Pay-to-Play Scandals

The more rocks you turn over in public pension land, the more creepy crawlies you find. No wonder private equity has such a secrecy fetish. The most obvious, and most offensive to the public, are so-called pay-to-play scandals, in which public officials who are in a position to influence how funds are invested, take campaign funding from individuals or firms who are currently managing government funds or in short order get a mandate.

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SEC Commissioners Kara Stein, Luis Aguilar Hit Bank of America Where it Hurts, in a Revenue Stream

SEC Commissioners Kara Stein and Luis Aguilar have found a weapon that looks to have financial firms more worried than being whacked with one-time fines. They are threatening to hit Bank of America in an ongoing revenue stream.

By way of background, Kara Stein, who joined the SEC in last August, has gone to war with SEC chairman Mary Jo White over lax enforcement and other types of overly-financial-firm-friendly conduct. It’s virtually unheard of for a commissioner to cross swords with a chairman from the same party.

Stein and her fellow Democratic party commissioner Luis Aguilar have joined forces to stymie a Bank of America settlement they saw as too generous by virtue of waving certain sanctions that would otherwise automatically kick in.

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More Private Equity Fibbing: Marketing Materials Often Exaggerate Returns

I’m a little slow to write this up because private equity abuses are so pervasive as to fall in the “dog bites man” category. But that doesn’t mean that the public at large, or worse, intellectually captured, credulous investors understand that.

One of the latest abuses to come to light is private equity firms effectively lying about their returns in past funds when dialing for dollars for prospective funds. The overview from Reuters, which broke the story last week:

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Private Equity Consultants Flounder Over Question About Abusive “Evergreen Fees” at CalPERS Board Meeting

If you want to understand why private equity general partners have gotten away for so long with what the SEC has come perilously close to calling outright embezzlement, along with other serious compliance abuses, you need look no further than the last CalPERS board meeting to get a clue.

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SEC Commissioner Kara Stein Fighting for Tougher Bank Sanctions, Stymies Bank of America Settlement

One of the things that continue to be a source of anger in the American public is the way that banks were rescued en masse without the perps, the managers and producers in the businesses that produced toxic product facing much if anything in the way of consequences. Another is that the banks pay fines that are inadequate relative to the amount of damage that they did.

SEC commissioner Kara Stein has been using her post as a surprisingly effective bully pulpit to pressure the agency and other regulators into upping their game. It’s unusual for an SEC commissioner to play that role; the post is typically a runway for becoming either a lobbyist or a director on financial services company boards. Even more rare is that Stein is regularly crossing swords with SEC chairman Mary Jo White, who is taking a much more industry-friendly line than she promised at the time of her confirmation. It’s virtually never done to have a commissioner from the same party buck the chairman.

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Why is the Boston Globe Covering Up for Gubernatorial Candidate Charlie Baker? (Updated)

Boston’s paper of record is effectively covering up for Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker by failing to cover a growing pay to play scandal in New Jersey, with Baker as one of its central figures. David Sirota has been doing impressive sleuthing, and his latest report, which we’ll cover shortly, reveals that Chris Christie is persistine in his effort to hide information that presumably implicates Baker.

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Gretchen Morgenson on the Damage of Private Equity Secrecy (and a Mention of Our CalPERS Suit)

Gretchen Morgenson filed a must-read story on the range and some of the consequences of the private equity fetish for secrecy. The short version is that if the private equity industry had nothing to hide, they wouldn’t be hiding it.

Even so, Morgenson’s story is certain to be an eye-opener to readers fresh to this topic and has important revelations for even those who’ve been on this beat for a while.

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Invitation Homes Tenant Abuse Shows Incompetence as Well as Malfeasance

Readers may recall that we’ve been writing regularly about the single family home land grab by private equity firms. Blackstone has been far and away the biggest, though its Invitation Homes business. Readers and many institutional investors have been skeptical of PE landlords’ claims that they can manage single family homes cost effectively; it’s hard enough for mom and pop landlords, who often have some relevant maintenance skills, like plumbing or construction, to make a go of it.

But as reports come in from abused tenants, Blackstone looks not only venal in its efforts to shift costs on to tenants, but positively incompetent.

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Gretchen Morgenson Collects a Scalp: Blackstone Ditches Private Equity “Termination Fees”

There’s nothing like seeing the good guys score a goal. We have two this evening. One is a win by David Sirota, whose reporting on San Francisco’s plan to shift up to 15% of retiree funds into hedge funds appears to have led to a climbdown by the city. Sirota uncovered an unreported conflict of interest by the consultant recommending the change, who also operates a hedge fund of funds. Admittedly, CalPERS’ recent announcement that it was exiting hedge funds entirely also put pressure on the city to reverse course.

But Gretchen Morgenson collected an even bigger scalp in the form of Blackstone halting a practice that she highlighted in a May article: that of taking “termination fees” when portfolio companies are sold. However, as we discuss later, as positive as this move appears, this is almost certainly Blackstone throwing a big, visible bone to investors in the hope of deterring an SEC enforcement action.

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NJ Pension Fund Scandal: Chris Christie’s Nose is Getting So Long He Needs to Get a Hacksaw

If you see politics as a form of bloodsport, there’s nothing more fun that seeing a politician start attacking a reporter. That almost without exception means the charges have hit a weak spot, that the incumbent has little to no valid defense and instead starts lashing out.

In this case, it’s particularly amusing to see New Jersey governor Chris Christie as the would-be pugilist. We are seeing that while Garden State pols may be great on the offensive in bare-knucle fights, they have a glass jaw when put on the defensive.

Here, the combatants are International Business Times reporter, David Sirota, against various officials with close ties to Christie who administer state pension funds. Sirota has been making a mini-speciality of state pay-to-play scandals.

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“Private Equity at Work” Rigorously Debunks Industry Mythology

I must confess that I have been extremely tardy in discussing a tremendously important book on the private equity industry, Eileen Appelbaum’s and Rosemary Batt’s Private Equity at Work.

In the meantime, the book is getting the attention it deserve via a glowing review by Bob Kuttner in the New York Review of Books, Why Work Is More and More Debased.

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