Highland Capital Management Founder Sees Your Hiding Of Assets And Raises You A Megalomaniacal PrickBy Bess Levin
As some of you may recall, back in March, Highland Capital Management founder and CEO James Dondero testified that he is “insolvent under Texas family law, if not according to normal accounting rules,” despite a 2010 tax return showing his adjusted gross income that year to be in excess of $36 million. The reason his finances were in question was because Dondero filed for divorce in September, and how much he owes his wife Becky is currently in dispute. Becky is “seeking enforcement of a prenuptial agreement guaranteeing her half of the couple’s community property, capped at $5 million,” plus “spousal support and interim attorney fees.” James, maybe you can glean, is hoping it will be less than that and perhaps even nothing. One thing that really didn’t help his case? A drinking buddy/former employee/former friend Dondero thought had his back taking the opportunity to speak out of turn!
Patrick Daugherty, a former senior portfolio manager at Highland who quit in October, testified that he met with James Dondero for drinks last month. “He told me his plan was to get his net worth down and pay her as little as possible,” said Daugherty, who was called to the stand by Becky Dondero.
Interest in the subject matter is a minor consideration. Unlike a lot of firms, we look at what someone is like rather than what they did before. We are first interested in people’s values, second interested in their abilities, and least interested in their precise skills. We want independent thinkers who are willing to put aside their egos to find out what is true. Did the candidate come up with a new idea and build it out? Like if when he was 15 he mowed lawns and developed that into a business by getting others to mow lawns with mowers he bought them. –Ray Dalio, “How To Get Hired At Bridgewater” [BusinessWeek, Related: "Firing people is not a big deal"]
I take back whatever mildly negative things I may have said about the JOBS Act, since apparently in addition to making it easier for small startups to rip off investors, it will also make it easier for small hedge funds to rip off investors:
President Barack Obama’s securities-law rollback known as the Jobs Act, expected to be signed into law next month, also contains a provision that would lift the ban on the marketing of private funds, potentially giving hedge funds, private-equity funds and others greater freedom in marketing their offerings to the public, industry attorneys said.
Currently, private funds are allowed only to market to a small group of investors: those with whom they have pre-existing, “substantive” relationships. Under the bill, hedge funds could start sponsoring sporting events and begin advertising their funds in print, the lawyers said.
The shift is “significant” and could provide a boost to small hedge funds trying to raise capital but that lack brand-name recognition or wide contacts, says Steve Nadel, a hedge-fund lawyer with Seward & Kissel LLP in New York; larger, more established firms sometimes have investors waiting to invest.
The Journal goes on to talk about the free speech aspect of this, and I did that too, so yay, now you can tell strangers how awesome your hedge fund is, AND OF COURSE YOU WILL DO JUST THAT, and you probably are already and are surprised to learn that it’s illegal*? Also, and more importantly, soon you will be able to give people money to induce them to tell strangers on the internet how awesome your hedge fund is, so, y’know, consider giving us some of that money, because we like money. Read more »
“FYI: there’s a bagpipe player walking around SAC, in a kilt, playing St. Paddy’s Day tunes. He’s been going up and down the rows all morning. Just did “Take Her Up To The Monto.” Everyone is into it– all smiles and laughs. Guy has a serious fluffy white beard and is legit.”
This Is A Story About The Obstacles Ray Dalio’s Former Assistant Faced In Shipping A Bird The Boss Had Stuffed And Mounted After It Was Shot By A ClientBy Bess Levin
It was a particularly windy day in Westport, CT and I delicately placed the mounted bird in my passenger seat, gingerly wrapping the seat-belt around its midsection without mussing the feathers. Carrying the bird in and out of the post office and several shipping stores became more hilarious each time. People stared. I smiled back. Finally though, when I’d reached the last place in the area that I could try before getting back to the office on time, I wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer. The clerk gave me a look of disbelief when I placed the bird on the counter and I said, “I need to ship this to Japan.” He just laughed at me. I then looked at him sternly and said, “This is no laughing matter. This bird needs to make it to Japan in flawless condition or I will lose my job.” The guy looked back at the bird and then back at me. By then I had used my acting skills and summoned some tears. Finally he agreed to try and crate the bird for shipment. I still don’t know to this day if it made it past customs, but I was satisfied that I had not given up on my task. [Dealbook, related]
Here’s a sort of touching monologue from David Einhorn’s call with Punch:
If you’ve done the analysis, and come to the conclusion that on it’s own, the company is not going to make it, it makes all of the sense in the world to raise equity at whatever the price is, so that you can know that the company, you know, is – is going to make it. Now, what that brings to my mind though is, you know, obviously we haven’t done your analysis, we haven’t done — signed an NDA; I don’t know that we’re going to sign an NDA, because we prefer to just remain investors, but from my perspective, and I’ll be just straight up with you, is that gives a lot of signalling value. And the signalling value that comes from figuring out the company has figured out that it’s not going to make it on it’s own is that we’ve just grossly misassessed the — you know what’s going on here. And — and that, that will cause us to have to just reconsider what we’re doing, which is not the end of the world to you. You will continue on even if we don’t continue on with you.
You could sort of see why the FSA read that to mean that he was insider trading. Like …
(1) You have told me something with signalling value. Sorry – “a lot of signalling value.”
(2) I will now act on that signal.
(3) Don’t be mad.
“Signalling value” sure sounds like it means “material nonpublic information,” doesn’t it? Read more »
Remember how David Einhorn got in trouble in England for insider trading on Punch Taverns stock and he was all “what?” and we were all “what?“? Well, you can judge it for yourself because now the entire disputed call with Punch is available online (at the back of this). So go read it, or read the highlights here. The FSA still thinks it’s insider trading, but the count of people confused by the whole thing is rising, and now includes the Merrill banker on the call. There’s lots of insider traderiness on this side of the pond today too so we should talk about that in a bit.
For now, though, two other things. One is quick – no one can resist one part of the call and I can’t either so here it is:
DAVID EINHORN: Hi, I’m sorry I didn’t get to see you when you were in New York.
PUNCH CEO: No, no, we — well, we’ve — we’ve only had the chance to speak once, although we have seen [reference to Greenlight Analyst] a few times since then.
DAVID EINHORN: Oh, you’re — you’re — you’re getting more than — than I could help with anyway. So, this is good.
PUNCH CEO: Okay. That’s fair enough. Well, one day we’ll get you around on a pub crawl around some English pubs.
DAVID EINHORN: Oh, that sounds fun.
PUNCH CEO: It is. You’re right.
English readers: Is it? I just assumed that Punch Taverns are rather grim places, like TGI Friday’s but with more … punching? … but maybe I’m totally off base here. Also, here is a hypothesis: vice investments do well because, for the same level of profitability, they get more analyst/investor coverage and enthusiasm. Wouldn’t you rather go on a pub crawl instead of like a tour of an auto parts factory in Queens? Would that influence your stock recommendations / money allocations? Someone should do a study. Read more »
Hedge fund manager Philip Falcone is ruling out a bankruptcy filing for his telecom startup LightSquared Inc, one day after U.S. regulators said they planned to yank the company’s approval to build a national wireless broadband network. “It is clearly not on our table,” Falcone said in an email to Reuters on Wednesday when asked if LightSquared, the biggest investment in his Harbinger Capital Partners fund, was considering a bankruptcy filing. He said there is a plan for dealing with the Federal Communications Commission’s plan to revoke its permission for LightSquared to build out a land-based network, but he declined to offer any details. [Reuters]
If you’re in a certain line of work, and I bet you are, then your main concern about things like the Volcker Rule and increased capital requirements for banks is that they might reduce your comp. If you’re in that line of work, you’re also probably the sort of person who has a higher than average aversion to having your comp reduced. However, you’re also the sort of person whose comp everyone else would be happy to see reduced, because you make too much already you greedy jackass.
That poses a quandary because nobody’s all that interested in hearing your arguments against the new rules, even if they’re good arguments and not 100% about your own personal remuneration. One thing you could do is get proxies to make your arguments. If you think that the Volcker Rule will reduce liquidity in foreign government bonds, you could suggest to foreign governments that it’s really important that they lobby against the rule on your behalf. You did that. Good work. Let’s see how it turns out. If it turns out well, the next step would be to get other clients to say “well, we want liquidity in our [stocks/bonds/rate swaps/whatevers] too,” since that would then be a more compelling argument.
On further inspection Greenlight Capital’s unfortunate relations with Punch Taverns went down more or less as I had thought: they had an un-wall-crossed conversation with management that David Einhorn took to be a sign to sell, and sold without ever agreeing to keep any information confidential. One key and sort of amusing difference – if you believe Greenlight’s explanation – is that, contrary to what I and the FSA thought, the sell signal in Einhorn’s mind wasn’t “Punch is going to raise equity.” It was “the CEO of this company thinks it’s a piece of crap.” Which I guess is also material nonpublic information.
Anyway here is something Einhorn said on his call yesterday:
The Decision Notice … doesn’t seem object to my having sold the stock. The problem is that I didn’t get permission first. “It was a serious error of judgement on Mr Einhorn’s part to make the decision after the Punch Call to sell Greenlight’s shares in Punch without first seeking any compliance or legal advice despite the ready availability of such resources within Greenlight.” It was already obvious to me that I was clear to trade. I have no idea why a compliance officer would have reached a different conclusion. It is highly unlikely that asking would have led to a decision to restrict ourselves.