There’s that old line that “hedge funds are a compensation scheme masquerading as an asset class” but the masquerade is getting harder to keep up because you can pay 2 and 20 for just about anything these days. If you wanted to you could pay – well, 1.5 and 20, with a 7% hurdle – to invest in middle-market leveraged loans via Goldman Sachs Liberty Harbor Capital, LLC,1 which is coming to a stock exchange near you as a listed closed-end fund, regulated as a business development company under the Investment Company Act of 1940.
BDCs are I guess all the rage as a way for alternative asset managers to access non-institutional permanent capital; separately, sidling up next to the Volcker Rule and taunting it is kind of all the rage at Goldman Sachs, and this seems to do that too:
Goldman is likely to invest some of its own money in the company and said in the filing that it expects the unit won’t be covered by the Volcker Rule, a part of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul that restricts banks from making bets with their own funds.
Not sure which motive dominates here – Goldman Sachs Asset Management offers plenty of retail products, and why not have 1.5-and-20 retail products in that mix? – but the Volcker angle is intriguing. Read more »
The saddest part of this job is discovering a beautiful thing that someone has created as a way around financial regulation, and then watching philistine regulators destroy it. But the happiest part is dreaming up a come-on-that-could-never-work ploy to get around some financial regulation, and then finding out that someone’s actually doing it. Extra points if the someone is Goldman Sachs.
Two weeks ago I thought I’d concocted a way around the Volcker Rule’s porous and silly restrictions on banks running private equity funds. My solution involved (1) having a merchant banking business that took no outside investors (which the Volcker Rule does not restrict), (2) having a private equity fund that took no bank money (since the Volcker Rule limits banks to owning 3% of such funds), and (3) having your merchant bank and your private equity arm co-invest in deals. Since that doesn’t quite work,1 I later modified it a bit to have the outside investors co-invest directly, rather than through a private equity fund, and give the bank its management fee in the form of better economics to the merchant bank in each investment.
Oh, the wily and unscrupulous French: They spend years arguing with the ferocity of a cockfighter for tough, nay, draconian financial regulations. And then they elect a Socialist who promises to be even less interested in the concerns of the monied classes. And then, when Europe’s two biggest economies—the ones housing the financial centers the French hope to destroy—announce that they’ll impose the aforementioned tough, if not draconian, regulations, the French say, joke’s on les Huns et les rosbifs. Read more »
If you’re a true believer in vulgar Volckerism – “banks shouldn’t be allowed to make bets with their own money” – then you have an inexhaustible source of things to get mad about, since the only thing banks do is make bets with their own money, for some values of “bets” and “own.” Bloomberg’s Max Abelson found one today, specifically that Goldman has a group that invests its own money in securities, and it is
a secretive Goldman Sachs group called Multi-Strategy Investing, or MSI. It wagers about $1 billion of the New York-based firm’s own funds on the stocks and bonds of companies, including a mortgage servicer and a cement producer, according to interviews with more than 20 people who worked for and with the group, some as recently as last year. The unit, headed by two 1999 Princeton University classmates, has no clients, the people said.
Multi-Strategy Investing happens to be part of a larger group called the Special Situations Group, which also invests the firm’s own money – as Abelson puts it:
That parent group, which uses the firm’s funds to profit from distressed and middle-market companies, has been a major profit center at the bank, sometimes the biggest, former executives told Bloomberg in 2011. Its holdings that year included debt of Melville, New York-based pizza chain Sbarro Inc.1
The phrase “uses the firm’s funds to profit from” is exquisite; Goldman would probably say “invests in and lends to.” Y’know, like a bank (or a merchant bank). Not that they’d disclaim profiting, but, yeah, investing in and lending to companies is a thing that Goldman does.2
There’s a huge article by Frank Partnoy and Jesse Eisinger in the Atlantic today about how banks are so horribly complicated that even sophisticated investors, meaning basically Bill Ackman, don’t trust them any more. I suppose this provides an excuse for me to trot out a toy theory that’s been congealing in my head, which is roughly that you can have two of the following in a publicly traded financial company, but not three:
- “market making,”
Like: you could, or someone could, make some educated guesses about what goes on at a bank that takes deposits and makes mortgage and commercial loans, and decide whether or not it’s a good business that you should invest in. You could even make such guesses and decisions about what goes on at an old-school broker-dealer that trades securities for a living. (Maybe? I’m less confident of this leg.) But for universal banks I’m kind of with Ackman – and Partnoy and Eisinger – that you have to give up on making intelligent decisions, or failing that have your intelligent decision be “I’m gonna need a 50% discount to book value before I invest in this thing.”
You can attribute the opacity of modern banking to like “bankers are eeeeeeevil,” which I don’t particularly believe, or “regulators are weeeeeeeak,” which seems sort of lame. Me I tentatively like “banking + market-making = insoluble complexity.”
The heart of the Atlantic article is an attempted deep dive into Wells Fargo’s financials, which ends up splattering against the rocks that guard those financials. Here is where things start to get alarming, for some value of alarming: Read more »
I enjoyed Bloomberg’s story about how the SEC was pestering JPMorgan to better disclose its proprietary trading activities well in advance of the London Whale fiasco. If you just read the headline you’d be all “oh look how prescient the SEC was,” but if you read the actual letters, not so much. Here is my favorite exchange:
SEC: Identify the trading desks and other related business units that participate in activities you believe meet the definition of proprietary trading. Identify where these activities are located in terms of your segment breakdowns. Quantify the gross revenues and operating margin from each of these units. We note your disclosure on page 59 of your Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2010 that you have liquidated your positions within Principal Strategies in your former Equities operating segment. It is not clear if this was the extent of your proprietary trading business. Please clarify if there are other proprietary trading businesses. If there are, please clearly identify the extent to which such activities or business units have been terminated or disposed of as well as the steps you plan to take to terminate or dispose of the rest of these components.
JPMorgan:1 … The Firm believes that the Staff’s comment regarding the disclosure on page 59 relates to the Form 10-K filed by a registrant other than JPMorgan Chase.