“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

From the files of Wallfare: Yorkville associates, come on down!

In a series meant to probe that underappreciated beast, the toiling trader, Joris Luyendjik interviewed one pathological specimen in a high frequency trading joint who, after describing what he did – basically using a computer to poach micropoint, icrosecond advantages, which must be the reductio ad absurdam of the ‘market’ as an in any way useful social entity – regaled the readers of the Guardian with his philosophy, a sort of autistic egotism wrapped in Darwinian slogans that were exploded by my grandpa’s grandpa. However, the sad soul of the trader, and the sad state of an economy that hasn’t regulated him into extinction, is not the point of this post. The point was a bit of lore he spouted, that is now the common currency not only of the City, but of the Street.

“Some of the commenters [on the Guardian] figured out that I work for a hedge fund, meaning we use money given to us by clients. Hedge funds did not receive any bailout money. They also seem to think that these traders effectively trade with a safety net because of these bailouts. Clearly since no bailout money is given to hedge funds, they don't have this safety net.”

Of course, the trader is as wrong about his own business as he is about Darwin. Not that I blame the poor pathetic rascal: the amnesia about what the U.S. government did is miles deep on the Street. Wallfare has been so normalized that the traders and the high salarymen cannot even see it, now.

Here’s the story of one hedgefund that did get Wallfare:

A Jersey City, N.J., hedge fund under Securities and Exchange Commission investigation received more than $230 million in federal loans as part of a government bailout program.

Yorkville Advisors has been part of the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility Program since last year. Under TALF, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has up to $1 billion to lend as part of an effort to inject liquidity into the ABS market.
Yorkville received some $233 million of that financing, using it to buy $253 million in securities last year for its flagship, YA Global Investments. The TALF deals were made via a subsidiary of the fund, New Earthshell Corp., and placed with a special-purpose entity called YA TALF Holdings, Forbes reports. The hedge fund still owes the Fed $162 million.”

This is of course a pennyante amount. You, my friend, may not be able to get one cent from the Fed even if you write them and ask pretty please and include pics of your starving kids, but to other of the higher players in the Wallfare world, that loan is pocket change.
Since it isn’t pocket change to me, though (if I and one thousand of my clones worked one thousand years at the rate in which I make money, we would not have collected anything near 230 million dollars), I figure that it might be a good idea to poke around Yorkville Associates, and see what they are about.

So what does Yorkville do, and why would we want to loan it money?

Here’s a good summary of one of Yorkville’s big money makers:

“Yorkville Advisors, founded by 38-year-old Mark Angelo in 2001, is one of the largest hedge fund firms specializing in investing in thinly-traded and often illiquid outfits by making private investments in public equities, also known as PIPEs. The hedge fund firm reported nearly $1 billion in assets as recently as 2008. Angelo’s variation on PIPEs is a structured product called a standby equity distribution agreement, which like most PIPEs often causes the stock of the company receiving the investment to drop because it results in Yorkville’s funds collecting discounted shares.

A report prepared by Sagient Research’s PlacementTracker shows that Yorkville has entered into $762 million in PIPE deals since 2001, causing the underlying stocks to drop 38% on average in the first year. Most of those investments were made by Yorkville’s Cornell Capital Partners, which later changed its name to YA Global Investments.
YA Global Investments reported a total return of 6.04% in 2009 and 6.22% in 2008, its financial statements say. It reported a net investment loss of 0.09% in 2009 and net investment income of 5.43% in 2008.

According to the one-page independent auditor’s report prepared on August 13 by McGladrey & Pullen, YA Global Investments’ consolidated financial statements include investments valued at $804 million, representing 94% of its partners’ capital plus the amounts due to certain Yorkville special purpose vehicles, “whose fair values have been estimated” by Yorkville Advisors “in the absence of readily ascertainable fair values.”

Now, that seems a bit curious. We gave this outfit money so that it could use the money to mount a play to make selected stock prices drop, which made it money.

Hmm, how is this possible? Well, here’s an explanation of PIPE action as it pertains to another fund, the NIR group, written by Matthew Goldstein at Reuters:

"But what’s surprising to me is why the SEC is just looking into the NIR funds now, given that it has been a dominant player in so-called “death spiral” convertible market. These securities have gotten a bad rap over the years because they include a trigger that permits bonds to be converted into common shares whenever there is a precipitous drop in the prices of a company’s stock.

Back in 2004, the SEC launched a sweeping probe into the market for these and other so-called PIPEs–private investments in public equity. Most PIPEs are a form of a convertible bond, mainly sold by small-cap companies, with terms highly favorable to hedge fund investors.
The shorts love PIPEs because the flood of stock in these highly-illiquid small cap companies invariably pushes the share prices lower. Not surprisingly, death spirals are real popular with short sellers.

The SEC probe led to a number of actions against hedge funds charged with improper short selling. Many of the hedge funds nabbed by the SEC were found to be shorting companies doing PIPES in advance of the offering–in effect trying to game the deal.
When I worked at TheStreet.com I did a lot of reporting on PIPE abuses and the SEC investigation. NIR was never charged with any wrongoing by the SEC during that long-running investigation. And it’s very well possible that NIR did nothing wrong in the death spirals it invested in–just as it is possible Ribotsky’s firm has done nothing improper this time around either.
But in 2006, I wrote a story for TheStreet.com about the surprising return of the death spiral, and in it I noted that NIR was one of the biggest players in this kind of PIPE deal. Back then I reported that there were no allegations of wrongdoing by NIR, but the firm did report having “some stellar annual returns.””

Well, okay. The Federal Government can’t exactly loan money to the deadbeat homeowner. What would he use it for? Paying off his mortgage? The Fed just chuckles about such obvious inefficient wastes of money. The Government will, indirectly, loan to students, but not at one percent interest – cause that would barely cover the penthouses of the CEOs of the lending companies. As for poor children’s health care – who is gonna pay any loan there back? Forget about it. As Mr. O. and his Republican opponents are agreed, we just have to cut back entitlements to the non-value crowd.

But in the case of Mr. Angelo’s death spiral fund, different criteria apply. We need to loan to Mr. Angelo’s death spiral fund because we want to prevent Depression. We want to prevent catastrophe. We want to preserve civilization.

The death spiral fund is the kind of thing the government pats on the head. It is the kind of thing it loans 230 million dollars to.

Now, one of the arguments made in comments sections of blogs and newspaper stories about Occupy Wall Street is that the financial section is flailing. It is not racking up the profits. This argument is apparently oriented towards getting us to pity this sector, but it raises the question: you mean we loaned out 16 trillion dollars and the financial sector is still rotten?
In miniature, this seems to be the problem with Yorkville. Thus, the headline in Forbes earlier this year:
“New Jersey Hedge Fund Posts Its First Down Year In A Decade

Turns out that the company has problems stemming from 2008 that it still can’t cope with. And even as the stock market recovered, a poor little fund that depends on a complicated mechanism to pull stock prices lower and benefit from the short side can’t seem to get no traction.

“The hedge fund firm, which reported nearly $1 billion in assets as recently as 2008, specializes in a structured product called a standby equity distribution agreement. In connection with investor redemptions it could not meet in 2008, however, Yorkville Advisors restructured its hedge fund operations, creating special purpose vehicles and giving redeeming investors the option of receiving securities in-kind or ownership in the SPVs. The SPVs were distributed pro-rata participation interests in YA Global Investments’ securities. The plan has been for the SPVs to get cash distributions as YA Global Investments liquidates its assets and for the SPVs to pay out its members.”

Ahh, financial gobbledy gook! In plain English, the fund resorted towards various shifts to cover up a money losing strategy, and lost money anyway.

Still, given these facts, our loan saved the company from bankruptcy, and so surely contributed to the greater good. Which brings up the question: what kind of greater good has Yorkville been generating over the past decade?

Looking up the company’s history, one discovers that it lies in a profusion of nomenclature and ‘vehicles’, which make it a little difficult to follow in any linear fashion. But one thing at least is clear. Yorkville is a legal entity created as part of something called Cornell Capital. And Cornell Capital, and Mr. Angelo, certainly have some interesting associates!

In 2007, an investor group named sleuthshares ran an investigation of a number of New Jersey companies that had two things in common: their directors had records for fraud, and they were connected to Cornell Capital.

“Sharesleuth’s investigation uncovered a daisy-chain of dealmaking that has provided millions in hedge fund money to small, struggling companies and has generated millions in stock and cash for consultants, promoters and other financial middlemen
Sharesleuth will outline those connections in a series of articles over the next few weeks.
At the center of the deal making is Robert D. Press, who a decade ago was president of a company that ran a boiler-room brokerage called PCM Securities Ltd. He was in his early 30s at the time.
Federal prosecutors charged in 1999 that PCM and several related brokerages were infiltrated by organized crime and became part of a vast “pump and dump’ scheme that cheated investors out of more than $150 million.
More than 50 people connected to PCM and three other firms – Hanover Sterling & Co., Norfolk Securities Corp. and Capital Planning Associates Inc. -- either pleaded guilty or were found guilty of racketeering or fraud charges.
Press was not among those indicted.
Press more recently has been a presence at several firms that provided money or consulting services to small public companies, including Cargo Connection and others listed in the New Jersey court documents.
From November 2004 until late 2006, Press also was co-portfolio manager for one of Cornell’s affiliated funds, Montgomery Equity Partners Ltd.
Yorkville Advisors LLC is the general partner of Cornell Capital, and also was general partner of two other funds, Montgomery Equity Partners and Highgate House Funds Ltd. The latter two funds have been consolidated into Cornell.
Mark A. Angelo, the managing member of Yorkville Advisors and president of Cornell, was the co-portfolio manager of all three funds.
Cornell said it no longer has any association with Press, noting that “it didn’t work out, so we parted ways.’’ However, Press still has an active telephone extension that is reachable through the hedge fund’s main switchboard.
Sharesleuth’s investigation shows that Press and the Cornell family of funds participated in at least two financing deals alongside Robert H. Pozner, who was one of the original defendants indicted in the New Jersey fraud case in 2005.
Pozner, a former stock broker and trader, has signed a plea agreement that calls for a maximum of five years in prison. He previously pleaded guilty to securities fraud and perjury charges in another stock manipulation case and served three months in prison.”
Well, heavens, what the internet turns up! It is hard to believe that a little blogger, moi, could find this out and the Federal Reserve couldn’t. So I suppose we must conclude that a death spiral fund with a shaky history - the kind of fund that engineers drops in share prices and has associates that have been fingered for pump and dump kind of operations in the past - is just the kind of thing that we must prop up so as to not suffer from Depression and other horrendous events. And now that we have propped up this financial services sector, we shouldn’t go around taxing its CEOs too onerously – poor babies had quite enough scares for one decade!
But we should righteously cut the entitlements that the wage class uses to pursue its frivolous lifestyle.
Ask an economist, and this is the answer he’ll give you.
Of course, we could give them all the raspberry and occupy Wallfare Street.

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