Unstructured Finance

SEC vs. SAC give rise to many legal theories

It seems everyone has their own pet theory about why the SEC chose now to move against hedge fund titan Steven A. Cohen after years of being part of the hunt along with the FBI and federal prosecutors.

Here are few of them that I got from talking to a number of legal eagles: including former prosecutors and regulators.

The most obvious one is that securities regulators, unlike federal prosecutors, are bumping up against  a pretty hard and fast five-year deadline for filing charges against Cohen and it was pretty much now or never. In pursuing a failure to supervise  charge against Cohen in an administrative proceeding, the Securities and Exchange Commission is gunning to put Cohen out of business without actually charging he has done any insider trading himself.

Yet if the SEC is successful in barring Cohen from managing other people’s money it may be enough of a victory after nearly 10 years of on-and-off investigation which has failed to produce sufficient evidence that Cohen knowingly engaged in insider trader,  encouraged others at his SAC Capital to do so, or was actually even aware improper trading was taking place.

In this view, the SEC is playing tough guy—something it is often accused of not doing—and trying to make the most out of what is a fairly weak hand.

The burden of being SAC Capital’s “Portfolio Manager B”

Michael Steinberg, the SAC Capital Advisers portfolio manager who was arrested at the crack of dawn last Friday morning probably envies former Goldman Sachs trader Matthew Taylor’s rush-hour surrender to the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday.

While Steinberg was led away in handcuffs as a Wall Street Journal reporter took shaky video footage of the scene outside his door at 6am, Taylor sauntered into FBI headquarters in New York on his own, at 8:30am, having had plenty of time to collect his wits with a cup of hot coffee.

The difference between Steinberg’s dramatic arrest and Taylor’s quiet surrender highlights a theatrical strategy the FBI and prosecutors use for big cases. It does not bode well for the other potential targets in the high-profile insider trading investigation into Steven A. Cohen’s $15 billion hedge fund, which increasingly seems to be the primary focus of the government’s attempt to go after wrongful trading in the hedge fund industry.

FBI to press: How are we doing?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s press office has embarked on a bit of customer satisfaction research: The department is asking journalists to rate its performance during the hostage standoff in Alabama that ended last week.

It is a rare glint of cooperative spirit in the traditionally contentious relationship between journalists and public relations specialists.

A public affairs officer sent journalists an online survey asking them to say whether the information the FBI gave them during the early days of the standoff was “sufficient” – enough to do their jobs – or whether it was too little.

Why Steven Cohen won’t turn SAC into a family office

By Matthew Goldstein

Every time the insider trading investigation thrusts Stevie Cohen back into the spotlight, there’s always speculation about whether the billionaire trader will simply give back money to his outside investors and convert his $14 billion SAC Capital into a family office in order to avoid the unwanted headlines. But as tempting as that might be to the publicity-averse Cohen, the well-known trader has a big financial incentivel to keep managing money for his outside investors.

SAC Capital’s fee structure–one of the highest in the $2 trillion hedge fund industry–probably pays for a good chunk of Cohen’s overhead, say people in the hedge fund industry. These sources say that by charging a 3 percent asset management fee and skimming off as much as 50 percent of the firm’s trading profits, SAC Capital’s outside investors provide Cohen with a rich source of cash to pay his 900 or so employees.

Now sure, if Cohen were to return the roughly $6.3 billion in outside money that SAC Capital manages, he could reduce his workforce dramatically and move his operation out of its spacious offices at 72 Cummings Point Road in Stamford, Conn. But with billions of his own money invested in SAC Capital, Cohen would still need to employ a healthy crew of analysts and traders to manage his personal wealth in order to get the kind of double-digit returns he’s accustomed to. Last year, SAC Capital was up a little over 10 percent after accounting for fees–compared to the industry average of about 5 percent.

Talking straight with money managers, policy makers and econ gurus

By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

We may not be TV people but there’s something to be said for just sitting down and doing a video interview to discuss the big issues of the day. And that’s just what we did as part of this year’s Reuters Investment Outlook Summit and it’s something we hope to keep doing as  a regular feature going forward into the new year.

In advance of this year’s summit, we did videos with noted short-seller Carson Block, bond guru Dan Fuss, OWS bank leader Cathy O’Neill, FBI heads April Brooks and David Chaves, Avenue Capital’s Marc Lasry, economist Henry Kaufman and Steven Gluckstern of eminent domain fame. The videos were frank discussions and to make them seem more natural we went outside the environs of our Reuters newsroom in NYC and conducted them in places like the  middle of Times Square, an ice ream shop and a park.

But best of all these videos broke some news. For instance, we learned the FBI is now using Twitter as an investigative tool and that Carson Block is thinking about starting a short only hedge fund.

Jamie Dimon’s teflon coating

By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

Jamie Dimon’s coat of teflon is wearing well, even as the criminal and regulatory investigation into the London Whale trading scandal deepens.

Shares of JPMorgan Chase, which plunged more than 20 percent in the days after the bank revealed in May that the trading losses were much worse than previously believed, have rallied back. The stock is now trading around $38.66 a share. On May 10, when the bank disclosed after the bell that it had lost at least $2 billion on derivatives bets made by a group of London-based traders, the stock closed at around $40.

When Dimon was called before Congress to testify on the trading scandal in June, he was generally treated like the king of Wall Street by congressman and senators. At the time, bank’s internal probe had not yet found evidence that the three traders may have tried to hide their losses, so the fallout from the scandal appeared limited. The bank disclosed those finding to federal authorities before releasing its second-quarter earnings and restating its numbers for the first quarter.

Gordon Gekko’s Perfect Hedge

By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

It’s not every day a public service announcement, much less one for the FBI, makes national headlines. Then again, it’s not every day that Michael Douglas reprises his Gordon Gekko role to make a pitch for informants to come forward and help law enforcement smoke out insider traders.

The ad, which has been featured on network newscasts and was heavily touted on the front-page of The Wall Street Journal, highlights the task at hand for the likes of David Chaves, a senior agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“It’s gone viral,” says Chaves, who is one of the masterminds behind “Perfect Hedge,” the long-running undercover operation that has helped federal prosecutors secure the convictions of more than 50 people on insider trading charges.

MF Global: gross negligence or intent

By Matthew Goldstein

There was plenty of theatrics Thursday when Jon Corzine returned to his old stomping ground–Capitol Hill–to offer an apology and a mild defense for the events that led to the collapse of MF Global. But in the end little light was shed on just what happened during those final days of October, as Corzine’s firm spiraled towards bankruptcy and hundreds of millions dollars of supposedly protected customer money went missing.

Corzine said many times he didn’t know what happened to the money and was shocked as anyone to find out the money was gone. But there is one thing Corzine said that will prove to be the most critical part of his testimony and that’s his assertion that he never intended to do anything wrong. Or more precisely, he never intended to have customer money maintained in segregated accounts transferred to the firm’s own bank accounts.

As anyone who has been following the MF Global saga now knows, the one inviolate rule of the futures industry is that a firm cannot commingle its money with its customers, or take customer money in a segregated account to pay the firm’s bills or debts.

Kinnucan v. Ainslie

By Matthew Goldstein and Svea Herbst-Bayliss

John Kinnucan, a research consultant who’s been linked to an ongoing insider trading probe, claims Maverick Capital founder Lee Ainslie has stiffed him by not paying all of the hedge fund’s bill from last year.

The Portland, Oregon-based Kinnucan tells Reuters/ Unstructured Finance that Maverick owes him $15,000 for research information he provided on technology companies in the second-half of 2010. The consultant says it was anger over Maverick’s outstanding tab that prompted him to send a brief and alarming email this week to Ainslie warning him that his $11 billion fund may “soon be charged with insider trading.”

Kinnucan, who concedes he has no inside scoop on what federal prosecutors are planning, says he was just having some fun at Ainslie’s expense because Maverick is the only one of his former customers that still owes him money. Kinnucan says Maverick won’t pay because the hedge fund contends he “caused a lot of disruption to their business.”

No comfort for hedgies

By Matthew Goldstein

The news that federal investigators had been gathering evidence of potentially improper trading against one of the founders of Loch Capital Management since early 2009 should make some hedge fund managers nervous–especially ones whose funds were big users of expert network firms like Primary Global Research.

Ever since the FBI raided three hedge funds last November, people in the hedge industry have been grumbling that the high-profile raids–which ultimately forced Loch and Level Global Investors to shut down–may have been an indication that U.S. authorities rushed to judgment. That’s especially since no one at Loch, Level Global or Diamondback Capital has been charged with any improper trading based on stock tips gleaned from a consultant with an expert network firm.

As I reported, a court filing shows that some 18 months before the FBI raided Loch, Diamondback and Level Global, authorities already had some evidence from an informant that Loch co-founder Todd McSweeney may have gotten “inside information” from  Primary Global information. So far, neither McSweeney nor his twin brother Tim, the fund’s other co-founder, has been charged with any wrongdoing.

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