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.

Stevie Cohen: the pop star edition

Hard to believe, there was a time when Steven A. Cohen was not all that well-known on Wall Street outside of the hedge fund industry. Some even used to confuse the then-paunchy hedge fund trader with a popular magician with the same name.

But it’s true. In fact, a decade ago,  BusinessWeek (pre-Bloomberg takeover) did a cover story about Cohen and his then-$4 billion SAC Capital Advisors, calling  the once super secretive investor, “The most powerful trader on Wall Street you’ve never heard of.”

Today, however, it’s almost a rarity when a major business publication or website (that’s you Dealbreaker) doesn’t have a story about Cohen and his currently $15 billion hedge fund (subject to change depending on how much in outside investor money gets returned at the end of this month). Whether it be the long-running inside trading investigation, his failed attempt to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers, his impressive growing art collection or his sizeable charitable donations, Cohen and his firm are always making news. A few years back, we even did a story on SAC Capital’s resident golf pro and how he would line up golf outings for SAC traders with corporate executives.

Insider trading—it’s not just hedge funds

Sometimes it seems that insider trading cases are all about hedge funds. After all, the overwhelming majority of the federal government’s multi-year crackdown on insider trading has netted dozens of traders and analysts working in the $2.25 trillion hedge fund industry.

But this week’s escapades involving a former top audit partner at KPMG and his golfing buddy are reminder that the temptation to profit from inside information exists in many industries and professions.

Still, senior hedge fund reporter Svea Herbst-Bayliss reminds us in the following post,  a recent survey found a good portion of people who labor for hedge funds harbor private doubts about the integrity of their colleagues. If the numbers expressed in this survey are anything close to accurate, law enforcement should be busy for quite a while longer.

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.

Steinberg indictment sheds some light on SAC’s computer program that once annoyed some top traders

By Matthew Goldstein

SAC Select may not have been one of SAC Capital Advisors’ best-known portfolios during its brief trading history. But the computer-driven trading program may have been one of the more controversial at Steven A. Cohen’s hedge fund.

Setup by a number of SAC Capital’s algo- savvy traders, including Neil Chriss, who left SAC in 2007 to found Hutchin Hill Capital, SAC Select was designed to piggyback on the trades on some of the hedge fund’s top portfolio managers. SAC Select, which at its peak in 2008 managed about $4.2 billion in hedge fund assets, was discontinued sometime in 2009 or early 2010. The strategy was intended as an added investment benefit for long-time SAC Capital clients.

But SAC Select was always controversial within Cohen’s empire because portfolio managers essentially viewed it as a platform simply copying some of their best ideas, say several people familiar with the strategy. Two people familiar with it said it “pissed off” the human traders at SAC.  Cohen is said to have countered that the computer program was not much different then PMs at SAC being regularly required to share their best “high conviction” trading ideas with Cohen each week.

Stevie, SAC and that ticking redemption clock

By Matthew Goldstein and Svea Herbst-Bayliss

The WSJ is out today with a big story saying Stevie Cohen and SAC Capital are bracing for up to $1 billion in redemptions, or roughly 16 percent of the $6.3 billion it manages for outside investors. That’s a lot of money but sources are telling us redemptions will likely come in lower than that—think more in the $500 million range.

And more important, no matter what the figure is, don’t look for it to put much crimp in Cohen’s operation.

The deadline for submitting redemptions is Feb. 15, so there is still plenty of time for outside investors make a decision about sticking around or leaving. And even if an investor puts in a redemption notice now, those requests to withdraw money can get pulled at the last minute if the investor has a change of heart.

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.

UF Weekend Reads

By Katya Wachtel

Yes, Germany and Greece have been in a war of words in the unfolding crisis over the latter’s membership in the euro zone, but this afternoon the two nations face off in a different (and far more entertaining) way: they go head-to-head in the European Championship quarterfinal.

As Reuters’ Alexander Hudson reports from Poland, the setting of tonight’s more-than-just-a-game battle, “When Greece take the football field in the Polish coastal city of Gdansk… the honor of the nation is at stake.” Greece, by the way, has never beaten Germany on the soccer pitch.

Closer to home, with the NBA season now officially over – congrats to our Miami Heat fans – there’s a little more time for some weekend reading…

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.

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