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Killing it like a hooker in Hong Kong

Citadel, Bloomberg and the perils of stale news…

Bloomberg today morning kicked off with a puff piece on Citadel, which will no doubt appear in Bloomberg magazine later in the month…

Oct. 29 (Bloomberg) — Rohit D’Souza was on vacation with his family in India in May 2008 when he got a call from Ken Griffin, founder and chief executive officer of Citadel Investment Group LLC. Griffin wanted the banker, who had just quit his job as head of equity trading and sales at Merrill Lynch & Co., to help him do something no other hedge fund had ever tried.

Less than two months earlier, Bear Stearns Cos. had disappeared, swallowed by JPMorgan Chase & Co. after losing billions on subprime mortgages. Griffin asked D’Souza, a 45- year-old native of Mumbai, if he would be interested in running a full-service investment bank.

6 hours later, WSJ reported the following

The Chicago firm also confirmed that a banker it hired last year to build an investment bank, Rohit D’Souza, was leaving.

The developments showcase the challenges facing the firm that manages $14 billion in assets as it tries to recover from a grim 2008 for its hedge funds while diversifying into other businesses.

Upon which, Bloomberg had to Update the article and add the following

Oct. 29 (Bloomberg) — Rohit D’Souza was on vacation with his family in India in May 2008 when he got a call from Ken Griffin, founder and chief executive officer of Citadel Investment Group LLC. Griffin wanted the banker, who had just quit his job as head of equity trading and sales at Merrill Lynch & Co., to help him do something no other hedge fund had ever tried.

Less than two months earlier, Bear Stearns Cos. had disappeared, swallowed by JPMorgan Chase & Co. after losing billions on subprime mortgages. Griffin asked D’Souza, a 45- year-old native of Mumbai, if he would be interested in running a full-service investment bank.

The two men talked through September as Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. declared bankruptcy and rumors swirled that Chicago-based Citadel, whose gross assets had reached $145 billion earlier that year, would fail. The firm’s biggest funds, Kensington and Wellington, lost 16 percent that month and started exiting unprofitable businesses. In October, as the funds tumbled another 22 percent, D’Souza said yes. D’Souza said yes.

On Oct. 29, 12 months later, Citadel said D’Souza is leaving the firm and will be replaced by Patrik Edsparr, president of Citadel Europe and head of the company’s fixed- income business. The departure suggests that Griffin’s attempt to graft an investment bank onto a hedge fund firm won’t be easy.

Hilarious… at least Bloomberg is lucky the news wasn’t delayed a couple more days, then in would be in hardcopy in the Bloomberg magazine. However, they certainly couldn’t change the thesis of the article… that Citadel was building an investment bank, without deleting the entire piece… so they just ran with it, regardless of how irrelevant the entire story had become:

His latest enterprise may well be his most audacious, at least since starting his own hedge fund. Grafting an investment bank onto a hedge fund firm won’t be easy. Unlike large banks, Citadel doesn’t have a big balance sheet, so it can’t offer loans to clients to purchase companies or make investments.

October 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 3 Comments

PPFI: Going to be a disaster

The Toxic Asset Plan detail trial balloons are starting to be floated. This piece in the NYT has some preliminary details.

Basically, FDIC will provide leverage of 85% at something like 1% interest. Then FDIC will also chip in 12% of equity, and the private investor will put in 3% equity.

This is supposed to encourage the private investor to buy assets which are worth 30 cents on the dollar for the 60 cents that it’s marked on the bank’s book.

Devil in the details.

Basically I see only two ways this can play out, either A) It’s not going to work or B)It’s going to work, but produce massive profits for investors and massive losses for taxpayers… at the same time.

A) It’s not going to work

Because the investor still bears the first loss piece. So he is highly incentivized to pick and choose among the assets on offer and price them correctly. What happens when they hold the first auction and all the bids come in below the bank marks? Do you force the banks to sell? Or do you allow the banks to keep them on the book?

B) It’s going to work, but with massive losses for the taxpayer, and massive profits for private investors

This goes back to my earlier ringfencing post. Someone is going to figure out a structure so that assets can be segregated. Investors are going to punt, and they’re going to take the massive profits when they win, and leave everyone else saddled with losses when they lose.

Other considerations:

Special treatment: What happens if Treasure chooses say 5 firms, Blackrock, PIMCO, Western Asset Mgmt, Oaktree and Goldman. Won’t all the other firms scream bloody murder? Varde in Minnesota, Citadel in Chicago, Berkshire in Omaha? Each with it’s own congressional delegation making the appropriate noises? How are they not going to play favorites?

Spreading the wealth: Say due to the last point, anyone with say 50 mil under management gets to play. First it’s going to be an administrative nightmare, they’re going to be thousands of firms. Second, if the SEC didn’t know what Madoff was doing for 20 years, how are they going to keep track of this? What’s to prevent investors from playing games and money laundering and using derivatives to milk the taxpayer?

Is the money really out there? : Treasury seems to think that there’s 30 bill or more waiting to jump into this stuff. I doubt it. Firstly most of the private equity funds have far less money than the stated fund size. Secondly even if they could access it, they probably couldn’t draw all of it down in 1 go. It’s a practical matter because their investors are institutions like Harvard Management Company which simply don’t have liquid assets to fund PE commitments.

So where might the money come from? Foreign investors. That’s right. The guys holding the Treasuries who can put them into this. But it’ll have to be washed, so they’d pump money in through Blackstone or the other group.

Foreign governments are effectively going to assetize their US government debt, and end up owning large portions of the US economy.

March 21, 2009 Posted by | Credit Crisis | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fund Info: Abax Global Capital

Oh how the stars of yesteryear have fallen so swiftly to the Earth. Abax was THE hedge fund launch of 2007. Everyone and their mom wanted in on these guys… who were they?

Let’s put together the story:

Abax launched in early 2007 with USD300mm in capital, most of it chipped in by Morgan Stanley. MS gave them a hunk of money in return for 20% of the firm’s equity. The plan was to do Special Situations, a fancy name for putting hedge fund money in private equity deals and waiting to get it out.

They did a bunch of small private equity deals in China, and some in South East Asia. Most of these involved Abax putting USD20-30mm in the form of a private convertible which would then be converted to equity once the investee IPO-ed. Unfortunately CBs tend to be really unattractive if you just have to carry them as bonds, they are unsecured, have small coupons, and have tenors between 5-7 years. The stocks they are based on are usually illiquid small caps, so a lot of the more interesting hedging can’t be carried out.

Looking at the deal list, these guys basically bought into a bunch of small caps, with the idea that each one would use the cash to finish an expansion project or for growth capital, and then IPO. They were very thematic, making multiple bets on China water industry, China gas industry, commodities and China consumer. They were not afraid to touch the dodgiest of the dodge, and ended up with one of the crappiest books I’ve ever seen. There was zero downside protection for the investor. None of the companies had assets that could be seized to make investors whole if the promoters turned out to be cads.

Some of the deals they did:

China Natural Gas (OTC:CHNG) :- A Chinese LNG and CNG infrastructure company. Invested USD40mm, 5% coupon with warrants struck at USD7.3. As of March 2009, stock is trading at USD2.50. The intent with this one was to provide capital for CHNG to complete their LNG facility, potentially quadrupling their earnings, and realize the warrants when they went public on NYSE or one of the other big boards.

Reuters

China Water Industry (HKSE:1129) :- USD50mm CB in Aug 2007. Conversion struck at HKD1.42, shares now trading (March 2009) at HKD0.126. This was a Chinese water treatment and sewage company.

PRNewswire

United Fiber Systems (SP:UFS) :- The deal that would not die. This thing has been passed around South East Asia like a Hong Kong hooker in heat. You have an potentially incredibly lucrative pulp and paper mill, which no bank project finance group will touch with a stick because of environmental concerns. Abax puts in USD25mm, with a promise to secure an additional USD200mm to complete the mill. As far as I can tell, Stephanie Fried hit the nail on the head, when she said it was a form of money laundering. Basically Abax fronts an investment of American and European bank capital into the project, and gets paid out of the equity investment. Abax’s commitment was struck at SGS0.355 per share, while Mar09 prices are SGD0.02. That’s right 2 cents.

China Mobile Media Technology (OTC:CHMO) :- A mass marketer of digital knick knacks. Invested USD21mm in Jan08. Warrants struck as USD2.00/share, as of Mar09 price was USD0.013 per share. No interest first year and 9.5% interest in the year after. Looks like this was the crappiest deal they did. No hard assets to have recourse too..

Coastal Greenland (HK: 1124) :- Chinese real estate developer.  USD45mm 8% notes with warrants due 2010. Invested Dec 2007, when share price was HKD1.50.  Mar09 share price HKD0.27. They owned 17% + of this company and started to sell off in Oct08. Must have started liquidating stake.

SinoEnergy Corp (OTC:SNEN) :- Another CNG play. USD20mm with average 6% coupon. Mar09 USD1.13.  Sept07 deal announce, strike at USD3.17.

Bio-Treat Technology (SP:BIOT) :- Another China water play. Fortunately for Abax, Bio-treat reneged on their borrowing agreement and never drew down the bulk of the cash. Whew what a relief. Case is in court now, with Abax suing to retrieve SGD5mm while if the investment had gone through they might have lost SGD100mm. Sigh. Strike was 0.76 on the deal, Mar09 price is, drum roll please… SGD0.03.

Who is Abax?

Chris Hsu:     He was forced out in Nov 2008. Excerpt from Top Trader’s Under 30.

Age: 27

After graduating early from Stanford with a degree in engineering, this Taiwan native got a job at Aristeia Capital in New York, followed by gigs at JMB Capital in Los Angeles and Chicago-based Citadel. Working out of Citadel’s Hong Kong office, Hsu led the firm’s Asian special-situations group. Now one year into his $300 million launch, Abax Global Capital, Hsu is invading China with the zeal of a thirteenth-century Mongol.

Donald Yang: formerly managing director and head of Hong Kong and Greater China debt capital markets atMerrill Lynch

Frank Qian: formerly a trader and risk manager in Asia, Europe and the U.S. at Citadel Group.

Andy Shpiz: Managing Director of Abax Global Capital. Formerly of Mellon HBV/Fursa Alternative Special Situations. Looks like a typical Filth-er, came out to HK, loved it, rode the curve up during the China IPO boom. Doesn’t look that well qualified, I mean IB at Allen & Co, is like Equities in Dallas isn’t it. Excerpt from Mellon bio below:

Andrew G. Shpiz will lead the Asian research effort in Hong Kong to support Asian deals in the firm’s global multi-strategy discipline and to identify further event driven opportunities throughout Asia. Before joining the company in 2001, Mr. Shpiz was a Vice President of Allen & Company Incorporated (“Allen”). Mr. Shpiz was employed by Allen since 1995 and worked in investment banking, where he was responsible for advising corporate clients and investing the firm’s capital in new businesses. Prior to working in investment banking, Mr. Shpiz researched and monitored investments for several internal special situation investment and risk arbitrage funds. Prior to joining Allen, Mr. Shpiz worked for Fidelity Investments for three years in various sales and trading positions. Mr. Shpiz received a Masters in Business Administration from New York University’s Stern School of Business in 1996 and a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Colby College in 1991.

Benjamin Happ: Amherst ’98 Psych who’s a very reasonable qualified Investment Mgmt guy. Expertise is capital raising. Looks like speaks Chinese from the backgrounder.

Danny Yong Ming Chong, Chief Investment Officer of Abax: Singaporean and old SJI boy (go go St. Joe)

Lee Ka Shao managed both macro positioning and the South Asia special situations portfolio. Now at Cavenagh Capital

Bonita Choi : Low level analyst and investor relations. What is a religious studies major from Toronto doing in a hedge fund? A) She must be cute B) she speaks Chinese. Combi of one and two would be perfect for handling testy older Chinese gentlemen watching their money evaporate.

Known Abax Related Entities
Abax Arhat Fund
Abax Claremont Ltd
Abax Global Capital
Abax Global Opportunities Fund
Abax Lotus Ltd
Abax Upland Fund LLC

March 20, 2009 Posted by | China, Hedge Fund, Hong Kong | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments