Could the entire hedge fund industry rest upon tens of thousands of instances of lying, cheating, and stealing? Well, at least they’re immensely generous (with their political donations). Via Guernica:
1. Insider Trading. If the Feds could tape every hedge fund we’d get an earful of how hedge funds use “expert networks” to transfer bits of illegal information that provide hedge fund managers with knowledge of events that are sure to move markets and make them a bundle.
2. Ponzi Schemes. Madoff isn’t the only one. Hedge funds and Ponzi schemes are made for each other since the funds are designed to evade so many disclosure regulations. It’s virtually a sure thing that every new year will reveal another Ponzi scheme through which a hedge fund steals money from investors and then uses new investor money to pay returns to the old investors.
3. Tax Evasion. No surprise here. Wherever you find billionaire financiers, you’ll find schemes to move money around the globe to dodge taxes. Fortunately, Rudolf M. Elmer, a Swiss banker, has blown the whistle on an international web of rich investors, banks and hedge funds that evade taxes by illegally shifting money to low-tax jurisdictions. There’s something particularly slimy about hedge fund tax dodging, given that they only pay a 15 percent federal tax rate no matter how much they make.
4. Front-running trades. With their high-speed trading systems and algorithms that sense ever so slight market moves, the biggest hedge funds and banks are able to trade just a fraction of a second before the rest of us do. The SEC is also worried that brokers leak information about large trades by institutional investors to hedge funds so that favored hedge funds can pull off the trade just a split second sooner, thereby earning a quick, easy, and illegal profit.
5. Late Trading. When Eliot Spitzer was New York Attorney General (and earned the handle, “Sheriff of Wall Street”), he uncovered hedge funds maneuvering around trading rules like a Ferrari speeding around the hapless shmoes stuck in midtown traffic. In violation of all rules, hedge funds were allowed by mutual fund managers to jump in and out of mutual funds many more times than normal investors, enabling them to score high returns at the expense of regular mutual fund customers. They even got away with booking trades hours after the market closed for the day—a real perk, since market-moving announcements often are made right after closing.
6. Accounting Irregularities. Boring stuff, but the stuff of big money. Hedge funds and banks cook the books to avoid showing losses and to artificially inflate profits. Hedge funds are also deeply involved in helping other companies—like Enron and WorldCom—bend their books. According to a study by Bing Liang at the University of Massachusetts, as of 2004, 35 percent of all hedge funds cited no dates for their last audit. Hmmm.
7. Setting up bets that can’t fail. I just can’t get enough of how banks and hedge funds collude to rig securities so that they are designed to fail. The best part is that in order to win their negative bets, they have to market the securities to chumps as if they were pure gold. This ploy always seems to involve a big investment bank and a hedge fund. You have Goldman Sach’s dancing with Paulson and Company, and then there’s JP Morgan Chase doing a two-step with Megatar.