Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Sustainable Economics

We have put our good mother through a lot over the past few million years. Ever since we walked out of the great rift the biospheres dominant species has really left a mark. I know that mark is but a tiny spec on the archaeological record of the earth which spans a few billion years but our impact is unmistakable.
 
I guess it started with the invention of hand tools, fire, wheels, shelter construction, water cultivation and agriculture. You can’t forget hunting in packs, weaponry, domestication of animals, speech, art and writing. A consciousness of a portfolio of skills, specialization, division of labor and the ability to discern exchange value within the community birthed a notion of governance. Our social nature was crowned with our ability to transmit craft and knowledge to successive generations, assuring continuity and cohesion with a common history and a well articulated cosmology. Put it all together and I think you got your basic modern Homo sapien.
Oh yeah, we also developed a psychology, an ego, that incorporates the primacy of ourselves and our selfish needs. It rationalizes and guides our interactions with nature, transforming the intention of our labor into a transaction that alters the conditions of the environment. It also serves as indisputable empirical evidence of the master species, elevated above all others as time marks the progress and dominion of the human race.
 
Our dominion has been codified into our sacred literature. Our creation stories and cosmic mission statements expressly state to exercise our dominion over nature, to propagate the species and to be fruitful and multiply. The screaming unencumbered id, left to its own devises, unchecked in the grand supermarket. We human’s have succeeded beyond our wildest expectations and the species continues to be fruitful and multiplying. 
 
We sojourn on, notching the ladder of history with marks of our progression through the ages. Along the way we Cro-Magnons expropriated the Neanderthals and moved into their Mediterranean digs complete with fire pits, burial chambers and the best take on modern art until Picasso came along.
 
I guess that’s the point. Our survival comes at the expense of other creatures and things. I’m no Malthusian, but Tom Friedman’s flat world is getting crowded.    And as we celebrate the 44th Earth Day a midst the greatest die off of species since mankind coronated himself as master and commander of all things earth; it may be time to consider how our dominion is hampering the well being of the lesser flora and fauna kingdoms and what we can do to begin the practice of a more sustainable economics.
 
When I look at Las Vegas, I behold a garish mecca of capitalism on steroids.  I’m overwhelmed by the banality of the the things we so highly esteem. A community venerated and propped up on the foundation of vice, hedonism and the radical pursuit of money. Unbridled development of a crystal neon city constructed in the middle of a desert, recklessly consumes water and energy resources and misdirects human capital to maintain the facade of an unsustainable economy. 
 
Phoenix poses the same paradox. Darling child of the credit boom, Phoenix is a city consuming itself. The rising threat of climate change, blistering heat, dwindling water supplies and raging haboobs would give any urban planner reason to pause. A bustling city of many millions of striving citizens consuming energy, water and human capital built on the unsustainable foundation of excessive consumption and an unrealistic valuation of the capital required to maintain it. 
 
The explosion of fracking natural gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale formation is another example of sacrificing long term sustainability for the immediacy of shareholder returns. The Marcellus Deposit has proven reserves that only last a decade. As evidenced by the hyper development occurring in North Dakota,  economies tied to resource extraction are prone to experience classic boom bust cycles. During boom times all is well. But the good times don’t last all that long and communities are left in the wake of the bust cycle to deal with the aftermath. 
 
The Keystone XL Pipeline and the rapid expansion of the LNG extraction industries are being touted as the foundation of American energy independence. But this energy resource extracts a high cost on the land and its natural bounty. It poses significant risk to water aquifers, air quality, wildlife and the storage of waste-water byproducts will present long term remediation challenges to communities for many decades after the last well is capped.
 
Our new found fortune of LNG comes with a significant opportunity cost to develop alternative energy sources as it continues to tether our economic dependence on a dwindling supply of fossil fuels. Perpetuating this dependence also requires us to expend huge sums of money on the military. The political arrhythmia in the Ukraine and the keen interest of the United States has much to do with the changing political economy of fossil fuels and the protection and accession of markets.
 
Sustainability requires a new approach to the emerging realities of the global political economy. Recognition that competing interests bring important capital to the table, and that all must be recognized and fully valued in the new algorithms of sustainability is the keystone and pipeline of sustainability. The practice of unfettered development is unsustainable. Regulation, arbitration and revitalization cannot be sacrificed at the altar of laissez-faire politics that only serves to widen the wealth gap at tremendous social cost. The politicization of economic policy cannot continue to be beholden to rampant monetization. Sustainability is the creation of long term value for a diverse community of stakeholders. It needs to become our guiding mantra as the global population approaches 8 billion souls. Happy Earth Day.

 

Music Selection:

Risk: fracking, political, water, air, war, opportunity cost, renewal clean energy, climate change

April 22, 2014 Posted by | cities, commodities, community, compliance, corporate social responsibility, ecological, history, politics, psychology, regulatory, sustainability | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hedge Funds Navigating Industry Sea Change

This years Schulte Roth Zabel’s (SRZ) 19th Annual Private Investment Funds Seminar stuck a very different pose from last years event. One year on from the global meltdown of financial markets, languishing institutional certainty and the pervading crisis of industry confidence has been replaced with a cautious optimism. The bold swagger of the industry however is gone, in its place a more certain sense of direction and expectation is emerging. Though managers continue to labor under unachievable high water marks due to the 2008 market devastation, 2009 marked a year of exceptional performance. Investment portfolios rebounded in line with the upturn in the equity and bond markets. Liquidity improved and net inflows into the industry has turned positive during the last quarter as large institutional investors and sovereign wealth funds returned to the sector with generous allocations. These are taken as clear signs that the industry has stabilized and the path to recovery and the healing of economic and psychological wounds are underway. Yes the industry will survive and ultimately thrive again but it will do so under vastly different conditions. The new business landscape will require an industry with a guarded culture of opaqueness to provide much greater transparency while operating under a regimen of greater regulatory scrutiny.

The 1,900 registered attendees heard a message about an industry at a cross road still coming to terms with the market cataclysm brought on by unfettered, unregulated markets and excessive risk taking. SRZ offered an honest assessment in examining the industries role in the market turmoil. Speakers alerted attendees to an industry at a tipping point. To survive the industry must adapt to a converging world that believes that uniform market rules and regulations are the surest safeguards against catastrophic systemic risk events. A global political consensus is emerging that expresses support for industry regulation as an effective tool to mitigate the pervasiveness of fraud and market manipulation that undermines investor confidence and ultimately the functioning of a fair and efficient open free market.

Paul Roth, Founding Partner of SRZ, noted in the events opening remarks that the market is beginning to recover as evidenced by industry AUM once again exceeding the $2 trillion mark; but he warned that any exuberance needs to be tempered with the understanding that the new normal would not resemble the pre-crash world. The days of cowboy capitalism and radical laissez-faire investing are clearly over. Indeed Mr. Roth wryly observed “the industry must develop a maturity about the need for change. He concluded “that the industry must respond by playing a constructive role in forming that change.”

The conference subject matter, speakers and materials were all top shelf. Break out presentations on risk management, regulatory compliance, distressed debt deal structuring, tax strategies and compensation issues all reinforced the overriding theme of an industry in flux. The presenters passionately advocated the need to intentionally engage the issues to confront accelerated changes in market conditions. By doing so, fund complexes will be in a position to better manage the profound impact these changes will have on their business and operating culture. Subject issues like insider trading, tax efficient structuring, hedge fund registration, preparing for SEC examinations and the thrust of DOJ litigation initiatives and how to respond to subpoenas were some of the topics explored.

To highlight the emerging regulatory environment confronting the industry, a presenter pointed to the Southerization of the SEC. This is an allusion to the hiring of former criminal prosecutors from the Department of Justice, Southern District of New York to go after wayward fund managers. The SEC is ramping up its organizational capability to effectively prosecute any violations of the new regulatory codes. The growing specter of criminal prosecutions and the growing web of indictments concerning the high profile case of Mr. Raj Rajaratnam of the Galleon Group was presented as evidence of an emerging aggressive enforcement posture being pursued by regulators. Managers beware!

Presenters made some excellent points about how institutional investors are demanding greater levels of TLC from their hedge fund managers. This TLC stands for transparency, liquidity and control. Creating an operational infrastructure and business culture that can accommodate these demands by institutional investors will strengthen the fund complex and help it to attract capital during the difficult market cycle.

The evening concluded with an interesting and honest conversation between Paul Roth and Thomas Steyer, the Senior Managing Partner of Farallon Capital Management. The conversation included increased regulatory oversight, compensation issues, industry direction and matching investor liquidity with fund strategy, capacity, structure and scale. Mr. Steyer manages a multi-strategy fund complex with $20 billion AUM, his insights are borne from a rich industry experience. He made the startling admission that Farallon has been a registered hedge fund for many years and he believes that the regulatory oversight and preparation for examiners reviews helped his fund management company to develop operational discipline informed by sound practices.

Mr. Steyer also spoke about scale and that additional regulatory oversight will add expense to the cost of doing business. Mr. Steyer believes that it will become increasingly difficult for smaller hedge funds to operate and compete under these market conditions.

Another interesting topic Mr. Steyer addressed were issues surrounding investor redemption and fund liquidity. During last years SRZ conference investor liquidity was the hot topic. Fund preservation during a period of market illiquidity and a fair and orderly liquidation of an investment partnership were major themes that ran through last years presentations. Mr. Steyer struck a more conciliatory tone of investor accommodation. He confessed his dislike for the use of “gates” as a way to control the exit of capital from a fund. In its place he offered a new fund structure he referred to as a “strip” to allocate portfolio positions to redeeming partners in proportion to the overall funds liquid and illiquid positions. He stated he believed that strategy to be more investor friendly.

Schulte Roth & Zabel has once again demonstrated its market leadership and foresight to an industry clearly in flux, confronting multiple challenges. These challenges will force fund managers to transform their operating culture in response to the sweeping demands of global market pressures, political impetus for regulatory reform and the heightened expectations of increasingly sophisticated investors. The industry could not have a more capable hand at the helm to help it navigate through the jagged rocks and shifting shoals endemic to the alternative investment management marketplace.

You Tube Music Video: Beach Boys, Sail On Sailor

Risk: industry, market, regulatory, political

January 16, 2010 Posted by | commerce, compliance, corruption, hedge funds, investments, legal, off shore, private equity, regulatory, reputational risk, risk management, SEC, sovereign wealth funds | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Day of Atonement: Al-Chet for Risk Managers

YomKippurTNToday is Yom Kippur. It is the Day of Atonement. The Jewish faith marks this day each year as a day to reflect on our sins and shortcomings we have committed during the past year. It is a day of personal assessment. Calling all to examine how we have failed to live a life in conformance to our highest aspirations and ideals. It is customary to recite an Al-Chet confession prayer. The Al-Chet is a confession of a persons past year sinful behavior. It is hoped that this admission of sin leads to reconciliation with the aggrieved and an awareness that helps to establish a pattern of improved behavior in the future.

It is good that we commemorate such a day and use it to a constructive purpose. After all, how many among us are without sin? How many of us have achieved a level of perfection that obviates the need to reflect on how we can improve and make amends to those we may have hurt? To be sure, even the best among us have fallen short of the glory of God. The divine Higher Power that keeps mere mortals rightsized and humble when our egos and perception of ourselves grows too large and burdensome. The need to keep a strong self will from running riot is critical. It is particularly dangerous when a person or corporation is unaware and ambivalent to the collateral damage its actions spawn through the naked pursuit of self interest and ambition. In a sense, God is the ultimate celestial Chief Risk Officer that keeps wanton will in check.

The Day of Atonement is an important day because it is a day of transformation. It calls for self examination and transformation. Once we have learned the nature and extent of how our actions and inaction have negatively impacted ourselves and others, we are called to make amends to set things right. It is a day that requires considered action to improve ourselves so we can become a positive force for change in the world.

Considering the year that just transpired in the financial services industry, I wonder what an Al-Chet confession for risk managers would include. We need a strong dose of atonement so we don’t repeat the egregious mistakes we committed last year.

An Al-Chet for Risk Managers:

I was not strong enough to stand up to my boss

I put selfish gain ahead of ethical considerations

I falsified or hid data to conceal results

I failed to be objective

My risk model was too subjective

I ignored warning signs

I was in over my head

I did not understand all the risk factors

I failed to get an outside opinion

I was beholden to monetary gain

I was victim to group think

I placed institutional interest ahead of ethical considerations

I failed to admit I was wrong

I was not honest with regulators

I was not honest with shareholders

I looked the other way

I failed to act

I conveniently overlooked infractions / irregularities

I made exemptions

I did not understand the depth of the problem

I know there are many more.

Please help me to uncover, understand make right and overcome.

Shalom

You Tube Music Video: Aretha Franklin, I Say a Little Prayer

Risk: compliance, reputation, catastrophic risk, moral hazards

September 28, 2009 Posted by | banking, compliance, credit crisis, culture, operations, psychology, regulatory, religion, reputation, reputational risk, risk management, sound practices | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

IRS Audit Risk Survey for Hedge Funds (Interim Update 3)

irs-and-capitol21The IRS has developed a methodology to determine an audit risk profile for hedge funds, private equity firms, CTAs, RIAs and corporations using offshore structures. Sum2 has commissioned a survey to determine financial services industry awareness and readiness for IRS audit risk factors.

The survey seeks to determine industry awareness of IRS Industry Focus Issue (IFI) risk exposures for hedge funds, private equity firms, RIAs, CTAs and corporations using offshore structures. The survey is open to fund management executives, corporate treasury, tax managers and industry service providers.

CPAs, tax attorneys, compliance professions, administrators, custodians and prime brokers are also welcomed to participate in the study. The study’s purpose is to determine the level of industry preparedness and steps fund managers are taking to mitigate potential exposures to IFI audit risk.

Sum2 will share weekly interim results of the surveys findings. The survey will run for four weeks. This is the second weekly report.

Survey Highlights

  • 76% of survey respondents are from North America
  • 6% are from Great Brittan
  • 13% are from other EU countries
  • 5 % are from Asia
  • 85% of respondents indicate an unawareness of IFI
  • 11% of respondents indicate they plan to alert investors to IFI impact
  • 10% of respondents indicated that they initiated actions to address IFI
  • 8% of respondents indicated that they have received action alerts from industry service providers

    Take the Survey

    We invite you to participate in a survey to determine industry awareness of IRS Industry Focus Issue risk for hedge funds, private equity firms, RIAs, CTAs and offshore corporate structures.

    The survey can be accessed here: IRS Audit Risk Survey for Hedge Funds

    The survey is open to fund management executives and industry service providers to the industry. CPAs, tax attorneys, compliance professions, administrators, custodians, consultants and prime brokers are welcome to take the study. The study’s purpose is to determine the level of industry preparedness and steps fund managers are taking to mitigate potential exposures to IRS Industry Focus Issue risk.

    Sum2 is looking to use the survey to better respond to the critical needs of fund managers and the alternative investment management industry by improving our just released IRS Audit Risk Program (IARP).

    This survey asks ten questions. The questions concern your awareness of IFI and how it pertains to your fund or fund management practice.  The survey seeks to determine overall industry risk awareness, potential exposure to IFI risk factors and any mitigation initiatives you plan to address IFI risk factors.

    It should take no more then 5 minutes to complete the questionnaire. Your participation in this study is completely voluntary. There are no foreseeable risks associated with this project. However, if you feel uncomfortable answering any questions, you can withdraw from the survey at any point. It is very important for us to learn your opinions. Your survey responses will be strictly confidential and data from this research will be reported only in the aggregate. Your information will be coded and will remain confidential.

    If you have questions at any time about the survey or the procedures, you may contact Sum2 at 973.287.7535 or e-mail us at customer.service@sum2.com

    Thank you for your participation.

    March 29, 2009 Posted by | compliance, hedge funds, IRS, risk management, taxation | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    IRS Has Hedge Funds in its Crosshairs

    irs_logo-bwThe earths axis seemed to have tilted way off course last year. The global capital and credit markets crashed. Venerated banking institutions moved dangerously close to insolvency forcing mergers with better capitalized banks. The bulge bracket investment banking institutions disappeared. Some were acquired by traditional banks, others converted to a bank holding company structure; while others declared bankruptcy. In response the Federal Reserve, Treasury Department and SEC initiated unprecedented concerted interventionist actions. The passage of EESA legislation and the implementation of the $750bn TARP program are the first in many expected moves by the government to maintain the solvency of the banking system as a national economic security issue. In addition to these initiatives the government has also passed a massive $750bn economic stimulus bill to kick start the economy. All told over $1.5 trillion dollars has recently been appropriated by the federal government to address the economic crisis. This massive capital infusion has ratcheted up the federal budget deficit. It will be incumbent on the Treasury Department and the IRS to make a concerted effort to uncover new sources of revenue to finance these massive spending programs.

    Hedge funds, private equity firms, CTA’s and other corporations that utilize elaborate corporate structures, engage in sophisticated transactions and recognize uncommon forms of revenue, losses and tax credits will increasingly fall under the considered focus of the IRS. Times have changed and so has the posture and practice of the IRS. The agency is transitioning its organizational posture by moving away from a benign customer service resource and assuming the form of an activist body that is intent on assuring compliance and enforcement of US tax laws. In particular it is building up its expertise and resource to more effectively address the audit challenges the complexity and sophistication hedge funds present.

    The IRS has developed its industry issue competencies. It has developed a focused organizational structure that assigns issue ownership to specific executives and issue management teams. This vertical expertise is further enhanced with issue specialists to deepen the agencies competency capital and industry issue coordinators that lends administrative and agency management efficiency by ranking and coordinating responses to specific industry issues. Clearly the IRS is building up its portfolio of skills and industry expertise to address the sophisticated agility of hedge fund industry tax professionals.

    To better focus the resources of the agency the IRS has developed a Three Tiered Industry Issue Focus. Tier I issues are deemed most worthy of in depth examinations and any fund management company with exposure in these areas need to exercise more diligence in its preparation and response. Tier I issues are ranked by the IRS as being of high strategic importance when opening an examination of hedge funds and other sophisticated corporate structures. This is followed by Tier II and Tier III focus areas that include significant examination issues but are ranked according to the agencies strategic significance of the market vertical. Clearly the IRS is investing significant organizational and human capital to address an industry that will no longer fly beneath the agencies radar. This institutional investment will be called upon to generate a considerable return on the investment in the hopes that the discovery of lucrative tax revenue streams will help to pay down the massive spending deficits of the federal government.

    This development has clearly raised the tax compliance and regulatory risk factors for hedge funds and other fund managers. Significant tax liabilities, penalties and expenses can be incurred if this risk factor is not met with well a well considered risk management program. In response to this industry threat, Sum2 has developed an IRS Audit Risk program that allows a hedge fund CFO to quickly ascertain its IRS risk exposures within the Three Industry Focus Tiers.

    The IRS Audit Risk program provides a threat scoring methodology to ascertain level of risk within each Tier item and aggregates overall Tier exposures. The product also uses a scoring methodology to determine your level of preparedness to meet the audit risk, mitigation actions required and potential exposures of the risk. The IRS Audit Risk calculates expenses associated with mitigation initiatives and assigns mitigation responsibility to staff members or service providers. The IRS Audit Risk links to issue specific IRS resources and documentation that will help you determine if the issue is a audit risk factor for your firm and the resources you will need to addresses it.

    The IRS Audit Risk for Hedge Funds product is a vertical application of Sum2’s Profit|Optimizer product series. The Profit|Optimizer is a C Level risk management tool that assists managers to uncover and mitigate business threats and spot opportunities to maintain profitability and sustainable growth.

    The IRS Audit risk for Hedge Funds product is available for down load on Amazon.com.

    The product can be purchased here: Sum2 e-commerce

    You Tube Music Video: Beatles, Taxman

    Risk: tax liability, penalties, reputation

    March 3, 2009 Posted by | compliance, EESA, hedge funds, IRS, legal, off shore, private equity, regulatory, reputational risk, risk management, SEC, TARP | , , , , | Leave a comment

    PCA Goes To The Lonesome Valley

    PCA RIP

    PCA RIP

    On Monday came the not surprising news that Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) has filed for bankruptcy.

    The practice of selling food additives laced with salmonella bacteria makes it difficult to win back the trust of customers that had been so grievously violated.

    PCA’s actions to knowingly ship contaminated products that have resulted in nine deaths and have sickened 637 people in 44 states. PCA’s salmonella laced peanut paste has contaminated 2,226 processed food products. A full list of recalled products can be found on the FDA website. These potentially criminal acts by PCA’s management has demolished the PCA corporate brand making it impossible to continue as a going concern.

    The Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing will liquidate the company. This strategy will protect the PCA shareholders in the privately held firm from the significant legal liability that this event has created. It does not however protect PCA’s company management and accomplices that knowingly shipped contaminated products from potential criminal prosecution. Criminal persecution of those involved should be pursued and if anyone is found guilty punishment must be severe.PCA released its contaminated product into a large and extensive supply chain. Many leading brand food processing manufacturers that use PCA’s peanut paste as an ingredient in their packaged goods products have suffered severe reputational damage to their product and company brands. Though PCA’s corporate liability may be mitigated with the bankruptcy filing, aggrieved consumers will continue to have have legal recource by filing suits against the major consumer product companies that are still in business. This could make for a record breaking class action product liability suit.

    Unfortunately this tragic occurrence could have been prevented. PCA’s actions demonstrate a disturbing ambivalence toward effective sound corporate governance practices. Companies that willingly sacrifice risk management and ethical business practices for the sake of short term profits consistently undermine corporate sustainability. All may not result in a dramatic corporate implosion like PCA. But ultimately the song of corporate liquidations remains the same. Unemployment for workers, aggrieved consumers, community desertion, tortured consciences and and in some instances criminal prosecution.

    RIP PCA.

    You Tube Video: Fairfield Four, Lonesome Valley

    Risk: corporate goverance, ethics, risk management, legal

    February 18, 2009 Posted by | associations, compliance, manufacturing, Peanut Corporation of America, product liability, supply chain, sustainability | , , , , , | Leave a comment