Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

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

The Cost of Banking Goes Up

screamThe severity of the banking crisis is evident in the 95 banks the FDIC has closed during 2009. The inordinate amount of bank failures has placed a significant strain on the FDIC insurance fund. The FDIC insurance fund protects bank customers from losing their deposits when the FDIC closes an insolvent bank.

The depletion of the FDIC Insurance fund is accelerating at an alarming rate. At the close of the first quarter, the FDIC bank rescue fund had a balance of $13 billion. Since that time three major bank failures, BankUnited Financial Corp, Colonial BancGroup and Guaranty Financial Group depleted the fund by almost $11 billion. In addition to these three large failures over 50 banks have been closed during the past six months. Total assets in the fund are at its lowest level since the close of the S&L Crisis in 1992. Bank analysts research suggests that FDIC may require $100 billion from the insurance fund to cover the expense of an additional 150 to 200 bank failures they estimate will occur through 2013. This will require massive capital infusions into the FDIC insurance fund. The FDIC’s goal of maintaining confidence in functioning credit markets and a sound banking system may yet face its sternest test.

FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair is considering a number of options to recapitalize the fund. The US Treasury has a $100 billion line of credit available to the fund. Ms. Bair is also considering a special assessment on bank capital and may ask banks to prepay FDIC premiums through 2012. The prepay option would raise about $45 billion. The FDIC is also exploring capital infusions from foreign banking institutions, Sovereign Wealth Funds and traditional private equity channels.

Requiring banks to prepay its FDIC insurance premiums will drain economic capital from the industry. The removal of $45 billion dollars may not seem like a large amount but it is a considerable amount of capital that banks will need to withdraw from the credit markets with the prepay option. Think of the impact a targeted lending program of $45 billion to SME’s could achieve to incubate and restore economic growth. Sum2 advocates the establishment of an SME Development Bank to encourage capital formation for SMEs to achieve economic growth.

Adding stress to the industry, banks remain obligated to repay TARP funds they received when the program was enacted last year. To date only a fraction of TARP funds have been repaid. Banks also remain under enormous pressure to curtail overdraft, late payment fees and reduce usurious credit card interest rates. All these factors will place added pressures on banks financial performance. Though historic low interest rates and cost of capital will help to buttress bank profitability, high write offs for bad debt, lower fee income and decreased loan origination will test the patience of bank shareholders. Management will surely respond with a new pallet of transaction and penalty fees to maintain a positive P&L statement. Its like a double taxation for citizens. Consumers saddled with additional tax liabilities to maintain a solvent banking system will also face higher fees  charged y their banks so they can repay the loans extended by the US Treasury to assure a well functioning financial system for the benefit of the republic’s citizenry.

You Tube Music Video: The 5th Dimension, Up Up and Away

Risk: bank failures, regulatory, profitability, political, recession, economic recovery, SME

September 30, 2009 Posted by | banking, business, commerce, economics, government, Hamilton Plan, private equity, regulatory, SME, sovereign wealth funds, TARP, Treasury | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

Audit Risk Survey for Fund Managers: Final Results

tax-return1Sum2 is please to report the final results of the IRS Audit Risk Survey for Fund Managers. Sum2 has commissioned the survey to determine financial services industry awareness and readiness for IRS audit risk factors. The survey sought to determine industry awareness and readiness to address IRS Industry Focus Issue (IFI) risk exposures for hedge funds, private equity firms, RIAs, CTAs and corporations using offshore structures.

Survey Background

Due to the pressing revenue requirements of the United States Treasury and the need to raise funds by recognizing new sources of taxable revenue; 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.

Since 2007 the IRS began to transition its organizational posture from a benign customer service resource to a more activist posture that is intent on assuring compliance and enforcement of US tax laws. Specifically the IRS has invested in its Large and Mid-Size Business Division (LMSB) to enhance its expertise and resources to more effectively address the tax audit challenges that the complexity and sophistication of investment management complexes present. The IRS has developed its industry issue competencies within its LMSB Division. 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. 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 Focus Issues (IFI). Tier I issues are deemed most worthy of indepth 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 audit examination. This is followed by Tier II and Tier III focus issues that include examination issues ranked according to strategic tax compliance risk and significance to the market vertical. Clearly the IRS is investing significant organizational and human capital to address complex tax issues of the industry. The IRS is making a significant institutional investment to discover potentially lucrative tax revenue streams that will help to address the massive budget deficits of the federal government.

Survey Results

The survey was open to fund management executives, corporate treasury, tax managers and industry service providers. CPAs, tax attorneys, compliance professions, administrators, custodians and prime brokers were also invited to participate in the study. The survey was viewed by 478 people. The survey was completed by 43% of participants who began the survey.

Geographical breakdown of the survey participants were as follows:

  • North America 73%
  • Europe 21%
  • Asia 6%

The survey asked nine questions. The questions asked participants about their awareness of IFI that pertain to their fund or fund management practice and potential mitigation actions that they are considering to address audit risk.

The survey posed the following questions:

  • Are you aware of the Industry Focus Issues (IFI) the IRS has developed to determine a fund managers audit risk profile?
  • Are you aware of the organizational changes the IRS has made and how it may effect your firms response during an audit?
  • Are you aware of the Three IFI Tiers the IRS has developed to assess a funds audit risk profile?
  • Are you aware of how the Three IFI Tiers may affect your audit risk exposures?
  • Have you conducted any special planning sessions with internal staff to prepare for IFI audit risk exposures?
  • Has your outside auditor or tax attorney notified you of the potential impact of IFI risk?
  • Have you held any special planning meetings with your outside auditors or tax attorneys to mitigate IFI risk?
  • Have you had meetings with your prime brokers, custodians and administrators to address the information requirements of IFI risk?
  • Have you or do you plan to communicate the potential impact of IFI risk exposures to fund partners and investors?

Survey highlights included:

  • 21% of survey participants were aware of IFI
  • 7% of survey respondents planned to implement specific strategies to address IFI audit risk
  • 6% of survey respondents have received action alerts from CPA’s and tax attorney’s concerning IFI audit risk
  • 26% of survey respondents plan to alert fund investors to potential impact of IFI audit risk

Recommendations

Sum2 believes that survey results indicate extremely low awareness of IFI audit risk. Considering the recent trauma of the credit crisis, sensational fraud events and the devastating impact of last years adverse market conditions; fund managers and industry service providers must remain vigilant to mitigate this emerging risk factor. These market developments and the prevailing political climate surrounding the financial services sector will bring the industry under heightened scrutiny by tax authorities and regulatory agencies. Unregulated hedge funds may be immune from some regulatory issues but added compliance and disclosure discipline may be imposed by significant counter-parties, such as prime brokers and custodians that are regulated institutions.

Market and regulatory developments has clearly raised the tax compliance and regulatory risk factors for hedge funds and other fund managers. Issues concerning FAS 157 security valuation, partnership domiciles and structure, fund liquidation and restructuring and complex transactions has increased the audit risk profile for the industry. 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 (IARP) that prepares fund management CFO’s and industry service tax professionals to ascertain, manage and mitigate its IRS risk exposures within the Three IFI Tiers.

The IARP provides a threat scoring methodology to ascertain risk levels for each IFI risk factor and aggregates overall IFI Tier exposures. The IARP uses a scoring methodology to determine level of preparedness to meet each of the 36 audit risk factors. The IARP helps managers to outline mitigation actions required to address audit risk factors and determine potential exposures of each risk. The IARP calculates expenses associated with mitigation initiatives and assigns mitigation responsibility to staff members or service providers.

The IARP links users to issue specific IRS resources, forms and documentation that will help you determine an IFI risk relevancy and the resources you need to address it. The IARP will prove a valuable resource to help you manage your response to a tax audit. It will also prove itself to be a critical tool to coordinate and align internal and external resources to expeditiously manage and close protracted audit engagements, arbitration or litigation events.

The IARP 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 IARP product is available for down load on Amazon.com.

The product can also be purchased with a PayPal account: Sum2 e-commerce

Sum2 wishes to thank all who anonymously took part in the survey.

If you have any questions or would like to order an IARP please contact Sum2, LLC at 973.287.7535 or by email at customer.service@sum2.com.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | FASB, hedge funds, IRS, legal, off shore, private equity, Profit|Optimizer, regulatory, reputational risk, risk management, Sum2, Tax, taxation | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Black Knight

Sir Allen Stanford

Sir Larceny-A-Lot

Sir Allen Stanford turns out to be no knight in shining armor. He’s just another greedy creep who thought he was entitled to other peoples money.   Sir Allen might just be another garden variety Ponzi Schemer; but compared to Madoff this guy is a piker.   The theft of $8bn is petty larceny compared to Madoff’s massive $50bn swindle.

It is becoming startling clear that we can no longer view these types of events as isolated incidents. Sir Allen may be this weeks poster child for capitalists gone wild; but the shock and awe of audacious financial crime is becoming a consistent lead story on the nightly news.  Public trust in the financial markets is at stake.  If people cannot trust their financial fiduciary the whole system goes down.

The SEC’s reluctance to act on information concerning Madoff irregularities and the announcement that over 500 public firms are being reviewed for possible fraudulent business practices are raising a public outcry for more vigorous oversight and protection.  The swirling rumors of bank insolvencies, nationalizations and news of  their egregious failure to adhere to basic risk management precepts are turning the skeptical taxpayers  into vocal opponents of the TARP program and any future bank bailouts.

The allegations that UBS marketed a tax evasion scheme to attract over 50,000 US clients to their private banking business with the promise that it would shield them from onerous tax liabilities may be the straw that breaks the camels back.   US taxpayers are struggling from the burdensome pain of high taxes they dutifully pay.   They are confused and frightened by the orgy of government spending and how the financial industry bailouts will effect them.  The credit crisis and the stunning losses people incurred in their retirement and investment portfolios is casting widening doubt about the trustworthiness of the banking system.  Citizens are urging their elected representatives that all financial service providers must come under a microscope of  scrutiny and oversight.  Consumers want assurances that all fiduciaries are sound.  Taxpayers are demanding that regulators insist that financial institutions provide a level of transparency to assure consumers that they are in compliance with all regulatory mandates, have a program of risk management controls and offer proof of an ethical corporate governance program.

The US tax payer has made it clear that they can no longer shoulder an egregious tax burden that continues to finance insolvent financial institutions that failed miserably to manage risk or comply with the barest minimum standards of proper corporate governance.

The allegations that surfaced suggesting that Sanford Financial may be linked to money laundering for Latin American drug cartels through The Bank of Antigua and related banking enterprises in Venezuela and Ecuador is sure to usher in a new era of aggressive enforcement initiatives by regulators.   The practice of  selling worthless CDs to retail investors that promised high rates of interest is the tip of the spear in a sophisticated money laundering scheme.  This will create some added urgency for regulators to conduct an in depth reviews of financial institutions AML compliance programs.  Examiners will aggressively pursue fund managers  to determine that Know Your Customer (KYC), Customer Identification Procedures (CIP) and Politically Exposed People  (PEP) programs are meeting acceptable standards to detect and deter money laundering.  Of  particular concern will be hedge fund complexes with incorporated off shore structures.  To be sure, examiners will liberally interpret and claim jurisdictional nexus on all offshore structures linked to US domiciled funds.  The US Treasury coffers are bare and it will look to collect taxes on any revenue sources it deems as taxable.

Financial institutions need to demonstrate to counter parties,  regulators, SROs and most importantly investors; that they have a sound risk management program in place that protects the funds investors against all classes of operational risk.    Sum2 offers an AML audit program fund managers use to maintain compliance standards  that  demonstrate program excellence to regulators and investors.

You can believe the examiners are sharpening their spears.  Looking to bag a kill and make an example of wayward managers with lax compliance controls.  Be ready, be vigilant and be prepared.

You Tube Video: Moody Blues: Nights in White Satin

Risk: money laundering, regulatory, operations, reputation

February 23, 2009 Posted by | AML, hedge funds, Madoff, off shore, operations, regulatory, reputation | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Are Sound Practices?

What are Sound Practices?

Sound practices are a set of standards and controls that mitigate numerous risk factors in the corporate enterprise. Sound practices must address corporate governance, operational and market risk factors, regulatory compliance, corporate citizenship, and stakeholder communications within a set of defined expense ratios.

Corporate Governance

James Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank stated, “Corporate governance is about promoting corporate fairness, transparency and accountability.” Sound practices are a necessary prerequisite for effective and ethical corporate governance. Businesses must accept its precepts and clients and investors must demand compliance, ethical trading principles, honest and timely disclosure, operational integrity and a full commitment to its implementation and adherence. Effective corporate governance practices maintains the faith of investors and provide clear measures of transparency, accountability and performance measurement of business managers and owners.

Financial Health

The implementation of a sound practices program is a powerful value creation tool. A sound practices program provides investors and creditors an enhanced level of confidence that operational risk factors are minimized and other classes of risk are being monitored and controlled. Corporate and transactional transparency and shareholder disclosure is assured. Investor confidence and a more thorough understanding of a corporations strategy and risk characteristics will be the result of a sound practices program.

Investor Communications

The sound practices program advocates the delivery of reports, analysis tools and management compliance statements to investors and corporate stakeholders through accessible media channels. All communications should support a stated level of transparency for investor disclosure. Investors should expect timely disclosure of corporate risk factors and other events pertinent to corporate performance, profitability and potential risk events and factors.

Brand Building, Regulatory Compliance and Best Practices

Sound practices require that regulatory compliance programs be embraced as a brand building exercise. Corporations that approach compliance by implementing best practice solutions will mitigate reputational and regulatory risk, attract high end clientele, and command premium product margins.

February 15, 2009 Posted by | sound practices | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kashi’s Kismet

salmonella

salmonella

Last night as I was researching the Peanut Corporation of America’s (PCA) peanut paste recall, my wife received an urgent telephone call from our local supermarket. The caller informed us that the Kashi products we purchased were subject to recall. I was a bit astonished by the call for several reasons. The first being notified of the unhappy news that a premium brand product that I so enjoy has the potential to kill me or make me very ill due to Salmonella bacteria. It goes without saying that it was a most bracing experience. I was also a bit bemused about the ability of my local supermarket to track me down to inform me that my favorite breakfast cereal might endanger me. At the very least letting me know that this is no breakfast for champions.

Though this is a positive example of how consumer product data mining and customer tracking business intelligence is employed; the realization that your breakfast eating habits are tucked away in some giant relational database remains a bit unnerving. But that is a different subject for another day.

After checking with the Kashi website the cereal products I purchased were not listed on the recall list. Kashi website lists granola bars and cookies as its only products that are subject to recall. As a committed consumer of the brand I remember when I purchased the cereal a free granola bar was included in the package for product promotional purposes. When I returned home I eagerly consumed the free granola bars. I am happy to report that I have not fallen ill. I’ll have to go back to the supermarket and ask if the non contaminated cereal I still have in my cupboard remains subject to the recall. An interesting product bundling dilemma.

The mechanics and execution of the product recall seems to be effective. The sophisticated use of data mining technologies and the ability of the manufacturer to contact a retail consumer through a digital trail that includes customer loyalty cards, credit card, and product bar codes is pretty impressive.

What is of concern about Kashi and other processed food manufacturers that are dependent on an expanded and complex supply chain is their failure to uncover the risk associated with the supplier. In this case PCA. It is alleged that PCA had a leaky roof that played a role in contaminating the peanut paste. A simple walk through of the facility may have uncovered this risk factor. Certainly if a company fails to perform the most basic facilities maintenance functions (like a leaky roof) odds are that the company has other issues and businesses functions that it is not addressing. This is the cockroach theory. Where you see one there are usually many others. A simple walk through may have revealed that all was not kosher at PCA.

Supply chain risk is becoming more prominent as manufacturers and service providers aggregate components and ingredients from numerous providers to deliver a finished product or service to end user consumers. The implementation of a sound practice program that addresses risk associated with supply chains is a key ingredient for a sustainable business enterprise.

The Profit|Optimizer devotes a section to supply chain risk. All process manufacturers must require suppliers to conduct a thorough risk assessment of processes and functions as outlined in the Profit|Optimizer. The Profit|Optimizer also includes a section on facilities risk. The risk assessment tools offered by the Profit|Optimizer would have uncovered the dangerous risk factors at PCA and may have prevented the fatal and costly release of contaminated products.

The kismet of commercial enterprises like Kashi will continue to be bright so long as the mantra of sound risk management is practiced with more vigilance. In doing so the health and well being of its loyal customers will flower as will the value of its product brands and the sustainability of the business.

You Tube Video: Vince Guaraldi, The Peanuts Theme

Risk: reputation, brand, product liability

February 4, 2009 Posted by | manufacturing, product liability, reputation, risk management, supply chain | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Peanut Corporation of America

A salmonella breakout that has been traced to peanut products marketed by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) is an unfortunate and severe example of a company with poor risk management, weak corporate governance controls and questionable ethical business practices. In most instances poor risk management and corporate governance violations primarily victimizes the company that fails to institute them. In the case of the PCA, unsound business practices has unleashed a deadly viral bacteria into a vast consumer market. Since its outbreak in October the salmonella infection is believed to have claimed the lives of 8 people and has sickened over 500. PCA violations will also cast a long shadow on the vibrant US peanut growers and processing industry.

A brief examination of some of the public disclosures that have come to light concerning the PCA speaks of a telling breakdown in sound risk management practices. These disclosures also hints at potential instances of fraud to cover up lax controls and compliance violations cited by FDA and State of Georgia food safety examiners.

The PCA had been cited for violations and lax operational controls during past inspections by regulatory agencies. Inspectors found evidence of roach infestation and mold in the production and storage facilities. Inspections also revealed that product quality had been compromised due to a degraded manufacturing process and improper maintenance of the operating facility. After bringing this to the attention of company management PCA executives sought out food testing companies that would provide results to indicate that product quality met federal safety standards and were safe to ship.

Utilizing industry standard risk analysis tools like the Profit|Optimizer would have revealed several breaches in sound risk management practices at PCA. Lax operational controls, poor facilities and the evasion of corporate governance practices will likely put PCA out of business due to the damage its actions have done to company product brands and reputation.

Problems and risks associated with process manufacturers like PCA add layers of complexity to determine product risk due to its role as a supplier in an intricate and expanded supply chain for processed consumer food products. The melamine contamination of Chinese milk products and the mortgage backed securities market crisis provide examples of how product liability and consumer risk is leveraged due supply chain complexity. The pervasiveness of products that use the peanut paste manufactured by PCA is very similar in many respects. Cookies, ice cream, crackers and other products are subject to recall. Some of the companies affected by PCA’s contaminated products include premium consumer product and brand marketing companies like Kellogg, General Mills, Jenny Craig, Nuti-System and Trader Joes.

Severe product liability events like this unfortunately also cast aspersions on an entire industry. Associations like the American Peanut Council are most concerned that the poor manufacturing practices and product quality standards exhibited by PCA will reflect on how consumers view the industry as a whole. It is a valid concern for the industry association and it must demonstrate to the regulators and consumers that its membership is committed to sound manufacturing practices, product quality and corporate governance excellence. This is not a PR problem. Nor is it a problem born from an industries anathema to regulatory control or a problem unleashed by some renegade industry member. Industries and their representative associations must also help address sound risk management and corporate governance excellence as a cultural issue that is endemic to its membership. Then industry excellence becomes synonymous with product quality and consumer satisfaction.

In all the FDA uncovered 10 violations and has published its report and carries a full listing of recalled products and other resources on the FDA website.

You Tube Video: Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band, Salt Peanuts

Risk: product, operations, regulatory, reputation

January 29, 2009 Posted by | associations, manufacturing, operations, Peanut Corporation of America, product liability, regulatory, reputation, risk management, supply chain | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Credit Redi Blog

Credit Redi is a company sponsored blog of Sum2. The purpose of Credit Redi is to help small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) protect and improve their ability to access credit and equity financing from banks , shareholders and other funding sources.

Sum2 is dedicated to the commercial application of sound practices. Our sound practices program and products address:

  • corporate governance
  • risk management
  • stakeholder communications
  • regulatory compliance

Sum2 believes that all enterprises enhance their equity value by implementing a sound practice program. Sound practices are principal value drivers for corporate and product brands. Practitioners are awarded with healthy profit margins, attraction of high end clientele, enterprise risk mitigation and premium equity valuation.

Sum2 looks forward to helping you address the pressing challenges of the current business cycle.

You Tube Video: Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Work Song

Risk: abundance

January 28, 2009 Posted by | banking, credit, risk management, SME, Sum2 | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SRZ’s Maginot Line

maginot_line_19441Schulte Roth Zabel’s (SRZ) Annual Private Investment Funds Seminar is the kick off event of the year for the AIM industry. In years past it was an event that was full of bravado from an industry flush with great expectations and giddiness over compensation levels that rivaled a small country’s GDP. This years event had more circumspection then bluster and more reflection on how to fashion a considered response to industry challenges squarely in the vortex of the market meltdown.

The shocking transformation and radical reconfiguration of the capital markets industry is underway. In the wake of the Lehman bankruptcy, Bear Stearns merger, market crashes, credit crisis, bank insolvency, recession and lastly the coup de grace of the Madoff scandal put these intrepid wealth managers through a trying year.

Myriad challenges and crises tested many firms management acumen and forced managers to work extra hard to earn that 2 and 20.  With hedge fund closure rates expected to approximate 25%-45% this year, the industry is confronted with enormous challenges. The excess capacity in the industry, heightened regulatory oversight, liquidity constraints and elevated client risk aversion will foster market compression and a dramatic alteration in market dynamics. The well managed, well positioned, well focused and well capitalized funds will thrive on the volatility. Uncertainty is always the mother of invention and the best and brightest of the breed will no doubt find numerous opportunities amidst the massive market dislocations currently underway.

SRZ a leading legal firm servicing the industry effectively laid out an industry battle plan to address many of these acute challenges. In the Crisis Management breakout session the panel offered an interesting metaphor of a hedge fund as an intricate and complex ecosystem. The topology of a fund complex is comprised of many parts that at times may have contradictory and competing interests.

The Crisis Management session conducted a quarterly review of market events that occurred in 2008 as the capital markets deteriorated and the credit crisis deepened. The panels review was an instructive exercise on how managers need to constructively engage problems with an intentional risk management program and how it affects each stakeholder in the hedge fund ecosystem. The principle objective was determining the best course of action to either save the fund or effect an orderly liquidation of the investment partnership. In all instances the strategy needed to consider how to serve the greatest good for all fund stakeholders. SRZ offered attendees a brilliant crisis management game plan for fund managers. It was one of the better presentations on risk management that I have ever attended.

The general session was also very interesting and engaging. The central theme was that hedge funds are under extreme liquidity pressure. The drivers are distressed portfolio valuations, counter-party deleveraging, risk aversion in the markets, market liquidity and increased redemption pressures from investors. SRZ has developed a series of innovative redemption strategies it calls gates. The gates are designed to protect the level of assets under management by controlling an orderly outflow of capital so as not to endanger the overall liquidity and asset level of the fund. SRZ again shows why it is the leading player in the space by offering innovative solutions to industry needs. A great example of a market leader demonstrating leadership by offering innovative product development solutions.

The overall tenor of the conference reminded me of the construction of the Maginot Line. In years past investors were eagerly throwing money at hedge fund mangers to get a slice of the alpha pie. Today hedge fund managers need to build sophisticated battlements to keep the assets of the investment partnership under their control. In a sense the industry as moved from an offensive posture to a defensive one. SRZ is assisting its hedge fund clients to create a defensible business structure that will protect the long term sustainability of the fund and ultimately serve the greatest good of the funds partners and stakeholders.

During these times of extreme market duress tactics and strategies must be employed to protect the fund from excessive redemption runs that would ultimately serve to create a self fulfilling prophesy of liquidation.

Clients who have access to a war council of professionals like SRZ should be well suited to engage the battles they will encounter in the coming year and survive to enjoy the peace and spoils won during the next business cycle.

You Tube Video: Edith Piaf, Mon Legionnaire

Risk: market, credit, legal, reputation

January 15, 2009 Posted by | hedge funds, legal, Madoff, risk management | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment