Saturday, 30 August 2014

Three articles

Three interesting, but not very positive articles, for the full text please click on the links.

Pump and Dump: How to Rig the Entire IPO Market with just $20 Million

How much does it cost to manipulate an entire market? Not much. And it’s getting cheaper!

It was leaked on Tuesday by “people with knowledge of that matter,” according to the Wall Street Journal, that VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers had decided in May to plow up to $20 million into message-app maker Snapchat, for a tiny portion of ownership. An undisclosed investor also committed some funds. The deal, which apparently hasn’t closed yet, would give Snapchat a valuation of $10 billion.

By strategically deploying less than $30 million, KPCB, and DST Global before it, have ratcheted up Snapchat’s valuation from $2 billion to $10 billion. With the stroke of a pen, in a deal negotiated behind closed doors, they have created an additional $8 billion in “wealth” that is now percolating through the minds of employees with stock options and through the books of the early investment funds.

Inflating Snapchat’s valuation by $8 billion with a few million dollars rigs the entire IPO market that depends on buzz and hype and folly to rationalize these blue-sky valuations. Unnamed people “knowledgeable in the matter” who leak these valuations to the Wall Street Journal are an integral part of the hype machine: It balloons the valuations of other startups. And it creates that “healthy” IPO market where money doesn’t matter, where revenues and profits are replaced by custom-fabricated metrics.

The Lawsuit That Could Legalize Pay-To-Play For Pension Fund Investments

Here’s a scenario to chew on:

An investment firm makes a campaign contribution to a city mayor. Later, the mayor appoints members to the city’s pension board. The pension board decides to hire the aforementioned investment firm to handle the pension fund’s investments.

Does something seem fishy about that situation?

The SEC says yes, and they have rules in place to prevent those “pay-to-play” scenarios.

But a recent lawsuit says no: investment managers should be able to donate money to whichever politicians they choose, even if those donations could present a conflict of interest down the line.

Detecting fraud a risk in China

It can be very risky to do things in China that are taken for granted in other countries.
Kun Huang, a Chinese-born Canadian citizen, is back in Vancouver after spending two years in a Chinese jail. His crime was contributing to research that led his employer to recommend short sales of Silvercorp Metals, a silver producer that is based in Canada but does its mining in China.

Mr Huang, now 37, returned to his native China in 2006 after graduating from the University of British Columbia with a degree in commerce. His parents immigrated to Vancouver in 1997, when he was 20 years old, and he became a Canadian citizen in 2002.

His job was to research Chinese companies, which were beginning to list on stock markets in the United States and Canada. He had been hired by Eos, a hedge fund run by Jon Carnes, a Canadian money manager, to “go through all the financial records in Chinese, talk to management and customers and suppliers,” he said in an interview.

At first, Eos looked for good stocks to buy, but Mr Carnes eventually gained a reputation for spotting Chinese frauds, which he publicised online under the name Alfred Little.

Mr Huang had worked on some of those reports but had no run-ins with the Chinese authorities until 2011. In June of that year, he was asked to look into Silvercorp. He said he found that some Silvercorp reports to the Chinese government showed its mines were not doing as well as they were in reports that the company issued in Canada.

He sent associates to the Ying Mine, Silvercorp’s largest operation, in Henan Province, about 500 miles southwest of Beijing. They filmed trucks leaving the mine with ore and picked up samples of the ore that fell off trucks.

In September, an Arthur Little report questioned whether Silvercorp had exaggerated the mine’s production. It said the samples it had picked up had substantially less silver in each ton of rock than the company claimed and that the volume of truck traffic was too light to account for all the ore Silvercorp said it had mined.

The company responded indignantly and demanded investigations into those who had attacked it.

Mr Huang was arrested on December 28 when he tried to fly to Hong Kong from Beijing. A police officer from Luoyang, the city closest to the mine, warned him that if he did not cooperate he could spend four or five years in jail. The officers questioning him took frequent calls – Mr Huang says he believes they were from Silvercorp officials – and then demanded such information as “the password to the Eos mail server”.

Within a few days, Mr Huang was released on bail, prohibited from leaving China. But that status ended abruptly in July 2012 after a column I [Floyd Norris] wrote for The New York Times appeared, quoting Mr Carnes as saying the Luoyang police “arrested, terrorised and forbid my researchers from communicating with me or performing any further research on Chinese companies”.

Mr Huang was rearrested, he told me, with police officers making clear that action was “directly in retaliation” for the column. He spent the next two years in the Luoyang detention centre, in a 300-square-foot cell that held as many as 34 other prisoners, according to a lawsuit Mr Huang filed this month against Silvercorp in Vancouver.

The previous articles about Silvercorp in The New York Times can be found here and here. A website by supporters of Mr Huang can be found here.

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