News > Financial Services

What happens when public pension funds go activist?
Asset Management
<p>As activist investing continues to spread in popularity, we've begun seeing studies that attempt to gauge whether activism actually creates value for shareholders or not. Public pension funds are starting to get in on the action, now becoming a formidable force in the activist arena as Proxy Monitor found that this year nearly one-fifth of all the shareholder proposals brought to Fortune 250 companies were sponsored by them.</p> <p>Now there's a new study that looks at whether public pension fund activism makes a difference or not. As it turns out, their activism and even ownership to some degree is correlated with lower stock returns.<br /> Stock returns fall when public pension funds go activist<br /> University of Tennessee Professor Tracie Woidtke analyzed the stock returns of companies that became the activist targets of public pension funds between 2006 and 2014. The Manhattan Institute's Proxy Monitor published her report on the topic as a companion to the regular Proxy Monitor report, and interestingly, she found a correlation between shareholder proposal activism by public pension funds and lower stock returns.</p> <p>She examined Fortune 250 companies that were targeted by shareholder proposals from five of the biggest state and municipal pension funds and learned that, on average, the companies' stocks underperformed the S&amp;P 500 Index by 0.9% in the year after the vote on the proposals. Just five big state or municipal pension funds dominate shareholder proposals:</p> <p>Also the number of proposals introduced by those five funds has climbed steadily over the last few years:</p> <p>The public pension fund's activist involvement that had the biggest negative impact on stock prices was CalPERS. The Manhattan Institute warned that the sample sizes for CalPERS, CalSTRS and the Florida fund were probably too small. However, they did have a big enough sample for the the New York State Common Retirement Fund, which also had a huge negative impact on share prices. Woidtke found that companies targeted by that fund saw their stock prices decline by 7.3% compared to the broader market.</p> <p>Proposals on social issues not supported<br /> Perhaps the main reason the New York State Common Retirement Fund's activist campaigns had such a huge negative impact on its targeted impact is because it began to aggressively push out proposals on social issues like political spending starting in 2010. As you can see from the graph, political spending or lobbying made up the lion's share of the fund's proposals over the last decade:</p> <p>There's a marked difference in the strategy employed by the State fund and that used by New York City pension funds, which is more balanced:</p>
Wild ride for leveraged biotech ETFs continues
Asset Management
<p>A week after presidential candidate Hillary Clinton made scathing comments about price gouging by the pharmaceuticals industry, biotechnology stocks and exchange-traded funds remain at the epicenter of what has rapidly become a precariously positioned healthcare sector.</p> <p>However, some bearish leveraged biotech ETFs, namely the Direxion Daily S&amp;P Biotech Bear 3X Shares (NYSE: LABD), are enjoying life in the fast lane.<br /> LABD's Recent Run<br /> After surging more than 30 percent, LABD is up another 15.7 percent at this writing Monday on volume that is already more than double the daily average.</p> <p>LABD underscores how quickly things can change for triple-leveraged ETFs and why the disclaimer that only active traders planning to hold these funds for just a few days should use these products, not buy-and-hold investors, is so often repeated.</p> <p>Read more at Benzinga. <br /> Photo: United States Mission Geneva</p>
Video: Carl Icahn - cabana boy from Brooklyn dishes on the next market meltdown
Hedge Funds
<p>With all the bearishness currently embedded in the markets, I thought it was best to revisit Carl Icahn's Wall Street Week interview from May. Aside from talking about his background, he lays out all his worries about the market, from earnings to high yield bonds, adding that he was "very hedged" back then. Check it out.</p>
Silicon Valley's week of schmoozing with Asian leaders
Venture Capital
<p>Last week we saw a who's who of Silicon Valley rub shoulders with two of Asia's biggest leaders: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Here we summarize the two visits and how they reflect on Silicon Valley's evolving ties with Asia.</p> <p>China </p> <p>Xi decided to  kick off his trip to the US last week by meeting with 28 top tech executives. Among them was Apple's Tim Cook, Facebook's Mark Zuckerburg, Microsoft's Satya Nadella, and Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos.</p> <p>The meeting - which actually took place in Seattle - was awkward at best. CEOs hoping to talk with the Chinese leader on such pressing issues as cyber attacks and the theft of intellectual property by Chinese companies instead got a brief address and a photo op.</p> <p>There were some brief moments of light relief: Zuckerberg's exchange with Xi in Mandarin, and the Xi's frequent - if somewhat cheesy- references to US popular culture.</p> <p>The most significant development were a series of proposed tech alliances. Among them was an agreement by search engine  Baidu to promote Window 10 to its users if Microsoft made Baidu the default search engine for operating system's China release.</p> <p>Also ride-hailing app Didi Kuaidi -  which recently backed US counterpart Lyft - agreed to a tie-up with social network LinkedIn to develop artificial intelligence solutions.</p> <p>India</p> <p>Unlike his Chinese counterpart, the Indian prime minister went to meet with US tech leaders in their home turf for a two-day tour where he had a much warmer reception.</p> <p>The highlight was Modi's teary one-on-one chat with Zuckerberg at Facebook's campus. Modi, who is one of the world's most popular political leaders on social media, spoke of his commitment to his "Digital India" agenda, which Zuckerberg also pledged to support.</p> <p>He then went on to Google's headquarters where he met with the firm's India-born CEO Sundar Pichai. The visit coincided with Google's announcement that it would bring wireless to 500 Indian railway stations.</p> <p>But perhaps the biggest score following Modi's trip was Qualcomm Ventures - the investment arm of the US chipmaker - revealing its $150 million India-focused venture capital fund for startups in the mobile and internet-of-everything (IoE) ecosystem.</p>
Video: Activist investing is 'changing drastically'
Hedge Funds
<p>Activist investing is changing quickly, says Donald Drapkin Chairman, Founder and Co-Chief Investment Officer at Casablanca Capital, on Wall Street Week. "These guys are ratcheting up who they're going after," and bigger investors are taking a more activist approach, he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>
ETF Outlook: more biotech blunders or a biotech bounce?
Asset Management
<p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Stocks' September shenanigans continued last week as the S&amp;P 500 lost more than one percent and although the Dow Jones Industrial Average notched a triple-digit gain last Friday, a problem is surfacing: Increasingly bearish action in the biotechnology space.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not a stretch to say that in the week ahead, this is an issue that traders of and investors in exchange traded funds will be heavily focusing on. That much is confirmed when noting the iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (NASDAQ: IBB), the largest biotech ETF, slumped 13 percent last week and will enter Monday at its lowest levels in a month. With last week's tumble, IBB now resides nearly 11 percent below its 200-day moving average.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As an equal-weight ETF, the SPDR S&amp;P Biotech ETF (NYSE: XBI) has heavier exposure to smaller biotechs than does the rival IBB. So it is not surprising that XBI was worse for the wear last week, sliding 15 percent.</p> <p>Read more at Benzinga. <br /> Photo: 401(K) 2012 </p>
The very best of… Dan Loeb’s letters to CEOs
Hedge Funds
<p>It’s been awhile since we’ve seen Dan Loeb’s poison pen put to good use so, here are the nastiest, the most scathing, and above all, the most hilarious letters of his from back in the day – just in case you forgot why the New Yorker called him the “angry investor” back in 2005.</p> <p>Enjoy.</p> <p>Letter to InterCept Inc., 2004<br /> “Do not confuse our $22 million stake as a vote of confidence in the Company’s senior management or its Board of Directors. On the contrary, it is our view that your record in management, acquisitions and corporate governance is among the worst that we have witnessed in our investment career… “</p> <p>“…The Company’s proxy statement provides us with our first indication that a “good ol’ boy” (“GOB”) set of ethics prevails at the Company rather than standards dictated by fairness and good judgment. First, the Company employs the C.E.O.’s daughter, Denise, and her husband David Saylor, who received total compensation of $238,776 in 2003. I called Mr. Saylor last Friday at 4:00 p.m. at the Company’s offices to learn more about the core product that he presumably sells. He had his calls forwarded to his cell phone since it was still business hours. I identified myself as a shareholder interested in learning about the core product lines to which he replied that he could not speak as he was “on the golf course.” I was not sure whether it was his relation with his father-in-law or the $238,776 salary that affords him the opportunity to work on his golf game during business hours.”<br /> Letter to Ligand Pharmaceuticals, 2005<br /> “When one analyst was queried about the reputation of the senior executives at the Company, he said that you [Ligand C.E.O. David Robinson] are “the worst CEO in biotech”, and another analyst we spoke with attributed the significant valuation disparity between the current stock price and the much higher intrinsic value of the Company to the “David Robinson Discount”. I must wonder how in this day and age the Company’s Board of Directors has not held you and [Ligand C.F.O.] Paul Maier responsible for your respective failures and shown you both the door long ago—accompanied by a well worn boot planted in the backside.”<br /> Letter to Star Gas Partners, 2005<br /> “Sadly, your ineptitude is not limited to your failure to communicate with bond and unit holders. A review of your record reveals years of value destruction and strategic blunders which have led us to dub you one of the most dangerous and incompetent executives in America. (I was amused to learn, in the course of our investigation, that at Cornell University there is an “[Star Gas C.E.O.] Irik Sevin Scholarship.” One can only pity the poor student who suffers the indignity of attaching your name to his academic record.)”</p> <p>“…how is it possible that you selected your elderly 78-year old mom to serve on the Company’s Board of Directors and as a full-time employee providing employee and unitholder services? We further wonder under what theory of corporate governance does one’s mom sit on a Company board. Should you be found derelict in the performance of your executive duties, as we believe is the case, we do not believe your mom is the right person to fire you from your job…. We insist that your mom resign immediately from the Company’s board of directors.”“<br /> Letter to Potlach, 2003<br /> “Since you ascended to your current role of Chief Value Destroyer (“C.V.D.”) when you assumed the formal title of C.E.O. in 1999, the shares have dropped over 45%, a destruction of shareholder value in excess of $520 million. This negative sum does not include the declin</p>
Didi Kuaidi snaps up stake in Ola
Venture Capital
<p>This week in unicorns, Chinese decacorn Didi Kuaidi and its backers have turned their fight against Uber all the way up to 11.</p> <p>According to TechCrunch, China’s largest ride sharing firm taken part in funding round worth about $500 million for India’s dominant ride-hailing app, Ola.</p> <p>How much the Beijing-based company invested in Ola is still unknown, what we’re sure of though is that the round valued the Bangalore-based firm at $5 billion, making it one the largest ride-app companies currently going.</p> <p>This is the latest salvo in a war being waged against Uber being waged by a global consortium that also includes the likes SoftBank, Alibaba and Singapore fund Temasek. As the raging quinquagintacorn continues to scale up, the coalition has been backing Uber's competitors in all its key markets – including Uber’s home turf.</p> <p>Didi inked a deal with US-based Lyft this month that will allow the two companies to shares riders across the world, and just to be sure, it invested $100 million in the firm as well. It also injected an unspecified amount of cash in Southeast Asia’s GrabTaxi, an investment that will surely cement Didi’s place in the region’s burgeoning car service arena.</p> <p>How Uber will respond to this is anyone’s guess, but given Didi’s great choice of investments, CEO Travis Kalanick is no doubt having some sleepless nights.<br /> Photo: Abhijit Patil</p>
Boaz Weinstein sued by Canadian pension fund
Hedge Funds
<p>Boaz Weinstein, the derivatives wunderkind known for such hits as making partner at Deutsche Bank at 27, losing $1.8 billion shortly after, and harpooning the London Whale, is currently accused of cheating one his largest investors.</p> <p>According to the WSJ, the Canadian Public Sector Pension Investment Board – which asked Weinstein’s Saba Capital for its money back – is suing the hedge fund for allegedly marking down “the value of its portfolio right before paying out the redemption request, and then marked the value back up shortly after the money was cashed out.”</p> <p>The lawsuit is massive blow for Saba. After reaching $5 billion in assets post-London Whale, the fund saw its assets shrink to $1.6 billion over the next few years – $500 million of which, belongs to the pension fund.</p> <p>For his part, Weinstein said that the whole thing is “utter nonsense,” adding that the accusations were “completely false,” and that he takes these allegations “very seriously.”</p> <p>With people itching to nail another hedge fund, this should be interesting to watch unfold. Stay tuned.<br /> Photo: StockMonkeys.com</p>
Harvard sees market froth, looks to non-correlated strategies
Asset Management
<p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Harvard University seeks strong noncorrelated investing talent as Stephen Blyth, the university endowment’s statistically minded chief executive, looks at the market environment and sees "froth." When making evaluations, perhaps the Harvard Management Company executive might want to consider statistically valid alternative investment criteria to diversify a portfolio to defend against a steep market decline.</p> <p>Harvard Endowment: With Private Equity and IPO valuations high, market appears frothy<br /> The problem, as Blyth sees it, is the market has become “frothy,” a sometimes imprecise description for a market environment that generally speaks to a high level of both market optimism and stock valuations. To make this determination the manager of the world’s largest university endowment at $37.6 billion looks to soaring private equity valuations and then a unique variable that has a limited data set.</p> <p>With IPO valuations in excess of $1 billion dotting the landscape for the first time, this is a breakout pattern that logically correlates to the loose “market froth” definition. But the $1 billion mark being the first test it is difficult to statistically determine that that exact level is the trigger point. However, a relative value analysis with 2001 might be interpretatively instructive when validating the concept.<br /> Harvard Endowment beats benchmarks but is concerned about market environment<br /> After returning 5.8 percent in the year ending June 30, getting hit by half a year of sluggish equity price appreciation and underperforming Hedge Funds who delivered just 0.1 percent, Blyth wants to reinvigorate a stale equity-based portfolio. This might be particularly the case as the Yale University endowment grew by 11.5 percent over the year ending June 30th. While both endowments beat the S&amp;P 500 during the period, which was up just 4.55 percent, and Blyth beat his returns target of five percent above inflation, the focus isn’t so much on competition with other endowments but understanding the market environmental challenges that could be on the horizon.</p> <p>"We are being particularly discriminating about underwriting and return assumptions given current valuations,” Blyth wrote in the report, an issue he might want to visit before the Fed starts raising rates and a government shutdown is placed in the hands of new leadership in the House.<br /> Blyth in process of overhauling investment approach, looks for long / short talent<br /> Blyth is in the process of overhauling Harvard’s approach to investing, eschewing traditional approaches for an alternative that performs well during both periods of equity market strength and weakness. In other words, the British-born fund manager has an eye for noncorrelated investing talent. "In addition, we have renewed focus on identifying public equity managers with demonstrable investment expertise on both the long and short sides of the market," he said.</p> <p>In taking this journey into noncorrelated investing, Blyth might consider some alternative benchmarks for performance evaluation, some of which are not available in textbooks, others which h</p>