The SEC instituted proceedings against a private fund manager and its principals for inflating the valuation of illiquid assets and conflicts of interest. The SEC charges that the defendants marketed a fund with the term “income” in its name even though the fund held only illiquid assets including a private company and interests in gems and minerals. The SEC also asserts that the defendants inflated the values of the fund’s assets in order to pay their management fees while telling investors that the fund lacked liquidity to meet redemption requests. The SEC claims that the defendants illegally paid themselves more than $13 Million in management fees. The SEC also asserts that the principals engaged in self-dealing insider loan transactions and invested client money in their affiliated funds.
Fund sponsors claiming limited liquidity or redemption gates make want to re-consider how and when to pay management fees especially based on assets that are not publicly traded. Also, private fund sponsors should review fund names and offering documents to make sure they remain accurate over time.
The SEC has voted to delay the classification requirement of the open-end fund liquidity risk management rule until June 1, 2019 for large funds (over $1 Billion) and December 1, 2019 for smaller funds. The other requirements of the rule – implementing a risk management program, limiting illiquid investments to 15% of the portfolio – will still go into effect on December 1, 2018 for large funds and June 1, 2019 for smaller funds. The SEC also released a series of FAQs that provide additional guidance about how to effect the classification requirements.
OUR TAKE: The bad news is that the Clayton SEC will not rescind the liquidity risk management rule. The good news is that the SEC will provide more time and flexibility to implement its more complicated requirements.
The staff of the SEC’s Division of Investment Management has released FAQs for the new Liquidity Risk Management Rule for open-end funds and ETFs (Rule 22e-4). Most significantly, the staff will allow funds to delegate liquidity program responsibilities to a sub-adviser either in whole or in part “subject to appropriate oversight” including relevant policies and procedures. The staff also clarifies that the same investment may carry different liquidity classifications by different advisers or funds, provided the liquidity program properly supports the classification. The FAQs address several technical issues for in-kind ETFs.
OUR TAKE: Many industry participants acknowledged the broad policy goals of the liquidity rule but questioned the rule’s practical implementation. The FAQs help that process by addressing some of the outstanding questions.
The SEC has commenced civil enforcement proceedings against a hedge fund sponsor and its principals for failing to notify investors of its liquidity crisis and using improper transactions to pay redeeming investors. The Department of Justice has brought parallel criminal charges. According to the SEC, the respondents reported positive returns that averaged 17% per annum from 2003-2015. Additionally, the respondents assured investors that they would pay all redemptions within 90 days. The SEC alleges the firm inflated valuation of investments including 2 oil production companies, looted certain portfolio companies to pay redemptions, unlawfully transferred assets, and lied to auditors. As redemptions accelerated and the liquidity crisis grew, the SEC asserts that the respondents misled current and prospective investors about the funds’ valuation, liquidity and prospects. Ultimately, the funds ceased redemptions by placing most assets in an illiquid side pocket.
OUR TAKE: Compliance officers and due diligence professionals should review this complaint as a primer on private fund management misconduct. Red flags included consistent high performance, subjective valuations, conflicted transactions, and misrepresentations to auditors.