As the jury debates the case against disgraced Theranos blood testing company founder Elizabeth Holmes who has been charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud many are wondering why the jury still can’t decide whether she is a fraudster who intentionally misled investors or an ambitious startup executive who merely stretched the truth believing her dubious statements about the company would eventually become true.
Fraud is complicated and far more commonplace in business dealings than you might imagine. Further, the more complicated the fraud, the less likely the perpetrator will be successfully prosecuted. As I explain in my recent book, How To Steal A Lot of Money—Legally, a plausible argument can be made for any far-fetched investment by the right velvet-throated huckster.
Would-be scammers often follow what I call the Non-KISS principle. You probably have heard of the KISS principle which is an acronym for “keep it simple stupid,” a design imperative supposedly originated by the US Navy in 1960. The KISS principle states that simplicity should be a key goal in design, and unnecessary complexity should be avoided. In scamming, the non-KISS approach involves devising intentionally overly-complex schemes—schemes which can even be painstakingly disclosed in marketing materials—but which neither investors nor regulators/law enforcement (or juries) will be able to understand. More on disclosure later.
So, how commonplace is fraud?
While forensic and fraud accounting experts estimate that the cost of fraud globally amounts to trillions annually, the true figure is exponentially greater. The overwhelming majority of investment scamming is not included in global estimates because fraud experts with accounting backgrounds are not trained to identify the myriad forms of scamming and aren’t looking for it.
For example, the forms of harm to investors I focus upon in my forensic investigations are not generally factored in the overall damage calculations by accountants focused upon numbers alone.
My estimate—based upon decades of experience—is that well over half of all investing involves scamming of one sort or another.
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Lying, cheating and stealing are so commonplace in life generally, and in the world of investing especially, that they are not the exceptions. Scamming mercilessly overwhelms any so-called rules and devours those who play by them. So, learning “rules” without learning the even greater larcenous “exceptions” makes no sense—it’s reckless. Schools and professors who teach the “rules” alone are negligent, in my opinion and put students, at a minimum, at a competitive disadvantage, or, worse still, in harm’s way.
In How To Steal A Lot of Money—Legally, I observe that would-be scammers can easily disclose all important or what regulators call “material” information to investors. Disclosures can be negative or positive in nature but generally the more the scammer discloses the negatives, the less likely he’ll be sued when the investment fails to perform well.
Fortunately for scammers, disclosure statements are always written by lawyers to protect the sellers of the bogus products and are intentionally worded to be incomprehensible to the average reader. Lawyers use “boilerplate” clauses that are verbose and written in awkward legalese. Disclosures are often printed in small type (aka “micro-print”) because they are so lengthy, which makes it all-the-more likely they will never be read by the investor. In short, industry-wide practices and disclosures are so reprehensible that candid awful disclosures by scammers—hucksters focused exclusively upon abusing clients—can be indistinguishable from industry norms.
Just say and do what the big Wall Street firms say and do. Do not hesitate to disclose what a dirty rotten scoundrel you are. No alarms will go off in investors’ minds.
In short, there never is any excuse for a scammer to conceal any potential bad behavior from victims.
Why would he? There is no such thing as disclosure so bad that it will kill a sale.
So, if you’re a scammer, disclose your very worst behavior and be confident that no one will read, comprehend, or be deterred from giving you their money—as long as you choose your words carefully.
Finally, as I have observed witnessing thousands of corporate pension failures, there has never been a pension that failed that didn’t have a roomful of hired experts opining that it wouldn’t. So, would-be scammers who surround themselves with handsomely paid experts—consultants, accountants, and lawyers—who dutifully opine all is kosher, will likely end up in Vail, not jail.
Teacher, Police And Firefighter Pensions Are Being Secretly Looted By Wall Street
America’s severely underfunded public pensions are allocating ever-greater assets to the highest cost, highest risk, most secretive investments ever devised by Wall Street, such private equity, hedge funds, real estate, and commodities—all in a desperate search for higher net returns that, not surprisingly (given the outlandish fees and risks), fail to materialize. Transparency—public scrutiny and accountability—has been abandoned, as pensions agree to Wall Street secrecy schemes that eviscerate public records laws.
Our nation’s state and federal securities laws are premised upon full disclosure of all material risks and fees to investors: “Read the prospectus before you invest,” is the oft-cited warning by securities regulators. Nevertheless, teachers, police, firefighters and other government workers today are not allowed to see how their retirement savings are managed or, more likely, mismanaged by Wall Street.
For nearly a decade, the United States Securities and Exchange Commision has warned investors that malfeasance and bogus fees are commonplace in so-called “alternative” investments and, more recently, Chairman Gary Gensler has called for greater transparency to increase competition and lower fees.
Gensler has asked the agency’s staff to consider recommendations on ways to bring greater transparency to fee arrangements in private markets. “More competition and transparency could potentially bring greater efficiencies to this important part of the capital markets,” he said. “This could help lower the cost of capital for businesses raising money. This could raise the returns for the pensions and endowments behind the limited partner investors. This ultimately could help workers preparing for retirement and families paying for their college educations.”
Gensler has stated he would like to see a reduction in the fees these investments charge and has also commented on industry abuses such as ”side letters” which permit private funds to secretly give preferences to certain investors—preferences which harm public pensions.
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But that’s not good enough to protect public pension stakeholders.
No one—including the pensions themselves—seems to care that the government workers whose retirement security is at risk are being kept in the dark.
The SEC needs to do more—actually alert public pensioners as to those abuses the Commission knows full well are rampant, at a minumum. Advise them, Chairman Gensler, to demand to see and read prospectuses and other offering documents related to their hard-earned savings.
Does the SEC think it’s kosher for Wall Street to conspire with public pension officials to withhold this information from investors—any investors?
Since my 2013 forensic investigation of the Rhode Island state pension exposing gross mismanagement by then General Treasurer Gina Raimondo which I accurately predicted would cost workers dearly; my 2014 North Carolina state pension investigation exposing that $30 billion in assets had been moved into secretive, offshore accounts and, most recently, my investigation of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, I have provided my expert findings to the SEC staff for their review. Each and every public pension forensic investigation I have undertaken has extensively discussed Wall Street secrecy schemes that enable looting. In my book, How To Steal A Lot Money—Legally, I quote disclosures from SEC filings that detail industry abuses.
Join me, Chairman Gensler, in giving government workers a clue, a glimpse, a peek, at the alternative investment abusive industry practices that are carefully guarded by Wall Street and being hidden from them.
Teachers, police and firefighters deserve a fighting chance to protect their retirement savings.
It Is Time To Buy Bonds
US 10-year note prices are likely to rise through August. The monthly histogram below shows that July and August have been the two strongest months for the note price.
Monthly Return- US 10-Year Notes
Blue: Average Percentage Change
Red: Probability of a rise on that day
Green: Expected Return (Product of the first 2)
These numbers are static in the sense that they change little over the years. This is only one cycle, the one-year cycle, whereas there are many cycles operative at any one time. In order to get a reading on such other rhythms, a scan is run to identify other profitable price cycles. The graph below reveals the most valuable cycles that are operative at any one time.
10-Year Note Monthly Cycle
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These cycles reinforce the seasonal tendency for notes to rise. Prices have risen in 60% to 65% of the time in these summer months. With the dynamic cycle also in ascent, the probabilities rise to about 65% to over 70%. There are similar and supportive developments in the Japanese and German fixed income markets.
The cycle projection must be confirmed by market activity. The daily graph reveals that price broke through a downtrend line.
10-Year Notes Broke Through Resistance
Here is a helpful sentiment indicator that supports the bullish view. The cover page of this week’s Barron’s points to much higher rates. Applying contrary opinion, this suggests lower rates and higher note and bond prices. The first objective is 123.0.
Will There Be War Over Taiwan – The Next Spy Thriller
I usually go through a rhythm of reading one or two serious books, followed by a few works of fiction and with summer on the way I wanted to highlight a few of both. In that regard I have just finished Laurence Durrell’s ‘White Eagles in Serbia’, an old-fashioned espionage thriller where the hero Colonel Methuen is dropped behind enemy lines in post war Serbia (he speaks excellent Serbo-Croat) and becomes embroiled in a violent plot to overthrow Tito.
The book is a warm-up to reading Durrell’s ‘The Alexandria Quartet’, a work that nearly won him the Nobel Prize. Durrell was part of an interesting Anglo-Irish family, who largely considered themselves Indian – his brother Gerald, the naturalist and writer, touches on this in ‘My Family and Other Animals’.
Though I am not an expert on these matters, I found ‘White Eagles’ a more realistic account of espionage than much of what we see in the media today (Mick Herron’s ‘Slow Horses’ is good), and overall it is a tale of derring-do that is more in keeping with the work of the founding fathers of the genre – Eric Ambler, John Buchan, Erskine Childers and Ted Allebury for example.
It also made opportune reading given what seems to be an epidemic of espionage – with reports of the Chinese hacking group APT40 using graduates to infiltrate Western corporates and notably the admission by the head of Switzerland’s intelligence that Russian espionage is rife in that country (notably in Geneva – for which readers should consult Somerset Maugham’s ‘Ashenden’ as background material).
These and other trends – such as the outbreak of a heavy cyber battle last week (against Lithuania and Norway for instance) and the increasingly public ‘clandestine’ war between Israel and Iran (they have just sacked their spy chief) point to a world that is ever more contested and complex.
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One of the new trends in the space is cyber espionage – both in the sense of stealing state and industrial/corporate secrets, influencing actors (such as the manipulation of the 2016 US Presidential election) and outright acts of hostility such as the hacking of public databases and utilities (i.e. healthcare systems). Here, if readers are looking for some serious literature I can recommend two excellent books – Nicole Perlroth’s ‘This is how they tell me the world ends’ and ‘Secret World’ by Christopher Andrew.
I am personally more intrigued by the difference between a spy and a strategist. A spy’s work could well be described as the pursuit of information about someone who is acting with a specific intent, as well as a sense of their reaction function. There are plenty of examples – from Christine Joncourt (‘La Putain de la Republique’) to Richard Sorge (see Owen Matthews’ ‘An Impeccable Spy’).
In contrast a strategist may try to plot trends and the opportunities, spillovers and damage they may cause. The US National Intelligence department is good in this regard, becoming the first major intelligence agency to publish detailed warnings on the side effects of climate damage.
Spies and strategists might work together, but history is full of examples (LC Moyzisch’s ‘Operation Cicero’) where intelligence fails to make it through the strategic process or is simply ignored for political reasons (might the early warnings on the invasion of Ukraine be an example).
In the spirit of the Durrells and Flemings of the world, what issues might be of interest in terms of digging into unknown knowns and unknown unknowns. Here are a few ideas, most of which are Asia focused (we might see an uptick in Asia focused thrillers).
On the diplomatic front, an interesting recent development was the visit of Indonesian president Joko Widodo to Ukraine, and then Moscow. It was a rare visit to Ukraine by an Asian leader and potentially marks the emergence or at least aspiration of Indonesia (population 273 million) as an emerging world diplomatic player. What has intrigued me so far is that there has been little coordination by the populous emerging (largely Muslim) nations (Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan) in the face of high energy and food prices, and that potentially Widodo could play a unifying role here.
Then, still in Asia, but on a more deadly footing, if the Western commentariat is to be believed, China is preparing an assault on Taiwan, and looking to learn from Russia’s military errors in this regard. Other countries are reacting, and I suspect that there will be much intrigue around Taiwan’s ability to acquire sufficiently powerful ballistic missiles that could strike the coastal cities of China, and relatedly how long might it take Japan to produce nuclear missiles (my sources say they could very ambitiously do it in five months!).
So, whilst the espionage literature of the 20th century has tended to be focused on Geneva, Berlin and London in the 21st century we may find ourselves reading about ‘behind the lines’ exploits in Jakarta and Tanegashima.
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