The Investment Scientist

Posts Tagged ‘due diligence

This week, Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison by New York District Judge, Denny Chin. With the trial now over, Madoff’s victims are still fighting over what little is left of his fund. They want to know: Where was the SEC?

More appropriate questions should be: How did Madoff do it? What human frailties did he exploit? How was he able to con $65 billion out of the most sophisticated members of our society?  Here’s how his scam worked:

Affinity

We humans lower our guard when we believe other people are similar to us. Madoff exploited this one masterfully. Much like Charles Ponzi, who looked for his prey among Italians, Bernie Madoff focused on exclusive Jewish social clubs and Jewish foundations.

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Avoid conflicts of interest.” – David Swensen, Yale Endowment CIO.

Jose is the head of a ultra high-net-worth family. He has a number of accounts with Merrill Lynch (ML), the storied brokerage firm that paid their senior executives $4 billion in bonuses last year. Three of his accounts lost a great deal of money, not due to the market crash but to conflicts of interest.

Double dealing in Treasury

Jose has a Treasury account where his ML wealth manager[picture of double dealing, enable image to view] purchases Treasury bills, notes and bonds for him. Last year was a great year for Treasury securities – the market turmoil caused investors to flock to them, driving prices up more than 10%. Jose’s account, however, lost 3%. How could this happen? Conflicts of interest. ML is a primary dealer in the Treasury market. They buy Treasury securities and resell them to their customers at a markup. It looks like the markup is so high it takes away all the customer profit.

Churning stocks

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Author

Michael Zhuang is principal of MZ Capital, a fee-only independent advisory firm based in Washington, DC.

Twitter: @mzhuang

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