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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bear Stearns Announces Third Hedge Fund Collapse; A Sign of Things to Come?

Bear Stearns has dropped another bombshell announcement. A third hedge fund, the Asset Backed Securities Fund, has apparently lost so much money its no longer profitable for the bank to run it...and that’s saying something considering Wall Street’s reputation for squeezing fees out of investors. At its peak, the fund had $900 million of investor assets, which is now valued at $500 million. This brings the grand total of investor loses under Bear Stearns’ watch to well over $2 billion in three hedge funds alone.

This latest hedge fund to shutter, Bear Stearns claims, only had 0.5 percent of is assets tied to sub prime mortgage related securities. This begs the question of exactly what constituted the other 95 percent of invested assets. Were these also illiquid securities or is the market for all asset backed securities (including commercial lending) worse than anyone could imagine? No one has ever accused Bear Stearns as being a pillar of transparency, but if the market is in such jeopardy then a great many more portfolio managers may be going the way of Ralph Cioffi, the now departed portfolio manager who oversaw the other two collapsed Bear Stearns hedge funds.

My inclination is that this is partly another example of the dubious nature of Wall Street’s credit valuation methods. Bloomberg reports that the Asset Backed Securities Fund’s portfolio was valued at $900 million as late as August of 2007, but spiraled downward losing as much as 21 percent in November alone. Would August’s valuation been the same had the funds assets been valued based on more pragmatic (read: honest) method? Did the hedge fund managers’ strategy waver in any way during the funds history? And did Bear Stearns park any of its own bad assets in the funds as it is alleged they did with the other two funds under Cioffi’s supervision? These are the types of questions that investors should be asking.

They say where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And in my thirty years working on behalf of defrauded investors nowhere is that more true than on Wall Street. At Bear Stearns, there’s a raging inferno. Rest assured, we will be paying close attention and working with clients to determine the real story behind the Asset Backed Securities Fund and its spectacular losses.


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