Is Bridgewater A Fraud? Here Are The Troubling Questions Posed By Jim Grant

from ZeroHedge:

Jim Grant, author of Grant's Interest Rate Observer, first hinted last week that not all is well when it comes to the world's biggest hedge fund, Ray Dalio's $160 billion Bridgewater (of which one half is the world's biggest risk-parity juggernaut). Speaking to Bloomberg last week, Grant said he was "bearish" on Bridgewater because founder Dalio has become "less focused on investing, while the firm lacks transparency and has produced lackluster returns."

Grant slammed Dalio's transition from investor to marketer, and in a five-page critique of the world’s largest hedge fund, said Dalio has been preoccupied with his new book, sitting for media interviews and sending Tweets.

“Such activities have one thing in common: They are not investing,” Grant writes in the Oct. 6 issue of his newsletter. “Yet here he is, laying it all out to the world again, Tweeting, promoting his book, attacking the press -- necessarily doing less of his day job than he would otherwise do.”

Grant continued his scathing critique, accusing Bridgewater of "lately performed no better than the typical hedge fund.” Grant is right: since the start of 2012, Bridgewater’s Pure Alpha II Fund has posted an annualized return of 2.5% vs its historic average of 12%, and is down 2.8% this year through July.

The underperformance may be explainable: after all the polymath billionaire has been busy opining in recent months on subjects from the rise of populism to his affinity for China, "which are distraction from making money" Grant said.

But if Grant had limited himself to merely Dalio's stylistic drift, it would be one thing: to be sure, the fund's billionaire founder may simply have lost a desire to manage money and has instead discovered a flair for writing books and being in the public spotlight.

However, Grant - or rather his colleague Evan Lorenz - went deeper, and as he writes in the latest Grants letter, he raises several troubling points, which go not to the hedge fund's recent underprofmrance - which can be perfectly innocuous -  but implicitly accuse the world's biggest hedge fund of borderline illegal activities and, gasp, fraud. Some of the more troubling points brought up by Lorenz are the following:

  • Bridgewater has directly lent money to its auditor, KPMG, to which KPMH's response is that “these lending relationships . . . do not and will not impair KMPG’s ability to exercise objective and impartial judgment in connection with financial statement audits of the Bridgewater Funds.”
  • Bridgewater has 91 ex-employees working at its custodian bank, Bank of New York.
  • Only two of Bridgewater's 33 funds have a relationship with Prime Brokers. In these two funds, Bridgewater Equity Fund, LLC and Bridgewater Event Risk Fund I, Ltd., 99% of the investors are Bridgewater employees.
  • Opaque ownership concerns: "Two entities—Bridgewater Associates Intermediate Holdings, L.P. and Bridgewater Associates Holdings, Inc.—are each noted as holding 75% or more of Bridgewater."
  • Why the massive, and expensive, ETF holdings: "The June 30 13-F report shows U.S. equity holdings of $10.9 billion. The top-16 holdings, worth $9.5 billion, or 87% of the reported total, come wrapped in ETFs, including the Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF, the SPDR S&P500 ETF Trust and the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF. Beyond the fact that Bridgewater reports holding few U.S. equities, you wonder why such a sophisticated shop would stoop to such a retail stratagem. Surely the Bridgewater brain trust could replicate the ETFs at a fraction of the cost that the Street charges."
  • And perhaps most troubling, is the SEC in cahoots with Bridgewater? "Lorenz asked the SEC how Bridgewater’s answers comply with the requirement to “[p]rovide your fee schedule.” Via email, the agency replied, “Decline comment, thanks.

And so on. There is much more in the full Grant's note, which readers can read by subscribing at Grant's website, but here are some of the key questions posed:

That phenomenal track record:

Dalio has done his best work in the shadows. In a 1982 Wall Street Week interviewhe predicted not the great bull market but a new calamity (the erroneous call nearly bankrupted Bridgewater). In a 1992 Barron’s article, he wrote that the country was in a depression and that it would be hard-pressed to escape from it. 

 

From 1996 through Aug. 30, 2017 the Wasatch-Hoisington U.S. Treasury Fund has returned a compound 7.9% net of fees. Over the same span, according to a Sept. 8 article in The New York Times, All Weather returned an identical 7.9% net of fees.

Dalio's sudden infatuation with the public spotlight...

Principles is the first of a projected two-volume work on the theory and practice of radical transparency and abrasive truth-telling. The second installment will provoke more controversy and another time-out from the author’s day job. There will be reviews to stew over, angry emails to compose, interviews to be conducted. Since Dalio took to Twitter on April 24, he has tweeted 97 times. He has written 24 blog entries, amounting to a grand total of 22,112 words, on LinkedIn (Harrison Waddill of this staff has counted them). Beyond the April TED talk, Dalio is on the interview circuit. He has addressed reporters at Business Insider, Bloomberg, CIO Magazine, The New York Times and ValueWalk, among others. In January he attended the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In that pleasant alpine setting, the billionaire worried about the rise of populism.

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