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商业 - 金融

中国从华尔街学会了讲故事

Moshe Silver 2011年05月20日

编一个好故事,人们不经细看就会相信。在美上市的中国公司欺诈风波陡起,似乎就是这种情况。

 
CAGC stock
艾瑞泰克被停牌!

    中国是在报复吗?作为美国万亿美元债务的债权人,眼下他们并没有太多要感谢美国的。

    近几周,市场上流传着一些美国监管部门调查在美上市中国公司的故事。考虑到美国有关部门在监管美国国内市场方面不得力,美国证券交易委员会(SEC)将注意力转向别处是可以理解的。

    凯雷(Carlyle)投资集团在近日被停牌的两家在美上市中国公司中都持有不少股权, 据《金融时报》(Financial Times)报道,这两家公司被停牌的原因是涉嫌欺诈。凯雷持有艾瑞泰克(China Agritech)股份,公开资料显示这些股份是凯雷两家关联实体通过2009年定向增发购入的。当时1,000万美金的投资对艾瑞泰克意义非凡,该公司公布的2009年营业收入仅7,600万美元。但对于当时资产规模逾900亿美元的凯雷而言,这很难说是一项重大投资。对于凯雷的被卷入有种种推测,包括担任艾瑞泰克董事的凯雷年轻副总裁所扮演的角色。

    另外,还有一份报告广泛流传于各类非正式的金融电子出版物。由一家名为Lucas McGee Research的机构发布的该份无出处报告附有粗体声明“本报告的作者及对本报告有贡献者均持有艾瑞泰克空头仓位,如果该股股价下跌,必会获得丰厚回报。”报告声称,看不到艾瑞泰克的化肥厂有卡车进出,虽然公司据称每年生产有50,000吨有机肥。作者经过粗略分析(1卡车= 20吨;2500卡车= 50,000吨)断定日均进出这些工厂的卡车数量应为10辆,而非他们报告看到的零。

    到目前为止,一切都未经证实,但美国证券交易委员会已开始对这些公司的财务报告提出质询,在有明确结果前对股票实施了停牌。艾瑞泰克已停牌两个月。迄今为止,并无明确的欺诈交易指控。必须得说,我们尚未看到有什么可以指责凯雷有过失,我们不想暗示凯雷有何行为不当。任何人都能犯错,但如果你是凯雷,负面公关影响可能很大。

    但凯雷并不是唯一一家卷入近期风波的公司。据彭博新闻社(Bloomberg)报道,当29岁的杰西•格里肯豪斯为其家族所有的资产管理公司购入400万美元的艾瑞泰克股票后,这家声誉良好的华尔街投资管理公司也陷入了争议漩涡。其祖父、德高望重的投资者塞斯•格里肯豪斯表示,自己“从未陷入”如此境地。以其97岁的高龄来看,“从未”确实是很长一段时间了。

套牢的投资

    停牌的结果是没有人能变现。持有股票者不能清仓,空头不能平仓。对清算公司而言,这可能算是意外之财,他们可以对融资余额收取融资利息,对被冻结的融券收取融券费。

    由于没有基础市场报价,与这些股票相关的期权也无法交易。期权持有人只能等到到期,然后尽可能猜测究竟是执行,还是不执行手中的期权。据《华尔街日报》(Wall Street Journal)报道,“很多此类股票的融券费率都已一飞冲天,愿意借出股票的对冲基金等持有人从中获利了。”

    当非法卖空业务变得不可收拾,回顾1995年,当时监管部门寻求自然而然的解决方案:将非法的变成合法的。上调卖空规则,设立更多程序以确保卖空者在结算日能交付股票。这样做真正确保的是清算公司应增加投资,而融券业务仍是清算公司、机构经纪商、对冲基金及其他持有大型多元化股票投资组合的公司的重要利润来源。

    华尔街各大公司常常大规模参与无货卖空(naked short selling),但由于各家公司阐述不同,我们无法对此进行衡量。这种无货卖空不仅是合法的,而且还是金融市场最大的利润来源之一。清算公司、机构经纪商、对冲基金和其他持有大型多元化投资组合的公司都为卖空者提供融券。很多公司的融券业务是基于所谓的“易借”名单——易借名单上的股票均允许在一个交易日内卖空,且无需对每笔交易进行确认。

    有些公司会在日间跟踪名单上股票的头寸,当可融券数量降至低位时,就会通知经纪人。但有些公司不会这么做,这意味着如果一只股票受消息影响下跌,卖空者开始涌入这只股票,到单个交易日收盘时,市场中卖出的股票数量可能会多于清算公司可交付的股票数量。无货卖空?是的。非法?就在你读这篇文章的时候,游说者可能就在威胁美国证券交易委员会。

    中国人很聪明。看来他们已从华尔街学到了重要一课:编一个好故事,人们不经细看就会相信。艾瑞泰克已经拿到了钱,这一切都是基于一个故事。杰西•格里肯豪斯表示,当时他注重的是基本面,这意味着凯雷持股可能是其投资决策中的一个重要因素。

    任何风险管理人都会告诉你,在决定进入一个市场前,必须要先行了解。凯恩斯的格言自然适用于财务不透明的中国借壳上市公司——市场维持非理性的时间可能长于你口袋里的现金能维持的时间。

    艾瑞泰克是否是一家真实存在的公司,仍要等着瞧。美国证券交易委员会的停牌令可能有助于事情的澄清,因为空头们迟早想拿到自己的钱。而且以我们的经验,目前空头可能具有掌控力,就像市场拥有的神秘而强大的力量。参照凯恩斯的非理性原则,或许我们可以说:以这样低的价位,空头能持续做空的时间长于你能继续持有多头仓位的时间。

    Is China exacting revenge? As holders of around a trillion dollars of our debt, right now they don't have too much to thank America for.

    The last couple of weeks have seen some inconvenient stories about Chinese stocks under scrutiny by U.S. regulators. Considering how poor a job the U.S. regulators do of policing our own markets, it makes sense that the SEC would turn its attention elsewhere.

    The Carlyle group has substantial stakes in two U.S.-traded Chinese companies, both of whose stocks were halted because of allegations of fraud, according to the Financial Times. Carlyle owns a stake in China Agritech (CAGC), a stock it acquired through a 2009 private placement made through two Carlyle-affiliated entities, according to public records. The $10 million acquisition represented a meaningful infusion for CAGC, which reported $76 million in top-line revenues in 2009. For Carlyle, with over $90 billion in assets, it is hardly a major investment. Speculation about Carlyle's involvement included questions about the role of a young Carlyle VP out of their Shanghai office who has a seat on CAGC's board.

    There was also a report that made the rounds of the world of financial electronic Samizdat. Issued by an operation called Lucas McGee Research, the unattributed piece carried a boldface (in both senses of the word) statement that "writers and contributors to this report have short positions in CAGC and therefore stand to realize significant gains in the event that the price of the stock declines." The report alleges that no trucks were seen going in or out of CAGC's fertilizer factories, even though the company supposedly produces 50,000 tonnes of organic fertilizer annually. The quick and dirty analysis (one truckload = 20 tonnes; 2500 truckloads = 50,000 tonnes) led the report's authors to surmise they should see an average of 10 trucks passing in and out of the factories every day, instead of the zero they report having seen.

    So far nothing has been proven, but the SEC is asking questions about these companies' financial reporting and imposing trading halts until they get clear answers. CAGC has been held for trading for two months. So far, there are no clear allegations of fraudulent dealings. We hasten to point out that nothing we have seen accuses Carlyle of wrongdoing, nor do we intend to imply any improper action by them. Anyone is capable of making a mistake, but when you're the Carlyle Group, the negative PR consequences can be considerable.

    But Carlyle's not alone. A well-regarded Wall Street money management firm was sucked into the fray when 29 year-old Jesse Glickenhaus bought $4 million worth of CAGC for his family-owned asset management firm, according to Bloomberg. His grandfather, well-regarded investor Seth Glickenhaus, said he had "never run into" such a situation. At age 97, "never" is a long time.

Trapped investments

    The consequences of a trading halt are that no one can get their money out of a position. Owners cannot liquidate their shares, and shorts can't cover. This is something of a bonanza for the clearing firms, which get to collect interest on the credit balances, and charge interest on the debits associated with the frozen investor positions.

    Options traded on these shares also cannot trade – there is no underlying market to quote them against. Option holders must wait for expiration, then make a best guess whether to exercise their options, or allow them to expire. According to the Wall Street Journal, "borrowing rates for many of the stocks have skyrocketed, a boon for hedge funds and other owners that are willing to lend shares out."

    When the illegal shorting business came to a particularly ugly head, back in 1995 , regulators sought the logical solution: take what is illegal, and make it legal. Short selling rules were stepped up, and more procedures were put in place to ensure that a short seller would be able to deliver stock on settlement date. What it really ensured was that clearing firms should increase their investment, as the stock loan business continues to be a major profit center for clearing firms and prime brokers, as well as hedge funds and other large firms that hold large and diversified stock portfolios.

    Major Wall Street firms routinely engage in naked short selling on a massive scale, though we cannot measure it, because of the way they account for it. This naked shorting is not only legal, it constitutes one of the biggest profit centers in the financial markets. Clearing firms, prime brokers, hedge funds, and other substantial holders of large diversified portfolios loan securities for short sellers. Many firms make a business of loaning against what is known as an "easy to borrow" list – a blanket approval for short sales for a single trading day. Stocks on the easy to borrow list do not have to be located individually on a trade-by-trade basis.

    Some firms track the positions on their lists during the course of the day and send notification to brokers when the quantities available for borrowing get low. But some firms don't, meaning that if a stocks gets talked down, and short sellers start flooding into the name, by the end of a single day it is possible that more stock has been sold in the market than exists in the hands of the clearing firms for delivery. Naked shorting? By definition, yes. Illegal? Lobbyists are undoubtedly browbeating the SEC even as you read this.

    The Chinese are smart. They appear to have taken the most important page out of Wall Street's book: create a good story, and people will buy it without looking too closely. CAGC has gotten its money, all based on a story. Jesse Glickenhaus says he focused on the fundamentals, and it is implied that one important factor in his decision was the Carlyle stake.

    Any risk manager will tell you to get to know the market into which you are about to plunge. Keynes' dictum certainly holds true for Chinese reverse-merger companies with opaque financials: the market can remain irrational longer than your cash can hold out.

    It remains to be seen whether CAGC is a real company. The SEC trading ban may clarify things, because sooner or later the shorts will want their money. And in our experience, the shorts are the ones in control, very much like the mysterious and oceanic sway of the market itself. We might suggest a corollary to Keynes' Irrationality Principle: the Shorts can remain short longer than you can continue holding a long position at such a depressed price.

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