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Monday, March 11, 2013

Where banks really make money on IPOs #ipo $fb $gs $ms

Where banks really make money on IPOs #ipo

Rigging the I.P.O. Game #NYT #etoys

The plaintiffs charge that Goldman Sachs had a fiduciary duty to maximize eToys’ take from the I.P.O. Instead, Goldman purposely set an artificially low price, so that its real clients, the institutional investors clamoring for the stock, could pocket that first-day run-up. According to the suit, Goldman then demanded that some of those easy profits be kicked back to the firm. Part of their evidence for the calculated underpricing of eToys, according to the plaintiffs’ complaint, was that Lawton Fitt, the Goldman executive who headed the underwriting team and was thus best positioned to gauge the market demand, actually made a bet with several of her colleagues that the price would hit $80 at the opening. (Through a Goldman Sachs spokesman, Fitt declined to comment. Goldman denies that it did anything wrong, about which more shortly.)
On some level, this argument — between those who believe companies are routinely sold down the river by their underwriters and those who insist that underwriting requires a complex balancing of the interests of both company and investors — has been going on ever since. Just a couple of years ago when the social media company LinkedIn went public and the stock quickly doubled, I wrote that the company had been scammed by its underwriters, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch unit. Money that rightly belonged to the company had instead gone to investment clients, I argued. A number of market observers responded by saying that I lacked a nuanced understanding of the complicated dynamics between companies, investors and underwriters.
Recently, however, I came across a cache of documents related to the eToys litigation that seem to tilt the argument in favor of the skeptics. Although the documents were supposed to be under seal, they were sitting in a file at the New York County Clerk’s Office, available to anyone who asked for them. I asked.
What they clearly show is that Goldman knew exactly what it was doing when it underpriced the eToys I.P.O. — and many others as well. (According to the lawsuit, Fitt led around a dozen underwritings in 1999, several of which were also woefully underpriced.) Taken in their entirety, the e-mails and internal reports show Goldman took advantage of na├»ve Internet start-ups to fatten its own bottom line.
Goldman carefully calculated the first-day gains reaped by its investment clients. After compiling the numbers in something it called a trade-up report, the Goldman sales force would call on clients, show them how much they had made from Goldman’s I.P.O.’s and demand that they reward Goldman with increased business. It was not unusual for Goldman sales representatives to ask that 30 to 50 percent of the first-day profits be returned to Goldman via commissions, according to depositions given in the case.
According to data compiled by the plaintiffs, Capstar Holding, an investing client, made a series of pointless trades solely for Goldman’s benefit. The lawsuit quotes an investment manager at the firm, Christopher Rule, as saying that 70 percent of his trading activity in May 1999 was done to generate commissions for Goldman, “pursuant to an ‘understanding’ with his Goldman broker that he needed to generate money for Goldman in order to receive I.P.O.’s.”
 

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