Cronyism in the "Short Sale" Market

Ken Blackwell
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Posted: May 13, 2015 12:01 AM
Cronyism in the "Short Sale" Market

In the classic 1976 movie “Network,” there is a famous scene where a character played by the late Peter Finch shouts, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” I feel that same sentiment is growing throughout America, as the cost of our debt and regulatory state has exploded.

In the era of Obama, we are now pushing our way far beyond the current 101% debt-to-GDP ratio, which is a dangerous and job-destroying level of borrowing on behalf of the welfare state. As the Federal leviathan in Washington, D.C. continues to grow, power is shifted into the hand of bureaucrats at regulatory agencies who invent new ways to regulate American businesses.

Many of these laws are passed not in the best interest of the American people, but are instead pushed through a complex process of special interests lobbying for their best interest. Our government is for sale, and there is no better example of this than the tremendous influence a handful of wealthy investors have over investment regulations.

There are the obvious examples, such as far-left environmentalist billionaire Tom Steyer, who has received more than a billion dollars for a light rail project, which personally helped his hedge fund. However, beyond pay-to-play, there is a more advance version of financial corruption that can happen in the "short sale" market.

If you're not familiar with that term, is a strategy used by hedge funds and other large investment banks to study investment opportunities and profit from businesses which are likely to drop in value. The investor borrows money to make that bet, then makes money when paying off the loan is less than the return. It may sound like a wild form of gambling, but it is legitimate. After all, capital follows the path of least resistance and great opportunity. And capital needs that information about investment opportunities, while these tactics by hedge funds can keep stocks from becoming overvalued.

However, no marketplace is perfect, and there is always the opportunity for fraud. Instead of allowing the markets to run their course and using data to study market trends, a handful of elite investors use their political connections to use the media and politicians to drive a stock price down.

The most outrageous example I have followed in the news is from William Ackman, the founder and manager of Pershing Square Capital Management, an $18 billion dollar hedge fund.

Ackman has sunk his teeth into Herbalife, a company which sells health and weight loss products through an independent sales team. He bet a billion dollars he can publicly attack them hard enough to put the company out of business. Herbalife employs people who may be your neighbors or friends to sell their products to supplement their income. Ackman is trying to discredit this process by referring it as an "illegal pyramid scheme," which is an effort to get his powerful allies at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate and harass the successful company.

Ackman has personally lobbied his friends in Congress, such as Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to investigate Herbalife, and just Markey's public comments alone hurt the company's finances. In addition, Ackman's minions have worked behind the scenes to have community organizations make wild accusations claiming Herbalife is taking advantages of minority customers. Sometimes, regulatory agencies have received piles of nearly-identical letters from concerned citizens who do not remember writing them!

For his questionable tactics, Ackman is now under investigation by the FBI. But more should be done to keep these types of shady operators far away from real entrepreneurs and job creators. This and other cronyism will certainly be an important issue for 2016 Republican presidential candidates to debate.