Hedgies On The Hill - John Paulson's Statement

Five hedge fund managers marched up to Capital Hill Thursday to give their views on the financial crisis. Here's the quite revealing statement of John Paulson, founder of Paulson & Co, the man who made $3.5bn for himself last year by shorting subprime.

Statement of John Paulson,
President and Founder of Paulson & Co. Inc.

U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Hearing - November 13, 2008

'Chairman Waxman, Ranking Member Davis and Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to appear and for holding important hearings on the origins of the present financial market challenges in the United States.

Paulson & Co. Inc. is an investment advisory firm that was founded in 1994 and has been registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission since 2004. We currently manage assets of approximately $36 billion using event-driven strategies. We are based in New York and also have offices in London and Hong Kong. We have approximately seventy employees. Prior to founding the firm, I was a Managing Director in Mergers & Acquisitions at Bear Stearns. I am a summa cum laude graduate from New York University and graduated with high distinction, as a Baker Scholar, from Harvard Business School in 1980.

Our investors include pension funds, endowments, banks, insurance companies, family offices and high-net-worth individuals in the U.S. and around the world. All of the investment funds we manage are open only to 'qualified purchasers', which are highly sophisticated investors with $5 million in investable assets if they are individuals, and $25 million in investable assets if they are institutions.

Our investors look to us to protect their capital, and to show positive returns in both good and bad markets. We do this by going long securities that we think will rise in value and going short securities that we think will decline in value. By constructing a diverse portfolio of both long and short positions, we have been able to operate profitably in 14 out of the last 15 years, including this year and the 2000-2002 periods when the NASDAQ index lost 78% of its value. We believe that our ability to protect our investors’ capital and generate positive absolute returns with low volatility over the long term is the reason we have grown to be one of the largest hedge funds in the world.

In our business, one of the most fundamental principles is alignment of our interests with those of our clients. We share profits with our investors on an 80/20 basis where 80% of the profits go to the investors and 20% remains with us. We only earn performance allocations if our investors are profitable. All of our funds have a 'high water mark', which means that if we lose money for our investors, we have to earn it back before we share in future profits. Some of our funds also have a 'claw back' provision, requiring us to return profits earned in prior periods if we lose money in subsequent periods. In addition, we invest our own money alongside that of our clients, so we share investment losses along with gains.

We are a private company and have no public shareholders. We receive no taxpayer subsidies. All of our investors invest with us on a voluntary basis. We also use very little leverage. Over the past five years, for over half the time our base portfolios were not funded with any borrowed money, and our maximum borrowing as a percentage of equity capital over this period was 33%.

In February 2004, we voluntarily registered with the SEC as an investment advisor. As a registered investment advisor, we are subject to periodic inspections, focused reviews and ad hoc requests for information. We are also subject to stringent record keeping requirements and have to file information regularly on the SEC’s website. We comply with all rules and regulations not only in the U.S. but in each of the over 15 countries where we invest.

Hedge funds, together with real estate, private equity and venture capital, are frequently categorized as 'alternative investments', in contrast to traditional stock and bond investing. Hedge funds are an important investment category for investors as returns are generally non-correlated with the traditional market. The hedge fund market has grown rapidly over the past five years, from approximately $800 million to $2 trillion in assets under management. The US has remained a leader in this area, accounting for approximately 70% of the market, although we have lost share in recent years to London, Asia, and Switzerland - many of which offer various financial incentives to attract the hedge fund industry.

As Americans, we are proud of the leadership position the United States occupies in this industry, the jobs our industry has created, the export earnings we have produced for our country and the taxes we generate for the Treasury. For example, over the last five years, our firm has increased our employee count by 10 times, creating numerous high-paying jobs for Americans. In addition, eighty percent of our assets under management come from foreign investors. The revenues we receive from foreign investors allow us to contribute to the U.S. economy like an exporter of goods, bringing in money from abroad.

In 2005, our firm became very concerned about weak credit underwriting standards, excessive leverage among financial institutions and a fundamental mis-pricing of credit risk. To protect our investors against the risk in the financial markets, we purchased protection through credit default swaps on debt securities we thought would decline in value due to weak credit underwriting. As credit spreads widened and the value of these securities fell, we realized substantial gains for our investors.

As we saw the difficulty homeowners were having in making mortgage payments, in July 2007, prior to the initiation of any government support programs, Paulson & Co. made a $15 million charitable contribution to the Center for Responsible Lending to form the Institute for Foreclosure Legal Assistance (IFLA). The institute supports local groups across the country providing legal representation to families facing foreclosure. 

We have also offered some public suggestions on the causes of the credit crisis and what the U.S. government can do to help the situation, specifically purchase senior preferred stock in selected financial institutions. Several weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed piece which I wrote on this proposal, which provides for maximum taxpayer protection. Subsequently, the Troubled Asset Recovery Program (TARP) was reoriented to focus on the purchase of preferred stock. I have some thoughts on how future purchases of preferred stock under the TARP can be structured both to protect taxpayers better and to provide greater stability to financial institutions, and I would be pleased to share those thoughts with the Committee. 

Again, thank you for the opportunity to address this Committee and share our views'.

Source - The Wall Street Journal

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