The Securities and Exchange Commission’s Asset Management Unit has been investigating whether hedge fund managers have overvalued assets in “side pockets” and then charged investors higher fees based on those inflated values. A side pocket is a type of account that hedge funds use to separate certain illiquid investments from the rest of their portfolio. Investors are typically not permitted to redeem their interest in a fund with respect to assets allocated to a side pocket until such assets have been liquidated or reallocated to the general portfolio by the investment manager.
Recent charges brought by the SEC highlight the need for hedge fund managers to establish reasonable policies for the valuation of illiquid assets and carefully adhere to such policies when valuing assets allocated to a side pocket. On October 19, 2010, the SEC charged two hedge fund managers and their investment advisory businesses with defrauding investors by overvaluing illiquid fund assets they placed in a side pocket. According to the SEC complaint, Paul T. Mannion, Jr and Andrews S. Reckles, through their investment adviser entities PEF Advisors Ltd. and PEF Advisors LLC, caused certain investments made by Palisades Master Fund, L.P. to be overvalued by millions of dollars.
Beginning in August 2004, the fund, at the direction of Mannion and Reckles, invested millions of dollars in World Health Alternatives, Inc. By July 2005, World Health was the fund’s largest single position and constituted at least 20% of the fund’s assets. As World Health (now bankrupt) began to experience financial difficulties, Mannion and Reckles became concerned about the value of the fund’s World Health assets and the potential for any report of substantial losses in relation to such assets to cause investors to redeem their interests in the fund. Recognizing the risk of large scale redemptions, Mannion and Reckles decided to place the World Health assets in a side pocket.
Palisades had adopted specific policies on how it would value different categories of securities and communicated those policies to prospective investors in its offering memorandum and financial statements. Mannion and Reckles allegedly valued the World Health assets contrary to the disclosed valuation policies, which resulted in such assets being significantly overvalued. Mannion and Reckles then charged management fees that were improperly inflated by their overvaluation of fund assets.
Robert B. Kaplan, Co-Chief of the SEC’s Asset Management Unit, commented:
Side pockets are not supposed to be a dumping ground for hedge fund managers to conceal overvalued assets. Mannion and Reckles deceived investors about the fund’s performance and extracted excessive management fees based on the inflated asset values in a side pocket.
The SEC is seeking injunctive relief, disgorgement of profits, prejudgment interest, and financial penalties.