Wednesday, November 18

Vulture Funds

Vulture Funds are financial organizations/private equity firms that seek to invest in debt issued by a company (or in case of a sovereign debt, a country) that is weak and dying. They are also called “Distressed Debt funds”.

They buy up sovereign debts of poor nations that are assumed default or near bankrupt when at time the debt is just about to be written off and eventually sue the debtor for the full value of the debt plus interest in the future. The full value is usually 10 times the original paid up debt. Alternatively, they hold on to these investments (if the issuer doesn’t default) and sells them when the prices skyrocket.

So these vultures prey upon the debt cancellation measures received by the poor companies/nations by purchasing their debt at a discount (sometimes as low as 20%) and redeeming it at a premium (including interest). They provide a useful alternative for investors who are unable to follow up upon their defaulted debt and in turn are certain to face financial ruin if their debtors default completely. i.e. considering a realistic scenario distressed debt investing is a risky business which reflects two sides of a same coin; on one side a vulture fund can have adverse effects on its investment if the debtor continues to default and in turn may end up netting a zero value, but on the other side if the debtor has considerable assets to liquidate the vulture funds can make millions. They have tasted success quite a number of times in the past against countries like Argentina and Peru. So these are risky funds with the potential to pay off huge returns.

How they Operate?
These funds are private equity / Hedge Funds and are thus not available for individuals to invest. Vulture Funds raise most of their money through legal action in the US and UK courts, They frequently engage in litigation in these courts of rich nations to obtain judgments against the debtor and then attempt to attach the government’s assets abroad.
These funds buy commercial debt knowing fully well that multilateral debt relief availed by HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) put them in a better position to pay up and even so they can be persuaded to settle the amount with them. As spoken earlier about the risk faced by distressed debt investors, this so called default risk is virtually nullified when political influence possessed by them is greater than the nation they are suing. Since most of their legal actions prevail in US and UK courts, lobbying and political influence hold good, and many Vulture Fund CEO’s possess links with the top officials in US as well as in UK. Political influence and lobbying plays a major role in assisting Vulture Funds in their dubious tactics in claiming millions from litigations in foreign courts. A recent report states that “at least 54 private companies are known to have taken legal action on 12 of the world’s poorest countries for claims amounting to $1.8 bn”

Source:
1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vulture_fund

2. Prometheus Newsletter, (Author: Srikanth Srinivasan) Alliance Business School, Bangalore, India

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