Posted on Tuesday, December 7, 2010
WASHINGTON — One investor, Kenneth H. Dahlberg, is a World War II flying ace who, as a volunteer in President Richard M. Nixon’s re-election campaign, was a minor figure in the Watergate scandal.
Another investor, Magalen O. Bryant, runs a horse farm in Virginia and is active in steeplechase racing circles. A third, Ward W. Woods, is the chairman of the nonprofit organization that runs the Bronx Zoo.
They were among scores of wealthy but lesser-known investors in an emergency lending program the Federal Reserve announced in November 2008, three weeks after President Obama’s election, to support the market for student, auto, credit card and small-business loans.
The investors, whose identities were disclosed as part of a trove of 21,000 records released on Wednesday at the direction of Congress, are a cross-section of America’s wealthy — investors who, in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, heard about an opportunity and weighed the risk.
The list, not surprisingly, includes famous Wall Street financiers like J. Christopher Flowers, John A. Paulson and Julian Robertson, demonstrating the extent to which the Fed relied on fast-moving hedge funds to keep credit flowing through the markets.
There were also institutional investors like the Ford Foundation and the pension plan for Major League Baseball. And there were wealthy businessmen like the computer executive Michael S. Dell and the home builder Bruce E. Toll.
Investors like Mr. Dell are identified in the Fed’s data because they owned or were part of a group that owned a “material” stake in a company or a fund that received funding from the Fed. They may not have been involved in the decision to borrow from the Fed. Through the program, known as the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, or TALF, the investors helped keep markets for consumer loans from seizing up by steadily buying securities. About $71 billion was lent by the Fed out of the $200 billion available. The program, which began in March 2009, ended June 30, 2010; two-thirds of the loans have been repaid early. The remaining ones come due as late as 2015. The Fed has said it does not expect to lose any money in the program.
The investors put up their own money in return for Fed financing that was then plowed into the markets for securitized loans — bundles of credit card or auto dealership debt and student loans. The investors shouldered the risk that the loan packages could lose value and be worth less than the amount they had borrowed from the Fed.
Ordinarily, bundles of loans of this type are not difficult to sell, but after Lehman went bankrupt in September 2008, the market for such debt suddenly froze. The point of the program was to keep money moving through the markets while having investors, not the Fed, bear the risk.
Mr. Dahlberg was one such investor. The newly disclosed records show he was an investor in Broad Creek Partners, which borrowed $28.1 million from the Fed, through TALF, to purchase a portion of a security issued by GE Capital, the financing arm of General Electric. The security was backed by subprime credit card loans. To obtain the loan, Broad Creek pledged as collateral the market value of the security, $30.5 million.
Nearly all of some two dozen TALF investors contacted on Thursday declined to comment or did not respond to messages.
One who did agree to talk was Dov C. Schlein, a former president of the Republic Bank of New York, who estimated that he made a healthy profit, but not a killing.
“Realistically, if you were an early investor you could net 10 percent,” he said. “If you came in much later when the program looked to be successful, then the return dropped to 8, 7, 6, 5 percent.”
Mr. Schlein said he told fellow investors that they should be prepared for their names to become public at some point.
“I told anyone who invested in it at the time that if you’re not prepared for that information to be disclosed, you should not invest,” he said.
Mr. Schlein said he was by no means certain of making money; if unemployment had skyrocketed to 12 percent, for example, he would have expected to lose from huge defaults.
Indeed, when Mr. Schlein told students in his finance class at Baruch College, his alma mater, about the Fed program, some deemed it too risky. A year later, a new group of students said it was a shrewd gamble.
“They said, ‘You got a gift from the Fed,’ ” Mr. Schlein recalled.
Mr. Schlein was an investor in a fund that received 19 loans, totaling $260.9 million, to purchase securities backed by credit card, auto and student loans.
Another investor, Jeffrey R. Krinsk, estimated that he made a profit of about 13 percent, or more than $300,000 on his investment of roughly $2 million, in less than 18 months. “The risk being assumed by investors was generally far less than the risk that was perceived by commentators who hadn’t taken the time to look through the extensive documentation associated with the program,” said Mr. Krinsk, a plaintiffs’ lawyer in San Diego. “It was actually less esoteric, less risky, than other investments I’ve made.”
Many of the investors in the program had backgrounds in finance, including Stephen Partridge-Hicks, who is credited with creating the market for structured investment vehicles, and Robert F. Corvino, who is a director of the CME Group, a major options and futures marketplace.
Many of the financiers, the records show, teamed up, like Jay M. Twery, Walt K. Weissman and M. Blair Wellensiek, who work at Tradelink Holdings, a Chicago trading firm.
Some financiers show up in the Fed data because of their ownership in companies that sought funds from the Fed. In one instance, Mr. Paulson and Mr. Flowers, the financiers, formed OneWest Bank, the successor to the collapsed lender IndyMac, which borrowed from the Fed. Mr. Dell’s investment firm, MSD Capital, is an investor in the bank as well.
Records show that Ms. Bryant, the steeplechase enthusiast, was an investor in Belstar Credit Fund, which obtained 22 loans in amounts ranging from $2.5 million to $75.2 million. Belstar used the loans to purchase securities backed by credit card and auto loans, mortgages and small-business loans. When reached by phone, she declined to comment.
Mr. Woods, who is chairman of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the Bronx Zoo, and a former chief executive of Bessemer Securities, was an investor in the Nebris Corporation, which borrowed $10.2 million to purchase a security backed by student loans. He did not respond to messages left with his associates.
Mr. Dahlberg, a decorated aviator, became prominent early in the Watergate scandal because his name was on a check deposited in an account controlled by one of the burglars. Mr. Dahlberg, who was not accused of any wrongdoing in the scandal and is now a venture capitalist, did not return phone calls Thursday.
Mr. Schlein, the New York investor, said he felt he was helping out the Fed at a critical moment. “The program was well thought-out,” he said. “I thought it was an exceptional program.”
But he also said there was a downside potential. “The risk was that the economy was going to fall off a cliff,” he said.
Sewell Chan reported from Washington and Ben Protess from New York. Jo Craven McGinty contributed reporting from New York.
By SEWELL CHAN and BEN PROTESS