Hedge fund legend Leon Cooperman, the founder of $5.2 billion Omega Advisors, held a conference call with investors on Monday afternoon to address a Wells Notice he and Omega received from Securities and Exchange Commission.
A Wells Notice is a letter from the SEC sent to firms when the agency is considering bringing an enforcement action against them.
Cooperman, who’s been running Omega for 25 years, said he doesn’t believe the fund has violated any securities laws and that he’s disappointed with the SEC.
Here’s a rundown of what happened on the call:
- A year ago, Cooperman told investors in a letter that Omega had received subpoenas from SEC and the US Attorney’s office in New Jersey.
- Cooperman said he wanted to make a “general observation” about how he looks at the world through the eyes of Omega’s investors. “If I look at this situation though your eyes, the question i’d ask myself is ‘are the investigations going to be disruptive?’ My view, unequivocally, is it’s not an issue. We have a deep bench of talent….No, it’s not going to be an issue. ”
- He pointed out that about 28% of the fund’s assets under management is the capital of employees/partners in the firm.
- He added that lawyers are expensive. “I think our insurance will more than cover this.” He said he’d absorb the excess. He also expects the firm’s lawyers, which include Ted Wells from Paul Weiss, “will demonstrate our conduct was appropriate.”
- “In short, I don’t believe the government investigations will have a meaningful impact on our ability to serve you. Were I to reach a contrary conclusion, I’d close up shop and give you back your money.” He has no plans to do so.
- Cooperman said that he offered to meet with the SEC a year ago to answer their questions instead of having them send a subpoena. They refused.
- About 10 days ago, Cooperman said that he was called to testify before the SEC’s enforcement staff where he made only a brief statement before invoking the Fifth Amendment at his attorneys suggestion. In that statement, Cooperman said he was “very upset” with his attorneys for insisting take the Fifth, which safeguards against self-incrimination. However, he added that after he read Harvey Silvergate’s “Three Felonies A Day,” he came to understand the “merit” of his attorneys position.
- Cooperman said the SEC said that the trading in question is in the securities of a single issuer, and that the trading happened over the course of a few weeks in July 2010. He said there was trading by a third party in the same issued securities. That same company and same time period were the subject of an SEC subpoena Omega received in late 2011, he said. “We never heard anything more from the SEC in connection to that subpoena.”
- Cooperman added that one of their analysts recommended that stock at $45 and the fund “rode the damn thing down to $5 a share.” Cooperman said he fired the analyst, but did not sell any of the stock until 2015. “We’ve had an extremely long holding period. No pattern to suggest insider trading.”
- He later said on the call that Omega had owned that stock of the company in question since 2007, a stake of approximately 5 million shares. He said Omega bought 200,000 shares during a period when “apparently info was available that was not known by us, by the way.” Those 200,000 shares were in two brand new accounts underweighted in that name.
- Omega plans to respond to the SEC by the end of the month. “We have strong defences,” he said.
- “I wanted to repeat what I said before, we’re very comfortable with our position — We’ve done nothing wrong. An article in The Wall Street Journal said ‘insight is not insider information,'” Cooperman said.
- “We work hard developing our information. We do not buy a stock without speaking to management,” he added.
- “We care about legal fees. We care about our reputation. I’m not going to let these guys change my legacy. We’re going to stand up and represent your interest properly, professionally…I hope my opinion turns out to be right.”
In other news, Omega is up over 4% for the month, but down about 6% for the year.