Hedge-fund rivals in a battle for an iconic Manhattan property; Marijuana VCs are writing big checks; Fund managers using CIA techniques

Dear Readers,

Hopefully you’re surviving the polar vortex, although if you’re a Knicks fan, the bone-chilling temperatures may not have been the worst news this week.

If you’re new to the Wall Street Insider newsletter, you can sign up here.

There was lots of talk this week again about Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her proposed “rich tax” on America’s wealthiest. In the last few days, Senator Elizabeth Warren jumped into the fray, unveiling a wealth tax on the 75,000 richest families in America. And Bernie Sanders rolled out his “For the 99.8% Act,” which would expand the federal estate tax and include a 77% tax on billionaires’ estates.

The proposals have sparked debate over the role of taxation in helping to reduce inequality. Not surprisingly, many of the country’s richest don’t think they will do much good.

Former Goldman executive Gary Cohn said this week a wealth tax would be “harmful” to the economy. Oaktree founder Howard Marks called it “punitive,” while CEOs and financiers called Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal “scary” during the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

But some billionaires agree that they aren’t paying their fair share. Former venture capitalist Chris Sacca last week said that Warren’s wealth tax is “extremely and radically reasonable,” and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said he has no problem paying higher taxes if the revenue goes towards addressing “some of the fundamental challenges and inequalities in our society.”

In fact, Americans are largely in favour of raising taxes on the uber wealthy. A recent Insider poll showed that 38.7% of respondents supported AOC’s tax hike, while 34.4% opposed it. That’s a higher percentage than those who supported Trump’s tax cuts.

While conservatives claim that progressives are fuelling a class-war, the left says that without tax reform, American democracy will drift towards plutocracy.

What this says to me is that a large part of the American dream – the assumption that you too can become the next Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos if you just work hard enough – seems to be crumbing.

Less than half of millennials think they’re better off than their parents were at their age, compared to 55% of baby boomers, according to the Urban Institute. They’re understandably sceptical. Young people who graduated during the financial crisis were faced with a depressed job market, and many also accumulated massive student loans during their 20s and 30s. But despite this backdrop, it’s been politics as usual and incremental change over the last 10 years – that is, until now.

Whether or not you agree about a wealth-tax (or question how it might be implemented), one thing’s for certain –economic populism is sure to be at the heart of the 2020 race.

Thanks again for reading and please reach out to me at [email protected] with any comments or feedback on this newsletter or stories we should be pursuing.

– Olivia

Wall street security cash 2x1Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Doritos Locos Tacos, telecom towers, and tugboats: Inside the $US60 billion Wall Street machine that’s transforming the unusual into investment grade

One day last November, Barclays bankers and salespeople sitting on a second-story trading floor in the firm’s Manhattan headquarters received an unexpected perk. A Taco Bell feast.

The spread included over 120 tacos, including many that were Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos, not to mention nachos, Cheesy Gordita Crunches and Cinnabon bites.

Why Taco Bell? It was the celebration of a Wall Street deal expected to become more commonplace this year. The transaction – $US1.5 billion in bonds backed by royalty payments from thousands of Taco Bell franchises that Barclays helped sell – is known as a whole-business securitization.

It’s one type of transaction in a growing part of the bond market known as esoteric or non-traditional asset-backed securities. Other esoteric deals involve cash flows from assets such as aircraft leases or rail cars, but bundling entire businesses like fitness centres or fast-food chains is among the fastest growing and most complex parts of the market.

The broader esoteric ABS market almost doubled in the past four years to $US62 billion in issuance in 2018, according to data provider Finsight.


Hedge-fund rivals Fortress and Och-Ziff have locked horns in an ugly legal battle involving an iconic Manhattan property – and $US1 billion is at stake

An iconic New York City real-estate development is once again at the center of a legal battle by Wall Street investors looking to score big.

The largest apartment complex in Manhattan, Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, is a sprawling, 11,200-unit development on the island’s east side, and over the past decade a slew of investors have been tussling over the billions in value tied up in those red-brick buildings.

The latest battle is shaping up to be an ugly one: Hedge-fund rivals Fortress Investment Group and Och-Ziff Capital Management are tangled up in dueling lawsuits over the fate of some $US1 billion in fees stemming from the management of the StuyTown property and its commercial debt after its default in 2010 and eventual sale in 2015 to Blackstone Group for $US5.3 billion.


Biotech, CBD drinks, and a hot vape company: Here’s where all the top marijuana VCs are looking to write checks this year

It’s been a hot few weeks for investors looking to ride the upside of the marijuana wave.

In January, marijuana VC piled into analytics startup Headset, California brand Caliva, and vape company Pax Labs, among other deals.

Investors have dumped over $US440 million into marijuana companies so far this year, an increase of 37% over the same period last year, according to data from investment bank Viridian Capital Advisors.

On top of that, a number of dedicated cannabis funds have either sprouted up or are in the midst of raising their second or third pools of capital to chase down opportunities in the sector.

Business Insider spoke with a number of VCs investing in the marijuana industry to get a sense of what types of deals they’re looking for – and what trends are on the horizon.


A growing alternative data company helps hedge funds determine if CEOs are lying using CIA interrogation techniques

After a year of returns so poor that it prompted investors to redeem more than $US33 billion, hedge fund managers are hungry for anything that gives them an edge on competitors and the market.

This has resulted in rapid expansion of alternative data providers, which mine for useful and actionable info in nontraditional ways.

One of these companies, Amenity Analytics, wants to cut the time analysts and portfolio managers spend poring over earnings-call transcripts by getting straight to the point: Some CEOs are not completely honest.

By using natural-language-processing software to review companies’ transcripts, press releases, and public comments,Amenity assigns sentiments to key phrases and points, reports BI’s Bradley Saacks. For example, the technology will identify words like “expanding” as positive while “limit” and “damage” are flagged as negative.


A George Soros-backed fintech has raised millions to analyse consumer loan trends just as recession worries pick up steam

A fintech startup that acts as a data hub for Wall Street bond investors has raised new money to fuel its expansion just as analysts grow worried about a softening mortgage market and the implications for the American consumer.

dv01, a New York-based startup, has raised $US15 million in a series B round this week led by Pivot Investment Partners, a venture capital firm started by a a trio of bankers who worked together at Deutsche Bank AG, reports BI’s Dakin Campbell.

The fundraising brings dv01’s valuation to between $US80 million and $US120 million. It comes at a time when Wall Street may find it more important than ever to have a better understanding of the loans that make up their bond investments. US home sales fell every month last year except February, with the December drop marking the steepest decline in more than seven year.


Quote of the week: “It’s kind of family atmosphere. Sometimes, family tells you stuff that you don’t want to hear, but you know it’s coming from a loving place.” Bridgewater co-CEO Eileen Murray on the culture at the world’s largest hedge fund in which employees carry around iPads to openly rate one another.

In tech news:

In markets:

Other good stories from around the newsroom:

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.