Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange (and possibly Herbalife) team up to help organised crime

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Charlie Gasparino suggested in a tweet and a story that Herbalife, the Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange have teamed up to produce an anti-short-seller Bill. The Bill forces disclosure standards on short sellers.

I have no conclusive evidence either way as to whether Herbalife is involved behind the scenes or not. However the Bill is real and Charlie is usually a fairly thorough reporter and I have no reason to disbelieve him. And Herbalife has not denied the story.

The Bill is a threat to my physical safety. 

I want to assure readers that I am not exaggerating in the slightest. 

Bronte has a business model on the short side of maintaining a large database of people we regard as crooked and finding stocks associated with them and shorting those stocks. Often we do not know the full extent of the crook’s business – we are just running on pattern recognition.

One such stock was China Agritech. We were short it originally because there was a minor crook associated with it. We worked out plenty including some ridiculous disclosures such as “proprietary nano-honeycomb embedding and microelement deep complexing technologies” in their organic fertiliser. Shorting a company associated with low-level scammers that literally claims to sell high-tech shit is just my style. 

Unbeknownst to me at the time however the Chief Financial Officer of China Agritech – Mr Yau Sing (Gareth) Tang- had a history. Mr Tang and Mr Jimmy Hueng were the directors of a Hong Kong Company called Win’s Prosperity Group which collapsed. The story is told by Professor T. Wing Lo in the British Journal of Criminology. The direct quote (about a Hong Kong stock scam) is:
This case began with the renaming of a listed construction company, OLS Group, as China Prosperity Holdings (CPH) on 29 April 1999. Coincidentally, both the Chinese and English words for ‘Prosperity’ were the same as in Jimmy’s company, Win’s Prosperity Group. Jimmy Heung and a Mr Tang were the only directors of Win’s Prosperity Group. Tang was also the Executive Director of CPH, but Jimmy, as a triad figure, is not allowed to hold directorship of any listed company.
Jimmy Heung – now deceased but then Gareth Tang’s regular business partner – was easy to find. His father was the founder of the Sun Yee On Triad. It was widely reported he was the Triad boss at the time China Agritech was fleecing American shareholders.

Anyway I publicly ridiculed China Agritech on this blog. Obviously I did not know of Triad involvement when I did this as I am not stupid or reckless. But not knowing Triads are involved does not obviate their involvement.

I stopped talking about China Agritech when I received threats of violence by phone from China from people who made very clear that the threats were credible. I reported these threats at the time to the Federal and local police which made it apparent to me that the Australian system wasn’t well equipped to handle cross-border threats from China.

And more importantly I vowed to become far more restrictive about what I would say about short positions and what I would disclose about short positions in the future

Whatever – China Agritech was listed on the NASDAQ. It wasn’t a small pink-sheet company and it had institutional shareholders. 

China Agritech is dead and buried now – and so is the Triad figure who was responsible for this fraud – so I feel safe enough talking now. I do not feel safe talking about this stuff generally. Indeed I would never willingly disclose such a short. Unless forced to by this Bill.

What this Bill will do is allow Triads and other organised crime gangs to list stocks on American stock exchanges and not worry about market participants anonymously exposing the natures of their crimes. The short-sellers will have to disclose themselves, not only to the SEC, but also to the those that will do them harm.

I say – without fear of exaggeration – that this is the Organised Crime Stock Fraud Protection Bill.

I can understand why crooked companies might support this Bill. And it gives me pause that Charlie reports a company that I own supports this Bill. But I have no understanding (other than a cynical grab for listing fees) as to why the NYSE and NASDAQ are happy for Sun Yee On Triad companies to list on their exchanges and why they support a Bill to protect them.


Why should shareholders have to disclose positions anyway?

Running a funds management company you only really have one output. Positions in stock market. That is your intellectual property. 

There is no other business I know where the business is forced to disclose the entirety of their intellectual property.

That said – I can think of a decent reason to force disclosure of long positions. If I own a share I own a vote. If you own a share you also own a vote. If own 30 percent of a company in most cases I can effectively control it. My votes impinge on the power of your votes. 

Because my ownership of shares can change the value of your ownership of shares most countries force disclosure when ownership stakes become large enough to matter (typically, but arbitrarily at five percent). This seems a reasonable compromise between keeping the buyer’s intellectual property private and allowing the rights/control issues around a company to be visible to market participants.

However when I short a share I have no rights whatsoever – just an obligation to buy back the stock sometime. My short position doesn’t impinge on your long position except in as much as there are deferred buyers in the stock. The above argument for forcing disclosure simply does not apply.

Indeed other than symmetry for symmetry’s sake I can’t think of a single argument for forcing short disclosure and I can think of strong arguments opposing it.

I would like the NYSE and the NASDAQ to lay out a cogent argument (other than mere symmetry) why disclosure should be forced and why this does not protect organised crime.

If Herbalife is truly behind this Bill (as Charlie Gasparino reports) then I would also like an explanation of why they support the Bill.

John Hempton

Post script: Charlie Gasparino has since contacted me and assures me that Herbalife has confirmed the story.