An investigation by the Commission found that Oppenheimer Asset Management and Oppenheimer Alternative Investment Management (no relation to Oppenheimer Funds) disseminated misleading quarterly reports and marketing materials stating that the fund’s holdings of other private equity funds were valued “based on the underlying managers’ estimated values.”
However, the portfolio manager of the Oppenheimer fund actually valued the fund’s largest investment at a significant markup to the underlying manager’s estimated value, a change that made the fund’s performance appear significantly better as measured by its internal rate of return.
Oppenheimer agreed to pay more than $2.8 million to settle the SEC’s charges. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office announced a related action and additional financial penalty against Oppenheimer.
“Honest disclosure about how investments are valued and how performance is measured is vital to private equity investors,” said George S. Canellos, acting director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “This action against Oppenheimer for misleadingly writing up the value of illiquid investments is clear warning that the SEC will not tolerate lax disclosure practices in the marketing of private equity funds.”
According to the SEC’s order instituting settled administrative proceedings, the Oppenheimer advisers marketed Oppenheimer Global Resource Private Equity Fund I LP (OGR) to investors from around October 2009 to June 2010. OGR is a fund that invests in other private equity funds, and it was marketed primarily to pensions, foundations, and endowments as well as high-net-worth individuals and families.
According to the SEC’s order, OGR’s largest investment—Cartesian Investors-A LLC—was not valued based on the underlying managers’ estimated values. OGR’s portfolio manager himself valued Cartesian at a significant markup to the underlying manager’s estimated value. OAM’s change in valuation methodology resulted in a material increase in OGR’s performance as measured by its internal rate of return, which is a metric commonly used to compare the profitability of various investments. For the quarter ended June 30, 2009, the portfolio manager’s markup of OGR’s Cartesian investment increased the internal rate of return, from approximately 3.8%, to 38.3%.
“Particularly in the current difficult fundraising environment that can incentivize private equity managers to artificially inflate portfolio valuations, firms must implement policies and procedures to ensure that investors receive performance data derived from the disclosed valuation methodology,” said Julie M. Riewe, deputy chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit. “Oppenheimer failed to implement such procedures and provided investors with misleading information about its valuation policies and performance numbers.”
The SEC’s order found that former OAM employees made the following misrepresentations to potential investors:
- The increase in Cartesian’s value was due to an increase in Cartesian’s performance when, in fact, the increase was attributable to the portfolio manager’s new valuation method.
- A third-party valuation firm used by Cartesian’s underlying manager wrote up the value of Cartesian, which was untrue.
- OGR’s underlying funds were audited by independent third-party auditors when, in fact, Cartesian was unaudited.
The SEC’s order also found that Oppenheimer Asset Management’s written policies and procedures were not reasonably designed to ensure that valuations provided to prospective and existing investors were presented in a manner consistent with written representations to investors and prospective investors.
Oppenheimer Asset Management’s conduct violated Sections 17(a)(2) and 17(a)(3) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and Rules 206(4)-7 and 206(4)-8. Without admitting or denying the findings, Oppenheimer agreed to pay a $617,579 penalty and return $2,269,098 to those who invested in OGR during the time period when the misrepresentations were made. Oppenheimer consented to a censure and agreed to cease and desist from committing or causing any future violations of the securities laws. The firm is required to retain an independent consultant to conduct a review of its valuation policies and procedures.
Oppenheimer will pay an additional penalty of $132,421 to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the related action taken by the Massachusetts Attorney General.
The SEC’s investigation is continuing. The SEC release is here.