Funds offered by GPB Capital Holdings LLC (“GPB”) have shown signs of distress for some time now. First, it was reported that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (known as “FINRA”), the FBI, the State of Massachusetts, and the New York Business Integrity Commission are investigating GPB Capital Holdings LLC (“GPB”) for financial misconduct. Then one of GPB’s business partners, Prime Automotive Group in Massachusetts, accused GPB of serious financial misconduct and running a “Ponzi-like scheme”.
Now, these problems have apparently come home to roost in the form of investor losses, as it was recently reported that GPB issued revised, lower valuations for two of its funds, GPB Holdings Fund II and GPB Automotive Fund. The funds purportedly lost 25.4% and 39% of their value respectively. Investors are left to guess whether this is the end of the losse, or whether GPB’s other funds including GPB Holdings LP, GPB Holdings III, GPB Waste Management, LP, and GPB NYC Development LP – will also lose value.
GPB is a New York-based alternative asset management firm whose business model is predicated on “acquiring income-producing private companies” across a number of industries including automotive, waste management, and middle market lending. An issuer of private placements, GPB has raised $1.8 billion from accredited investors in funds that in turn invest in auto dealerships and the waste management industry. Stockbrokers and advisors from dozens of brokerage and financial advisory firms sold the high risk, high-commission private placements, including GPB Automotive Portfolio, LP, and GPB Waste Management, LP. According to SEC filings approximately 60 brokerage firms sold clients investments in various GPB Capital Funds. However, the primary sellers of these toxic funds appear to have been Royal Alliance, FSC Securities, SagePoint Financial, and Woodbury Financial Services.
Private placement investments are complex and fraught with risk. To begin, private placements are often sold under a high fee and commission structure. Reportedly, one brokerage executive has indicated that the sales loads for GPB private placements were 12%, including a 10% commission to the broker and his or her broker-dealer, as well as a 2% fee for offering and organization costs. Such high fees and expenses act as an immediate drag on investment performance.
Further, private placement investments carry a high degree of risk due to their nature as unregistered securities offerings. Unlike stocks that are publicly registered, and therefore, must meet stringent registration and reporting requirement as set forth by the SEC, private placements lack regulatory oversight. Accordingly, private placements are typically sold through what is known as a “Reg D” offering. Investing through a Reg D offering is risky because investors are usually provided with very little in the way of information. For example, private placement investors may be presented with unaudited financials or overly optimistic growth forecasts, or in some instances, with a due diligence report that was prepared by a third-party firm hired by the sponsor of the investment itself.