The word Champerty – coming from the French word Champart, meaning to share a neighbour’s field – is an odd term referring to an agreement between a third party and a legal claimant.
The agreement goes thus: the claimant’s legal fees are paid by the interested party in return for a share of any eventual damages pay out.
Both the Ancient Greeks and Romans deployed the system in their societies, although it was once outlawed by the powers-that-be in Athens.
So too, was it outlawed in the UK, until 1967 when that year’s Criminal Law Act decriminalized it, along with eavesdropping, being a common scold or night walker and, rather bizarrely, challenging the enemy to a fight.
In modern day Britain, Champerty is now broadly acceptable and in every day use as ‘Litigation Funding’ – it is a big business and growing investment vehicle.
Currently, there is more than £500 million of funds ready to be channeled into funding court cases at this present time. The rise of the industry – one of the few industries which have significantly grown in the past five years – has impacted on companies of all sizes.
Small and Medium Sized enterprises have found it a useful tool to level the playing field in legal fights with stronger-armed opponents with canyon-sized pockets and the legal-battle appetite to match. There are a number of UK banks currently facing funded cases filed by opponents which may not otherwise had the means to do so.
The company to which I am consultant, Vannin Capital, is currently involved in the funding of many of these various areas, but also large scale oil project and exploration disputes stemming from Eastern Europe and Africa, many of them concerning figures running into the hundreds of millions.
Litigation funding is basically an investment by a funding company in a court case which it believes will result in a success. It then takes a per cent of the damages pay out awarded by the court.
If the case is not successful, the funder writes off the investment – litigation funding isn’t a loan.
The model is growing as an asset class, with some funders open to outside investment from areas such as investment funds, pension funds and family wealth.
There are various listed funds, with some based in the US and Australia, and taking on international cases.
Others, such as Vannin, are backed by Private Equity, but the principle of the investment is the same.
Corporates have also found funding an increasingly useful tool as it is attractive to the financial decision makers within companies. The Finance Director, the CFO, even the CEO, are taking up the mantle and looking towards litigation funding.
The cost of litigation is something which can keep even the most hardened CFO awake at night.
Take Deutsche Bank’s most recent profits announcement.
As well as commenting on steps needed to meet regulatory guidelines, the bank also reported a 49 per cent drop in second-quarter profit. It was telling that it set aside €630m for legal costs to defend against investigations into its role as an underwriter of US mortgage-backed securities and in the Libor rate-setting scandal
That is the extreme end of the scale, but it an example of how litigation costs can hurt a business financially, let alone the reputational damage it can cause in the event of a loss.
Clearly, as with any industry, there are significant downsides.
Over the last year the litigation funding market in England has seen a number of new entrants and in recent months some well-established funders have announced large increases in the capital available to them for investment in cases.
This influx of newly available capital is positive.
But the biggest risk in the world of litigation funding is where a funding company represents it has funds when it does not.
It would be a disastrous situation if a funder ran out of money in the middle of a case, or simply did not pay. Aside from ruining that particular funder’s reputation in the industry it leaves the client and the legal team, high and dry.
There has, most unfortunately, been a rise in the number of the companies masquerading around the market. These companies find a case first, misrepresenting their financial position, then they look to raise the money on a one-off basis, usually by looking to insure the capital invested with an ‘own costs’ insurance policy, thus protecting the invested funds at the very least.
The current rise in these organisations has been fuelled by the perceived high rewards available to funders. It is true, the rewards are high, but so are the risks. Real funders operate their businesses on a portfolio basis in order to spread the risk.
One client had what he calls a “painful and drawn out” experience with a funder who could not come up with money. He informed: “After wasting six months, and hearing every excuse possible, we went back to the market and were lucky to find a funder with money. However, it delayed the whole litigation process considerably”.
The question is what can be done to avoid these problems. One immediate remedy is the introduction of the Association of Litigation Funders and its Code of Conduct, which contains provisions to ensure capital adequacy and the basis upon which funders can withdraw from cases. To join the Association, a funder must prove their financial resources.
Undoubtedly things will improve with these new measures. But put simply, clients and solicitors should ensure they know with whom they are dealing. They can ask for references and obviously, proof of adequate capital. Real funders have real clients who have had positive experiences with them – and have been paid well.
The thought of a day – or weeks, as it usually is – in court does not fill the modern day CEO with the joy.
But the rise of litigation funding shows that the appetite is there for businesses to protect themselves against tougher opponents – and seek redress while mitigating risk.
Nick Rowles-Davies is an experienced lawyer and legal commentator, and consultant to litigation funding company Vannin Capital – www.litigationfunding.com
Oil falls after surging past $65 on Texas freeze
By Stephanie Kelly
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices fell on Thursday despite a sharp drop in U.S. crude inventories, as market participants took profits following days of buying spurred by a cold snap in the largest U.S. energy-producing state.
Brent crude fell 41 cents, or 0.6%, to settle at $63.93 a barrel. During the session it rose as high as $65.52, its highest since January 2020.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 62 cents, or 1%, to settle at $60.52 a barrel, after earlier reaching $62.26, the highest since January 2020.
Brent had gained for four straight sessions before Thursday, while WTI had risen for three.
“The market probably got a little bit ahead of itself,” said Phil Flynn, a senior analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “But make no mistake, this selloff in oil doesn’t solve the problems. The problems are going to persist.”
Though some Texas households had power restored on Thursday, the state entered its sixth day of a cold freeze. It has grappled with refining outages and oil and gas shut-ins that rippled beyond its border into Mexico.
The weather has shut in about one-fifth of the nation’s refining capacity and closed oil and natural gas production across the state.
“The temporary outage will help to accelerate U.S. oil inventories down towards the five-year average quicker than expected,” SEB chief commodities analyst Bjarne Schieldrop said.
Prices dropped despite a decrease in U.S. oil inventories. Crude stockpiles fell by 7.3 million barrels in the week to Feb. 12, the Energy Information Administration said on Thursday, compared with analysts’ expectations for an decrease of 2.4 million barrels.
Crude exports rose to 3.9 million barrels per day, the highest since March, EIA said.
“The big nugget was the big jump in exports of crude oil,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital in New York. “We’ll have to see what happens with that next week weather in Texas, but I have been looking for a pickup there for a while.”
Oil’s rally in recent months has also been supported by a tightening of global supplies, due largely to production cuts from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allied producers in the OPEC+ grouping, which includes Russia.
OPEC+ sources told Reuters the group’s producers are likely to ease curbs on supply after April given the recovery in prices.
(Additional reporting by Yuka Obayashi in Tokyo; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Steve Orlofsky, David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis)
GameStop frenzy sparks fresh investment in stock-trading apps
By Jane Lanhee Lee
OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) – The recent trading frenzy centered on GameStop Corp and other “meme” stocks is sparking a wave of investor interest in start-ups aiming to mimic the success of Robinhood Markets Inc, whose no-fee brokerage app has helped drive a trading boom.
Public.com, a direct competitor to Robinhood that boasts a host of blue-chip backers, said on Wednesday it had raised $220 million, valuing it at $1.2 billion on the private market. Another well-heeled rival, Stash, said earlier this month it had raised $125 million, while Webull Financial LLC, backed by Chinese investors, is also raising fresh funds after enjoying an influx of new users.
Robinhood, meanwhile, raised some $3.4 billion in the midst of the GameStop furor to assure its stability amid rapid growth and demands by its trading partners that it post more collateral.
The fresh investments are coming even as government regulators ramp up scrutiny of Robinhood and others involved in the GameStop trading. A U.S. congressional committee on Thursday grilled the chief executive of Robinhood and a YouTube streamer known as “Roaring Kitty,” among others, as it probes possible improprieties, including market manipulation.
Robinhood came under stiff criticism from some quarters for restricting trading in GameStop and other shares at the height of the frenzy, a move the company says it was forced to make due to requirements of partners that settle trades. It has also drawn scrutiny for a business model that relies on payments for sending trading business to partner brokerages, a practice Public.com and some other rivals are pledging to avoid.
Investors see rich opportunity in bringing easy stock trading to smartphone users globally, though the companies say they are also cognizant of the risks.
Stash, which doubled its active accounts to over 5 million by the end of last year, operates with only four trading windows a day to discourage rapid speculative trading, it said.
U.K.-based Freetrade.io told Reuters by email that its user numbers last year grew six-fold to 300,000 and by mid-February had reached 560,000. It said it had raised a total $35 million, including from crowd-funding rounds from over 10,000 customers.
But it does not offer margin trading or riskier offerings. “These products encourage investors to behave as if they are gambling or speculating rather than investing,” a Freetrade.io spokesman said.
Interest in trading apps is soaring globally. In Mexico, trading app Flink launched seven months ago and already has a million users, according to co-founder and chief executive Sergio Jimenez. He said Mexicans can buy fractions of U.S. stock through the platform, but not Mexican stocks – yet.
“Ninety percent of them are investing for the first time,” said Jimenez.
Flink raised $12 million in a funding round in February led by Accel, an early investor in Facebook. Accel is also an investor in Public.com and Berlin-based Trade Republic Bank Gmbh, which allows European retail investors to buy fractions of U.S. stocks, according to Accel partner Andrew Braccia.
“The bigger story here is there’s just this global trend of… accessibility,” he said.
Start-up investors also see opportunity in the infrastructure behind the trading apps. DriveWealth, which serves Mexico’s Flink and 70-plus other online trading apps around the world, has hundreds more partnerships in the pipeline, according to founder and chief executive Bob Cortright. DriveWealth provides the technology to power digital wallets and trading apps, and also provides clearing and brokerage service to its business partners.
“This is this is only beginning,” said Cortright. “The fact that you could have a smartphone in your hand in India, for instance, and buy $10 worth of Coca-Cola stock at an instant, that’s pretty game-changing.”
Venture capital investments in U.S. fintech companies hit a record last year with $20.6 billion invested, according to data firm PitchBook. Globally, around $41.4 billion was invested in fintech companies in 2020.
(Reporting By Jane Lanhee Lee in Oakland; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Dan Grebler)
Analysis: Debt-laden world, rising bond yields – a toxic taper tantrum combo
By Dhara Ranasinghe and Karin Strohecker
LONDON (Reuters) – In May 2013, bond investors threw a tantrum after hints the U.S. Federal Reserve might slow the money-printing presses. A similar selloff now, with another $70 trillion added to global debt, could prove to be far more vicious.
A 2013-style “taper tantrum” was named as one of the top market risks in BofA’s February poll of fund managers who fear a pick-up in inflation expectations might soon persuade central banks to start withdrawing or “tapering” stimulus.
Some like former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers even predict this will happen sooner than anticipated if huge government spending sparks runaway inflation.
Such fears drove U.S. 10-year borrowing costs to near-one year highs on Tuesday. Equities slipped off record peaks; long-dormant gauges of Treasury market volatility flickered into life.
“Higher rates means higher rates volatility, means higher spreads and market selloffs as we saw back in 2013,” said Kaspar Hense, portfolio manager at BlueBay Asset Management who has pared exposure to Treasuries, expecting their 30-40 bps year-to-date yield rise to continue.
“There is no doubt the risks are greater this time around than 2013 because of the high leverage in the system.”
Global debt today stands at $281 trillion, according to the Institute of International Finance, versus $210 trillion in 2013. Companies and households too owe significantly more.
Economic growth and inflation can whittle away debt. Yet the very policies put in place to aid recovery can encourage more borrowing.
Debt is keeping central banks in “a loop of never-ending provision of liquidity and of very low interest rates,” said Steve Ellis, global fixed income CIO at Fidelity International.
“The only way to keep the plate spinning is keep refinancing costs low.”
Graphic: Debt levels on the rise since 2013 Taper Tantrumb – https://graphics.reuters.com/GLOBAL-BONDS/TANTRUM/bdwvknkrepm/chart.png
What bears watching is the “real” or inflation-adjusted bond yield that represents the true cost of capital. The 100 bps-plus spike in real U.S. yields of 2013 has not happened so far this time, sparing equities and emerging markets the fallout.
It also implies markets are not factoring a central bank response to higher inflation expectations.
That may be why, taper tantrum fears notwithstanding, BofA survey participants are holding equity and commodity allocations near decade-highs — with real yields near minus 1%, U.S. stocks still pay a 5% premium over bonds.
HIGHER, LONGER, WILDER
It’s not just the sheer weight of debt that makes markets more sensitive to interest rate moves.
After the interest rate collapse of recent years, just 7.8% of global government and corporate bonds on the Tradeweb platform yield 3% or more.
Global shares trade at 20 times forward earnings versus 12.5 times in May 2013.
Investors have fanned out into higher-yielding junk-rated debt and the BofA survey found a record proportion holding above-normal risk exposure.
Finally, investors are loaded up on longer-maturity debt.
Duration — how long it takes to recoup the original investment — is now 8.5 years on the ICE BofA World Sovereign Bond Index, two years more than in 2013.
Graphic: Investor exposure to duration rises – https://graphics.reuters.com/GLOBAL-BONDS/oakveradypr/chart.png
Longer-dated assets also expose investors to higher ‘convexity’ in the price-yield relationship, meaning a small rise in yields causes outsize losses.
That’s been highlighted this year to holders of Austria’s 100-year issue where a 35 bps yield rise has knocked prices 20% lower. Similarly, a 40 bps rise in 30-year U.S. yields has translated into a 4% price fall.
Ellis estimates holders of 10-year Treasuries would lose 4.62% over a month if yields rise 50 bps from current levels. A similar rise would have caused a 4.46% loss in 2013.
Similarly, JPMorgan Asset Management calculates a 1% rise across the U.S. curve would cause total annual price returns on a 30-year Treasury to fall 19%. Two-year notes would suffer a 2% price loss.
NOT ALL BAD
Some say delaying the tantrum might make matters worse.
“It’s better to put up with the tantrum when someone is two than when they are 14,” said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management.
Graphic: Are markets gearing up for another taper tantrum? – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/yzdpxwndrvx/tapertantrum1502.png
But most policymakers have made clear they will not hurry. Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester for instance said the Fed was keen to avoid taper tantrums and wouldn’t withdraw support until the economy was stronger.
Central banks also are less keen than previously to tighten policy in response to a price surge, having repeatedly pledged low rates even if inflation overshootsm.
Scars from 2013 and higher global indebtedness will force central banks to “lean against” market tantrums, asset manager BlackRock reckons.
Finally, emerging markets which bore the brunt of past tantrums, appear better placed this time. Many countries, including those reliant on foreign capital in 2013, now run balance of payments surpluses.
“Positioning in emerging market securities and currencies is far below previous cycle peaks, especially 2013,” said Bryan Carter, head of EM debt at HSBC Asset Management, pointing to higher bond risk premia and cheaper valuations.
Graphic: U.S. yields and EM capital flows – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/oakvermzxpr/US%20yields%20and%20EM%20capital%20flows.PNG
(Reporting by Dhara Ranasinghe, Sujata Rao and Karin Strohecker; additional reporting by Saikat Chatterjee; editing by Sujata Rao and Toby Chopra)
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