Guest Post by Greg Silberman, CIO Atlanta Capital Group.
On December 26, 1991 the USSR officially dissolved, breaking up into fifteen separate nations.
Thus ending the 44-year Cold War!
Two Soviet KGB officers pose as an American married couple living in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. with their unsuspecting children and neighbor, Stan Beeman, an FBI counterintelligence agent.
In a gripping tale of espionage, deception and dead drops woven within historical context and 1980s gadgetry, this series will have you on edge.
If you’ve got thirty hours of your life to spare I highly recommend you watch the three series but beware you will get hooked! [I’m watching on Amazon Prime.]
I didn’t know what I was doing with my life
I completed my first year of university in 1991 and felt like I was on a pre-packaged conveyor belt to hell.
I was unhappy
I needed to ‘find myself’
I made a deal with my folks.
They would finance a trip to Europe for a year. I would work along the way, menial jobs like separating chicken livers from bile sacks. Yuck!
They call it a Gap Year in the antipodeans.
I needed to do some growing up– compulsory military conscription had been scrapped in South Africa and I wasn’t about to volunteer. In return I promised my parents I would return and complete my studies … make something of myself.
I called it the University of Life
It was 1992 and I was the princely age of 19 years old
I wanted to go everywhere and see everything and I damn near did.
I decided to take a self-guided tour through Eastern Europe … remember the Berlin Wall had come down in November 1989 and the USSR has dissolved at the end of 1991 … barely a nanosecond had passed in the life of Nations.
For all intents and purposes I was visiting the Soviet Block.
Poland was nice but the concentration camps were terribly depressing for me.
Prague was incredibly beautiful and I must have stumbled around for days thanks to the 20c Pilsner Urquells on tap.
But I wanted to go deeper into the Soviet Empire.
So I first I went to Bratislava (now the capital of Slovakia). I remember the Soviet style squares, HUGE concrete parking lots. Good for weapons display drive byes I guess. LOTS of tennis courts – Ivan Lendl? Statues of Lenin still stood idly by.
I had the brilliant idea of going to my great great grandfather’s hometown of Vilnius, Lithuania. The fact that he had run away under threat of Pogrom didn’t deter me.
I really didn’t have a plan. I was young, idealistic and stupid. A common theme? Thankfully I have grown out of it. The train from Poland to Lithuania goes through Belarus (who knew? Poland and Lithuania are next to each other).
At the Belarus border town of Grodno a young Russian soldier gets onboard to check visas. What? Visa? I didn’t have one. I was BLOCKED turned away. Put in a holding room for about 4 hours until the train back to Warsaw arrived. I sat next to Russian women who graciously shared her heavy wheaty loaf of bread and Jam with me. I was thankful. She must have thought I was a CIA agent!
Many years later a person familiar with the geography said to me all it would have taken was a crisp $100 bill in the pages of my passport – after all that’s what the border soldier was looking for. Who knew?
Far be it for me to prognosticate but I am getting a sense of unease.
The Great Russian Bear is spoiling for a fight (again).
Russia has been flexing its muscles in the Crimea under the guise of unifying Russian speakers with the motherland – similar to Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland and later the Austrian Anschluss under the same pretext.
They say if you press the Russians into a corner, Putin is going to bite you – I believe it!
Similarly, distant and forgotten is the pre-World War II deflation, something we are now grappling with, albeit in our own unique version of the beast.
With short term interest rates nailed to the floor for the last 7-years and seemingly, the only way to go when they do is up, investors are left scrambling for both INCOME and CAPITAL PRESERVATION as their primary investment goals
Lucky for us the same government that has suppressed interest rates has provided (paradoxically) a way out through regulation such as Dodd-Frank/Volcker and Basel III.
ENTER PRIVATE CREDIT *
This Bloomberg Interview with Len Tannenbaum of Fifth Street at the 2015 SALT Conference describes the opportunity set better than I can (the essence is that banks have either dramatically reduced or no longer lend in many situations opening up opportunities for private capital).
Private Credit aka Asset Based Lending comes in many different flavors, all with the common theme of over-collateralization (remember 2008?), a higher coupon than public markets (LIBOR + 6%+ but really does vary) and normally a Variable Rate.
US Performing Credit
Structured Credit – mortgages and collateralizes obligations
Opportunistic Credit – Bridge Loans, convertibles other non-standard loans
Non-performing loans – distressed
License & Royalties e.g. Film, Patents, Mineral Rights
The beauty of private credit is that each transaction can be tailored to a specific investment outcome. Take for example a hypothetical structured late-stage VC company called XYZ Inc. in the medical devices industry.
Funding commitment of $3MM to XYZ Inc.
The first tranche will be funded at close in the amount of $2MM and the second tranche can be called by the Company in the amount of $1MM.
The term on the note would be 18 months and the note can convert into equity at a 15% discount to a subsequent round.
The first tranche carries an 18% interest rate (non-current pay). If the second tranche is called, then the outstanding principal balance goes to 20%.
In addition to the interest rate and conversion discount, [Lender] will also receive .70 bps of stock in XYZ Inc. for the first tranche and an additional 100bps for the second tranche.
Earlier this year, stock was granted in the Company at nearly $100MM valuation, so the equity ownership could be economically meaningful.
Noteholder will be senior to all debt and other securities in the company, save for a loan with ABC Trust Co. which we will have an intercreditor agreement with, acknowledging that it is pari pasu.
[Lender] will have a board seat at the Company and strong negative controls.
[Lender] will receive a 2 point origination fee on each funded tranche.
The above hypothetical deal protects on the downside, has a high coupon and upside participation.
Sourcing and Structuring a deal such as the above is time consuming and I believe it is only fair that the asset manager earns a decent fee.
Credit giants such as Apollo or Blackstone have the benefit of accessing a select deal flow based on their size and speed of funding.
However, don’t overlook smaller managers – providing their credit analysis process is robust – they may have access to credit opportunities the larger players would forego due to their size.
The benefit for the investor is higher yields than public markets and lower volatility (valuations usually monthly or quarterly) HOWEVER there is a sacrifice on liquidity – 18 months up to 5 years.
So there you have it; a quick tour of private credit and the opportunity … I expect it will become a bigger feature of client portfolios in the future.
In my next article I will discuss how to protect your private credit portfolio further on the downside and how to create equity-like returns on the upside.
According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies there are 41 active conflicts in the world at this time (3 of which involve Russia) … and that potentially does not include numerous non-state armed groups. Is it possible these wars are in some way connected, in a way we cannot yet recognize, as a World War III of sorts?
I don’t know.
But I do know War causes surprises and surprises cause volatility and volatility causes havoc on clients portfolios.
P.S. How do you use Private Credit in Portfolios?
Thank you for reading my post. I regularly write about private market opportunities and trends. If you would like to read my regular posts feel free to also connect on Linkedin, Twitter or via Atlanta Capital Group.
Greg Silberman is the Chief Investment Officer of Atlanta Capital Group. Atlanta Capital Group specializes in creating custom private market solutions for RIA/Family Office clients and is an active acquirer of independent wealth management practices.
Advisory Services offered through Atlanta Capital Group.
* To invest in Private Credit an investor needs to be an accredited investor as defined by the SEC. Nothing in this article should be interpreted as a recommendation to buy any security. Please conduct your own due diligence.