While an examination of the recently-unsealed products of discovery in the Fairfax Financial (NYSE:FFH) vs. SAC Capital, el al, lawsuit reveals the extensive involvement of most all the usual players — both in the world of hedge funds and business journalism — one name, mostly unknown to those outside Fairfax circles, appears quite prominently: John Hempton of Sydney, Australia.
Hempton, it appears, conceived of and initially orchestrated the entire Fairfax fiasco. At the time, he was a senior analyst at Australia’s Platinum Asset Management hedge fund. Last year he left Platinum to join Global Value Investors, though on May 15 of this year, Hempton started a blog and began calling himself semi-retired; leading me to presume that some time in early May, Hempton and GIV parted ways.
Though possibly mere coincidence, Herb Greenberg abandoned his MarketWatch gig on May 1, 2008 while Bethany McLean announced her departure from Fortune three days later. Greenberg and McLean, as it turns out, both play notable roles in the apparent Hempton-inspired conspiracy.
A reading of Hempton’s early efforts to win converts to his thesis that Fairfax was a ticking time bomb waiting to implode suggests his conclusions were based on what he viewed as sound principles; he really was convinced, and composed multiple, lengthy missives outlining his reasoning. I suspect Hempton’s mistake was then convincing some of the worst people on Wall Street, whose methods fill the pages of this blog, and whose influence probably turned his project from a speculative to a criminal enterprise, dragging Hempton down with it.
That’s not to say that any of this absolves Hempton of blame.
For one, a 2002 email sent to Rocker Partners employee Monty Montgomery makes it clear that Hempton is prominent stock message board poster Brolgaboy (and brolgaboy1 on Yahoo Finance).
I asked Hempton to comment on or clarify this email, but he refused.
That may be because he knows that, thanks to the Yahoo Dissembler Sorting Algorithm bug, it’s possible to know with certainty that in addition to brolgaboy1, Hempton is also Yahoo posters jamiewoodford1, scudzy_short, zipperdydoodah, and (my favorite) mr_byrnes_sith_lord.
Between them, these accounts have many hundreds of posts on Yahoo Finance, to say nothing of the hundreds more posted to several other boards.
Here’s where I really begin to lose patience with John Hempton.
On August 15, 2005, Hempton created and began posting taunting messages under the name mr_byrnes_sith_lord. This was three days after DeepCapture.com contributor and Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne announced a lawsuit against Gradient Analytics and Rocker Partners hedge fund for conspiring to get rich by destroying his company. At that time, Byrne further announced that he had evidence of a central figure — whom Byrne metaphorically compared to the shadowy “Sith Lord” of the Star Wars series — coordinating these attacks in ways nobody had previously considered possible.
Also on August 15, 2005, Hempton created the Sith Lord blog, which he further used, over the space of two months, to deride Byrne for claiming that short-selling hedge funds might operate in a coordinated way to destroy public companies.
In case you’ve missed it, the extreme irony here is that at least initially, in the case of the attack on Fairfax Financial, Hempton himself filled a version of the very role he attacked Byrne for daring to claim exists.
More than just irony, this, my friends, is a perfect example hubris as defined by the ancient Greeks: an act of extreme pride and arrogance that humiliates the victim, and ultimately the perpetrator as well.
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