SEC Targets Broken Deal Expenses, Again

JHW Headshot Photo 2016 (M0990045xB1386)By: Josh Watson

Private equity firm Platinum Equity Advisors, LLC (Platinum) improperly charged broken deal expenses to three of its private equity fund clients, according to a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission on September 21, 2017. The settlement requires Platinum to reimburse its clients for $1.7 million of improper charges and pay a $1.5 million civil penalty.

Platinum advises private equity funds Platinum Equity Capital Partners L.P., Platinum Equity Capital Partners II, L.P., and Platinum Equity Capital Partners III, L.P. These are multi-investor, multi-investment private equity funds that have capital commitments of $700 million, $2.75 billion, and $3.75 billion, respectively. Platinum also forms and advises co-investment vehicles that invest alongside the firm’s private equity funds.

Platinum disclosed to investors that its private equity funds would be responsible for bearing their own broken-deal and other expenses, including “[a]ll out-of-pocket fees, costs, and expenses, if any, incurred in developing, negotiating, and structuring prospective [p]ortfolio [i]nvestments that are not ultimately made.” Platinum also disclosed to investors that it would establish co-investment vehicles that invest alongside its private equity funds.

Platinum’s disclosure of broken deal fees was inadequate, according to the SEC, because Platinum failed to disclose the fact that its private equity funds would bear 100% of all broken deal expenses and that Platinum’s co-investors, who benefit from Platinum’s sourcing of private equity transactions, would bear none of these expenses.

In finding that Platinum’s disclosures were inadequate, the SEC focused on specific statements in the funds’ partnership agreements and private placement memoranda. Each fund’s partnership agreement stated that the fund would be responsible for expenses “of the [p]artnership.” Each fund’s private placement memorandum stated that the fund would pay all expenses “related to its own operations.” The SEC apparently interpreted the references to expenses “of a [p]artnership” and a partnership’s “own expenses” to mean the partnership’s proportionate share of such expenses.

By allocating all broken deal expenses to its private equity funds without adequately disclosing this practice to prospective investors, Platinum violated Section 206(2) of the Advisers Act, which prohibits an investment adviser from engaging in any transaction, practice, or course of business which operates as a fraud or deceit upon any client or prospective client.

The SEC’s settlement with Platinum does not break new ground. The SEC previously alerted the investment community to its concerns about how firms allocate broken deal expenses in its 2015 enforcement action against Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. The takeaway for managers is that proper advance disclosure is required when a firm client is required to bear a disproportionate amount of expenses related to deals that are never actually consummated.

Read more about the settlement:

https://www.sec.gov/litigation/admin/2017/ia-4772-s.pdf

https://www.sec.gov/litigation/admin/2017/ia-4772.pdf

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