The Mission & The Model
Portico’s recent digs at KKR and Blackstone generated some rousing feedback.
I considered taking on Apollo or Carlyle this month to pump the engagement metrics.
Alas, one reader suggested that — in addition to pointing out market failures and emperors wearing no clothes — I should consider profiling lesser-known managers that are attaining success as well.
The Portico Podcast is an attempt at this — a channel where I recede into the background and shine a spotlight on individuals who I find to be bright and entrepreneurial, and who either employ a differentiated investment strategy or have a fresh view on an important topic.
So far, these have included:
- Aniko Szigetvari & Ik Kanu, the founders of Atlantica Ventures
- Monica Brand Engel, co-founding Partner of Quona Capital
- Weijian Shan, chairman and CEO of PAG
- Jake Cusack, co-founder and Managing Partner of The CrossBoundary Group, and
- Greg Bowes, co-founder and Managing Principal of Albright Capital
And yet, I can’t shake this reader’s comment …
… because it tells me that I’m not channeling enough of my energy toward Portico’s mission: closing the finance gap through the creation and dissemination of knowledge.
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I recently participated in a two-week strategy course, which revealed an inherent tension between our mission and our business / revenue models.
In part, the tension is a function of the long sales and project cycles, which impinge on our ability to create knowledge. But it’s also because we customize our engagements for each client — solving one pain point for one firm.
Specific knowledge is hard to productize and scale.
I’ve been considering a pivot that would have us recommit to Portico’s mission in a holistic manner — creating and disseminating knowledge on the full array of market intelligence, financial, operational, and human capital pain points that individuals and firms face.
But candidly, I wonder whether our stated mission is work that no longer needs to be done.
Is it the case that new knowledge is needed to close the finance gap? Do information asymmetries constitute the critical chokepoint?
I have my doubts.
The information landscape has diversified in important ways over the last five years, making it easier than ever for people to glean knowledge on new markets.
But I’m also chastened by a statement that an LP recently said to me, “most investors aren’t very bright.”
What’s the point in producing content for people who don’t want to think too hard or act independently?
If scale providers are what global capital seeks, it’s silly to create knowledge when the demand is for advertorials.
And yet, I get the sense that there are humans who are eager for insightful perspectives on global private markets, and useful knowledge that will help them build their businesses.
So, I am asking for your feedback.
I’m exploring the idea of a subscription offering that provides a fulsome menu of differentiated, interactive content (audio + text + visual).
The subscription would also offer opportunities for subscribers to engage directly with industry leaders and subject matter experts, and to shape Portico’s research agenda.
I’m being deliberately light on specifics, but what do you think?
Simon Clark on Arif Naqvi, The Key Man
In the latest episode of the Portico Podcast, I speak with Simon Clark, a reporter at The Wall Street Journal and the co-author of The Key Man — the summer’s must-read book about Arif Naqvi and the downfall of The Abraaj Group.
The Key Man is an absolutely riveting book. It has the pace of John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood, but with an unbelievable cast of credulous characters who fell for a fantasy.
I had four pages of questions for Simon, and while we clearly don’t get to everything on my list, I think you’ll agree that this is an enlightening conversation that tells us much about the manufacture of social capital, and the failures of the world’s most prestigious firms to do an ounce of work.
Check it out on Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify
Ray Dalio, Sage, Says: To Understand China, You Need to Understand China
Two years ago, Bridgewater Associates Founder and co-CIO Ray Dalio took to The YouTube to impart his thoughts on why you should probably invest in China.
I shared it at the time because I thought his analysis was stupid, notably his theory about investing behind rising ‘Reserve Currency Empires’ (i.e., Dutch, British, American, and Chinese).
Back then, I wrote:
[O]ne of these empires is not like the other.
Hint: in three of these, the batons were often brought out to protect the interests of capital. In the other, they’re often brought out for other reasons.
It’s such an obvious point that I didn’t think it needed to be said.
Well, after the recent DiDi hubbub and CCP decision to outlaw profits for education companies, Ray took to LinkedIn to share some incisive commentary:
To understand what’s going on you need to understand that China is a state capitalist system which means that the state runs capitalism to serve the interests of most people and that policy makers won’t let the sensitivities of those in the capital markets and rich capitalists stand in the way of doing what they believe is best for the most people of the country. Rather, those in the capital markets and capitalists have to understand their subordinate places in the system or they will suffer the consequences of their mistakes. For example, they need to not mistake their having riches for having power for determining how things will go.
Look, Ray’s stating the obvious after the fact.
But you need to understand that what Ray’s telling you — even if he’s not saying it — is that China has become uninvestable.
Forget about past performance.
The direction of travel has changed.
There are opportunities elsewhere, in countries where your capital is valued, and where you can finance infrastructure, products, services, and technologies that increase human dignity and wellbeing.
Adapt and go find them.
As the sage, himself, says:
[Y]ou need to understand that the global geopolitical environment changing leads to some changes.
Stablecoins, CBDCs & ZK Proofs
Around the time Ray was saying investors should probably invest in China, this newsletter explored the possibility that a digital currency might replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.
Gary Gorton (Yale) and Jeffery Zhang (Federal Reserve) have written a fascinating paper on the systemic risks of ‘stablecoins’ and the prospects for a central bank digital currency (‘CBDC’).
I believe a U.S. CBDC is inevitable.
The questions that follow are:
- Does the CBDC take the form of (i) a token, or (ii) a citizen’s deposit account at the Federal Reserve?
- How do you protect privacy?
On question 1, the deposit account could enable new, powerful tools for the Fed to achieve macroeconomic objectives (e.g., helicopter money), but at the risk of totalitarian-level control over who can spend how much on what, and where and when they may do so. Not ideal!
On question 2, you could imagine a spectrum from the digital yuan (where the state sees all) to a cryptographically secured, anonymous digital cash. The key unlock for the latter is the advance of zero-knowledge (ZK) proofs.
If you’re keen to learn more, you should read this piece by Aleo co-founder Howard Wu, and Ben Laurie’s paper Selective Disclosure.
Things to Watch
Nasdaq Private Market
Very interesting development in the secondary market for shares of private companies: Nasdaq, Silicon Valley Bank, Citi, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley announced a joint venture to spin out Nasdaq Private Market and create a standalone liquidity venue.
If you know anyone at Nasdaq who would like someone to help build this out across EM, please send them my contact info. I have data. Thx. 🙂
The Wall Street Journal reports that the number of blank-check companies targeting EM has tripled to reach 60 (⁓12% of the U.S. total).
As someone who put forward the idea of a super-SPAC as a liquidity solution in EM private markets, I must say that the prospects for disastrous governance outcomes are legion.
Wall of Shame
Advent International SPAC faces $800M loss (Bloomberg).
From the Bookshelf
“You’ve come to us just in time Scheisskopf. The summer offensive has petered out, thanks to the incompetent leadership with which we supply our troops, and I have a crying need for a tough, experienced, competent officer like you to help produce the memoranda upon which we rely so heavily to let people know how good we are and how much work we’re turning out. I hope you are a prolific writer.”
“I don’t know anything about writing,” Colonel Scheisskopf retorted sullenly.
“Well don’t let that trouble you,” General Peckem continued with a careless flick of his wrist. “Just pass the work I assign you along to somebody else and trust to luck. We call that delegation of responsibility. Somewhere down near the lowest level of this coordinated organization I run are people who do get the work done when it reaches them, and everything manages to run along smoothly without too much effort on my part. I suppose that’s because I am a good executive. Nothing we do in this large department of ours is really very important, and there’s never any rush. On the other hand, it is important that we let people know we do a great deal of it.”
— Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (Scribner’s: 1996)
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