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July 14, 2018

University of Maine pension fund fires Guggenheim over regulatory probe

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University of Maine pension fund fires Guggenheim over regulatory probe
© Reuters. University of Maine pension fund fires Guggenheim over regulatory probe

By Trevor Hunnicutt

A university pension and endowment fund fired a Guggenheim Partners LLC subsidiary because of its ongoing investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), records showed, as the closely watched U.S. asset manager faces pressure to address clients' concerns.

The University of Maine's investment committee, which oversees $640 million, jettisoned Guggenheim Investments as a manager of more than $17 million in assets in June after getting a warning about the investigation from a top investment consultant, NEPC LLC, according to official meeting records posted online.

Those records said that the committee "elected to terminate Guggenheim given the risks associated with the SEC investigation."

Guggenheim, the university and NEPC on Friday declined to comment on the termination, which was first reported by FundFire, an industry publication.

Guggenheim has not been accused of wrongdoing and said in April it was cooperating with the SEC investigation. The agency declined to comment when Reuters asked about the investigation at that time. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

The SEC is investigating Guggenheim and has sought details on a real-estate transaction and other deals involving a company owned by two former Guggenheim managers, according to a person who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, and asked not to be identified.

That company, ABS Capital Co LLC, purchased several properties in Southern California, including a $13 million mansion where a former Guggenheim executive, Alexandra Court, lives.

It was not clear why the company had purchased the property, but the transaction drew attention from media and people who watch the company closely because Court's relationship with Guggenheim Chief Executive and co-founder Mark Walter had already been a subject of staff and client concern. Court left the company earlier this year after a long sabbatical.

Walter is also the part-chairman and controlling owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers Major League Baseball team.

While the $17 million is just a sliver of the $246 billion managed by Guggenheim's investment division, the university's decision to replace Guggenheim with Bain Capital Credit LP as manager for a portfolio of bank loans turns a spotlight on a company that has faced months of publicity over regulatory inquiries and internal rifts.

Reuters reported last December that Guggenheim clients and other industry observers were concerned that the company's work culture had deteriorated, and that a number of executives from the company were working to address those concerns.

Beginning in April, NEPC started cautioning clients to review their investments with Guggenheim, according to the Maine university's records. NEPC guides not just the University of Maine but also hundreds of investors with over $1 trillion in assets, according to its website, and these advisers' views on fund managers can be influential.

A Guggenheim spokesman, Gerard Carney, told Reuters in December that public pension assets represent about 1.4 percent of Guggenheim's overall assets under management.

Mike Sitrick, a spokesman for Guggenheim, told Reuters in September that Court and Walter "only have a business relationship," but that any personal relationship would have been disclosed to the company.

A spokesman for ABS Capital, George Haj, told Reuters in April that the company did not borrow money from Guggenheim or funds they manage to finance the homes.

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