Derivatives, Short Sales, and Mitt Romney's Other Exotic Financial Instruments

This story is part of a package on Mitt Romney's Bain holdings. For the full report, go here.

Romney has described his experience at Bain as a hands-on, sleeves-rolled-up exercise in rebuilding companies from the ground up. But to judge by the financial statements of Bain's various funds, he makes his money not from the "launch[ing] or rebuild[ing] of over one hundred companies" but from exotic and highly technical financial instruments that have little or no basis in the real economy that most Americans understand.

Like all preposterously rich people, Romney is heavily invested in the sort of glorified gambling that helped bring down the global economic system in 2008. Sankaty Credit Opportunities IV, for example, made $89 million from credit default swaps in 2009. Here's a mouthful from the Sankaty Credit Opportunities L.P. audited statement:

The partnership may from time to time enter into various managed tranche credit default swap transactions whereby the partnership contributes a net amount to financial intermediaries and provides protection, in aggregate, on pools of underlying reference assets. The net amount contributed consists of a gross amount paid upfront by the partnership for potential credit events and a gross amount of upfront interest received by the partnership for certain tranches of these pools. As of December 31, 2009, the partnership holds six swap transactions on three pools of credit default swaps, of various credit quality, with a total notional amount of $55,136,418.

He built that.

Absolute Capital Return Partners LP, a $928 million fund that Romney has invested more than $1.25 million in, recorded proceeds of $174 million in 2009 from short-sales of stock, the often perniciously deployed tactic of betting on firms to fail—not exactly the sort of investment strategy you'd expect from someone arguing that only he can get our economy going again. Absolute Capital Return also recorded $131 million in proceeds from derivatives trading in 2009.

Prospect Harbor Credit Partners LP, a $2.8 billion fund in which Romney had invested more than $1.25 million as of 2011, recorded $359 million in net unrealized appreciation from swap contracts in 2009—more than half of its total gain for the year. Taconic Capital Partners 1.5 LP, a $790 hedge fund that Romney owns via a Goldman Sachs "fund of funds," recorded $10.2 million in total derivative financial instruments last year.

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