Lets connect a few

Let’s connect a few dots on the Florida-Enron front. But let’s also keep an eye on some complexities and an even wider range of remaining questions.

As noted earlier, the Florida state pension fund lost more than $300 million on Enron stock. What’s key is that roughly a third of the shares were purchased after October 22nd. (To get a feel for what was publicly known about Enron at the time, read this reprint of a New York Times article from October 28th.)

Most, though not all, of this Enron purchasing was done on the advice, perhaps even the de facto authority, of Alliance Capital Management — the pension fund’s paid advisor.

Alliance was also itself the largest institutional investor in Enron. A high-level Alliance executive, Frank Savage, also sat on the Enron board.

Now, as this new article in the Washington Post clearly demonstrates, as far back as 1997 Enron board members were kept abreast of the notorious private partnerships which allowed Enron to hide its debt and eventually dragged into bankruptcy. So Frank Savage went into 2001 quite aware of the precariousness of Enron’s position.

Thus one question is whether Alliance was unloading its own Enron stock while getting pension funds, which it advised, to buy — thus keeping some demand in the system and facilitating sale. (One article in the Financial Times from December 19th, 2001 seems to imply that Alliance was getting out while it was advising Florida to buy, but I haven’t found anything definitive on this.) One might also speculate that Alliance might have pushed pension funds to buy in order to stabilize the price of a stock it owned quite a bit of.

At this point, much of this is just speculation: some one needs to go through the books and see who was buying and selling what when. These are the sorts of questions which underlie the lawsuit Florida is now filing against Alliance. And no doubt their lawyers are looking at all this stuff right now.

But before we go too far down this road, at least with Frank Savage, two points must be made.

According to Alliance, Savage was involved in the firm’s international work, and thus shouldn’t have been ‘in the loop,’ shall we say, on domestic pension fund management. And he left Alliance in August, before Enron started to really tank and before the manic buying began.

As far as I’m concerned the big question right now is what Alliance was doing with its own Enron stock while it was telling Florida to buy. More generally, I think we’re going to be hearing a lot in the coming weeks about corporate donations to state controllers who are entrusted with control over state pension funds, and are thus in a position to have their funds buy or sell their patrons stock.

Coming up soon: the Carl McCall / Frank Savage connection.