By Nicholas Varchaver
June 18, 2017

Good Morning.

Short-sellers tend to make good copy. Iconoclasts, not uncommonly of a belligerent cast, they challenge prevailing wisdom. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever read an account in which a journalist is embedded with a short-seller. “The Bounty Hunter of Wall Street,” in the New York Times magazine, is such a tale, and it’s riveting. It’s the story of Andrew Left, who received his stock education working in a boiler room but was subversive enough to turn against the sleazy traders and begin shorting the pump-and-dump penny stocks favored by the likes of Jordan Belfort, AKA “the Wolf of Wall Street.” Today Left is an “activist short” who has been instrumental in campaigns against Valeant and Express Scripts. He combines diligent research, a pugnacious camera-ready personality, and a mastery of social media. Fortunately for the reader, he lets a reporter hang around with him as he takes on Express Scripts and you won’t be able to tear your eyes away:

In 15 minutes, $6 billion of market capitalization vanished. (Five months later, the stock price is still down 13 percent.) Left considered the circus around him. “See,” he said, “some guys know this stuff better than me. But I know how to put it in [expletive] tweets.”

The article is filled with vivid writing that manages to be both entertaining and outstanding at explanation, such as this passage describing the history of shorting:

For many years that risk was taken on in secret: Short-sellers would make their bets and passively wait for the market to move in their direction. The figure of the activist, who goes public with his positions, emerged into prominence in recent years. One crucial event in Wall Street history provided the foundation. In 2001, James Chanos, a hedge-fund manager, discovered an accounting scandal at Enron, then a little-known energy company in Texas, and shared his information with journalists from Fortune. The journalists got a best seller, Chanos got his money and Jeffrey Skilling, Enron’s chief executive, got 24 years at the Federal Prison Camp in Montgomery, Ala.

Short-sellers of Left’s generation are following this example but cutting out the middleman. You don’t need an office in a flashy building in the Battery, they have realized, or the validation of the press. If you build enough of a reputation, all you need are some Twitter followers and a website. Left has emerged at the forefront of this new guard.

I enjoyed every moment of it.


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