Brexit hedge fund donors attack British companies as they battle COVID-19

21st April 2020 / United Kingdom
Brexit donors attack British companies as they battle COVID-19

By Peter Geoghegan: Ignoring Bank of England pleas, hedge funds managers including (Sir) Paul Marshall and Crispin Odey are profiting from the COVID-19 chaos.

A leading hedge fund manager and Brexit donor have been making huge bets against the iconic British fashion brand Burberry – even though the firm has been tasked with making personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers.

As the spread of COVID-19 jolts markets, hedge funds including portfolios run by Brexit donors Paul Marshall and Crispin Odey have ignored pleas from the Bank of England to desist from short-selling the stock of British companies, and are making huge gains betting against a number of leading high street brands.

Burberry is one of the retailer’s health secretary Matt Hancock has singled out for praise for producing gowns for NHS staff.

Just days after the UK went into lockdown in late March, Marshall Wace – a hedge fund co-founded by Vote Leave donor Marshall – increased its short position on Burberry stock, which means that the fund stands to gain if the luxury fashion company’s share value falls.

Burberry has been at the forefront of the UK’s COVID response. The company recently announced that its Castleford factory – which normally manufactures trench coats – is being repurposed to provide 100,000 surgical masks for the NHS. Burberry is also funding research into a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine at the University of Oxford.

Marshall’s bet against Burberry – described by SNP’s shadow treasury spokeswoman Alison Thewliss as “predatory behaviour” – has prompted calls for the UK to introduce a windfall tax on the profits of short-selling at a time when many other countries have banned the practice.


 “Anybody who says, ‘I can make a load of money by shorting,’ which might not be frankly in the interest of the economy, the interest of the people – just stop doing what you’re doing” – Bank of England governor, Andrew Bailey


Short-selling, a practice widely used by hedge funds, involves managers borrowing shares and then selling them, hoping to buy them back at a lower price, pocketing the difference. Many hedge funds involved in this practice are located in tax-efficient offshore jurisdictions where transparency is minimal.

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The Bank of England has sought to dissuade short-selling, On March 18, the bank’s governor, Andrew Bailey, told BBC News: “Anybody who says, ‘I can make a load of money by shorting,’ which might not be frankly in the interest of the economy, the interest of the people – just stop doing what you’re doing.”

Paul Marshall, who gave the Liberal Democrats £2 million before becoming a leading Brexit donor, is worth £590 million, according to the Sunday Times ‘Rich List’. He has also funded the think tank Legatum and the self-appointed Alternative Arrangements Commission on the Irish border.

In the last month, Marshall’s firm has taken out a host of other short positions, including in the airlines easyJet and Wizz Air, British engineering firm Weir Group, which employs around 14,000 people, and educational publisher Pearson.

Other hedge funds have profited from shorting British firms in recent weeks. Odey Asset Management is claiming returns of as much as 20% on its short bets, with founder Crispin Odey telling the Mail on Sunday he made £115 million from the recent (COVID caused) stock market crash.

Odey – who donated more than £1 million to pro-Brexit causes and has given money to Boris Johnson – made £220 million on the night of the 2016 referendum betting that sterling would collapse if Leave won.

Short-selling has been banned in a number of countries during the crisis, including South Korea, Spain, Italy, France and Belgium.

Among the hedge funds that have recently acquired short positions on leading UK businesses are the investment firm BlackRock, whose advisors include former Conservative chancellor and Evening Standard editor George Osborne, reportedly paid £650,000 a year by Blackrock for four days work a month. Other hedge funds such as JP Morgan Asset Management have also ignored pleas from the Bank of England, and have profited from short-selling.


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