Part I – Puerto Rico and Timeshare Debt
Is Apollo Global Management involved with both?
From: Inside Timeshare / By: Irene Parker / November 14,2017
Anthony Bourdain’s CNN show Parts Unknown, which aired November 6, described how Puerto Ricans are being crushed under the weight of debt orchestrated by hedge or “Vulture Funds”. Similarly, many timeshare members struggle with high interest rate timeshare loans and higher interest rate credit cards. It’s not surprising to find out hedge funds are involved with both Puerto Rico and timeshare debt.
FOX Business reporter Maria Bartiromo interviewed Diamond Resorts CEO Michael Flaskey April 2017. The Milken Institute was prominently displayed during the interview. Connecting the dots, Michael Milken, formerly known as the “King of Junk” in the 80s because of his role in a junk bond scandal, worked at the brokerage firm Drexel Burnham Lambert. According to Wikipedia, Drexel Burnham Lambert banker Leon Black founded Apollo Global Management after DBL declared bankruptcy, having incurred $650 million in fines. Diamond Resorts, owned by Apollo, is managed by an affiliate of affiliate of funds.Apollo Global Management, LLC is an American private equity firm, founded in 1990 by former Drexel Burnham Lambert banker Leon Black. The firm specializes in leveraged buyout transactions and purchases of distressed securities involving corporate restructuring, special situations, and industry consolidations.
Debt and Michael Milken are as synonymous as debt and timeshare. While Mr. Milken is known for his generosity, he is also known to have served 22 months in jail for securities fraud. Mr. Black emerged from the DBL bankruptcy unscathed, today worth $5.1 billion according to Hedgeclippers, $6.3 billion according to Forbes 2017 ranking. Puerto Rico is getting a thorough introduction to Michael Milken’s junk-bond world as it increasingly relies on some of the financial industry’s most aggressive players to solve its crippling financial troubles.Hedge funds and billionaire hedge fund managers have swooped into Puerto Rico during a fast-moving economic crisis to prey on the vulnerable island. Several groups of hedge funds and billionaire hedge fund managers have bought up large chunks of Puerto Rican debt at discounts, pushed the island to borrow more, and are driving towards devastating austerity measures. Known as “vulture funds,” these investors have followed a similar game plan in other debt crises, in countries such as Greece and Argentina. The spoils they ultimately seek are not just bond payments, but structural reforms and privatization schemes that give them extraordinary wealth and power – at the expense of everyone else.The payouts they seek are potentially enormous – running into the billions of dollars, with predatory rates of return – if other vulture debt plays are any guide.
Apollo Global Management, the third largest US-based private equity firm, has not yet been reported to be a member of the Ad Hoc Group looking to collectively pressure the Puerto Rican government, but press reports have indicated that Apollo, along with Fortress Investment Group and Aurelius Capital, are looking to take on a “more activist role” as the debt restructuring continues. I think we can add timeshare to the list after Greece and Argentina given our reader responses and Diamond’s increased loan loss provision. Moody’s has placed Diamond on a downgrade watch after the company raised its loan loss provision to 18.4% March 31, 2017, from 12.9% the prior year.
The review for downgrade is a result of Diamond Resorts’ high leverage — Moody’s adjusted debt/EBITDA was about 7.0x for the last 12 month period ended March 31, 2017 — and increasing loan loss reserves which will make it difficult for the company to reduce leverage. Diamond Resorts, and other timeshare companies, has increased its loan loss reserve over the past year as a result of an increase in timeshare owner defaults, which to a large degree have been initiated by third party activities. Diamond Resorts’ loan loss provision increased to 18.4% of gross Vacation Interests sales at March 31, 2017, from 12.9% in the prior year. Should the loan loss reserve trend not improve, the company will have difficulty lowering its leverage below our trigger for a downgrade (below 6.5x).
Of note is the blame placed on third party activities, which includes fraudulent transfer companies and resale agents, some posting ads above our Inside Timeshare articles as soon as we publish. Ignored is deceit on the front end of the sale, despite numerous Attorneys General investigations and lawsuits too numerous to mention, as well as the severely limited or sometimes non-existent secondary market. Without a secondary market, a timeshare contract is worth nothing the moment the contract is signed and it is not uncommon for a timeshare to cost over $100,000.
Timeshare members struggling to meet loan and credit card payments can relate to those suffering in Puerto Rico. Inside Timeshare has heard from 192 of our readers of which 183 are from Diamond Resort members. The majority allege they were sold or upsold by deceit and bait and switch, locked into loans and credit card debt they can’t afford, owning a perpetual vacation product they can’t sell. Holding timeshare members hostage is a short term profit plus for Apollo’s investors, but is squeezing money out of middle class families at 12% to 24% sustainable? Not one of our readers was aware of the difficulty selling points due to lack of buyers. Contract language doesn’t help because the contract states “you can sell your points” but the part about secondary market restrictions and lack of buyers is not included, at least not in the contract I signed. Timeshare companies will either take back points or foreclose, reselling the same points over and over, described as a hamster wheel by one former Diamond sales agent.
They say history repeats itself, but I would have never imagined, as a former Drexel Burnham Lambert client, the subsequent Apollo firm would buy my vacation plan twenty years later. This, in addition to reading so many online complaints posted by timeshare members who seemed to have nowhere to turn, motivated me to join Charles Thomas and Inside Timeshare in an effort to provide factual timeshare information and to warn the general public to do due diligence before buying any timeshare. I felt there was a need to go a step beyond helpful Facebook posts to warn members away from fraudulent listing and transfer agents, steering them towards regulatory and law enforcement agencies, if they feel they were a victim of a bait and switch.