There are no good guys in this story - the tag line perfectly describes what's going on with the listing of fraudulent Chinese companies on the U.S. stock market.
While there is no true protagonist in this film, it does spend a lot of time telling the story of Dan David. Dan used to recommend that his clients invest in Chinese companies that did offer huge returns when these reverse mergers first came to prominence.
But having gotten more involved in the industry, he realized that there were some shenanigans going on and so he set out to investigate. This has led to an 180 degree u-turn for him. From actively promoting these investments, he has now set about to raise alarm and get congress to act.
While he and other investigators have brought many of these frauds to light and put an end to them, one sobering message that was clear to me from the documentary was that Congress does not really seem interested in stopping these frauds.
So what is the hustle?
Financial documentaries aren't everyone's cup of tea. So let me summarize what the scam is because I think it is important for everyone to understand what's going on. You may not be impacted directly but if your state's investment fund or pension fund gets caught up in one of these, you'll be impacted too.
- Small company in China is approached by someone who encourages them to list on the US exchange.
- Chinese company merges with an existing defunct U.S. company and changes its name to the Chinese company.
- List the merged entity on the U.S. exchange and get investment banks and other investors to recommend the stock.
- Make up numbers about how big the stock is in China. Own a 10 acre forest? Let's say that it is 1,000 acres instead. No one does due diligence.
Ok, hold up... that's clearly fraud isn't it? Ah, but that's the 'genius' bit of the whole scheme. If it's revealed that the company is making numbers up, then all that happens is for the US banks to pay some slap-on-the-wrist fines. It isn't even illegal for Chinese companies to defraud non-Chinese investors.
As shocking as all this is, probably what makes it even worse is that almost every financial institution probably knows that it is going on but are silent because it is making tons of money. The ones that suffer are the investors who are left holding the bag.