Orphaned by the demise of parent company MF Global Holdings, Washington Research Group, a 17-member government policy analysis team in the District, has found a new home at financial services firm Guggenheim Partners.
The move marks the 10th time the research group has changed hands in the past 37 years. Yet analysts say its preservation amid the constant shuffles illustrates the continued demand for political insight within the financial service sector.
Guggenheim Partners, with more than $125 billion in assets under management, tucked the 14 analysts and three administrators from the research group into its securities subsidiary. The team will continue to operate out of Georgetown, giving New York-based Guggenheim its first office in the Washington area. It joins the company’s network of securities analysts in New York, Memphis, Boston, Dallas and Nashville.
Guggenheim was among 12 suitors vying for the research group after MF Global, the securities firm led by former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, terminated the unit on Nov. 11, according to Ed Garlich, founder and head of Washington Research Group.
The termination came within weeks of MF Global filing for bankruptcy protection after making disastrous bets on European government bonds. The company is being liquidated under the supervision of a bankruptcy court and investigated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for the disappearance of some $1.2 billion from customers’ accounts.
The bankruptcy trustees fired all of the company’s 1,066 employees as part of the liquidation, leaving the research group out in the cold.
“Having been through this nine times in 37 years I was confident the phone would ring. It did. We had eight suitors within several days,” Garlich said. “We decided upon Guggenheim based on its overall leadership, the culture of the firm and the business model.”
Since Garlich founded Washington Research Group in 1973, the company has passed from a number of high profile owners, who have, in many cases, collapsed. It once belonged to Drexel Burnham Lambert, the investment firm that filed for bankruptcy following a criminal investigation of executive Michael Milken; and Stanford Financial Group, which folded after its founder R. Allen Stanford was indicted for investment fraud.
Speculation about the move to Guggenheim, headed by former Bear Stearns chief executive Alan Schwartz, appeared in the New York Times two weeks ago. The paper reported Royal Bank of Canada and Macquarie of Australia were among several parties making a play for the group.
Analysts and academics say interest in Washington Research Group reflects the growing importance government policy plays in the world of financial services.
“There’s a growing need for financial service firms to have the inside track about goings-on in government because small policy shifts can have big consequences and state and private power are increasingly intertwined,” said Janine R. Wedel, a professor in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University and author of a new book on the subject, “Shadow Elite.”
Political intelligence firms, like Washington Research Group, have become key partners for hedge funds and money management firms, especially in the wake of financial reform. Integrity Research Associates, which tracks investment research firms, estimates the political intelligence industry has grown into a $100-million-a-year business in Washington.
Critics say these firms, which do not have to disclose their clients or revenue, should operate with more transparency. Representatives Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) introduced the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2011 in March to prohibit commodities and securities trading based on nonpublic information relating to Congress. The bill is currently in Senate committee.